George Lucas Can’t Leave Well Enough Alone
Mike Duquette: Just in case you missed it, some of the planned changes (at least the third round or so) of changes to the Star Wars Trilogy for its impending Blu-Ray release are public — and they ain’t pretty. The main offender — a new line for Darth Vader at the climax of “Return of the Jedi” — is here, and the rest are rounded up here.
Dan Wiencek: George Lucas is the most overrated artist in the history of motion pictures.
That oughta kick things off nice.
Dw. Dunphy: Artist. Somehow that is becoming, more and more, far too generous. And can you imagine the guy who, as a kid, dreamed of working at ILM and now has a Groundhog Day-like existence doing effects for Star Wars movies day after day after day?
George Lucas – “Wait. Do you think tauntauns have visible breathing patterns?”
Digital FX Crew – “Awwwwww CRAP!!”
Wiencek: “But George, I think the story –”
“And when the ship comes into frame, it should go, ‘VZZHHHHHMMMMMM’!”
“– not really following the plot –”
“And not ‘SSHHHHVVVVMMMM,’ ‘cuz that’s a rebel ship. They make two different sounds.”
“– this character, I don’t even know why he’s in the story –”
“You guys got that? Great. I’ve got a merch meeting. We’ll regroup on this next week.”
Duquette: Agreed to both, actually. I think Slate did an article back when the prequels were wrapping up comparing Lucas to Steven Spielberg and making the oft-unspoken point that Lucas’ directorial reputation, in essence, hinges on ONE film.
Jack Feerick: …and that film is American Graffiti.
Duquette: I mean, look, he’s well within his rights to make changes, and we’re well within our rights to not buy what they’re selling. I don’t buy into the whole “George Lucas raped my childhood” thing, either, since my introduction to the series was the Special Editions in 1997.
But these changes are beyond the point of artistic justification. Adding E.T.-like eyelids to Ewoks and making palace doors comically bigger? How is this adding to the simple, entertaining space narrative that Lucas created nearly 35 years ago? I will say, however, that the new Obi-Wan/dragon sound effect is now the quickest way to get me to burst out laughing.
Dunphy: And verily, Obi Wan did call out the devil dragon’s cry and the sand people fled in terror…and that demonic bellow sounded like, “Trolololo, lololo, lololo, lololo, lololooooo….”
Dave Steed: Many years ago I vowed to never watch any of these until Wicket got eyelids. And look now — I’ve got no choice but to finally see them.
Matt Springer: This is gonna get tricky, because on one hand, the comments so far make me feel as though I need to defend Lucas as a filmmaker and artist…when in reality, I have my own long and complicated and well-documented history with the guy and his movies. I wrote a FREAKING BOOK ABOUT IT WHICH I WILL PLUG HERE WITH A JUDICIOUS LINK.
I don’t believe Lucas’ artistic legacy amounts to “ONE film.” He’s directed six of them, and while we can maybe say 50% of those movies are widely believed to be shit, the other 50% ranges from “pretty good” to “transformative to the industry and incalculable in its impact upon the global popular culture.” That ain’t bad.
That said, yeah, this shit is crazy. I don’t think I’ll ever understand what motivates Lucas to continue tinkering with these movies in such seemingly pointless ways. I’m kinda over it, though. I’m going to get the Blu-rays as soon as I can because I’m excited about the special features, and aside from the lame changes, the movies are sure to look spectacular. I can understand why others wouldn’t want to buy them. I can’t understand people who complain about being “forced” to purchase them again — I don’t recall the late-eighties VHS release including a coupon entitling the owner to trade up to each subsequent recording technology free of charge in perpetuity.
Plus, if you’re REALLY that hung up on the true original trilogy, 20 minutes with Google and the torrent software of your choice will give you pretty much every possible iteration your heart could desire. Have at it.
David Medsker: He directed four of them, actually, and the two he didn’t direct — along with allowing an outside screenwriter to punch up the dialogue — are almost unanimously considered to be the best of the series.
Either way, once one of us gets his hands on time travel technology, we must hand it over to Patton Oswalt. If we’re lucky, this conversation will never actually take place.
Feerick: My overall feeling is that Lucas is, consciously or not, attempting to retroactively ruin the original trilogy in order to make the second trilogy look not-so-bad by comparison.
I think he is a deeply troubled man, consumed with self-loathing, and that he occasionally lashes out at the audience in a futile attempt to make himself feel better. The endless tinkering and rejiggering with Star Wars is, I would guess, an elaborate form of creative block; by constantly revising his magnum opus, he keeps putting off the difficult and frightening task of moving on to a new project. Star Wars has becomne a prison for him, a self-imposed prison, and I find that terribly sad.
The best thing for him would be to just *make another movie,* already — strictly as a director-for-hire, something without a lot of personal stake for him, something with low expectations, small and intimate and human-scaled, without a lot of SFX — and reconnect with the love of cinema that drew him to make movies in the first place.
Wiencek: I think the thing about Lucas that irks me the most is that he has inspired a kind of devotion that I think he neither lives up to nor even understands. Seriously, I don’t think he even gets what people liked about his story — he wouldn’t have made such a complete hash of the prequels if he had. Beyond the lightsabers and all the cool tech shit, his fans respond to a broadly brushed universe in which heroism lies within everybody, wisdom is greater than cruelty and friendship triumphs over everything. Lucas gets the lightsaber part. That’s about it. I admit I am tired of the adoration Lucas still continues to receive — he has lost some cred within the geek community, but he is still revered in the culture at large, even after making the equivalent of Godfather III *three fucking times*.
Duquette: Another interesting point about all this is where fans’ desire for the “original” trilogy fits into this whole thing. Bricken’s piece on Topless Robot touched on this pretty well, but the deeply troubling irony is Lucas’ inability to give fans the original trilogy in a format that can keep up, technologically, with the rest of our collection. (In a nutshell, the 2006 DVDs with the original trilogy as bonus features were struck from a non-anamorphic widescreen master dating back to about 1993, meaning that not only was the quality closer to laserdisc than DVD, but the picture won’t even take up the entire HDTV space.)
As I said, for me, this is so not about want of the “originals.” Not only were they not my primary introduction to the series, but it’s difficult to determine, in the strictest sense of the word, what the “original” trilogy is. From the get-go, different prints had different sound mixes and minute differences in edits and other effects, so “original” is different to a person who saw Star Wars in the most top-shelf movie theater in ’77 and, say, someone who caught it at a dollar house months later.
Hopefully, after these Blu-rays come out, Lucas can attempt to do what he did to a pretty good effect from around ’85 to ’93: stay largely away from all things Star Wars, and make us miss it.
Chris Holmes: I’m not sure what Lucas’s deal is, but it’s bordering on pathological at this point. Jack’s take sounds perfectly reasonable though, so I’ll go with that.
Springer: David, I was referring to the six films Lucas has directed in total: THX 1138, American Grafitti, Star Wars, and the three prequels. I count the first three as decent to amazing movies. I also liked Episode III, but I’ll admit I’m in the minority on that one.
Jack, that’s an interesting theory, but I think it’s a lot less complicated than that. The guy’s never really been a storyteller. He’s always been more interested in the technology of making films than the creation of characters and compelling narratives. He stumbled into the Star Wars saga somehow as a goulash of Flash Gordon movie serials and Joseph Campbell, and they became a vehicle through which he could advance film technology. I think his constant tinkering reflects nothing more than his ongoing fascination/obsession with “fixing” all the stuff he thought was “wrong” about them because the technology he had to play with wasn’t as advanced then as it is today.
Feerick: And again, I hold up American Graffiti as the counterargument. It’s all about character and tone (although not so much about narrative, I admit). It is a genuinely great film, and I am still waiting for him to deliver on the promise of it.
Springer: Dan, you bring up some interesting points as well…there’s a real shifting sands vibe to Lucas’ perspective on his own work. He obviously did do some research into mythology and archetypes back in the seventies when he started writing the thing. For a while in the nineties, he absolutely encouraged the image of himself as some kind of “modern mythmaker” who had tapped into our culture’s primal urges to sit around fires and tell stories. There was that whole kinda embarrassing Bill Moyers phase. Then, when the prequels came out, suddenly they were all supposed to be “kids movies” and those delusional morons who took it too seriously were the ones who were wrong. I think it was a defense mechanism against the fact that he had developed a film so tone-deaf and wrong-headed in the form of Phantom Menace, but there’s no question in my mind that he wanted to have it both ways if he could–the intellectual who had reshaped these archetypes into populist art.
I’ll also add that while I think the idea that fans are “owed” anything from any creator is mildly delusional, it really wouldn’t hurt the guy to toss a few of his hundreds of millions at a nice anamorphic 1080p digital master of the “true” original trilogy, or as Mike said, the closest thing that can be created from the original prints. I know he did it already on DVD but come on. Put them on separate Blu-rays with minimal features and let the people who really want them pay an extra $30 to get them. And honestly, as hard as it is for me to believe, deep down I feel like maybe he DOES owe his hardcore fans that much. The endless stream of googaws, games, books, and toys I’ve bought over the years have to be worth something; I DEMAND RESTITUTION.
Holmes: Lucas will never offer a fully cleaned up and restored original trilogy because his ego couldn’t handle the blow when it outsells all other releases.
Tony Redman: While I’ve never seen it addressed, I’m assuming that the originals won’t be included on the Blu-rays, right?
I don’t think any of the changes in this round really bother me that much. (Vader’s “NOOOOOOOO!” just seems sort of unnecessary to me considering the scene is just as powerful without it) And none of the changes upset me nearly as much as Greedo shooting first in the cantina. The change undermined what a dangerous character Han Solo could be, especially when cornered (in this case, literally). Although I have seen the supposed newest change to that scene shown here, which at least has them both shooting at about the same time.
For some reason when Wicket blinked I wanted it to make the same sound effect they used for Zorak blinking on Space Ghost Coast to Coast.
Kelly Stitzel: From the AV Club: “Still, while George Lucas does seem to be warning people of the future about George Lucas, it must be noted that his speech was primarily about the artist’s rights to preserve his own work—which also includes the right to make any alterations he desires. And most importantly, while he may have once believed ‘our cultural history must not be allowed to be rewritten,’ he certainly said nothing about making it more special. Everything’s better when it’s special.”
- George Lucas Has Reedited The Original Star Wars Trilogy… Again (screencrave.com)
- Oh Great: George Lucas Is Still ‘Tweaking’ (Read: F***ing With) Original Star Wars Trilogy (geekologie.com)
- George Lucas vs. George Lucas of the Day (geeks.thedailywh.at)
- Oh, You Wacky George Lucas, You’ve Done It Again (macleans.ca)
- George Lucas’ Star Wars Changes And Project Pitches In Today’s Twitter Report (splashpage.mtv.com)