The Star Wars Special Editions

Hey everybody,
Today is the day, twenty years ago, that Lucasfilm released the Special Edition of Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope in theatres, and so I thought I’d ramble on for a bit about these controversial versions of the three movies, because that’s the sort of thing I do!

Back in 1997, I was what I suppose I could call a Star Wars fan, but probably nowhere near how much of a fan I became once I’d discovered the wider expanded universe a couple of years later. A bunch of friends and I had made plans to go see the films when they were released in the cinema, but the vagaries of trying to wrangle a group of 14 year old nerds into this was evidently more trouble than any of us had expected, and in the end, we missed out, and I retained my tired videos for my Star Wars fix. However, when they were eventually released on VHS back in 2000, my mum totally made up for that heartache by buying me the boxset at Easter-time. During the two weeks’ school holiday, I think I watched each movie at least five or six times, and it’s for this reason that Easter retains such a strong connection to the original Star Wars trilogy for me!

Of course, I was aware of the changes that had been made to these films – who couldn’t be, with the nascent internet going crazy over the whole Han shoots first controversy. But I have to say, I think that the overall reaction can sometimes be out of proportion. Let’s take a look at the differences made by these Special Editions, and I’ll try to explain what I mean.

A New Hope (re-released 31 January 1997)

There are a lot of changes made to this movie. Lucas apparently spent $15 million of his own money on the Special Editions, $10 million of which went on episode IV. We have a lot of almost-pointless establishing shots and background-fidgeting, most noticeably in the scenes where the stormtroopers discover the droids’ presence, and as Luke and the gang arrive into Mos Eisley. The original A New Hope does have a very vibrant feel to a lot of the Tatooine scenes, I think, but there are a number of moments that do have a bit of a static look, as well. The dewbacks in particular were massive models with stormtroopers perched on top, and amounted to little more than set-dressing at the time. For the Special Edition, that set-dressing is now moving, at least.

Of course, Han shoots Greedo first in the original version, but for the Special Edition, Lucas decided to make Han “a good guy” from the very beginning, and had some very jerky animation that made the Rodian bounty hunter shoot Han and miss from about three feet away, before Han almost-instantly fires back. A lot of fans have raised issue with this, so I’m not going to rehash these arguments, but suffice it to say, they’re not wrong in my book! The scene that offends me the most out of the entire Special Edition, however, is this one:

Jabba the Hutt Star Wars Special Editions

Jabba the Hutt was originally just a name that hung over Han’s entire story across the trilogy, before we finally met the big guy in Return of the Jedi, and despite feeling a little like a Muppets movie at times, there is nevertheless a real sense of danger in Jabba’s Palace. Seeing Jabba at the beginning of the trilogy – and especially seeing Han’s disdainful interaction with him – removes a lot of that threat. Of course, these movies are how George wanted them to be all along, as demonstrated by the fact this footage with the young Harrison Ford clearly dates from the time, though again there’s some jerky animation as Han walks behind Jabba. During filming, a stand-in was used while they intended to superimpose Jabba’s final image, but that proved too costly and hence the scene was cut. Since Jabba was shown to be a big worm in Jedi, he now had a tail in the way, so Han was moved up and down like some kind of puppet.

All of these things aside, though, the CG of Jabba himself is just bad. He looks kinda watery, and when Han is presumably stroking the Hutt’s face while asking for a little more time, there’s a complete lack of interactivity. It’s just bad, and lets the movie down so much.

But there are a lot of small improvements that have been made to the movie. The superimposed blur under the landspeeder has been removed for a smoother look, and the Death Star has had a lot of its corridors lengthened to create a more labyrinthine experience. We also have the Luke and Biggs reunion before the briefing on Yavin, which I do believe is something that definitely adds to the film overall. I mean, Luke talks about Biggs on Tatooine, and there’s a fighter pilot called Biggs in the battle, but no connection is made between the two otherwise, you know?

Overall: despite the harm the changes to do Han’s character, and some flaky CGI effects, the film could be worse.

Cloud City Star Wars Special Editions

The Empire Strikes Back (re-released 21 February, 1997)

Empire arguably suffers the least from the Special Edition changes. Indeed, most of the new footage consists of establishing shots on Cloud City, along with more made of the Wampa attacking Luke. We also get to see precisely how Vader got back from Cloud City to his Star Destroyer, using a combination of alternative footage from Return of the Jedi (look closely – Moff Jerjerrod greets Vader when he gets back…)

Director Irving Kershner had intended for the whole movie to show a transition from the blue of the Hoth tundra to the red of Cloud City at sunset, but this overall effect is largely negated by the lack of any meaty Cloud City shots in the latter portion of the film. Establishing shots were therefore created, including following the Falcon onto the landing platform, and essentially creating windows in a lot of the corridor scenes to show the cityscape more fully. While a lot of this really is quite arbitrary, it does create a nice effect in this sense of colour.

Back in the day, put a series of articles up that showcased the different changes they’d made to the film, which also talked about the fact that they’d considerably cleaned the negative of the film, resulting in a much better visual experience. It’s probably something that would go unnoticed by a lot of people, but is perhaps one of the most important things to happen to the film overall.

Sy Snootles Star Wars Special Edition

Return of the Jedi (re-released

Much like A New Hope, Return of the Jedi has seen quite a few changes made, some of which are quite as controversial as those in the earlier movie. To start with, we have that bloody song-and-dance number in Jabba’s palace, Jedi Rocks. I mean, sure, I get the fact that Lucas wanted a musical item in the movie, and it replaced the pretty shaky Lapti Nek, though the new piece is vastly out of place in the scope of the original, and kinda derails the movie at this point. I mean, the focus of Jabba’s palace is supposed to be the danger and whatnot, and we’re getting a lot of build-up as we slowly see the major players manoeuvre into position in order to free Han, but the new musical number obnoxiously shoulders its way into the plot for no other reason than to have some unnecessary comic relief.

Speaking of musical numbers, we also have a new end celebration. In the original, we’re firmly on Endor, with the fireworks over the trees transitioning into the vaunted “Yub Nub” song that is a decidedly weird way to end the trilogy. This was re-composed by John Williams as a much more peaceful celebration theme, and extended by a montage showing Mos Eisley, Cloud City and Coruscant liberated before the dancing Ewoks close out the movie (including a scene with Luke and Wedge hugging). I actually prefer this version, predominantly because I like the way the montage really draws the three movies together. The music somehow also fits with the triumph of the little people over the galactic dictatorship of the Empire – we don’t get some bombastic victory celebration, but something much more along the lines of a weary, “we did it”. It really just fits well, I find.

It’s also important to note that, while not identified as Coruscant until 1999’s The Phantom Menace, this was the first instance we have of Lucas being influenced by the expanded universe – the name “Coruscant” was invented by Timothy Zahn for Heir to the Empire. The more you know!

We also get a new Sarlacc pit, which is less hole-in-the-ground and more weird alien thing. Not sure if it was a necessary change or not, but it’s largely a cosmetic thing. There are also some very minor changes that are made, such as adding CG rope around Han’s legs as he hangs above the pit, which seem a little… unnecessary? But Lucas is of course renowned for obsessing over minor details, so I guess why not.

Coruscant Star Wars Special Edition

Overall, I think the Special Editions are perhaps mired by the fact that we have the infamous Han shot first, or Jedi Rocks, which overshadow some of the more important things, such as cleaning up Empire, or even the increased scope of the ending of Jedi. The CGI is still a bit too ropey, however, as shown in the washed-out/watery Jabba and that singing Yuzzem, to name but two instances, but it’s nice to see how Cloud City has been expanded upon, and the Death Star does feel a lot bigger this time around.

Unfortunately, we’d have to wait until 2004 and the DVD releases before Ian McDiarmid would replace the weird monkey/woman composite for the Emperor in episode V….

Star Wars Special Editions

Gangs of Commorragh: first look

Hey everybody!
It’s time for games day here at, and today sees a first look at the latest board game release from Games Workshop: Gangs of Commorragh!

First of all, I absolutely love the fact that I can say something like “the latest board game” in conjunction with GW. I picked this bad boy up on Friday, along with a few other reinforcements for my growing Dark Eldar army, and while I don’t think anybody is going to be picking this box up for the actual game, I nevertheless wanted to take a look at it from this perspective to see if it’s actually worthwhile getting even if you aren’t a Dark Eldar player.

Some obligatory background: I started collecting a Dark Eldar army just before New Year, and when this game was announced I was quite impressed. The box costs £35 retail, but comes with £79-worth of miniatures alone. That in itself is cause to really celebrate, I would say! However, while the main selling point for this game is undoubtedly going to be based on that saving, GW has been quite committed to marketing this as an actual boardgame for folks to play independently of the main 40k tabletop war game. I caught the last half hour or so of their live stream last week, where they were demonstrating the game, and I have to say, it did seem like it should be a pretty interesting experience!

So, first of all, you get the miniatures. Six reaver jetbikes and ten hellions. As I’ve said, it’s a better-than 50% saving, so you could get this box to bulk out a Dark Eldar force, albeit with miniatures that are regarded as sub-par on the tabletop, and we could stop there. However, Gangs of Commorragh is a pretty interesting game, from my read-through of the rules, and I think it’s actually worth your time to look into playing it for its own sake…

The game is for two players, who each control a “murder-pack” of Hellions and Reavers. The rulebook suggests that you start with a pack of either six Hellions or five Reavers, but it also includes rules to allow you to create your own pack that can actually be mixed model types. Packs are created and upgraded using a points system not unlike actual 40k (more on this later).

The game is played on a 3′ x 3′ battlefield, with cardboard terrain that signifies the sky-scraping towers of Commorragh. After deploying your murder-pack, the game begins with the players selecting hunters and quarry. Basically, a model can hunt another if it has that model in its front arc of 90º, and the hunted model has that hunter in its rear arc of 90º, and both are within 18″. Markers are used – much like the target lock markers in X-Wing – to denote those models which are Hunters and their respective Quarry. These models are then moved, the Quarry moving first, and the Hunter chasing after it.

The models have specific distances they can travel, and can choose to turn by using the semi-circular template either before or after they have moved. Once the Hunters and Quarry have moved, any remaining models can then also move, before it’s time for everybody to attack, with the first attacker determined through a roll-off.

Gangs of Commorragh

The attacking player rolls 2D6 and compares the result to the agility value of the model he is attacking. If the roll equals or exceeds the agility value, then he scores a hit. He then looks on the reference chart against the weapon used, and rolls 2D6 again – the “kill roll” – and if he equals or exceeds the weapon’s kill value, the target is destroyed and removed from the board.

For example, let’s say I’m attacking a Hellion. The agility value is 8, so I need to roll 8+ in order to hit it. I roll a 10, so I score a hit! I then check the weapon I used – let’s say I was firing a Splinter rifle. I need to roll 10+ in order to kill that Hellion, but I get +1 to that roll because I’m targeting a Hellion (they’re more vulnerable), and I’d get another +1 if I were within 12″ thanks to the Splinter rifle’s special rule. I roll 11, modified to 12, so the Hellion is destroyed. Hooray!

It’s worth pointing out that a natural 2 is always a miss, and a natural 12 is always a hit.

If I had hit the Hellion, but missed on the Kill Roll, the Hellion takes one point of damage. While there are no hit/hull points in this game, damage reduces a models agility value by 1 and provides a +1 bonus to subsequent Kill Rolls made against it, so you effectively wear the model down over time. Damage is denoted by placing a marker next to the model, which I imagine would clutter up the board quickly unless the model is quickly killed off!

Battles continue until one side Breaks – either voluntarily, or by failing a Break Test at the end of the fight round. If a murder-pack has lost one third of its models during a fight round, roll a D6 – if the result is less than or equal to the number of models removed, then the murder-pack breaks.

Campaign Play
Gangs of Commorragh features campaign rules to provide a really customised feel to the game, starting with the models that make up your murder-pack. You get 750 points to spend on your gang, with each model and weapon option having a points cost (which has no bearing on that weapon/model’s points cost in 40k, I might add!)

Campaigns are basically linked games of Gangs of Commorragh, with some rolls made on pre-fight and post-fight tables in the rulebook to determine things like what level of income or victory points you’re fighting for, and any special effects that take place during the fight. Income can be used to recruit new models into your gang, though you will only be able to fight with a murder-pack of between 3 and 10 models at any time. There are also rules for a campaign game where the rival gangs come together in one massive Skywar, though!

Gangs of Commorragh

Gangs of Commorragh looks like it should be a really fun game!

It feels very much like it is intended to bring new gamers into 40k, with a lot of the basic concepts such as movement and line of sight, and even list-building involved. While the points costs have no bearing – if only an agoniser was +5 points to equip in 40k – things like cover saves, jinking and weapon ranges are all things that will prepare new players for making the move into 40k. While one copy of Gangs of Commorragh isn’t going to get them started with a decent army (the models represent just 226 points of models, unupgraded), I can see people getting their toes wet with this, before moving on with a Start Collecting box and maybe a Kabalite Skysplinter to get the basic combined arms detachment. Sure, that’s an additional £82.50 at retail, and you still need the Codex and rulebook, but there are definitely more expensive ways to build an army.  (These sorts of hypotheticals always come down to what your meta is like, though; I would be perfectly fine with playing a game with someone who had the contents of this game and the above-mentioned add-ons, even if it’s nowhere near a competitive list. It’s small scale, and should be a great way to get used to the game, so why not?!)

Overall, I’m pretty impressed with how straightforward yet tactical the gameplay appears at first glance. It does actually seem like a really good game, not just worth getting for the models alone – in fact, in many ways it reminds me of X-Wing. And at this price, I don’t think anyone could really complain too loudly! Look out for more blogs once I’ve managed to both build my models, and hopefully start a campaign!