CGI…a dreaded word to some Star Wars fans. A tool that has caused division in not just this fandom but many others too as more directors are leaning towards using CGI instead of practical effects. While many fans don’t like the idea of CGI, many also don’t realise how much in Star Wars is actually still practical effects (PE).
While it might look like CGI, PE has just become really advanced! Both tools have been improved so much over the years that these days it is sometimes very difficult to differentiate between the two in a scene. But what about going back to old scenes of movies and enhancing or reimagining them completely through the use of CGI? In this post we will have a look at some of the changes George Lucas himself made and then some edits made by fans.
When the special edition on Blu-ray was released for the Star Wars original trilogy, some fans were left confused as they saw some of their favourite scenes had slightly changed. There are different ways that George Lucas used CGI and editing to change the scenes, so let’s look at some examples.
The first example to look at is just a very simple change made to multiple scenes. We see here that clearly editing was used to enhance an image in the movie and define some features. I personally don’t see anything wrong with this at all, if the tools have been made available why not try and really show every feature as you intended for it to look / pop out. I think some people have issue with even this style of editing because it might take away from the rustic look that they possibly connected with their childhood. However I think it is also important to note that Star Wars was George Lucas’s project and he had a clear vision for it. I completely understand why he would want to enhance a few images so they still look great on newer, bigger and more HD tv screens.
The next we are looking at is the addition of small features in a scene. In this scene from Return of the Jedi we see that the Sarlacc Pit has been altered to have a beak and some more tentacles. What fascinates me is that I am not even sure I have ever seen this scene without these extra features as I am a younger fan. I think for this scene again it is very clear that George Lucas made this edit since at the time of shooting the CGI technology was not advanced enough/existent to create the scene in the way he possibly wanted to. Not everything could be done by PE back then either and so I think this change is completely justified. When talking about additions to scenes we can’t not mention the Dewback’s. I noticed that this angered quite a few people since they felt the addition of them was unnecessary and uncalled for. My question here is; does every addition need to have a deeper meaning? I understand some people would argue yes and say; why change something so many people love(d) originally? However again I think this goes back to new technology allowing George Lucas to create scenes in a way he intended them to look from the start.
Something else that caused controversy was changing Yoda from a puppet to CGI form in multiple scenes. Frank Oz had done an absolutely fantastic job as Yoda and many felt this was a disservice to him. I see why people were upset about this change as it really does make a difference to how he looks, however it also makes a difference to many expressions and this is something I love about the change. It almost adds more depth to Yoda as we can see him more clearly reaction to situations around him.
Something else that caused quite the stir was the change to the end of Return of the Jedi when we see Hayden Christensen reprise his role as Anakin and come back as a force ghost replacing Sebastian Shaw. I think this change in fact makes complete sense after the prequel trilogy had finished off. Just before Darth Vader passes away he looks at his son and the two have a beautiful exchange:
Anakin: “You already have, Luke. You were right. You were right about me… Tell your sister… you were right…”
I personally always interpreted this dialogue as Anakin returning and Darth Vader having already died before Anakin did. His words “you were right” clearly reference to when Luke stated that he knew there was still good in him. Hence I completely understand why they would bring Hayden back to star as the force ghost since it truly is Anakin’s force ghost and not that of Darth Vader.
Then let’s look at using the most advanced technology in CGI to not only change characters’ appearance but using it to bring characters to live whose actors have sadly passed away. This was used for the first time in Star Wars (but I believe it won’t be the last) in Rogue One.
In Rogue One we saw one the most advanced technologies out there as they brought Tarkin back to life as Peter Cushing had already passed. I personally have to say that I thought it was almost completely flawless. I would say the CGI on Tarkin was definitely better than that on Leia but both were completely recognisable. This of course brings along the question of can we use the faces of actors who have passed away without crossing any lines? Star Wars is of course not the only movie franchise to use this technology and it has even spanned out to bringing artists back on stage in festivals etc. Some fans were left disgruntled seeing the late actor back on screen, but as a huge fan of not only Star Wars but Tarkin himself I have to say I was absolutely delighted.
And now finally we get to the fanservice, the fan edits and the reimaginations. Only a few hours ago a new video has taken the internet by storm as the fight between Darth Vader and Obi-Wan in A New Hope has been reimagined and edited. You can find the video here. I have to say that I watched most of the video with my jaw down on the floor as I was so impressed with the edit. We see a Darth Vader here that is clearly much more powerful and uses his powers in a way that we hadn’t seen before. We saw a glimpse of this of course in Rogue One which left fans wanting more, and now we have it. However some would say it takes away from the beauty of the simpler fight between the two, and I would also agree with this. I love both versions (although some might argue the original version did not age well) and I love seeing Darth Vader as the powerful Sith lord he is. However if we think about who we are looking at here we are seeing two older force users who have already fought eachother before and were unable to beat one another. They know there is no point in using fancy tricks to try and win the fight, since they are still so linked together as one was trained by the other. However that being said I still absolutely LOVE this new fan version and I love even more how much work Star Wars fans put into all these edits. So I am all for new edits, reimaginations etc since they do not change the actual material and if you do not enjoy them you can always just stick on the movie! Star Wars has always really been left to the fans i.m.o to interpret in whatever way they like, and that is exactly what these fans are doing.
So what are your opinions on the use of CGI and PE in Star Wars? Do you prefer one over the other? Or do you love the combination of both? And do you yourself scan the internet for fan edits too?
4 thoughts on “CGI in Star Wars: “Do or Do not””
My opinion is that CGI is an integral part of Star Wars. George Lucas always has fun pushing the limits of film…let him do it. It’s his playground.
I completely agree, I think George Lucas knew exactly what he wanted and how he wanted it and so pushed the technologies of CGI to get there! I am glad you agree 🙂
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The first two images are nothing to do with CGI or editing. The picture on the right is just a higher definition transfer of the same image. Presumably, the image on the left comes from a video release or the 2006 DVD, which was a low quality transfer from the 1990s laserdisc. Star Wars certainly did not look blurry in 1977. It was designed to be seen on much bigger screens than your TV.