He almost had me. I was wavering. I’ve recently bought a Blu-Ray player, and despite my better nature, I was finding myself looking at the upcoming release of Star Wars: The Complete Saga on Blu-Ray and thinking “Hmm… maybe.” It’s not like I didn’t know what I’d be getting – I knew there’d be no sign of the treasured original versions of the classic trilogy (still only available as non-anamorphic DVDs, mastered from the 1993 Laserdisc Editions), and that it’d essentially be giving us spangly High-Def versions of the prequels and the 2004 DVD versions of the original trilogy (complete with the less-than-welcome addition of Hayden Christensen’s mug edited into the final sequence of Return of the Jedi). After all, there couldn’t be anything left for Lucas to tamper with, could there?
Yes, there could.
The rumours have been flying around for the last couple of weeks – and while it looks like we’re not going to have full confirmation until the release in a week-and-a-half as to whether or not there are any other ‘surprises’ in store, there are a handful of big changes that we already know about. For a start, there has been some audio ‘tinkering’ – some of that is just remixing the original audio, punching up a few elements (and getting right a couple of music-mixing issues that affected the 2004 DVDs, especially the original Star Wars). There’s one major visual change – to Episode I: The Phantom Menace, where the puppet of Yoda has been replaced with a CGI version of the character:
This isn’t exactly surprising, and actually looks pretty good – it’s probably a mark of how little general Star Wars fandom actually cares about The Phantom Menace that nobody seems particularly upset about it (that, and the fact that the Phantom Menace puppet was weak, and somehow looked less convincing than the one used in Empire 19 years previously). If that was the only change, I don’t think anyone would be worked up right now.
There are a handful of smaller changes to the original trilogy – like the new and utterly ridiculous sound that Ben Kenobi makes to scare off the Sandpeople before his first appearence, the door to Jabba’s Palace which is now three times the size (and very fake-looking), and the slightly unsettling fact that the Ewoks in Jedi now have CG-created blinking eyes (which really doesn’t make them look any less like dwarfs in furry costumes than they did before) – but then there’s the big one. Lucas has decided to have a play around with one of the key scenes of the whole original trilogy – the final moments of the Emperor, where Palpatine is on the verge of killing Luke, and Vader finally turns away from the Dark Side. I can remember watching that scene in the cinema in 1983, aged 9, completely riveted by what I was watching, and the surge of amazement as what seemed absolutely impossible – Vader suddenly becoming a good guy – happened. It’s one of the finest moments of the trilogy – a trio of films that, while the whole Star Wars franchise has lost an awful lot of its lustre in the past decade, still stand as fantastic works of popcorn cinema. And at no point in the last twenty-eight years did I think that scene would be improved by adding a ludicrously over-dramatic scream of “NOOOOOOOOOO!!!!” from Vader.
Well, thank goodness that George Lucas is on hand to prove me wrong:
Words fail me. They really do.
I can see the thinking behind it – connecting Vader’s final moments with the Emperor to his first moment with the Emperor back at the end of Episode III: Revenge of the Sith – except that the completely daft Frankenstein-stagger and scream of “NOOOOOOO!!!” in that film is widely regarded as one of the few moments where the otherwise fairly good Episode III (and about the only of the prequels to be artistically valid as a movie) is genuinely, diabolically awful. The thinking may be plain, but the execution of it, and the fact that Lucas is once again going back in to a film that was finished in 1983 and going “It’s okay guys – just one more change…”, and mucking around with such a critical section of the original Trilogy… it’s breathtaking. It really is. The level of clueless arrogance it takes to do this, and not in any way provide an alternate version of the movie, beggars belief. It’s not even as if I care about Star Wars that much any more, and I’m still kind of speechless.
The sad thing is that there’s no reason whatsoever for this. Multiple film versions are a fact of home entertainment life – the recent Alien Anthology Blu-Ray is a masterclass in presenting differing editions of films, while the granddaddy of them all is the 2007 Blade Runner special edition, which gave us every single version of the film available (a newly tinkered one, and the originals). Hell, if the Star Wars Blu-Rays just had the 1997 versions of the Special Editions versus the newly tinkered versions, that’d be a start – or an option to switch to the original, less-tinkered with audio. But that’s not the way Lucas rolls.
I’m a little sad. I’m a little vexxed. But, most of all, I’m glad I knew in advance so I can save myself some money. I’m sure 97% of Star Wars: The Complete Saga will look gorgeous on Blu-Ray, but I’d rather not have to mentally edit the terrible, terrible 3% out of my brain while I watch them. I’ll stick with the DVDs, thanks very much, and the sad fact that while it gave me some very good times in my formative years, Star Wars really doesn’t mean that much to me anymore.
So thanks, Lucas. Thanks a bunch.
(EDIT: There’s an interesting article over at Entertainment Weekly which makes some good points (even if it also overdoes the ‘kids are stupid, and anything aimed at them is generally rather silly and infantile’ theme) especially that while the Star Wars films are great works of popcorn cinema, they ain’t perfect. It’s okay to enjoy the hell out of them, but it’s also okay to grow up, realise their deficiencies, and that there are much better films out there. I think it says a lot that Empire is still widely counted as the best of the bunch, when it seems that the pulpy energy and vitality in Empire was a happy accident that Lucas made damn sure wouldn’t happen again (I have a major fondness for Jedi, but you can already see some of the flatness and woodenness that bedevilled the prequels creeping in in multiple sequences). It’s mainly as a film lover that this tweaking annoys me – as I said, if Lucas just made the originals (or as close to the originals as we can get) available, he could fuck about with new editions to his heart’s content and I wouldn’t mind in the slightest. The original Star Wars (none of this ‘Episode IV: A New Hope’ nonsense) is a significant work of American cinema, and the fact that the director has gone psychotically out of his way over the last twenty years to prevent anyone from seeing it in its original form… well, it’s rather sad. But I’m not really raging about this. I think my days of raging over Star Wars are well and truly over.)