Friday, September 2, 2011

Star Wars On Blu-Ray, Lucas at the Butcher's Block Again.

With the announcement of the Blu-Ray edition of the original Star Wars trilogy, and the latest round of George Lucas' tinkering, a lot of fans who thought they'd exhausted their contempt for the once-loved director are mad again. My instincts, and my inherent desire to play Devil's Advocate, make me look for the upside, I want to find the intellectual defense for his actions, and explain why it isn't such a big deal. After all, geeks hate Peter Molyneux, and I provided the benefit of the doubt in his case, so why not Lucas? At the risk of preaching to the choir, I just can't do it. I can't justify, explain or rationalize what Lucas has done since the prequels and the Special Edition. I cannot defend Greedo shooting first, replacing amazing puppetry with mediocre CGI or inserting Hayden Christiansen where he doesn't belong, which is anywhere on film. As years have passed, many geeks have learned that virtually everything we loved about the original trilogy is, at best, something Lucas had little to do with, and at worst, stuff he actively fought against inclusion in the films. And when he finally asserted complete creative control... Oh, boy.

I won't even type his damn name. Once we saw this character, most of
us suspected the worst about George Lucas, our worst fears confirmed at the mention of "midichlorians."

Compared to sins of the past, the newest changes are fairly minor, adding a bit of CGI so that Ewok eyes can move and blink, instead of clearly being glued to a furry suit, the unfortunate but expected replacement of a puppet-yoda with a CGI equivalent in Episode I: The Phantom Menace, and so on. However, there is one baffling change that demonstrates that Lucas is not only out of touch with, but is perhaps even openly hostile to the fans who have supported his work all these years. In Return of the Jedi, there's a critical moment at the end where Vader looks on as Emperor Palpatine tortures Luke. In silence, the wheels turn as he struggles with what to do, and when he makes his decision, he stalks over and picks up the Emperor, throwing him to his death in a moment of clarity that defines his redemption. In the Blu-Ray, when Luke is attacked, Vader will now scream “NOOOO!!!” just like in the often-mocked scene in Revenge of the Sith when Vader is first fitted with his armor. Either Lucas is ignorant of how this changes the scene, or he just doesn't care, believing that this is an improvement.

I should be numb to this sort of thing by now, incapable of being frustrated or angry and satisfied that I have my DVDs of the original theatrical cut and leave it there. You'd think that after his disrespectful comments toward fans and the backlash over the changes, Lucas could just leave well enough alone. He has shown repeatedly that he has no respect for the characterization established in the version of the films most fans prefer, or he is ignorant of how changing certain scenes fundamentally alters characters that people have loved for decades. Han waiting until Greedo fires makes him a fundamentally less interesting character, and his later growth from criminal to hero is mostly meaningless if he was pretty much a good guy to begin with. Vader screaming like a child when coming to Luke's rescue turns a determined choice to take the right action into an outburst of temper, a crime of passion, and diminishes the power of the character's redemption, which is the focal point of the entire trilogy.

Search your feelings, you know it to be true.

Since the success of the first three films, Lucas has behaved like the actor who becomes “undirectable” due to commercial success and begins churning out terrible, terrible films because there is no filmmaker to rein them in (think of the worst of the Mike Myers and Jim Carrey movies.) After finishing Episode One, Lucas screened it and the test audience gave the same criticisms fans have echoed for decades since. George Lucas listened to the critiques, and ignored them, proceeding with his vision. His revisions in the Special Editions included excising the award-winning Max Rebo song “Lapti Nek,” and replacing the scene with the grossly inferior “Jedi Rocks” CGI monstrosity, adding a fuzzy big-mouthed creature to the band for cheap laughs and additional marketing. His reasoning? The original song was “dated.”

Many of the classic moments throughout The Empire Strikes Back, which I re-watch regularly to appreciate the high point in Star Wars film history, were moments Lucas tried to change or cut. I am consistently surprised that Episode V has improved over the years in my estimation, and am disappointed to learn that the creator of the Star Wars Universe fought so hard to ruin it. Harrison Ford told a crowd at a charity event a story about the scene where Leia says goodbye to Han before he is frozen in carbonite. The classic romantic scene where Leia tells Han “I love you,” and his response: “I know.” Lucas hated the scene and actively argued that Han should say “I love you too,” until Ford and director Irvin Kershner fought Lucas over it right up until a test screening proved them right. It amazes me that the original films were any good at all, considering the repeated demonstrations of poor judgment on Lucas' part.

Seriously, search for "Lapti Nek" and then "Jedi Rocks," on YouTube and compare the scenes.

It is all well and good that a chorus of geeks despise George Lucas for his tampering with one of the greatest science fiction properties of all time, but it is his movie, so what's the big deal? I think the best person to answer that particular question must be... George Lucas. At least, the George Lucas from 1988, when he gave a speech to Congress, and made the following statements: "People who alter or destroy works of art and our cultural heritage for profit or as an exercise of power are barbarians.” These words have new context now, as does this later excerpt, from the same speech: “There is nothing to stop American films, records, books, and paintings from being sold to a foreign entity or egotistical gangsters and having them change our cultural heritage to suit their personal taste.” He later still asserts that “The public interest is ultimately dominant over all other interests,” and asks “Why are films cut up and butchered?”

Why, indeed, you son of a bitch.
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Sarah said...

In the video for Jedi Rocks, Boba looks like he's about to slap someone. Can't say I blame him.

Timothy said...

If I may quote myself (25 July, 2011):
"Han shooting Greedo is one of the defining parts of that character. He doesn't mind spilling a little blood (or just outright killing somebody) if it means that he can keep operating his ship on his terms. It is what makes him so mercenary and his subsequent moral awakening meaningful. The edit, where Han shoots because Greedo shot first, makes no sense. Han is protecting his livelihood and probably his life. He, in his own estimation, is perfectly within his rights to shoot the alien bastard. And Mos Eisley is the kind of place where this doesn't raise any eyebrows. So long as the shirts exist – and even Lucas has been seen wearing one – then the fact that Han shot first will live forever. And I guess I can only link this to technology in the fact that it was the needless tinkering with an already finished movie (to make more money) that brought about the change. "

Alpha said...

I don't know what's more shocking, his potential ignorance or his potential pretentiousness.

Jay said...

we all know what's going on here.... it's a george lucas doppleganger that's out there and the real george lucas is imprisoned in someone's basement.

Chris C. said...

Preaching to the choir, yes, but I still say "Amen, brother!"

jose mata said...

that bastard. though I am happy with my originals so i dont care

A Beer for the Shower said...

I don't understand why he makes all of these changes. It would be like if I re-released the same novel every year because I went back and read a few things I could have written better. People obviously love the original... leave it alone, Lucas.

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