The original trilogy is sometimes called the "sequel trilogy" or the "classic trilogy" in contrast to the prequel trilogy. The term sequel trilogy is also used for upcoming sequels to Return of the Jedi.
Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope
This film introduces the characters of Luke Skywalker and Princess Leia, as well as the iron fisted regime of the Galactic Empire. On Tatooine, Luke's home planet, the exiled Jedi Obi-Wan Kenobi, in the guise of a kindly old hermit named Ben Kenobi, watches over him. When Luke realizes his Jedi potential, he teams with Han Solo, joins the Rebels, destroys the Death Star and rescues Leia from Darth Vader. However, Obi-Wan dies in combat with Darth Vader.
Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back
After the Alliance experiences a devastating defeat at the hands of the Empire on Hoth, Luke Skywalker goes to receive training from the Jedi Master Yoda. However when Princess Leia and Han Solo are captured by the Empire on Bespin, Luke attempts a rescue only to be confronted by Darth Vader. His battle with the Dark Lord ends in Luke's defeat, and he receives the horrifying revelation that Darth Vader is in fact the former Anakin Skywalker, his father. Leia manages to break free with the help of Han's old friend; Lando Calrissian; but Han is himself taken away.
Star Wars Episode VI: Return of the Jedi
After rescuing Han Solo from the gang lord Jabba the Hutt, Luke visits a dying Yoda, who confirms Vader's revelation and reveals that there is another surviving Skywalker before expiring. Obi-Wan Kenobi's spirit appears and elaborates, and Luke deduces that his sister is in fact Leia. While the Alliance engages the Empire in a battle against the second Death Star above Endor, Luke confronts Vader and the Emperor Palpatine; the Sith mastermind who engineered the creation of the Galactic Empire and the fall of Anakin Skywalker. After a brutal duel with Luke, in which he is defeated and shown mercy, Vader shakes off the Dark Side of the Force and becomes Anakin Skywalker again, destroying Palpatine and saving Luke's life at the cost of his own.
With the destruction of the Death Star and the death of Palpatine, the Empire is defeated and as the rebels celebrate, Luke looks on at the smiling spirits of Obi-Wan, Yoda, and his father.
George Lucas has tinkered repeatedly with the original trilogy. Episodes IV through VI were remastered and re-released as
- Star Wars Trilogy (Special Edition) (both theatrically and on VHS) during 1997 and again
- on DVD re-release in September 2004.
The films underwent extensive clean-up and restoration work, and Lucas took advantage of this opportunity to make a number of changes and addition of effects. In a September 2004 interview with AP, he explains his reasons for the changes:
To me, the special edition ones are the films I wanted to make. Anybody that makes films knows the film is never finished. It's abandoned or it's ripped out of your hands, and it's thrown into the marketplace, never finished. ... Most artists, most painters, even composers would want to come back and redo their work now. They've got a new perspective on it, they've got more resources, they have better technology, and they can fix or finish the things that were never done.…
I wanted to actually finish the film the way it was meant to be when I was originally doing it. At the beginning, people went, "Don't you like it?" I said, "Well, the film only came out to be 25 or 30 percent of what I wanted it to be." ... If you read any interviews for about an eight- or nine-year period there, it was all about how disappointed I was and how unhappy I was and what a dismal experience it was. You know, it's too bad you need to get kind of half a job done and never get to finish it. So this was my chance to finish it.
The re-release changes are a point of contention among fans, many claiming that they taint the movies. Ironically, Lucas testified before the U.S. Congress in opposition to colorizing black and white films (a position he has reiterated as recently as August 2004 ). Many fans see this attitude as hypocritical, but the types of alterations Lucas is opposed to are done without the consent of the artists involved in the original production, as opposed to changes he made to his own films.