Even after it became the highest-grossing film of all time, George Lucas still wasn’t completely satisfied with Star Wars. Sure, the filmmaker obviously was happy with much of what’s on screen, but the visuals and scope he had in his mind in when he made the movie in the 1970s didn’t line up with the final product. He just didn’t have the time or money. That’s why, 20 years later, he created the Special Editions — the first of which, A New Hope, was released January 31, 1997, exactly 25 years ago.
“My original motivation in going back into the film and working on it is [that] films, unlike books or symphonies, are never finished. They are abandoned or yanked away from you,” Lucas told Entertainment Tonight back in 1997. “And at some point somebody says, ‘That’s enough. We’re putting it in theatres.’ And you say, ‘But it’s not done!’ ‘Ah, you’ll be on this for a hundred years if we let you keep going at it.’”
“There were a lot of things in [A New Hope] I just wasn’t happy with and when the film came out everyone said, ‘Oh, looks great. You love it.’ I said, ‘Well, you know it’s only about 60 per cent of what I wanted it to be.’ Everybody thought I was nuts,’” he continued. “This was an opportunity for me to really fix the film up and make it be what I wanted it to be. And get it to be at least 80 per cent of what I’d hope it would be. And get rid of these little thorns that were stuck in there.”
And so, in the mid-1990s, Lucas began tinkering with his films. And tinkering. And tinkering. And the whole thing snowballed. “I started playing around with some of the special effects shots at the end of the movie,” Lucas said. “‘Gee, I really wanted this to have more distance to it. I wanted the ship to start bigger, then get smaller.’ And before I finished, I had re-done about 150 shots in [A New Hope]. It was like pulling a thread on a sweater. Or painting a house. ‘Well, we’ll paint this wall.’ ‘Well, we should really paint this wall over here.’ ‘Maybe we should paint the ceiling, too.’ ‘Now, this room looks so great. Maybe we should do the living room.’ It’s just one thing leads to another.”
“It was a very enjoyable experience,” he added. “I feel very much better about the movie and I think what I’m leaving behind [is] much more what I had in mind.”
Now, if you’re a Star Wars fans, these quotes are nothing new. You probably read them 25 years ago and think about them every time Jabba the Hutt shows up in A New Hope or Cloud City shows up at the end of Return of the Jedi. (And then again when more planets were added to Return of the Jedi years later.) But we’re running these again today just as a way to humanize the process. Fans may have a complicated relationship with the Special Editions but the man who made them seemingly did not. They were his way to fix things in his life he wasn’t happy with. And he loved it. Twenty-five years later, he probably still does. Though, at this point, maybe it’s time to turn that 80% into 100%.
Read more about the legacy of the Star Wars Special Editions, both then and now, at these links. And head over to Entertainment Tonight to read many more retro Lucas quotes about specific scenes like the entry to Mos Eisley, Jabba the Hutt, and others.