George Lucas, the Star Wars Blu-ray edits, and the status quo

As it’s confirmed that George Lucas has indeed re-edited the Star Wars films ahead of their Blu-ray debut, Simon argues that there’s nothing you can do about it…

It’s best we start with the stating of the obvious: when the Star Wars Blu-rays arrive next week, they are going to sell scary amounts of copies. Just as when the films arrived on DVD for the first time, the chance to see them in a better digital iteration isn’t one that’s likely to be turned down, and George Lucas won’t have to dip into his savings to pay for the LucasFilm Christmas party this year.

Of course, the re-release of the Star Wars films can’t toddle along without a bit of controversy, and inevitably, it seems that George Lucas has been tinkering again. Changes to the films this time around apparently range from those that few care about (a bigger door, some fake rocks), to the quite baffling (Darth Vader’s infamous “Noooooooooooooo!” making its way into Return Of The Jedi). And inevitably, these changes are being greeted with no small amount of disdain.

We’ve been here before, of course. When the special edition of Star Wars burst into cinemas back in 1997, it brought with it a bevy of changes, the most notorious being the switching the order in which Han and Greedo fired their respective weapons. This is the change, it’s argued, that matters most.

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After all, while most of the changes to the Star Wars films have been cosmetic, this actually changed and altered the content. How much? That depends on who you’re talking to. The thing is, I’ve seen as many arguing that this doesn’t matter as those that claim that it does. You’re likely to have an opinion on this already, so I’ve little inclination to foist one on you.

Since then, of course, the edits have kept coming. Take the 2004 release of Return Of The Jedi, that had Hayden Christensen digitally inserted in place of Sebastian Shaw. That, not for the first time, appeared to make George Lucas few friends.

But let’s go back a bit further in time for a minute. It was Walt Disney who was one of the first to envisage a ‘living’ film, when he conceived and released Fantasia into the world. His vision back then was to make the film a continual release, with different segments being changed over the years. His vision never really worked, though, with the disappointing Fantasia 2000 the closest that his company came to realising it. But with the Star Wars saga? George Lucas has surely, like it or lump it, picked up the mantle.

It’s hard not to have some sympathy with the idea, too. As time goes on, more and more digital toys are available to play with, and Lucas is keen to make his films as sparkly as possible as a result. Thus, his thinking has been to take advantage of what’s around, and to get things closer to how he wants them with each subsequent re-release.

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There’s an argument that suggests he hasn’t quite worked out exactly how he wants them yet (you could have levelled all of this at Steven Spielberg at one point, too, with the various versions of Close Encounters Of The Third Kind), but that, for him, might be part of the fun, too.

Going back to Fantasia, though. The difference is that Disney put the original version out alongside the updated one come the disc release. And it’s here where ire against George Lucas cranks up a few gears.

I’d say with good reason, too. I’m under no illusion that the films are his to do with what they want. What I struggle with is the reasons given. When the original cuts of the first Star Wars trilogy were finally released on DVD, they were dribbled out in a sorry state. Gone was a 5.1 surround sound track, in favour of the 2.0 mix. And there was no attempt to do any work on the picture for the DVDs, with LucasFilm instead porting over the non-anamorphic laserdisc transfers.

Again, that’s his prerogative. It’s disappointing, but there you go.

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The reason given why we don’t get those original cuts though is arguably the most disappointing. Apparently, it’d be too expensive to do. That’s in a world that’s seen films of a forty, fifty and sixty year vintage being restored with real skill, and far less hope of making lots of money at the end of the process. I, and many others, call bullshit on this one.

Personally, I’d far rather George just said he didn’t want to release the original cuts full stop, and left it at that. Sure, lots of people would be pissed about it. But I can’t help but feel that that’s closer to the truth than a billionaire saying he can’t afford it.

But back to the Blu-rays. The Star Wars films are so sacred to a generation of moviegoers, of which I’m a member, that any chance is viewed with a rolling of the eyes and a deep sigh. But then, the films now also go to an audience that discovered them for the first time in 1997. Or when the prequel trilogy came out. And the reality is that they’ve been changing for years, bringing in new fans, and no amount of Internet grumbling is going to do anything about it.

And here’s the reason why: most of us are all talk.

Because, faced with a choice between having no 1080p versions of Star Wars in our homes, and accepting the newly-changed cuts on Blu-ray, the overwhelming majority are going for the latter. And that’s hardly going to discourage George Lucas from continuing the process he began all those years ago.

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It’s all too well us saying that we want the original films on Blu-ray. But the blunt truth is that we can’t have them. We get what we’re given. And that’s because – and no filmmaker on the planet has made this clearer about their movies – they’re George Lucas’ films, not ours. The same George Lucas who has spent the past four decades pushing technical boundaries, and embracing technology. It’s this innovation that gave us Star Wars in the first place, and that was instrumental in revolutionising the quality of cinemas themselves at one stage.

And it’s the same George Lucas who will continue to revise his films as long as we keep buying them. Heck, he did it with his terrific, earlier sci-fi movie, THX-1138. But there was less outcry about that, because far fewer people have seen it (a pity in itself).

So we end up where we started. Whether you like what George Lucas is doing or not (and, it should be said, there’s a bigger core than you might think who prefer the special editions), these Blu-rays are going to sell lots of copies, and do nothing to alter the current status quo. You might not like it, but if you want your fill of Blu-ray Star Wars, the likelihood is that you’ll lump it anyway.