BOSTON — When “The Empire Strikes Back” special edition was released Feb. 21, it went out with a trailer reminding everyone that “Return of the Jedi” would be re-released March 7.
But as 20th Century Fox saw the grosses roll in, it realized that the success of the special edition of “Star Wars” was no fluke, and pushed “Jedi” back a week.
With both films in the top 10 last weekend, that seems to have been a wise move. After 14 years without a new “Star Wars” movie, the pent-up audience demand was not to be denied.
The “Jedi” special edition once again features the cleaned-up soundtrack and visuals of the first two, but hard-core fans can focus on three additions to Richard Marquand’s 1983 film. A brief dance sequence performed for the benefit of the villainous Jabba the Hutt has been expanded, with computer animation and live-action characters added to the mix.
Return of the slave girl
Femi Taylor, playing a slave girl, even returned to green-skinned makeup to shoot new footage to mix in with her nearly two-decades-old performance.
Later, when Jabba attempts to execute Han Solo (Harrison Ford) and Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) by tossing them into a sand pit, the Sarlacc — a gigantic carnivore living in the sand — had previously been there more by implication. Now we see its ferocious jaws and slithering tentacles endangering the heroes.
Perhaps the most spectacular change, from a special effects perspective, is in the finale after the Empire has been defeated. In the original, it was just the stars and the annoyingly cute Ewoks who celebrate. Now, we get crowd scenes and fireworks on several distinctly different planets, mixing crowd shots and computer-animated skylines seamlessly together.
By experimenting with computerized backgrounds here, series creator George Lucas may be laying the groundwork for effects that can be utilized in the long-planned prequel trilogy.