Start your watches, the countdown has begun. There's less than a week to go until George Lucas’ magnum opus finally makes its long-awaited high-def debut. No doubt somewhere in the world, a group of young men who think that personal hygiene is optional rather than mandatory, are lining up in their sleeping bags outside a Best Buy, so they can get their callused hands on the first box sets.
Lots of movies have, over the years, attained some kind of cult status. But whereas most are happy to define ‘cult’ as ‘building up a dedicated following over the years after an inauspicious first run’, Star Wars takes the concept to extremes. That unnamed galaxy far, far away has inspired the kind of feverish dedication that would make the Branch Davidians appear lax and non-committal.
Lucas may have conceived his series of space operas as being, y’know, for kids, but some people have taken their love of lightsabers, little green men(tors) and complex familial wrangling to the next level. I’m talking about the ones who list Jedi as their official religion on census forms, or respond to flirtatious talk about their six-inch purple-headed warrior by whipping out their Boba Fett action figure. They're the fanboys who took to the web en masse in 1997 to decry the CGI-enhanced rerelease of the original trilogy with the claim “George Lucas raped my childhood.” Meanwhile, all over the world, creepy uncles gave a collective sigh of relief that a new suspect had entered the frame.
It’s like trying to eat in a restaurant, with the chef hovering over your shoulder and continually throwing random herbs onto your plate
With the entire six-part series now buffed and polished like Simon Cowell’s veneers, expectations are high that new generations will finally get to discover Star Wars in all its sparkly glory – the way it was meant to be seen. Except not exactly, since ol’ Silver Beard still can’t resist dipping back in to make a few more cosmetic changes. It’s like trying to eat in a restaurant, with the chef hovering over your shoulder and continually throwing random herbs onto your plate.
You’d think that, if Lucas really wanted to improve things, the special effects would be the least of his worries. He might want to go back and beef up some of the shocking dialogue – as Harrison Ford famously told the plaid-shirted auteur on the set of the original film: "You can type this shit, George, but you sure can't say it.". Or why not add in a few extra female characters, so that the revelation of Luke and Leia’s family connection comes as less of a surprise? The only other woman of note in Return of the Jedi was Admiral Ackbar’s assistant, and she was Aunt Beru’s age if she was a day.
But no, like a magpie entranced by a scrunched up piece of chewing gum foil, Lucas is transfixed by the possibilities of computer generated enhancement. Thirty four years on, Star Wars has been under the knife more often than Jocelyn Wildenstein. And it’s starting to look just as dog-eared (or cat-faced - take your pick).
First time around, George expanded Mos Eisley and Cloud City, threw in an early cameo for Jabba the Hutt, and over-egged the vagina dentata subtext of the Sarlacc pit. Then, when the series hit DVD, he had another go and replaced Sebastian Shaw’s ghost with Hayden Christensen – rendering the luckless young actor even more two dimensional than usual. For the latest release, we get blinking ewoks (rather than ‘fucking ewoks’ as most people refer to them) and a new CGI Yoda, to replace the second-rate puppet that nodded its rubber head in The Phantom Menace.
this is George's baby and if he wants to pierce its ears, who are we to judge?
Of course, I can grumble about these cosmetic enhancements until I’m blue and tentacled in the face. But ultimately, this is George's baby and if he wants to pierce its ears, who are we to judge? Music artists do this all the time, remixing and remastering their back catalogues, ever conscious of the fact that, as Leonardo da Vinci once said, “Art is never finished, only abandoned.” If you insist on keeping your childhood memories intact, hold onto those knackered old VHS tapes and enjoy them the way they looked when you first discovered them. Otherwise, shut the fuck up and hand over your hard-earned.
That would be fine if weren't for the fact that it's not such a long, long time ago that George was a vocal critic of those who insist on updating classic films. Speaking before Congress in 1988, George had some tough words for “People who alter or destroy works of art and our cultural heritage for profit or as an exercise of power.” A number of sites have picked up on the irony of Lucas’ outspoken condemnation of revisionist film restoration, particularly the bit where he warned “Attention should be paid to the interest of those who are yet unborn, who should be able to see this generation as it saw itself, and the past generation as it saw itself.”
Maybe George is a big hypocrite. Maybe he needs the cash. Either way, it’s his film series so he can do what he wants with it. Like filming techniques and special effects technology, opinions change over time. Which leaves us with a simple choice – to buy or not to buy. That is the question.
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