Maybe one day I’ll work it out. The more likely scenario is that the posters on OriginalTrilogy.com will and I’ll stick up a link saying “hey look at this”. In any case it seems likely that anyone asking how many versions are there of the first Star Wars film is not expecting these variations to be included in the tally. This guide then ignores things like that, focusing on just the English language releases and not counting home video releases as a new version of the film unless they did add something.
This is not a full list of every alteration ever made, but it should provide a guide to how each version differs from the others and when certain changes were made (and reverted in some cases).
1977 Stereo Theatrical Releases
There were a couple of stereo options for Star Wars’ initial USA theatrical release. Two-track stereo was available on 35mm prints whilst 70mm prints boasted a six-track Dolby stereo mix. Whilst there may be different emphasis on certain effects, greater bass and dynamic range in the six-track, content-wise the mixes sound the same (no alternate dialogue here). The six-track was created first and then the two-track was derived from it.
In J.W. Rinzler’s The Making of Star Wars book, sound designer Ben Burtt says that whilst they were not completely happy with the mix there was no time to make changes, commenting “they were all too afraid to mess with it, ‘cause the deadline was so close-the whole system with the Dolby was kind of an experiment, and they didn’t want me to tamper with it.”
1977 Mono Theatrical Release
The monaural mix arrived a little later for the film’s general release and the extra time was used to make some changes. Ben Burtt (again in The Making of Star Wars) says “George, [editor] Paul Hirsch, and I and everyone in the crew sat down and made a list of the things we didn’t like in the stereo mix. Then we tried to achieve every one of those things on the mono”. Lucas himself adds “We were locked in this little room, but it was important because monaural was what most people were going to hear”.
Changes in the audio include alternate/additional sound effects and a different voice for Aunt Beru. There was some changed/additional dialogue too:
- When searching for the droids in Mos Eisley, a Stormtrooper says “All right, check that side of the street. It’s secure. Move on to the next one”. Previously the line was “All right, check this side of the street. The door’s locked? Move on to the next one”.
- As Artoo is making the location of the tractor beam control appear on a monitor, there’s an additional line from Threepio: “The tractor beam is coupled to the main reactor in seven locations. A power loss at one of the terminals will allow the ship to leave”.
- There’s the addition of a "Governor Tarkin" before the Grand Moff is informed “we have an emergency alert in detention block AA-twenty-three”.
- When Han and Chewie are running from some Stormtroopers, before the blast doors close (and cause a trooper to shout “Open the blast doors! Open the blast doors!”) one of them (in retrospect, a twonk) issues an instruction to “close the blast doors!”.
- During the Death Star battle Luke says “Blast it! Wedge, where are you?”. Previously he said “Blast it! Biggs, where are you?”.
Some of these changes could also be heard in The Story of Star Wars (an abridged audio version of the story) and the script included with 1979’s The Art of Star Wars book uses the mono mix’s altered dialogue.
1981 Theatrical Re-releases
Something else the script with The Art of Star Wars included was a new longer title, numbering the film “Episode IV: A New Hope”. When The Empire Strikes Back was released in 1980 it was identified on-screen as “Episode V”.
Star Wars received a theatrical re-release the following year and its opening crawl was updated to include the episode number and title.
Aside from the new episode number/title (and a slightly reformatted opening crawl) these re-releases were the same as before. The stereo version was used for initial home video releases (VHS, Betamax, CED, Laserdisc, VHD) and whilst the mono mix has never appeared on home video, it was used for some TV broadcasts of the film.
1985 Home Video
Although not a major update, a new audio mix was produced for home video in 1985. Despite the alterations and additions that had been made for the mono mix, the content of the 1985 mix was similar to the stereo version. Some reports mention improved stereo effects, but the only noticeable difference over the previous stereo version is that it includes Threepio’s tractor beam line from the mono mix.
It first appeared in the USA on VHS and would be used for the various VHS and Laserdisc releases until 1993. Other places may have got the audio mix later; it appears it didn’t turn up in the UK until 1991.
1993 Definitive Edition
New decade, new sound mix. Produced for the Definitive Collection LaserDisc set, Threepio’s tractor beam line has been taken out again. Said to be a downmix of the six-track version, dialogue-wise this is identical to the first stereo mixes. There are however a number of additional sound effects added to the mix. Some of these previously featured in the mono mix, but others are new.
There was a slight visual change too. The scene where Artoo moves through the canyon (prior to encountering the Jawas) is noticeably darker than in previous releases, seeming to move the scene to later in the Tatooine day.
This edition of the film would be used for VHS and LaserDisc releases until the arrival of the Special Edition, with the 1995 release being promoted as the “last chance to own the original version of Star Wars”.
1997 Special Edition
Previous alterations to the film could easily have gone unnoticed, but that would not be the case with 1997’s Special Edition. Back in theatres (along with its two sequels) for the twentieth anniversary this updated version featured additional scenes and new special effects. Audio-wise it should be noted that Threepio’s tractor beam line returned as did “close the blast doors!” from the mono mix. There was also an additional “He’s on your tail” during the Death Star battle.
The big changes however, were visual. There’s a new scene with Jabba the Hutt and Han, whilst later on Luke now has a brief conversation with Biggs before the Death Star battle.
There are additional shots in the film such as in Mos Eisley and of recently arrived on Tatooine Stormtroopers searching for the droids, whilst other shots have CGI additions and some effects work has been redone. There’s far too many changes to detail in a guide that’s trying to be brief, but a few examples are shown below:
The Special Edition received a home video release on VHS, LaserDisc and Video CD.
Although the format arrived in the 1990’s, the Star Wars Trilogy would not be released on DVD until 2004. People expected the Special Editions, but that would not be the case as the films had received further updates for this boxset release.
As far as the first film is concerned crushed blacks gave it a different appearance and there are a few small visual updates such as these:
A bigger update was Jabba the Hutt, whose CG model was redone to make him look closer to his appearance in Return of the Jedi and The Phantom Menace.
This version of the film features an odd colouring error during Luke’s training aboard the Millennium Falcon. At one point his Lightsaber appears very green.
There were some audio changes too with the “He’s on your tail” line that had been added to the Special Edition removed. There was a new Krayt Dragon sound effect for when Obi-Wan scares off the Sand People and a couple of dialogue additions as well:
- Aboard the Sandcrawler Threepio announces “We’ve stopped” before his “Wake up! Wake up!” line to Artoo.
- On the Death Star, after searching the Millennium Falcon, a Stormtrooper says “There’s no one here”.
Another notable audio change was the music as the rebels start their attack on the Death Star which is now buried deep beneath the sound effects. It seemed like an error but Lucasfilm issued a statement to various websites insisting “any changes that you hear on the all-new Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround EX tracks on the Star Wars Trilogy DVD set are deliberate creative decisions. We can confirm that there are no technical glitches as has been reported.”
2006 “Original Theatrical Version” DVD
The 2004 editions of the films were released again in 2006 and whilst a boxset was available from some retailers, this was the first time the original trilogy films were available to buy individually on DVD. As an incentive for people to repurchase the films, each of them came with a “Bonus Disc” featuring the original theatrical version of the film.
These theatrical versions were created from the masters used for 1993’s Definitive Collection Laserdisc set, which in the case of A New Hope contains some changes. However this wasn’t a simple DVD release of the 1993 version either as the original version of the opening crawl was restored (making its first appearance on home video). So whilst there isn’t actually anything new here, adding the 1977 crawl to the 1993 edition created a new version of the film.
After these individual releases of the three films disappeared from shops they were repackaged in a slimline Star Wars Trilogy boxset that was released in 2008.
Released on Blu-Ray, “Star Wars: The Complete Saga” packaged Episodes I-VI together for the first time (although separate trilogy sets were also available) and George Lucas took this opportunity to make some final alterations to the films.
For Episode IV a couple of changes fixed problems with the 2004 edition of the film. The music as the rebels start their attack on the Death Star was restored to prominence and the shot with Luke’s very green lightsaber was changed to make the blade blue.
Additional changes were made too, such as colouring the lid of Threepio and Artoo’s escape pod grey in most shots on Tatooine (having been blue in all previous versions of the film) and there was extra cover added to the spot where Artoo hides from the Tusken Raiders.
A shot during the Millennium Falcon’s battle with the TIE Fighters was also updated. All previous versions of the film had a portion of the image missing, although this was not particularly noticeable against the black of space. It was finally fixed for this release.
On the audio side of things Obi-Wan’s Krayt Dragon call was changed again, sounding quite different to both the 1977 and 2004 versions. A line of Aunt Beru’s was slightly changed to “Luke, tell your Uncle that if he gets a translator to be sure it speaks Bocce”, having previously lacked the “your” part of “tell your Uncle”.
This version of the film has been rereleased a few times on Blu-Ray and has also been released on DVD and Digital.
Please note that images are used to illustrate when changes were made and are not necessarily sourced from the indicated version; it’s not like I have a 1977 print lying around. Although home video release formats have been noted (where applicable) for the different versions, I have not included Derran’s Super 8 release as without owning a copy it is unclear which audio mix it used.