There are several types of changes that George Lucas made to Star Wars for the Special Editions. The first was that they went back to the original negatives and digitally cleaned up the images, removing millions of pieces of dirt. That seems like it would have made a good "save point" right there. Save that, make it a master and work with a digital copy of that to make the special edition. Then release both the cleaned up original version and the Special Edition on VHS, laserdisc, etc. Everybody would have been happy. George would have been happy with his new "fan edits" of Star Wars, and the public could make up their own mind about which ones they prefer. Sadly, this was not the case.
Geroge Lucas had always felt that the original theatrical films were unfinished, that they didn't match his "original vision" of what they should have been. There were time constraints, budget issues, limits to special effects technology, etc., and the press releases about the upcoming Special Editions led us to believe that just things like the wipes, disolves, and a few special effects usch as explosions would be updated. As a huge fan of the original film, I wasn't too worried about what this might mean. It was all very exciting, I remember downloading those tiny (in terms of resolution) sneak peaks over the web (at a time when most of us still had dialup). Many of the tweaks that were made are pretty insignificant and most people, even those of us who had seen the originals close to a hundred times wouldn't notice some of the changes unless they were pointed out to us or the film was compared frame by frame with the old version - even the toned down violence in the deathstar sequences went unnoticed by me until I read about them or saw side by side comparisons.
Then, of course, there were some bigger changes. I think Inserting the Jabba the Hut scene was a bad idea. I think that once they realized that Jabba would have to be scaled way down to fit him in the scene they should have just quit right there. For a start, there is absolutely no need for that scene to be there at all since when they realized they couldn't use it originally they put all the information we needed into the scene with Greedo in the cantina (more on that later). However, I think it would have made a nice featurette for the DVD. "Here is the original Jabba scene that was cut because we couldn't make it work back in 1976, and here is the version we worked on for the Special Edition. As you can see, the CGI Jabba didn't really work because we had to make him much smaller, and the only way we could keep the scene was to have Han step on his tail!" The irony is, that fans would have created their own fan edits that reinserted this scene in the movie!
Han Shoots First
As you know, originally, Greedo didn't shoot at all. This made Han Solo a bit of a bad ass, but even watching it as a kid, my mother never complained about that scene being too violent, or that Han had killed Greedo in cold blood. After all, Han Solo is a smuggler, an outlaw, part of the scum and villainy that Mos Eisely is known for. But what made the Special Edition version of this scene so absurd was the fact that Greedo missed from 2 feet away! What use is a bounty hunter who can't hit a target from across a booth? Putting aside the fact that I don't think this scene needed changing at all, if they wanted to make it clear that if Han didn't shoot he was going to be killed, why didn't they have Han shoot first, and THEN have Greedo shoot and miss... In other words, they shoot at almost the same instant, but Han is just a fraction of a second quicker, causing Greedo to miss. This scene has been tinkered with a few times since 1997, but it still doesn't work. Furthermore, it is an attempt to change the fundamental character of Han Solo. These kinds of changes are almost like DeVinci suddenly appearing in the present, explaining that he actually invented time travel during the renaissance and that while he was here he planned to visit the Louvre and "fix" the mona Lisa. He never felt happy with the way her mouth turned out, but at the time, his techique was not developed enough to correct it. Using some CGI he could easily fix it now to make it more like the way he had originally envisioned it. Never mind the fact that people had been admiring it for centuries, it is his painting, he owns it and can do what he likes with it.
Toning down the violence with CGI effects is something Steven Speilberg did for the DVD release of E.T. but at least he was kind enough to offer both versions of the film on DVD. Ridley Scott also released 5 different versions of Blade Runner on Blu-ray and the Alien Anthology also includes the original Theatrical and the Directors cuts of each film. Come on George - what's the big deal? Back in 1988, George Lucas himself crusaded against Ted Turner who wanted to colorize Black & White films, testifying before Congress that Black and White fims were the embodiment of our cultural heritage, and that they shouldn't be tampered with:
In the future it will become even easier for old negatives to become lost and be "replaced" by new altered negatives. This would be a great loss to our society. Our cultural history must not be allowed to be rewritten.
-George Lucas (1988 Congressional testimony)
Do as I do, not as I say? How does this not apply here?
Every new release of Star Wars has included some kind of minor tinkering, or upgrade, and personally I don't mind most of the changes, in fact I think a lot of them were pretty cool - the extended Wampa scene in Empire, for example. I don't mind the tinkering, but when it comes to buying and watching Star Wars it would be great to have a choice. If only there was a multi-DVD/Bluray set with seamless branching allowing you the choice to pick between the 1977 Theatrical Cut (with or without the Episode IV title - and a choice of audio mixes), the 1997 SE, 2004 SE or the 2011 SE, fans everywhere would be happy.