Betting on revamped ‘Star Wars’

BOSTON — A long time ago, at neighborhood theaters far, far away, old movies would get re-released. Since the homevideo revolution of the mid-’80s, the market disappeared for mass audience re-releases of past hits. With the Jan. 31 reissue of “Star Wars,” George Lucas is going to try to buck the trend.

This release of the “Star Wars” trilogy is banking on something that only Disney has been able to do in the video era: mass market a classic film as a new experience to a generation too young to have seen it in the theaters.

While Lucas has allowed a few special engagements of the films (such as a 1993 triple bill at Boston’s Wang Cen-ter for the Performing Arts), most viewers under the age of 25 have only seen them on TV or have dim memories of the 1983 re-release in anticipation of that year’s “Return of the Jedi.”

Subtle changes

Based on a screening of the first film, the changes are subtle. A major improvement is the remixing of the sound, aided immeasurably by the development of digital technology not available at the time the film was first re-leased. To make up for the fact that the story is exactly the same one fans have been watching in one form or an-other since 1977, several new moments have been added, making all previous “definitive” editions obsolete.

The first is the actual movement of the “dewbacks,” beasts ridden by the Imperial Stormtroopers on the desert world of Tatooine, where they chase robots C3P0 and R2D2. It’s an interesting, but unimportant tweak.

The big changes are in the Mos Eisley sequence. These include new footage showing the settlement to be much larger than previously seen, and the addition of 1976 footage of Harrison Ford with a newly computer-animated Jabba the Hutt, a character who is only mentioned in the original.

While it’s interesting to see Jabba — preview audiences have applauded the sequence — the dialogue largely repeats the previous scene between Han Solo (Ford) and the alien Greedo in the cantina.

Pivotal moment

Narratively the most important addition to “Star Wars” required the least special effects. Before Luke Sky-walker (Mark Hamill) takes off for the climactic battle against the Death Star, there’s now a brief scene where he is reunited with an old friend from Tatooine who subsequently dies in battle.

Critics and film scholars can debate which “Star Wars” is the official and definitive version, but for young fans who’ve only seen it in their living rooms, the point is moot.

If the Force is still at the box office, the re-release of the “Star Wars” trilogy may be a sign of things to come.

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