With the Blu-ray release of George Lucas’ seminal Star Wars films just a few days away, the Web is already abuzz with - you guessed it, more anger and childhood rape ire. Apparently, geeks given review copies of the six film box set (three origin and three pathetic prequels) are already immersed in the uber-nerd details only to discover - shock and horror - that the creator has been fiddling with his classics once again. More than just replacing Sebastian Shaw with Hayden Christensen or the whole nonsensical “Greedo shot first” furor, these latest alterations have the faithful flummoxed and the haters hollering.
Among the many noted changes: Darth Vader screaming “NOOOOOOOO” as he kills the Emperor at the end of Jedi; Ewoks blinking; R2-D2 hiding behind some CG rocks; Ob-Wan Kenobi’s altered ‘dragon yell’; Menace‘s Yoda goes from puppet to digital….yadda, yadda, yadda. There’s no avoiding it - like a crying baby on a long distance air flight. Words like “radical” and “uncalled for” are once again being used to describe these latest incarnations, but for the most part, it’s nothing new. Since the initial rerelease of A New Hope (aka, the original Star Wars) to theaters back in the ‘90s, Lucas has made it very clear that these are his films and history and fandom be damned, he will tweak them at will until he gets them “right.”
Now, before you drag out your valuable Kenner action figures and place them in the microwave one by one, let’s get something straight. These are Lucas’ films. He does hold the rights to them. He’s not some stupid studio head seeing the most recent technological advances - i.e. colorization - and thinking he or she can retrofit a hit and make it bankable again. This is a man with a particular vision for his universe, a vision that could not be effectively or fully realized in the ‘70s…or ‘80s…or even the ‘90s. No, it has taken three decades, multiple format releases, and the slings and arrows of an obsessed fanbase for Lucas to finally come ‘close’ to what he originally saw in his moviemaker mind’s eye. Is he done making changes? Doubtful. Does he still have the right to do it - absolutely.
Of course, there is a catch (isn’t there always???).By his own argument, a reanimated Leonardo Da Vinci could walk into the Lourve, demand his Mona Lisa, and take it back to his studio for some added color and spark (and, perhaps, to fix that damn smile of hers). Similarly, a zombie Orson Welles could rise from the grave, grab Citizen Kane, and add an entire subplot involving trained monkeys and a meat thermometer and that would be okay. If after seeing the process of adding tint to tired old black and white images, a rejuvenated Frank Capra would probably turn It’s a Wonderful Life into a brilliant rainbow barrage (even with its lapse copyright in the public domain). Lucas believes that art is fluid. It should change with the maker, not the market.
But this begs a specific question - does the consumer have a say? Some would argue ‘yes,’ via the almighty power of the dollar. If you don’t like what Lucas is doing, as the Facebook posts go, DON’T BUY THE BLU-RAYS!!! Simple as that, right…except, the system is set up to favor the filmmaker (well, at least in this specific case). Since Lucas refuses to make any former version of the movies available for purchase, fans are stuck with whatever he gives them. Now, if all you’ve known are the recent revamps complete with CG canoodling and impossible to defend casting choices, you probably don’t care. Yet it’s the older set who suffers the most, especially the 50-ish fan who spent hours on line to see the original Wars in 1977.
‘Suffer’ may sound harsh, but here’s the rub - by doing what he’s doing, Lucas lessens the import of the first film and its supporters. He destroys the inherent magic in the original version of the movie in order to fulfill a supposedly higher aesthetic purpose. It doesn’t matter that those who filled Cineplexes back then might prefer the original ‘mix.’ New is new…and nicer. If that is indeed valid, then Peter Jackson should be praised, not hated, for doing the same to King Kong. Similarly, the current flood of remakes hitting the market should be embraced if only because they are taking tired old efforts like The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Last House on the Left and giving them the contemporary cultural relevance they demand.
Again, Lucas can argue vision all he wants, but there is a fine line between being a completist and being a jerk. Under his assessment, any movie not up to today’s standards should be taken back and fine tuned until it meets a certain unsettled criteria. Of course, he can never return to the source for the true test - that is, taking the recently revamped Wars and releasing it on an unsuspecting mid-‘70s audience (now THERE’S an argument for time machine technology). Granted, one assumes that more than a few minds would be blown, but it is the success of the original films that allows the tyrannical tycoon the luxury of playing celluloid God in the first place. What about those disciples? Are they to be merely cast aside?
The answer is clearly “Yes,” and along with their lack of patronage comes a smug sense of satisfaction. Indeed, Lucas must love the maelstrom that arrives whenever he announces, and then makes available, his latest incarnation of his franchise. It’s the kind of cracking word of mouth advertisers drool over. Sure, some will be turned off by the concept of having to, once again, pony up for movies that contain only minor artistic changes. Others will simply leap - either at the chance, or off their childhood petards. It should come as no surprise that George Lucas has used the Blu-ray release of Star Wars as an opportunity to reimagine and manipulate his mythos…and don’t be surprised in a few years when he up and does it again.
We all know how critical it is to keep independent voices alive and strong on the Internet. Please consider a donation to support our work as independent cultural critics and historians. Your donation will help PopMatters stay viable through these changing and challenging times where costs have risen and advertising has dropped precipitously. We need your help to keep PopMatters strong and growing. Thank you.