If this ranks as the nerdiest post I ever write for this blog, so be it, but it’s a subject that I’m very passionate about. I really hate what Star Wars has become. It’s my favorite movie series, probably my favorite movie soundtrack, and a huge influence on my love of movies and storytelling, but damnit if I hate what the movies and universe stand for now. John Lasseter told an anecdote about Toy Story that is very relevant to this. He talked about how he was in an airport right after finishing the first Toy Story movie and he saw a little boy with a Woody doll (I think it was a Woody doll, but it might very well have been a Buzz Lightyear doll), in any case, he saw the boy with the doll, and he realized something: Toy Story was no longer just his movie, it was the little boy’s movie too. Now, no one can take away the creative control and accomplishments from the director and creator, but his point spoke to how an audience can fall in love with a movie and how that movie becomes a part of their lives; it becomes a part of them. I say this as Star Wars is back in the media spotlight with the casting announcement of Episode VII. I started thinking about Star Wars again and realized that I hadn’t given it much thought at all lately. Why would I go for so long not paying attention to something that was so special to me?
They’re no longer the movies I grew up with…literally. I can not go out and buy a cleaned up, restored, remastered version of the original trilogy that I watched growing up. Those versions have been buried, seemingly forever, by George Lucas in favor of the Special Editions that were released in the late 90’s. Since then he’s tinkered with them further and after the release of the abysmal prequel trilogy, he started retconning elements from the prequels into the original trilogy so that no matter how much you disliked the prequels, you were forced to accept them as part of the Star Wars mythos. My disdain for the prequels would be far less harsh if I had the option of ignoring them all together as I’m able to do with Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, or Die Hard 4 and 5. But with Star Wars, I’m forced to accept all of it and it’s infuriating. Now, the first thing that people who like the prequels will say is that the movies are George Lucas’ creation and he’s allowed to do whatever he wants with them, but that’s incorrect. As the John Lasseter story shows, the audience is very much a part of this process, the final, essential piece to good storytelling, because a great story is useless with no one to share it with. The movies will always be Lucas’, but to alter what audiences around the world originally fell in love with, to alter a piece of film making history, is a travesty.
I’ll admit, I was super excited when they released the special editions in the 90’s. I had never seen Star Wars on the big screen. I was in San Francisco, away on a speech and debate tournament and went to a single screen theater near Berkley to see it. I went by myself, this was the first time I’d gone to a theater alone, but I had an amazing time. It was so great to see one of my favorite movies on the big screen in surround sound. I loved the enhanced visual effects and thought the additional scene with Jabba the Hutt was cool. I remember tilting my head and making a face when Greedo shot before Han, as the edit and timing were already embedded in my mind, but that was quickly forgotten. And I was in love with the almost completely redone Death Star battle at the end. It was bigger and better. I was 16 and didn’t realize what I was seeing at the time.
I missed Empire’s release (another oversight of my teenage years was that Empire wasn’t my favorite film of the trilogy) but went to see Jedi with my dad and my brother. It started the same, the rousing fanfare, the epic title, the bold, yellow text. This was awesome. I couldn’t wait to get to the battle over the Sarlacc pit. But then the movie got to the musical number in Jabba’s palace, and I was unprepared for what came next. The original song was silly, but catchy and it seemed to fit into the world naturally. It sounded like a pop song sung by aliens. The creatures were cute and strange, not unlike the cantina scene from A New Hope. But that was all gone. Now it was a a herd of digital characters singing a ridiculously sounding song, while the camera held on them in an extreme close up. They looked terrible compared to their original, puppet counterparts. It made no sense. Why did they change that? What was the point? How did that help the movie at all?
That’s when I started thinking harder about it, but it would be another 10 years before I realized what had happened. After my disappointment with all of the prequels (and no, Episode 3 is not good, you just think it is because it was better than the first 2, but that doesn’t make it good), I would go back to the originals on DVD to watch what I knew were superior films, but they had changed. The terrible number in Jabba’s palace, Greedo shooting first, seeing that the digital Jabba doesn’t hold up and looks obviously fake (plus the scene doesn’t move the plot forward at all and is a complete rehash of the scene with Greedo…and it ruins the reveal of the Millennium Falcon), wondering why the Sarlacc monster needed a beak, and (this was the part that really got me), adding young Anakin to the end of Jedi, permanently tying the trilogies together.
Having a young Anakin doesn’t make sense. He was evil when he was young, he wasn’t pure back then. Why does he get younger but Obi Wan and Yoda stay old? Plus, I don’t want to acknowledge the prequels. They’re terrible. I don’t want to see them in the original films! And then I thought about the redone Death Star battle from A New Hope, the one I was so impressed with as a teenager. In 1977, Star Wars won the Academy Award for visual effects and rightfully so. The movie pushed movie effects into the modern age, building upon the stellar work from 2001: A Space Odyssey but now the ships were dirty, worn, and incredibly fast. They were used and lived in. It was a universe that felt real. Yes, some of the effects don’t hold up as well, but it was 1977. It’s a landmark special effects movie. The work of the crew won the highest honor Hollywood bestows on itself. You don’t just cover that up and pretend that it didn’t happen. It’s spitting in the face of everyone who worked on the movie. To ignore the original work, to pretend that it didn’t look like what it did, isn’t right, and you do not see this happening with any other movie out there. Take any other landmark special effects movie, they were constrained by the technological limitations of their times too (Blade Runner, Tron, The Abyss, Terminator 2, Jurassic Park), but the directors don’t go back and change everything. And I’m not talking about little things: cleaning up matte lines, or other small details that were more a result of budget and time constraints. I’m talking about taking entire sequences, Academy Award winning sequences, and removing them completely. I’m talking about altering the edit of a scene that changes a rogue hero’s introduction, or adding a scene with a digital character that slows down the pacing and takes away the reveal from a scene that follows. It makes no sense. Yes, the new effects are shiny and new, but that’s not what we originally fell in love with. We loved the movie despite it’s flaws. So what if there were matte lines and you could obviously tell the ships are models in certain shots? We still loved it. We still loved the movies even with the Ewoks because, for all its silliness, we had incredible characters, real, dramatic conflict, and a science fiction universe filled with strange worlds and incredible creatures. I want the original movies in their original forms on Blu Ray. I want to hear them in the highest sound quality that modern home theater sound systems can provide. I shouldn’t have to go back to abandoned formats (Laserdiscs), or wait for one guy in Europe to put together his own HD transfer of the movie.
And that’s why I hate what Star Wars has become. It’s not the trilogy I grew up watching. It’s no longer the cool, epic battle between good and evil. It’s a part of a larger world now, filled with inferior prequels and silly cartoons, endless scenes of people sitting and talking about boring politics, uninspired CGI, and a gross overuse of lightsabers. Yes the originals had their own series of missteps (the holiday special, the Droids cartoon, the Ewok movies), but we were never forced to accept them as part of the original trilogy. I want the old movies back. I want the movies I grew up watching. I want Star Wars to be like every other restored film released: pristine, remastered, and in it’s original presentation.