Yes we are going to look at the nerd rage inducing changes to the Star Wars Blu-Ray releases, ranging from eyelids on Ewoks to a Dug in the palace (not to mention the newly added Vader ‘Noooooo!’) and I will explain why I have no issue with the changes at all.
Well almost no issue.
When it comes to changing films I always think of Orson Wells’ oft-quoted (wildly different variations abound) comment on Ted Turner’s fascination with ‘colorizing’ films:
“Tell Ted Turner to keep his crayons away from my movies!”
In this instance Ted Turner was taking classic movies and adding colour, but essentially they were not ‘his’ movies. Conversely George Lucas and Star Wars are one and the same, and if he chooses to make changes to ‘his’ films, then surely this should be appreciated?
As film fans we always becry the ‘producer’s cut’ that turns some films from the Director’s vision into something that may make more profit, or appeal to some specific demographic. In these instances we crave the original Director’s vision for the film, but what if the director wasn’t happy with the film as it stood? We all know that James Cameron waited for years to make Avatar on account of the fact that the technology just wasn’t up to the task of making his vision a reality at the time of conception. Instead he waited for the technology to catch up and then made the film he wanted – although there was still time for an extended cut that added new footage, and was lapped up by fans.
With Lucas we had a different situation. Making Star Wars – not ‘A New Hope’ at the time – on a modest budget, and releasing it to a world that could never have comprehended the frenzy of fans that would turn up night after night to make the film a huge success, not to mention the clever move to make money from licensing. What Lucas now had was a set of keys that unlocked a future of film-making, but at a slight cost, namely the need to create more story without compromising the original vision.
It is here that Lucas ‘failed’.
You see the worlds of Empire and Jedi (and to an extent Menace, Clones and Sith) expanded the Star Wars Universe to the point that areas like the Mos Eisely Cantina (or Chalmun’s Cantina if we are going to be nerdy about this) seem to lack species that you would have expected to have seen in such a hive of scum and villainy – similarly the changes to Jabba’s palace scenes that now add in a Dug. So if you have a rapidly expanding world, and mess around with the past in the form of the prequel trilogy you are left with the issue of balancing out the movies to ensure consistancy.
Now the problem here is that we as Star Wars fans have very clear memories of the movies – formed through trips to the cinema, copies of the trilogy on VHS and Christmas telly schedules – that we are not comfortable to see changed. We know that Han shot first, no matter what revisionistic edits are made to the series, but at the same time we remember model X-Wings attacking the Death Star – fewer in number of course – and we remember the formerly mentioned battlestation exploding in a far more modest manner originally.
Budget and technology restraints restricted Lucas’ vision to the point that he has the opportunity to enhance the films to make them more pleasing to himself, using the opportunities available to him to make changes, to evolve the films from what he sees as an ‘early draft’:
There will only be one. And it won’t be what I would call the “rough cut”, it’ll be the “final cut”. The other one will be some sort of interesting artifact that people will look at and say, “There was an earlier draft of this.” The same thing happens with plays and earlier drafts of books. In essence, films never get finished, they get abandoned. At some point, you’re dragged off the picture kicking and screaming while somebody says, “Okay, it’s done.” That isn’t really the way it should work. Occasionally, [you can] go back and get your cut of the video out there, which I did on both American Graffiti and THX 1138; that’s the place where it will live forever. So what ends up being important in my mind is what the DVD version is going to look like, because that’s what everybody is going to remember. The other versions will disappear. Even the 35 million tapes of Star Wars out there won’t last more than 30 or 40 years. A hundred years from now, the only version of the movie that anyone will remember will be the DVD version [of the Special Edition], and you’ll be able to project it on a 20′ by 40′ screen with perfect quality. I think it’s the director’s prerogative, not the studio’s to go back and reinvent a movie.
Now some would say that he makes changes to ‘sell’ another box set, but let’s be honest here the fan-rage that occurs everytime he makes a change – be it new Wampa shots, or a full on musical number courtesy of the Max Rebo Band (now with CGI!) – you could also argue that people would buy more copies of the ‘original’ versions than these supposed bastard sons.
Anyone with a passing grasp of art history – or art at all actually – will know only too well what lengths some artists go to before ‘finishing’ their works, often evidenced when paintings are scanned we see numerous layers of works underneath the famous final version, discarded early iterations that were painted over to save on canvas/materials. To me this is the closest I can compare Lucas to.
As the creator and originator of the series it is his to meddle with, and if we fear that he is trampling all over our childhoods then that’s something we have to deal with, not him.
I own about nine different versions of the films – three sets on VHS (classic, classic widescreen and ’97 special editions) a pile of DVD releases and the Blu-Ray box set is pre-ordered and I can’t wait to see the films in proper hi-def. You see I love the films, I always have, and I always will. Changes might grate from time to time – the previously mentioned Han/Greedo scene in particular – but it doesn’t really change what made me love Star Wars in the first place. The classic trilogy is still a great set of films regardless of changes and I think that sometimes these new effect shots and changes are irrelevant to the new viewers. Instead we, as older, more bitter adults, look at what is essentially a series of family adventure films with derision as we will never be able to recapture that feeling we had back in the eighties when we watched them while playing with our Kenner action figures and eating sandwiches out of our Darth Vader lunch boxes.
The biggest change to affect our enjoyment of the Star Wars films was that we grew up.
Can’t blame Lucas for that (we can blame him for Indy 4 though… dirty raping bastard).
Also no-one liked the Episode 1 Yoda puppet… the new version is FAR SUPERIOR (yes that’s right, an change that is superior and that no-one is complaining about.)