Star Wars, George Lucas, Special Editions, Disney, and The Business Behind the Force
There’s plenty of reasons to dislike George Lucas, for fans of the Star Wars universe the obvious two motives for being an anti-Lucite are the prequels, and above all the dreaded “special” edition re-releases of the original trilogy. “Hate” is a strong word, and while I love the Star Wars films, I wouldn’t call myself a “true” fan.
Perhaps that’s because I hadn't seen the original Star Wars films since they were played on cable, or had the opportunity to catch them on VHS before they got the “special treatment” as if to punish the very films endeared by legions on their twentieth anniversary.
As it’s purely redundant to air the collective disdain for the adulterated classics, so I’ll revert to a short range answer in saying that I think the special editions suck. What’s even more irksome than the myriad of homely alterations, is that the Special Editions are the only versions available for home video distribution.
I’m going to go on a soapbox here and say that if you’re a filmmaker, and your work is beloved by masses of people, but you don’t feel like it’s a representation of your true artistic intentions than improve upon them, by all means.
After all, I support their (however misguided) right to do so, like it or not. But as an artist, you have made an impression on generations of fans; for those of us who grew up with the Star Wars saga we remember them in their original formats. And we are endeared to these films which is why it’s so painful to witness their humiliation over the years.
However, if a filmmaker should go this route (This doesn’t exclude Walter Hill for The Warriors restoration in 2004) why can’t it result in providing us with the option to choose what version of the films that the fans enjoy? Alter the popular movies if you must, but why the home video embargo?
If I want to watch the various versions of Touch of Evil, that’s an option. Same with Malick’s The New World. My Toho DVD of Godzilla has the American and Japanese versions; we get the treat of both extended editions of The Lord of The Rings along with the theatrical, and Blade Runner? There’s five discs in that collection! But Star Wars only exists in whatever mangled form Lucas left it in.
If you must include all the perfunctory superfluous stupid critters, (Hayden Christensen, and any other crap from the prequels) let’s face it, there’s not enough room to list every offense)
But George Lucas screwed the pooch, performing a feat that is a first timer in the film world, usually when someone mangles a movie it’s the studio, censorship, producers, poor test screenings, seldom does the filmmaker contaminate their work.
Less a director, more of a techy (the type of person who defends Avatar’s lack of story for the visual pageantry) Lucas’ inconsistencies extend beyond that of a filmmaker but, if I may take this in a more clinical way, psychological?
There’s a subversive catharsis to Lucas’ tonal shift that occurred after his directorial debut THX 1138 was a failure. Among the new Hollywood, Coppola and Lucas were on the fringes of the system, and their American Zoetrope was a way to divorce the artists par excellence from the studio that was already enabling their on screen creativity. The tonal shift from THX 1138 to Star Wars is like getting shot out of a cannon, a dissonant dystopia to a crowd-pleasing, blockbuster seems to indicate the actions of a scorned artist playing the system to his advantage.
George Lucas isn’t the greatest director, but his smartest move in the serpentine movie business was to take himself out of the director’s chair, after all, how many people (including yours truly) claim The Empire Strikes Back as their favorite Star Wars film? Lucas doesn’t like directing, his go to is “directing is too much work”, isn’t it odd that someone with such an emblematic footprint can lend his creative input for two iconic films without being their director, it’s actually more telling of his business acumen and penchant for crafting box office perfection than bolstering Lucas’ once fertile imagination.
The worst irony is that Lucas treated Star Wars as a business model more than an inventive enterprise, but when the burgeoning CG technology came to it’s rudimentary, clunky precipice in the late nineties (remember ‘surfin Snake Plisskin in Escape From L.A.?) George Lucas seemed to use the beloved trilogy in what, in rigorous hindsight feels like target practice for what would be the dreaded prequels.
When George Lucas began to bankroll Star Wars with 20th Century Fox, he was resolute in getting the rights to sequels and merchandising rights, to the point of threatening to leave the studio. 20th Century Fox’s 13 million dollar budget was the putty for Star Wars, a massive budget for a young director who had one flop, ironically his sci-fi debut THX 1138 (which was the flagship film for he and Coppola’s American Zoetrope) and the always entertaining American Graffiti.
Lucas invited some of his friends over to a rough cut screening of Star Wars, among the luminaries were Steven Spielberg, Francis Coppola, author Willard Huck and Brian De Palma. By rough cut it meant that none of the special effects were included, instead Lucas edited in WWII dogfight footage for battle sequences, even by rough cut standards this was a hard watch. Coppola was confused over De Palma cracking jokes about the “force”, and the only supportive voice was Spielberg’s (go figure?).
John Milius recalled a conversation with Lucas where he regales the porn industry with great reverence; Milius says about Lucas, ”He hated directing, George did. Because he got sick all the time, he had diabetes. He always would talk and say, ‘Porno. That’s the answer. It’s a warm room. If you don’t get the right location, you get another. People really don’t care what room, as long as it’s a pretty nice room.’ So if he hadn’t done Star Wars or American Graffiti, he would probably own this huge porno network today. He’d probably be even richer than he is today."
While many of the directors from the new Hollywood retained their artistic endeavors despite some highs and lows (remember when everyone decided to make musicals that would tank?) Lucas was the first to cash out, and without any reservations.
You’d think that someone who’s marketing acumen would encourage the distribution of two versions of his films, the originals and the bastardized shit shows that are the special editions, I'd have a Blu-Ray release of Star Wars if they were available in their theatrical form. Hell, I’d even watch the rough cut WWII edit instead of the special editions, either way, Greedo doesn’t shoot first!
We are fortunate enough to live in an age where digital restorations are an acceptable norm; if Martin Scorsese’s Film Foundation invests their time to restore blemished prints of classic films, and color correction for the best looking Powell-Pressburger and Jean Renoir movies on DVD and Blu-ray. If Lucasfilm and ILM invested their resources into adding definition to the landscapes of Tatooine, give the Sandcrawler some detail, and brighten up the color corrections that’s fine. But I find it baffling when with every passing year it seems they add more rocks around R2D2, or the eye in the trash compactor have to be doctored into blinking, and the little audio prunings are lost on me as well. In the grand scheme of things does it really matter if Luke’s Aunt says “Tell Uncle” or “Tell Your Uncle,” or if Darth Vader's grunts change every special edition but why does this have to happen, period? Color correction and audio tweaking make sense but this inconsistent and perplexing by how resolutely moronic it all is.
Sure, Lucas has been laughing his way to the bank, and his ability for making money has served him well. But compared to Disney, he’s small game, and Star Wars is a financial juggernaut. Since the big transferral I’ve had no complaints, The Force Awakens was a ripping good time, and Rogue One looks awesome.
Sorry George, but kept us from the movies that illuminated our generation's childhoods, and out of the four Star Wars films you made, only one of them is good.
While pirated versions of the original versions circulate the fortunate circles of fans, can you imagine the veritable cash cow that would be the ushering in a “de-specialized version” on DVD and Blu-Ray? For Lucas to not cash that blank check is a mystery that hinges on someone standing on some artistic integrity that seems pretty nonexistent, if “contentiously exorcised” isn’t a more proper description.
Earlier I stated that i wasn’t a “true” fan, but after all this pinning about Star Wars, I guess I am.