Tuesday, August 24, 2010

An Old Hope.

Nearly caved in and bought Star Wars on DVD today. Came to my senses as I stood there holding the discs in my hand, about to head for the checkout. I've waited a long time; I can wait a little longer. I've bought the Trilogy twice over already, and won't be doing it again until I can get the version I really want. I might be waiting a looooong time, but that's ok. I know how to wait.

I first bought the Star Wars trilogy in 1995, when remastered versions of the original films were released on the format of the day, VHS. Two years later, the Special Editions were released with suitable fanfare, and I bought the three films again.

Though initially a fan of the SEs, as I rewatched them over the years I grew to dislike them. A lot. Almost without exception, the changes were pointless...


...or brainless.

That is the same frame up there, if you can believe it. Can you find where Wally the stormtrooper is? He's behind the dinosaur. Can you see the dinosaur? Yep, just to the lef... that's it! I still haven't found Wizard Whitebeard or the scroll, but they've got to be there somewhere.

Worse, a number of actual issues that could have benefited from revision were overlooked – the monochrome, wireframe graphic displays in the TIE fighters and X-wings, for example.

How is it that the podracer of a slave boy on a planet furthest from the bright centre of the universe has a more sophisticated display...

...than the frontline fighters of the Imperial military? Unbelievable.

The worst change of all though was Greedo shooting first.

This bewildering revision completely undermined the integrity of arguably the saga's greatest character, Han Solo. How Lucas could believe Han getting the drop on an unsuspecting Greedo was somehow contrary to Solo's character… I just don't get. And how we're meant to believe Greedo could miss from that range after minutes sitting there pointing a blaster right at his target, I get even less.

No, the SEs are no good. The remastering had improved the sound and made the colours rich and even, but the changes to the story and the characters had compromised the overall package. The earlier remastered editions didn't have that problem, but the quality of VHS still left a lot to be desired. Ideally, what I wanted, if it wasn't too much to ask, were the original cinematic versions, remastered, and on a high-definition format. Like DVD! How about it, George?

Sadly, no. When the DVDs were announced in 2004, the SEs were the only option, as Lucas said they fulfilled his original vision. But like the future, always in motion is the original vision, apparently, as the Special Editions that made their way onto DVD were different to those already released on VHS. To be fair though, this time the changes weren't just indulgent tinkering, but an attempt to make connections between the classic trilogy and the new prequel trilogy which was busy crashing down around us. But once again, what started out sounding like a good idea resulted in confusion and disaster.

Anakin Skywalker's ghost, for example, which appears at the end of Return of the Jedi, was changed from Sebastian Shaw's time-of-death visage to the youthful, Prequel-era Hayden Christensen.

What?! What's the significance of that? How come Yoda and Obi-Wan's ghosts didn't get to visit the Force fountain of eternal youth? Is Hayden somehow meant to represent a redeemed Darth Vader, perhaps? This is the same Hayden who slaughtered all those adorable little Jedi kiddies, right? Sigh.

The Specialer Editions were also another opportunity for George Lucas to ruin Boba Fett. His demolition began in Attack of the Clones with the introduction of Boba's father, Jango Fett; a character who shared more with his son than just a family name. In a failure of imagination not seen since the second Death Star, Boba and Jango wear the same armour, fly the same ship, work the same trade, and even share the same reputation. I know Boba's supposed to be a clone of his father, but isn't that taking things a little too far?

Not far enough for Lucas, apparently, who, after taking away most of what made Boba unique, took away the one thing he had left: his voice. Gravelly and menacing, Boba's voice suited the character perfectly. But with the revelation that Boba was a clone of his father, Lucas decided to re-record Boba's handful of lines from The Empire Strikes Back using the voice of Temuera Morrison, the actor who plays Jango. Once a mysterious figure of power and menace, Boba Fett is now little more than a photocopy of his father. I'm sure Lucas intended it to be some sort of tribute to a fan favourite, but in making Boba the template for the entire clone army he's completely missed the point of what made the character great.

Even if you accept the whole clone thing, this change makes no sense to me. If anything, the different voices just add to the mystery of the character. Yeah, why doesn't he have the same voice as the other clones? Maybe it's as simple as his helmet having a voice-modulator to conceal his true voice? Like Darth Vader. Sebastian Shaw's unmasked Darth Vader sounded nothing like James Earl Jones. Or maybe it's a long and complicated story that Kevin J Anderson will eventually ruin by writing a book about it.


Then, after most people had gone out and bought the only DVD option it looked like we'd be getting, it was announced in 2006 that the Classic Trilogy would be released again, this time in a six-disc collection containing the three SEs and their original cinematic versions as well! Hurrah!

But there was a catch.

Hurooh. The cinematic versions were a straight rip from the laserdiscs which had never been remastered. Finally the best of both worlds – original and remastered – existed in high-definition, but on different discs. That those discs came bundled in the same box only heightened the frustration. So close, yet so far, far away. Sigh.

I still cling to my old hope that Lucas will eventually get bored or whatever, and remaster the original versions just for the hell of it, but I'm not holding my breath. Lucky no one's pumping dioxis into the room. Dioxis. Sigh. "Hey idiots. Have you ever heard of carbon monoxide?"

Well, as was prophesied long ago, the Blu-ray version of the Star Wars saga has just been announced. To, by now, no one's surprise, the Special Editions are the only versions to make the cut. The surprise came from Lucas' explanation for not restoring the original versions, which was that it would "cost too much"! Seriously, George? Bit skint just now, are you? Has the merchandising machine broken down and you've had to stop printing money for five minutes? And remind me how much it was you spent making the Prequels? Actually, don't. Forget it.

Anyway, I don't mean to sound bitter. Really I'm not too disappointed because I'd already decided to skip Blu-ray as a format, anyway. Physical media is soooo last century. Thanks to services such as the iTunes Media Store, I expect Blu-ray will become obsolete faster than DVD did. Why spend all that money on an expensive Blu-ray player and overpriced discs when there's an option like the latest Apple TV? No need to trek down to your local retailer/renter for movies or TV shows; you can get what you want without getting off the couch. Just a few clicks of the remote, and you're away. And as my friend Glamma said in response to the news: "Nope, I genuinely don't care. It's hard to get too excited over seeing movies made in the early 80s transferred to Blu-ray." Quite so. As a Collector of Things, I don't find a digital collection as satisfying as a physical one, but the sheer convenience is undeniable. Blu-ray schmu-ray.

No, you can't always get what you want, but that's ok. There's something right about watching Star Wars on crappy old lo-fi VHS. Seems appropriate. Do you think Luke's got a Blu-ray holo-player there in his little man-shed? I don't think so; he'd have a VCR for sure. One that needed a new power converter. And its heads cleaned.

This post is already too long, but no whining about the SEs would be complete without mentioning Jabba the Hutt. That scene blows.

I know I said this post is already too long, but the hits they keep on comin'. Hot on the heels of Lucasfilm's Blu-ray announcement comes the news that the Star Wars saga is to be rereleased in 3D. In 3D. Sigh. So, remastering the originals is "too expensive", but converting them into freakin' 3D – a process that can take up to a year – isn't? You know, George, you're really not doing much to counter the widely-held belief that you're cynically exploiting the devotion of your fans for commercial gain. 

What a waste of time. I'm not a fan of 3D films at all. It's the Emperor's New Film Studio. 3D is a gimmick that adds nothing to a film, but $10 to the price of admission. I don't mind films that've been conceived as and shot in 3D, like Avatar, but two-dimensional films converted to 3D in post-production are a con; no more than a marketing ploy to generate hype and drive ticket sales. 3D is just one more thing to distract filmmakers from the most important part of a film: the story! Forget 3D. A 2D film with a three-dimensional story will beat the reverse every time.

Simon Pegg on Twitter: "Watching TPM [The Phantom Menace] in 3D would be like the car actually crashing into your face as opposed to just unfolding before your eyes." 


One more. Just read this interview with Jeremy Bulloch by Vanity Fair. I like Bulloch. Not just because he was the original and best Boba Fett, but because he seems genuinely enthused about his role in Star Wars. He's not too cool for it, or resentful of the attention it's brought him; he seems to have greatly enjoyed his time working on the films and is grateful for the experience.

Of particular note, I was pleased to see him say he didn't think they should have changed Boba's original and "far more menacing" voice. And that's not him being precious or protective, as Boba's voice wasn't his anyway; his on-set dialogue was overdubbed by American actor, Jason Wingreen. And the bit here where Bulloch does his impression of Wingreen's voice reminded me of when I met him at a signing years ago. As I handed him my Boba headshot I asked if he could write "Survive" on it as well as his name, and he laughed as he intoned, "What if he doesn't survive…" in his best gravelly Boba impression.

Hearing Bulloch favours Boba's original voice also reminds me of when I met Timothy Zahn, the author who coined the name Coruscant for the Imperial capital. When reading the books I'd always pronounced the name as corus•cant, with a hard c. But in the films the actors all pronounced it corus•sant, with a soft c. So, as the creator, I asked Zahn how he pronounced it. "With the soft c," he told me, but he wasn't too upset as he was grateful Lucas had decided to use his name at all and not come up with one of his own. That's fair enough, but I felt validated none the less. :)

Another interesting Boba Fact: the Star Wars Holiday Special, broadcast in November 1978, has long been considered the first appearance of Boba Fett. But thanks to the Lucasfilm archives, it's been revealed his first appearance was actually two months earlier at a public parade in San Anselmo, California. Let the record show! Phew. The less we need to mention that Holiday Special, the better.


  1. When I first saw Hayden Christensen's ghostly visage standing there with obi-wan and yoda it was as if millions of voices suddenly cried out in terror...

    Imagine if Lucas had Star Wars on the internet for streaming (i.e. on appleTV) - He'd probably change something every single day because he felt it wasn't quite right.

  2. He does like to tinker. Maybe he could make a Star Wars stream available on subscription with a Platinum membership option that includes lifetime updates. :)

  3. OK, I have to say this... Wouldn't it make more sense to post some of these "Updates" as seperate blog posts?

    Or at the very least date them? As it stands, it looks like you spent August 24th ranting endlessly about Star Wars. (And I know you didn't, because I've started drafting a reply so I'm looking at the (steadily growing) post quite often.)

    It's difficult to see what Update #6 has to do with the original post, save for being about Star Wars; and I would have thought that those of us in your readership who might want to quickly review your various thoughts on Star Wars might be better served by a series of pithy posts searchable using the "starwars" tag.

    But I quibble.

    As for "Update #6", when I look at these pictures, I don't see Boba Fett; I see some guy wearing Mandalorian armour walking two steps behind Darth Vader as though he's some kind of lackey or servant.

    This may be the first appearance of the Boba Fett costume but whoever is wearing it
    doesn't seem to be in character as Fett.

    Lucasfilm may say it was Fett, but at this point I wouldn't trust Lucasfilm if they said they'd searched their archives and found that 1977 was the year of the American Bicentennial; or indeed that 1977 was the year before 1978.

  4. I think this is the most number of updates I've made to any post, so it's never really been an issue before. Dating them would make sense though. Thanks for your feedback.

    I included #6 here because I stumbled across the tid-bit while googlin' around for Update #5. So it's really an update to an update. :) Maybe it does warrant its own post, though?

    I think you're reading a lot into a photo, into one moment in time. Who knows what happened just before this image was taken. Maybe Fett had just taken Vader by the throat and commanded him to walk out in front or he'd disintegrate him. :) At the very least, Fett seems to be beside Vader, making them appear to me as equals, not master and servant.

    I agree with you though about the costume/character of Fett. That's one of the bits I most enjoyed about the Bulloch interview; him describing the little things he did, like cradling the blaster, to give the character colour. In these two images he does seem a little… casual? Like he's out for a stroll. Certainly doesn't have the menace you expect.

  5. While I'm not going to defend any of the specific artistic decisions made by Lucas, who seems to have a gift for seeking out the lowest common denominator in everything, it is worth noting that revising an already presented work of art is commonplace in many media, in particular theater. Many Broadway shows have been thoroughly revised over the years, including phenomenal box office successes like Phantom of the Opera. Outside the realm of drama; musical pieces are also revised by their composers/songwriters frequently.

    (A big difference in how frequently a piece is revised seems to be whether it is mainly performed live, as is theater, or performed from a recording, as is cinema).

    It doesn't bother me that Lucas has sought to revise his ouvre, especially for technical reasons. The specific revision, OTOH...

  6. Hi Engineer Scotty. I completely agree with you. My problem was never with Lucas' decision to revise his films; my problem was with the revisions he chose to make. I completely get that there were technical and budgetary limitations back when he first made the films and who wouldn't want to fix things like that if they got the chance. But he "fixed" things that weren't broke! He undermined his characters! He changed the story! And things that would have benefitted from revision, weren't! Good idea, terrible execution.