Beyond discussions I have had in private, I usually refrain from talking a lot about Star Wars – though to be sure, it’s the nexus point of me becoming the geek I am today – thus, the topic of much discussion. To date, what I’ve said, in print, amounts to one op-ed piece in which I implored George Lucas to have a sense of humor about himself, and release the Star Wars Holiday Special — the Zapruder Film for Star Wars fans — on home video. And I did that over a year ago.
So why do I feel compelled to write something now? Surprisingly, it isn’t this weekend’s release of The Phantom Menace in 3D. I think that the Prequel Trilogy has been over-discussed and over-debated, at least in public forums. On a personal level, it’s very simple. To me, they aren’t particularly good films. Then again, I don’t have to watch them. End of story. Saying that Mr. Lucas reached into my head and fondled my Inner Child, as many have asserted, would be pushing it, to say the least.
My “coping mechanism,” if you will, is pretty simple: I went retro. Like a popculture ostrich, I pretty much stuck my head into a hole in 1983. It’s not that I haven’t acknowledged the expansion (and in rare cases, improvement) of the Star Wars Universe – whether it’s through the prequels, or in other media like cartoons and comics. It’s just that, for me, the more the blanks have gotten filled in, the more it diminishes my enjoyment of the original work – and it’s still important to enjoy those original films. It’s pretty simple to stay in that hole, too, as I still have many of my old action figures [I mean 1977 old, not 1997 old.]; a lot of the old spin-off novels; and a nearly complete collection of the endearingly goofy Marvel Comics series that ran until the mid-eighties. Bliss by omission. However whenever, say, Gentle Giant or Hasbro releases a collectible, or a toy, based on Original Trilogy moments and characters – I start salivating like Pavlov’s pooches. Believe that.
No. What’s got me in Godfather III mode [“They keep pulling me back in!“] is a recent story in The Hollywood Reporter that rehashed the nearly fifteen year-old “Who Shot First?” controversy. Han, or Greedo the bounty hunter? In the original theatrical cut of the film, of course, it was Han. Later, via digital technology, it was amended to add a first shot from Greedo – apparently, to make Han look like less of a bad guy. The first step in the problematic trend: Lucas continues to alter the originals, the films the audience most connects with – sometimes to conform them with the prequels, and sometimes, to correct what he perceived as 20th Century Fox tampering with his original vision.
However, the real problem, for me, isn‘t even that he felt compelled to change it. After all, it was apparently very clear in his original script. No, the problem, to me, is how he interpreted the audience‘s reaction: The controversy over who shot first, Greedo or Han Solo, in Episode IV, what I did was try to clean up the confusion, but obviously it upset people because they wanted Solo [who seemed to be the one who shot first in the original] to be a cold-blooded killer, but he actually isn’t.
We want him to be a cold-blooded killer? That’s a pretty lousy summation of your audience’s desires. Further, if you look at the original scene, as it stood for over twenty years, is there anything about it that implies “cold-bloodedness”???
Literally backed up against a wall, and under a death threat [Han: Over my dead body. Greedo: That’s the idea.] Han draws first. Compared to say, a Jar-Jar Binks scene, sure it’s dark. [Though not as dark as the slaughter of dozens of children in the more “kid friendly” films.] Then again, I always thought the scene was a nod to Spaghetti Westerns. Further, on a simple story issue, it was interesting to watch Han evolve, over three films, from a mercenary to a man who values friendship and love – which causes him to fight in a cause outside of his own interests. Pretty interesting guy, that [Original Trilogy] Han Solo.
Then there was the revision:
Pretty much the same thing, only a first shot from Greedo, and a slight, awkward dodge from Han were added. First, it adds nothing to the dialog but frustration. And on a basic, visceral level, it looks less natural than any set piece in the Prequel Trilogy. Isn’t George Lucas big on improving the look of movies? It just looks forced and completely unnatural. Though it might clarify HIS vision, it didn’t improve the scene whatsoever.
But it just kept going with every permutation of the films’ re-release. Things like:
A scene in “A New Hope” between Han and Jabba the Hutt, shot with a human actor in the 70’s, digitally altered to add the slug-like creature that, until his first physical appearance in Jedi… was a looming figure of menace. It looked as canned, manipulated, and unnatural as the “Han vs. Greedo” scene. Oh yeah – and they added fan favorite Boba Fett, for no apparent reason, made all the worse by Mr. Fett’s breaking the fourth wall at the end of the scene. Jabba was a lot more fun before the redux, too.
Replacing Sebastian Shaw, the actor who played Anakin Skywalker in Return of the JedI, with Hayden Christiansen in ROTJ’s final scene, in which the ghosts of Obi-Wan, Yoda and Anakin appear to Luke for the DVD release. [Fine, then why didn’t he replace Alec Guiness with Ewan MacGregor? Lucas can wrap it in all the stuttered, flaccid explanation he likes but, the answer is because it’s Alec Guiness!]
Adding a scream to Luke opting for suicide, rather than submit to Darth Vader and become a pawn of the Emperor. [There was a lot more weight in the silence – it meant he had the absolute conviction that he was doing the right thing.]
Most recently, in the Blu-Ray edition of ROTJ, Darth Vader screams “NOOOOO!!!” when the Emperor is on the verge of killing Luke with Force Lightning. [Not only silly, but in terms of a simple plot, do you really want to telegraph, to your boss… a guy with considerable Force powers… who’s in the middle of killing your son… that you’re about to change sides and save your kid’s life?]
…and it just keeps going and going to the point that, even when it’s released in 3D, I will forgo seeing the Original Trilogy, in theaters or otherwise, out of fear that they’ve added a scene with R2-D2 flying, just to conform to the prequels.
Granted, fanboys and fangirls tend to sabotage themselves in these dust-ups. [For example, some people are really, really upset that digital blinking was added to the Ewoks in ROTJ. To which I’d say “choose your battles, folks.”] They react so vehemently and loudly to every little piece of minutiae, and with the passion of a Methodist Revival, that at some point, I’m sure it all sounds like white noise – and to more filmmakers than George Lucas. Legitimate beefs with alterations that fundamentally change the story and tone tend to get lost in the battle.
However, to me and many others, at the end of the day, the only thing that the original Star Wars films ever “needed” to transition to the Digital Age was a little spit and polish. Brighten the negative, and erase the matte boxes around the spaceships, and Star Wars (before “A New Hope” was added to the title, to avoid confusion) still works. Add 3D to those films, and I might even go see them in theaters!
And as for Greedo shooting first: I think I’d have a lot less problem with him saying, thirty-five years after the fact, “Well, I originally intended to have Greedo shoot first, but that’s not how it ended up on the set, and we couldn’t fix it in editing – so we played the ball where it lied.” That would be interesting trivia – another thing that makes movies, Star Wars in particular, fun. Creating a couple extra frames of celluloid is just a thinly veiled attempt at revising (fictional) history. Sure he’s got a right. The question is, did he EVER have a reason? A good one?