FEATURE ARTICLE: Programs & Credit Sheets

See it Again…for the First Time: A Star Wars Trilogy Special Edition Retrospective

See it Again…for the First Time: A Star Wars Trilogy Special Edition Retrospective

I’ll never forget where I was on Friday, January 31st, 1997 at 7:00pm. I’d been eagerly anticipating that moment the entire day in my 6th grade classroom. I was about to see Star Wars on the big screen for only the second time in my life. It was going to be incredible. The Arlington Theatre was at capacity, the audience ready to explode. And they did. Initially. From there, I can only imagine the mixed emotions that veterans from the Trilogy’s theatrical heyday went on to feel.

It’s astonishing to consider that Star Wars will soon be celebrating its 40th Anniversary, but the fact that The Star Wars Trilogy: Special Edition came into existence 20 years ago is remarkable in its own way. That version of Star Wars and its subsequent sub-mutations have been around for just over half of the film’s history on Earth. Rontos have been onscreen in the “official” version of Star Wars longer than they haven’t. That’s a tragedy on several levels.

A digitally inserted Ronto's posterior completely fills the frame and obscures our protagonists.

A digitally inserted Ronto's posterior completely fills the frame and obscures our protagonists.

Seeing the Special Editions when they were theatrically released has to be a slightly bittersweet memory for many. As an 11 year old, the changes made to the films were admittedly difficult to comprehend at first. I’d seen the movies so many times that my young, naive little mind was excited to see them differently. While certain things like Greedo's first shot and Luke's pansy shriek as he plummeted down the from the Bespin gantry immediately felt amiss, some, such as new shots of the attack on the Death Star, were downright impressive. Others, well…they were just there, and I soon got used to them.

The Diamondback (Feb. 4, 1997) - From the Collection of Erik Janniche

A period review from The Diamondback – the University of Maryland's student newspaper – provides some commentary that in hindsight speaks volumes to those that are not enamored with the Special Edition treatment of Star Wars.

"After all the fretting and naysaying from so-called Star Wars purists (many of whom are just confused individuals who have trouble drawing the line between fan and fanatic), the re-release of Star Wars accomplished its task of simply improving upon the original with a subtlety and class that should both impress and satisfy even the most ardent Star Wars fan."

Describing the changes to the film as subtle is amusing, as is the claim that Lucas pushed "the highly anticipated new special effects into the background and let them assist in telling a story."  If you can't tell already, I would go on to become one of those "confused individuals." But I can't blame Aaron McGruder and his co-reviewer. It was 1997, and like me, they were simply excited to see Star Wars in theaters and had no idea what was to come.

 

Three disappointing prequels and more (at times malicious) meddling with the Original Trilogy later, I had emerged a drained and disheartened cynic who’d realized that my original memory of Star Wars had nearly completely eroded, and I knew that was wrong. George Lucas had become the very thing he swore to destroy! But that’s enough of my soapboxing (and Revenge of the Sith references, for that matter). 

Looking back at how the Special Editions were promoted will provide a positive outlet to reflect without descending into a state of melancholic exasperation about what the advertising material was actually selling. The best place to start? The trailer that announced the saga’s triumphant return to the big screen:

I distinctly remember seeing a TV spot rendition of this trailer at home one afternoon after school. As someone who essentially grew up with the Star Wars Trilogy on the small screen, it really spoke to me as I’m sure it did to so many others in my generation. The opening with the movie playing on the diminutive television set with muffled narration and the X-Wing blasting out of the tube was extremely effective, as was the emphasis on how truly special it was to see these films at the cinema.

“But if you’ve only seen it this way, you haven’t seen it at all.”

“Finally, the motion picture event the way it was meant to be experienced.”

“For a whole new generation who have yet to experience it on the big screen, and for everyone else, to experience it again.”

“See it again…for the first time.”

Theatrical re-releases weren’t an uncommon practice (all three Star Wars films had already been re-released, some multiple times), but this was different. It was the beginning of a paradigm shift, the effects of which are still being felt and will continue to be for the foreseeable future. 

Star Wars Trilogy Special Edition Advance Teaser - Source: Wookieepedia

The theatrical advance teaser (dubbed the "Ingot") poster for the Special Editions further underscores the significance of the Trilogy as a cinematic experience. The tagline “THREE REASONS WHY THEY BUILD MOVIE THEATERS” is categorically awesome and absolutely accurate.

Theater displays such as this one began appearing in late 1996. The massive standee was designed and distributed by Drissi Advertising, which is still creating theater displays for the franchise.

Special Edition Theatrical One Sheets - Source: Wookieepedia

The triptych of theatrical one sheets for the Trilogy by Drew Struzan – which were amazingly completed in three week's time – set stylistic precedents that would endure through all three prequel posters that he did, and to some extent, the relatively generic one sheet for The Force Awakens (which he was not responsible for). I've always had somewhat mixed feelings about the Special Edition poster artwork. While beautifully rendered with a collective composition representative of the Trilogy as a whole, the mismatched imagery found in each individual poster has always struck me as a little strange. Leia's likeness in the Star Wars artwork is reminiscent of her appearance in the final scene of The Empire Strikes Back. The Emperor's visage in Empire's artwork depicts Ian McDiarmid from Return of the Jedi, understandably supplanting the incongruous, chimp-eyed hologram. Though just like Darth Vader's TIE Fighter, it's an image distinctly associated with another film in the series. Finally, the duel between Luke and Vader portrayed in the Jedi artwork replicates imagery that Struzan had previously incorporated in the Revenge of the Jedi advance teaser one sheet. Interestingly, the reversed colors of the combatant's lightsabers have been corrected, but Luke's sidearm has been reincorporated, making it a clear-cut Empire Strikes Back reference. Nevertheless, when you strip the film titles away and view the three pieces as one, it's quite stunning.

Star Wars Trilogy Special Edition Triptych - Source: The Huffington Post

Speaking of film titles – while the Special Edition campaign explored new territory in terms of a unified illustration and cohesive stylization, it maintained the simpler titling convention utilized in the Trilogy's original theatrical releases by ignoring the original film's added subtitle of A New Hope and excluding the episode numbers altogether. The opposite would occur with the prequels where the episode numbers were far more prevalent, and the pendulum would later swing back toward the retro side with The Force Awakens and the forthcoming The Last Jedi.

Like the "26 for 76" campaign book, 20th Century-Fox's 1997 Winter/Spring Preview campaign book had a Star Wars spread and included some additional press material for the upcoming re-release.

From the Collection of Bill Duelly

The standard domestic press kit for the Special Edition has the Ingot logo on the cover and came with a set of stills, 35mm slides, branding material, and additional information about the work that went into restoring and updating the films.

From the Collection of Bill Duelly

A second press kit was sent out to promote The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi and inform exhibitors that the third film's release date was being pushed out an additional week from March 7th to March 14th due to the unanticipated box office success of its predecessors.

From the Collection of Bill Duelly

Electronic press kits (or EPKs) were not around when the Trilogy was originally released, but were on the rise by the time of the Special Editions. These were curated audiovisual packages from which the press could draw from for a myriad of purposes. The EPKs for the Special Editions consisted of everything from trailers, extended film clips, and featurettes to interviews with the cast and crew, and even unedited behind the scenes footage that could be incorporated into a news piece. A complete example for The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi can be viewed here. Pictured below is the paperwork that would have accompanied the VHS or 3/4" tapes sent to media outlets.

From the Collection of Bill Duelly

Press and crew preview screenings for each Special Edition installment took place in the United States and abroad, with a number of them for Star Wars occurring Saturday, January 18th, 1997. This first set of items are a pair of tickets and a parking pass (ever so important in Los Angeles!) from screenings held at the Bruin Theatre and Regent Theatre in Westwood, CA.

From the Collection of Erik Janniche

Another 10:30am screening was held that same day at the Eaton Centre Cinemas (now owned and operated by Landmark) in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada.

From the Collection of Shane Turgeon

This style of screening pass donning Struzan's one sheet artwork was also used domestically in the U.S. Below are examples for The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi.

From the Collection of Bill Duelly

Screenings of each film were held for Lucasfilm crew members at Bay Area theaters, including the Coronet Theatre in San Francisco. Each theater's tickets were color coded to designate their locality.

From the Collection of Gus Lopez - Star Wars Collectors Archive

Members of the United States Congress were treated to special screenings, such as this one for Return of the Jedi at the historic Uptown Theater in Washington, D.C. three days before the film hit theaters.

From the Collection of Erik Janniche

From the Collection of Erik Janniche

Like the original releases, the Special Editions were a global phenomenon that yielded numerous forms of international moviegoing ephemera. One of the funnest groups of items are a series of cinema "passports." The passport issued by Australian theater chain Hoyt Cinemas has areas for patrons to receive stamps for each film and lists release dates and theater locations where the Trilogy was to be screened. It included coupons for discounted entry to The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi showings as well as special offers for concessions at the Hoyts Candy Bar. Who could pass up a second Choc Top at the cinema? Passport holders could also double down on games at Timezone arcades, an Australian-based chain established in 1978 which claims to be the "first family oriented video amusement facility."

From the Collection of Erik Janniche

Similar passports can be found from Japan, Singapore, and Thailand – the latter two of which use the more profound and Neil deGrasse Tyson-approved designation "Passport to the Universe."

Special Edition Cinema Passports (left to right): Japan, Singapore, and ThailandFrom the Collection of Duncan Jenkins - Star Wars Collectors Archive

Cinemas in Mexico also utilized the passport concept. Deemed the "Pasaporte Rebelde" or "Rebel Passport," the foldout contained detachable vouchers for preview screenings of each film. 

From the Collection of Erik Janniche

Many, such as this example from Cinepolis Multicinemas, featured logos for a particular theater chain. 

From the Collection of Duncan Jenkins - Star Wars Collectors Archive

This invitation for a screening at a United Artists theater (now a Cinemex) in the Polanco district of Mexico City measures 5 x 15.5" when fully opened and incorporates a fun take on the opening crawl.

From the Collection of Duncan Jenkins - Star Wars Collectors Archive

Postcard size invitations were distributed as well, such as this one for a preview screening at the Cinemex in the Santa Fe district of Mexico City.

From the Collection of Erik Janniche

Items from Europe likewise demonstrate the campaign's international consistency in terms of its imagery. This pamphlet from Germany utilizes the Ingot logo in English, with German translations of each title and the big screen (or "GROSSEN LEINWAND") slogan.

From the Collection of Erik Janniche

Previews were held in Rome, Italy at the Cinema Europa in March and April of 1997. Invitations featuring the Struzan artwork on the cover folded out to reveal large translations of the title and screening information, with character photography that was widely used to promote the Special Editions on the back.

From the Collection of Duncan Jenkins -  Star Wars Collectors Archive

In addition to Special Edition Japanese Chirashi, A set of four 5.75 x 8.5" handbills from Thailand can be found, with one for the Ingot logo and each of the three films.

Thailand Handbill - From the Collection of Duncan Jenkins - Star Wars Collectors Archive

For The Empire Strikes Back, Dark Horse Comics offered a free Rogue Squadron comic book with a cover designation for the Special Edition release. Theater owners were sent a fax from Fox detailing the distribution of the comic books, which would be handed out to the first 50 moviegoers that entered the door. Theaters in the bigger markets of New York and Los Angeles received shipments of 100.

From the Collection of Bill Duelly

There were also toy promotions tied in with the Special Edition theatrical releases, the most widely recognized being the "Theater Edition" Luke Skywalker Jedi Knight action figure from Hasbro (under the classic Kenner name). The figure's packaging has a unique Special Edition logo in place of the standard character photo and lists the originally planned Jedi release date of March 7th on the bottom of the card. 

From the Collection of Bill Duelly

From the Collection of Tommy Garvey

As outlined in the memo above, these were distributed to the first 50 (or 100) patrons at participating theaters on the rescheduled opening day of Return of the Jedi on March 14th, 1997 and were limited to 150,000 pieces in all. One of the original shipping cases is pictured below.

From the Collection of Tommy Garvey

Perhaps less well known (but much cooler!) is a commemorative set of Micro Machines from Galoob which was a last minute giveaway requested by Lucasfilm that was given to attendees of the Los Angeles Special Edition premiere of Star Wars. Like the comic book and action figure giveaways described above, these were also handed out to patrons at opening night screenings of the first film on January 31st. The set is comprised of Micro-Mini scale (even smaller than the standard Micro Machines) versions of the Millennium Falcon, Slave I, and Death Star II and was later distributed at the 1997 New York Toy Fair.

From the Collection of Tommy Garvey

Since Galoob wasn't informed about which specific vehicles Lucasfilm had in mind for the set, the company created hardcopy prototypes of numerous vehicles from the line for them to choose from.   

Packaging Engineering Pilot (EP), Final Product & Hardcopies - From the Collection of Tommy Garvey

Toy stores promoted the Special Editions as well. This display is one of the neater examples that ties the Kenner toy line in with the release. Toys "R" Us went all out with announcement banners and feature area displays dedicated to new product. The momentum of the films being back on the big screen resurrected a sustained synergy with the toys that had gone dormant when Return of the Jedi had left theaters over a decade earlier.

Newspaper advertisements for the Special Editions echo the sentiments of the studio's promotional material in terms of highlighting the importance of the Trilogy as a cinematic event. This first pair of Star Wars ads from the New Jersey area play up the re-release's box office success and stress its vast superiority as a theatrical endeavor.

From the Collection of Bill Duelly

These ads from Ottawa, Ontario, Canada continue the familiar theme, featuring quotes that strive to convince readers they'll have a damn good time if they make the trip to the cinema and will regret it if they don't. As the ad for Return of the Jedi indicates, the first two films were still showing in some theaters.

From the Collection of Scott Bradley

Looking back at that moment in time through this material stirs surprising nostalgia. Regardless of the turmoil that would engulf the franchise in their wake, the Special Editions were an enjoyable and celebratory adventure when remembered independently from their transgressions as expressions of artistic revisionism. This is expressed nowhere better than the following ad from the Senator Theatre in Baltimore, MD where "legions of Star Wars zealots" from multiple states broke several of the venue's house records over the first film's Special Edition opening weekend.

From the Collection of Erik Janniche

I love that the ad makes a statement about the correlation between Star Wars and workplace/school tardiness and truancy:

"THE SENATOR MANAGEMENT APOLOGIZES TO AREA SCHOOLS & BUSINESSES FOR THE HIGH LEVEL OF LATENESS AND ABSENTEEISM WHICH RESULTED FROM THE RE-RELEASE OF STAR WARS. LUCKILY THE STAR WARS FLU ONLY STRIKES EVERY 20 YEARS."

And without the Special Editions, this incredible commercial would not exist:

The Trilogy's return to cinemas brought worldwide staying power and ensured that Star Wars would remain in the public eye to this day. Whether or not a newfangled musical number that was once a hit of Evar Orbus and His Galactic Jizz-Wailers should ever be seen by human eyes again is an entirely different story. As everyone's favorite computer generated Yuzzum once jizz-wailed, "Oo-la-wang choo koo-chee-kee-pa-tie tan-ga ris-pa ta ya lee oh. Yo! Ahh! Yal-lie!"


Special thanks to Scott Bradley, Bill Duelly, Tommy Garvey, Erik Janniche, Duncan Jenkins, Gus Lopez, and Shane Turgeon for their contributions to this post. 

Capturing the Spirit: 1978 Re-Release Campaign Graphics

Capturing the Spirit: 1978 Re-Release Campaign Graphics