A few weeks ago, the Star Wars films made their Blu-Ray debut. While many directors would be happy to remaster the soundtrack, clean up the original negatives, and include some kind of bonus behind-the-scenes material, George Lucas chose to make some changes. Frank Oz’s puppeteering of Yoda in The Phantom Menace is replaced with CGI, an Ewok in Return Of The Jedi now blinks with CGI eyelids, and in one scene, a new rock is added in front of R2-D2 in A New Hope (the rock is probably CGI.) As you might expect, these changes have mostly been met with groans and eye-rolling from the fan community.
THAT was part of your original vision for Star Wars, George? More rocks?
Sadly, Lucas’s revisionist approach to his cinematic legacy is something we’ve come to expect by now. When The Star Wars Trilogy was first released on DVD in 2004, numerous changes were made, including the digital insertion of Hayden Christiansen, star of Attack Of The Clones and Revenge of the Sith. For Lucas, this helped tie The Original Trilogy to The Prequel Trilogy, creating a complete saga. For fans, this was tantamount to being retroactively molested as children.
The first time Lucas made any major changes to The Original Trilogy was in 1997, when all three films were re-released in theatres, fully restored and remastered. He also included some deleted scenes, which, let’s be honest, were pretty cool to see for the first time. I saw all of these in theatres, opening weekend.
Changes aside, being eleven years old and seeing Star Wars on the big screen is something I’m grateful I was around for. I was at an age when preserving the purity of the film’s original prints wasn’t quite as exciting as the prospect of a new scene with Jabba The Hutt, or high-tech CGI Death Star explosions. Now years later, after a few film studies classes and countless hours on the internet, I’ve become old, bitter, and cynical. I fully understand why people get mad about The Special Editions, but as a kid, they were a lot of fun.
The prequels rolled around a couple years after The Special Editions, and I got excited about them, too. When The Phantom Menace first came out, I thought Jar-Jar Binks was funny, and in all fairness, I was twelve years old. I thought Darth Maul was totally badass, and let’s face it, he totally was. In high school, I spent many a lunch period watching trailers for Attack Of The Clones online in the computer lab, and getting excited about the prospect of seeing Jango Fett fighting Jedi Knights, crossing my fingers and clinging to Lucas’ promise that Episode II would be “darker” than its predecessor.
The prequels were actually pretty cool before, y'know... we actually watched them.
When Revenge Of The Sith came out, my fandom had subsided quite a bit, but I was still second in line to see the midnight showing. The first guy in line was forty-something years old, and was wearing homemade Jedi robes. We hung out until the doors opened at midnight, and any awkwardness that might’ve been caused by our age difference was abolished by our mutual appreciation of Star Wars. The next day, he’d written a letter to the local paper talking about how well-behaved the local teenagers had been during the midnight showing.
Going to see movies in theatres is a thing a lot of people do, so all this could be chalked up to having a fairly casual appreciation of Star Wars. For me, it goes a little deeper than that.
I had a really rough time growing up. I was chronically depressed and anxious. I missed a lot of school and talked to a lot of shrinks, and ran the gauntlet of hot new medications that are supposed to make kids act normal. Without getting too melodramatic about it, let’s just say I wasn’t a happy camper. At this time, I watched the Star Wars movies a lot. I read a bunch of the novels, played with the toys, and drew a lot of pictures of Boba Fett. I’ve probably read Tales Of The Bounty Hunters a dozen times, and I can draw a pretty damn accurate suit of Mandalorian Armor from memory. Star Wars was my primary mode of escapism at a time when real life wasn’t so great, and at that time, Star Wars happened to be having its renaissance.
Read these books. They're like Pulp Fiction or Traffic in space.
Nowadays, I’m happy. I have the coolest job ever. I’ve got a wonderful family, great friends, and a girlfriend with whom I’m madly in love. Life is fantastic, and I couldn’t be happier with how things are going. Conversely, the Star Wars Galaxy has turned into a stupid thing. On a good day, I hate it with a passion, and on a bad one, I ignore it completely.
Hearing the news about George Lucas’ latest changes for The Trilogy’s Blu-Ray release didn’t evoke much from me besides an irritated shrug. That’s the most that I could muster on that particular day. Hearing about Hayden Christensen was being added to Return Of The Jedi made me frown and shake my head. Seeing a trailer for an animated CGI feature film about The Clone Wars made me sigh and roll my eyes. Finding out the new bad guys in The Expanded Universe were a race of technology-hating masochist zealots who wore lightsaber-resistant crab-armor made me spit out whatever I was drinking out of utter confusion. What happened to my Star Wars?
The answer? Nothing.
When a car company releases a hideous new redesign of a classic model, it doesn’t suddenly render all previous versions ugly. When a writer runs out of ideas, his old books don’t become retroactively uninspired. When Ice Cube started appearing in all those terrible family movies, no one went back and made Straight Outta Compton a suitable album for children. The Star Wars we all know and love is still there, and no amount of CGI can change that, in spite of George’s best efforts. If you don’t want to watch the reduxed and remixed versions, don’t watch them. Go dust off your old VHS copies and figure out how to hook up a VCR to your flatscreen, or grab a set of the DVDs that include the original theatrical versions on insultingly mislabeled “bonus” discs. It’s okay to call yourself a Star Wars fan while simultaneously shunning the Blu-Ray releases.
The Star Wars Trilogy before it became a digital plastic surgery disaster.
I still watch The Trilogy a few times a year. When I’m sick in bed, or just bored. I’ll put it on in the background while I’m working. I didn’t think it was possible, but I actually managed to love The Empire Strikes Back even more. This, of course, happened after I discovered the old Colt 45 commercials Billy Dee Williams did in the eighties. I’ve spent several evenings with friends watching The Trilogy and drinking forties, making fun of Luke’s whining, thinking up hilarious translations for Chewbacca’s growls, and secretly wishing we were as suave as Lando.
My stupid girlfriend thinks it's weird that I want to name my first son "Lando."
Star Wars might not be the absolute pinnacle of film-making, and it might not be the most solid science fiction. The writing’s hokey, and the acting could be better. Some of the special effects are a little bit dated and Ewoks are still damn stupid, but it’s Star Wars. In 1977, George Lucas created a remarkable fantasy world. He might be currently hellbent on digitally ruining it, but let’s not let that overshadow what he originally created. I can’t speak for everyone else, but Star Wars made my childhood better, gives me something to look back on fondly now, and I look forward to sharing it with my kids someday. For that, I’m grateful. Cheers, Lucas.
NEXT WEEK: Alex finally watches The Empire Strikes Back and waxes intellectual about what many consider to be the best Star Wars film.
Previously, on the Star Wars Retrospective
The Multiracial Identity
A New Hope
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