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May 2006

Sorry for the multiple months of silence, even with so much going on in the entertainment industry. I used to have regular updates and be horrible at responding to e-mail, but now I'm responding to e-mail regularly and I'm horrible at putting up regular updates.

But this, however, is a reason to break the bad habit.

As I'm sure you know by now, after so many years, so many complaints, and so many petitions, 20th Century Fox and LucasFilm are finally releasing the original Star Wars trilogy as shown in 1977, 1980, and 1983 to DVD in September. Each movie will be released separately as a two-disc set, each of which will contain both the modern, enhanced edition that was released to DVD in 2004 and the original, theatrical edition.

From Reuters:

LOS ANGELES (Hollywood Reporter) -- The original theatrical versions of the first three "Star Wars" films are finally coming to DVD on September 12, two years after diehard fans blasted George Lucas for releasing only the digitally modified 2004 versions of the celebrated trilogy in a boxed collection.

This time, "Star Wars," "The Empire Strikes Back" and "Return of the Jedi" will be available individually and appear on DVD exactly as they did in their respective theatrical runs in 1977, 1980 and 1983. Each release, distributed by 20th Century Fox, will be a two-disc set that also includes the digitally tweaked 2004 edition. The DVDs will be available only through December 31.

I must admit that I'm curious about this. George Lucas has said multiple times that he doesn't care about what the fans want with respect to the original Star Wars trilogy. In his opinion if people really want the original trilogy the original VHS and laserdisc releases, including the nicely remastered THX, non-Special Edition trilogy, are available through various channels. So why are these finally being released to DVD?

I'm also curious about the narrow release window. The movies will be available for 15 weeks and that's it. This sounds more like a Disney tactic to artificially inflate the demand for the movies. Actually I wonder if this whole release is mostly meant to silence the detractors once and for all. From that perspective I'm not surprised by the limited window.

I've gone over this before, but several of my guests have already asked what I think about this. So, I'll give you my perspective on this again.

Yes, they are George Lucas' movies, not ours, no matter how much of an emotional attachment we might feel for them. As such, he is free to do with his movies as he pleases. That is his right. I do indeed respect that and will always defend that. However, he has said and done several things that to me are glaringly hypocritical, and he did so with a straight face. I cannot respect or defend that.

For example, I don't believe that we were told the truth as to why some of the changes were made to the Special Editions. Don't get me wrong. I do like a lot of the changes. In some instances I caught myself saying, "Oh, good! He fixed that!" However, some of the more annoying changes feel as though they were made just to be made and that they were decided while coming up with the changes, not because they were originally intended to be in the movies when they were first being made.

For example, I believe Lucas when he says that the Han and Jabba scene was cut from A New Hope because they couldn't get it finished in time and with the technology at the time. That would have involved a lot of dynamic matting and therefore a lot of work, particularly since it was not done against a blue screen. I can only imagine how long it would have taken to do such a scene because it would have to have been done almost entirely frame by frame. He actually did film those scenes, which were included in the Special Edition, so I have no reason to doubt his explanation for cutting that scene initially.

I like a lot of the atmosphere and scenery changes, such as with Mos Eisley and Cloud City. He added a lot more people and creatures and expanded each location to be more like vibrant cities with a lot of activity. I can see where such effect would have also spent a lot a time and money to implement in the original releases. So, I accept his explanation of time and money for those changes.

The Death Star attack sequence had some changes that really needed to be done. Although the special effects were rightfully considered to be revolutionary back in 1977, there were some scenes that didn't flow well. One particular scene is where a TIE fighter seems to pop up, slow down, then move forward as though he released the clutch before it was in gear. I was very grateful when that scene was corrected.

Conversely, some changes made absolutely no sense and could have easily been done during the initial filming and post-production.

Luke's scream as he fell from the Cloud City platform is a prime example. Luke's silent fall represented an honorable dignity. He accepted his fate by denying Darth Vader the victory that he wanted. To add the scream (which if I recall correctly was the Emperor's pitiful scream at that) completely changed the character of Luke's actions from a dignified defiance to “what in blazes have I done?” More importantly, a sound edit would have been nothing to add back in 1980. Even the famous stormtrooper scream at the bridge in A New Hope is actually the now-disgustingly-overused Wilhelm scream that was recorded decades earlier (and that I wish would never be used again). If Lucas really wanted Luke to scream during that fall, he could have done so without any problems at all.

Of course, I am a card-carrying member of the “Han Shot First” Club. Having Greedo shoot first (or simultaneously) totally destroyed the character traits that make Han so appealing and believable in the first place. In that one change Han's character went from a rebellious rogue to a common thief who's doing nothing more than protecting his assets.

Although those particular changes actually made those scenes worse in my opinion, my vehement desire to see those wrongs righted come from the disrespect that we as Star Wars fans were shown by Lucas himself.

The biggest example of course is in regards to the Han/Greedo scene. Lucas has claimed that they couldn't manage to make the scene work, which is why it was never supposedly finished until Greedo shot first in the Special Edition. All that one needs to do is watch the Kenobi/Vader lightsaber battle or any of the space battle scenes from the same theatrical edition to realize that a half-second laser blast in a bar would have been incredibly simple to do. Look at how many of such blasts took place throughout the movie! Instead the fans were given a tale that he wanted to do that in the first place but it that he couldn't get it to work. I don't buy the "couldn't get it to work" excuse for a second, nor do countless millions of Star Wars fans.

I've also read articles that quote people who worked on the set of A New Hope and said that Lucas never attempted to film that scene with Greedo firing first.

I can accept changes to movies as long as we - the fans - are treated with the same respect that the movie makers expect us to give to them. When Steven Spielberg made his changes to E.T. he not only explained why he felt the changes needed to be made but he also had the decency to make the original, theatrical version available in the same set. The same was true of Legend, directed by Ridley Scott, who made the Director's Cut and theatrical edition available in the same set. Whether or not I agree with the changes that were made to those movies, both Spielberg and Scott showed respect to the fans who had known and loved their movies for many years before the changes were made.

Lucas didn't do that. Since the Special Editions came out in the 1990s, his attitude towards the fans' reactions to the changes has seemed to be the equivalent of “{ shrug shoulders } Tough sh*t.”

Respect is earned, not bestowed. My respect for Lucas was lost or at least greatly diminished when the love from the fans was brushed aside without a care the same fans who have so much loyalty to the Star Wars franchise and have spent so much money that he now enjoys. (I was also very upset that LucasArts cancelled Sam and Max: Freelance Police, but that's a different story.)

I'm also upset that Lucas himself is on record as saying that movies in general, metaphorically referred to "Hollywood history", need to be preserved. Yet for the past ten years we've been told that three of the most acclaimed movies in history are actually not finished and therefore we shouldn't look at them as history any more. Should the famous, unfinished painting of George Washington be ignored as well because it's unfinished?

For whatever reason the release of the original theatrical editions feels more as though we're being told "There! I'm releasing them! Now, shut the hell up about it and leave me alone!" That's probably not a fair assessment of the situation, considering thatthis release is no different than what Spielberg and Scott did. Lucas is finally releasing both the theatrical and modified versions of the original trilogy in the each set. This is what we've all wanted.

So why do I still feel like I'm being slighted?

Perhaps my lingering animosity to how we as Star Wars fans have been treated since the Special Edition releases is clouding my judgement. Perhaps the limited window makes this feel more like the "artificial demand" tactics that are used by Disney. Perhaps I still feel betrayed by the hypocrisy of claiming that Hollywood history needs to be preserved but that the original Star Wars releases were apparently exempt from that history.

I don't know what the reasons are nor do I really care at this point. I'm just glad that movie history is going to be preserved. Complain all that you want about giving more money to Lucas. I'm buying my sets probably multiple copies of each for later use on eBay. (*cough*) And if anything I can still fall back on my laserdisc-to-DVD conversions or either of my widescreen, VHS sets if I'm really desperate.

For what it's worth, we won.