“A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away…”
That sentence seems to sum up the last time I was truly a Star Wars fan. Not just a defender or somebody making excuses, but an actual devoted fan to a series of films that were the folklore for my generation. On the eve of the release of the Star Wars: The Complete Saga Blu-ray I sit with a decision my seven-year-old self would never believe. I am not buying the saga on Blu-ray and, for all intents and purposes, I have retired myself as any kind of Star Wars fan.
Let me begin by saying this is not a hate piece. I’m not here to join in the random explosions of rage aimed at George Lucas. To be honest I don’t care anymore. The films I love are gone, a memory now lost in Lucas’s almost sociopathic need to tinker with his creation. This has been coming for a long time and the recent leaks of Lucas’s further, and completely unnecessary, changes to the original films pushed me right over the edge. For those unaware, apparently just before Darth Vader kills the Emperor in Return Of The Jedi he now screams out “NOOOO!”, which makes no sense since Vader’s proclamation of the negative was so universally panned at the end of Episode III. Lucas has also given the Ewoks digital eyelids so they blink as well as upping the ante of the Krayt Dragon sound Ben Kenobi uses to scare off the Sandpeople in the original Star Wars film. Now it sounds more like Ben is getting blown in a soiled bathroom in Mos Eisley than anything else.
Oddly enough, at one point in time I was drinking the Kool Aid. My excitement in 1999 for Episode I drove me to get a tattoo of Darth Maul without even seeing the film. When people began attacking how awful the first prequel was, I defended it. I defended all three of the prequels simply because my mind wouldn’t admit the truth. In my gut I knew the truth, but after waiting for so long to see the origin of Darth Vader, I refused to see how awful they were.
If I’m to be truly honest, my issues with Star Wars really came about during the “Special Edition” craze, when Lucas first decided to show us his penchant for insipid additions. Some of the stuff I was able to rationalize into being necessary. Changing the name of the original film from Star Wars to Episode IV: A New Hope made sense against the backdrop of Empire Strikes Back being hailed as Episode V. I also didn’t mind the extra ships and effects during the first Death Star battle.
Where my train of though began to derail was the added scene between Han Solo and Jabba The Hutt inside Docking Bay 94 where the Millennium Falcon was kept. The scene effectively killed two stellar introductions in one fell swoop. First there was this new Jabba, who had shrunk several feet and looked like something Spongebob Squarepants would own as a pet. The scene reduced a larger than life character into a punch line, especially in those douche-chilling moments when Han “stepped” on Jabba’s tail. The second thing ruined was Boba Fett. Remember how badass he seemed in Empire Strikes Back standing against the rest of the bounty hunters? His brief appearance in the new Jabba scene made him seem like a hired thug. It was actually more disheartening than Boba’s debut in the Star Wars Holiday Special.
The Special Editions continued to irk me. Why the big ring of fire when the Death Star blew up? I really saw no point in reminding me of a Johnny Cash song at the height of Rebel victory. My main confusion was Mos Eisley spaceport and why it had to become a giant city. Didn’t that defeat the purpose of an unknown haven where a “wretched hive of scum and villainy” could hide out? Nothing was adding up. The changes were making no sense.
In Empire Strikes Back I didn’t need the extended Wampa footage. What made the creature work in the original films was not seeing it, just a terrifying blur that Luke Skywalker barely escapes from. In the new scenes he’s chewing, growling and looking more like a man in a suit. It would be the same as if Steven Spielberg went back and digitally added the shark in Jaws.
Then there was the sudden growth of Bespin, Lando’s city in the clouds. Lando claims that the operation is small enough to avoid garnering any attention from the Empire, which worked in the original films when Bespin was tiny. Listening to Lando shill that idea with the Special Edition mammoth Bespin made the only black man in the Star Wars Universe seem like a nut job.
The final blow came with Return Of The Jedi and the giant musical number in Jabba’s palace. Part of what makes the entire saga work is that this is a Galaxy far, far away, which means not close, which means they wouldn’t understand the idea of backup singers or a horn section. I watched that part in stunned silence, trying to figure out how any of this helped the story along. Still, I kept a giant thermos of the Kool Aid at my side and whenever reality threatened my Star Wars illusions I would take a deep and refreshing drink.
When Episode I came out I paid five hundred bucks to see it two days early through a charity event. That’s how important it was to me, it was everything. Seeing the first part of the origin of Darth Vader had been boiling in my nerd blood for fifteen years and now it was time. Again, the unthinkable happened, my brain began to bother me that this movie sucked. No way, it couldn’t suck; my brain was wrong and where the hell was my f***ing thermos? It was okay that one of the heroes sounded like an underwater Jamaican, and that the bad guys sounded Japanese or the evil troll that was always cheap and bargaining for everything sounded Jewish. Nope, even the resounding intergalactic racism wouldn’t stop me from loving the film.
Sure Anakin Skywalker sucked, and the whole of the film was boring as all get out. No, really, I’m all good with the idea that Jedi’s have some chemical in them called Midichlorians, which was never mentioned in the original films, and that Anakin was born from immaculate conception. I held on to my need for these movies, these bits of lore that I had loved as a child, to be amazing. I was picturing myself as six-year-old seeing Darth Vader walk into frame for the first time. I just knew the second movie would bring that feeling back…
Episode II was a spectacular exercise in special effects greatness. Jedis abounded and lightsabers flashed and sizzled. It was the introduction to the Clone Wars; it was the apex of the fall of the Galactic Council. Sure Hayden Christiansan sucked as the Anakin Skywalker who would grow to be Darth Vader, delivering Lucas’s awful dialog with all the excitement of an eighty-year-old librarian on Valium. Yes the idea of Boba Fett’s dad being the genesis of the Stormtroopers was one of the stupidest concepts in movie history, but still, I drank and drank and drank the Kool Aid. Digital Yoda be damned, I was gonna get down with these movies.
Even the final nut-slap of Episode III did nothing to dissuade me from trying to defend these movies. As anti-climactic as Anakin’s turn to the dark side was (I’ve seen milk turn with more dramatic punch) it was okay because I finally got to see the epic lightsaber battle between Obi Wan and Anakin that damaged the latter beyond recognition. I managed to overlook the fact that even though Princess Leia said she could remember her real mother, in Episode III Padme died right after the twins were born. So unless there was some cryogenic scene I missed, Leia wouldn’t have had any knowledge of her mother at all. Still though, the lightsaber battle was cool and the Kool Aid was so very tasty that day.
I spent a solid year defending Episode I, II and III. I drank from the thermos so often my breath started to stink of geek desperation. The thermos started running dry when Lucas decided to screw with the original films even more. He overdubbed all of Boba Fett’s lines in Empire Strikes Back with the voice of the actor who played him in Episode II. Why?
In Episode II Boba was a clone with no genetic modifications, almost a normal child. What normal child grows up to sound just like his dad? Then there was Lucas replacing the old Anakin with Hayden Christianson. Really? The dark side had kept him from aging? Why did he look old under the mask but not in his “Force Ghost” form? The Kool Aid began to have a sour and awful taste to it.
Things really opened up when the Special Editions were released on DVD along with the original versions. I was amped to see the original movies I loved so much and now they would be on DVD format. Except, well, they weren’t. George Lucas had digitally “perfected” his Special Editions but done nothing to the original versions, they were basically a transfer of the Laser Disc versions to DVD. Way to slap your fans right in the mouth George. I bought the versions anyway but my anger towards Lucas was growing.
When the final film from the prequels was released on DVD, I sat down and watched all six movies at once. It was here that the Kool Aid ran totally dry and the thermos became empty. It dawned on me that not only were the prequels insultingly bad, they were completely unnecessary. The original films had everything you needed; the story of Darth Vader was so much more compelling when left to your imagination. I studied the prequels to try and find anything about them that improved the story. I found nothing.
In fact, the prequels took away some of the magic of the original releases. The Star Wars Universe no longer seemed like a galaxy far, far away. Not with pod race announcers that sounded like ESPN guys or a fifties style diner complete with a mouthy waitress with a “New York” accent, or bars where guys sold something as idiotic sounding as “Death Sticks”. Suddenly it became clear, the prequels had nothing to do with Lucas expanding the story, it was all just his exercise in showing off the technology. Whatever story might have been there was changed and altered so more and more digital crap could be shoveled in. Lucas took what could have expanded the Saga wonderfully and turned it into reverse Roger Rabbit, people walking around in a cartoon world.
Want proof? Why, after the first failure, did he not allow the script to be re-written? Why not let another director step in and save the films? The only reason that clicks is that he didn’t care. Lucas wanted to make the films as cheaply as he could, story-, script- and director-wise, so he could focus everything on making big pretty digital hoopla. Even his ridiculous need to connect every single plot point between the six films seemed forced, like he was hoping all the connections would dissuade us from paying attention to the man behind the curtain who was gumming up the works. Lucas had taken what meant so much to so many and reduced it to a resume for ILM. It was a heartbreaking turn for me, one that ended my love for the saga.
When the Blu-ray release was announced I kneejerk pre-ordered them. By now I hated the prequels and couldn’t even watch the original films without that sour taste spilling over. It didn’t really matter; these versions of the original films weren’t mine anyway. The discovery that Lucas wasn’t releasing the original versions on the Blu-ray angered me. Why did Lucas have such contempt for his creations and such little respect for the fans? Give us what we want George: we’re paying the bills.
This latest crop of additions to the Blu-ray tore it for me and I cancelled my pre-order. I finally had to admit that, more devastating than Lucas not caring about the Saga, I now didn’t care either. Blinking Ewoks? Vader screaming? What else could Lucas do to these films? If I sat down and watched the Blu-rays, what other childhood-killing shrapnel would explode off the screen and into my skull? Once I made my peace with the reality of my attitude towards the Saga, I retired myself as a Star Wars fan forever.
Want real proof of how little Lucas cares about Star Wars? In 1988 he went before a congressional committee to fight to keep people like Ted Turner from colorizing or otherwise changing classic films. He battled to stop the very thing he’s doing now? Why? Well, the only thing I can figure is that he thinks those movies are important but the original Star Wars films are not, or he sees them as “his” movies so he can do what he wants. Screw the fans, to hell with the legacy, Lucas can digitally masturbate all over these films until he can’t ji** anymore. The rest of us get to eat the biscuit when he’s done.
Some say this is just growing up and I say it’s different. There are lots of things I loved as a child that aren’t as important to me in adulthood but I still look upon with great fondness. Star Wars didn’t change: it was butchered, disfigured and made ugly by an abusive father. Those wonderful movies that dropped me to the floor as a child are somewhere gathering dust, forgotten in Lucas’s blitz to prove himself a digital giant. Everything about them is tainted. My half-sleeve of Star Wars tattoos are embarrassing and my fond memory of meeting George Lucas feels hollow and sad. There was a band called Only Living Witness who are still a top five favorite of mine. One of their lines goes like this:
“All my heroes, they let me down, and I’m not the same no more.”
That’s how I feel about Lucas and, sadly, the bastardized versions of Star Wars we’re stuck with.