Happy Monday dear reader and boy do I have a treat for you today to get your week going. This week I decided to focus on the original Star Wars Trilogy, but not in the sense as I have been doing when it comes to these Retro Replays. I’m not going to be reviewing these films because I don’t have too. They’re great, everyone knows they’re great and it’s not some lost relic that you might not have watched in decades, no, if you’re like me you watch this trilogy every few months.
What I’m doing here today is talking about the Special Editions and whether or not George Lucas actually had the right to change those films. Now when I say does he have the right, I’m not coming from a fan perspective. There is a growing argument on the internet saying that George Lucas betrayed the fans with the special editions and should not have touched those films. No I’m speaking purely on the film maker perspective to this.
I’m a huge fan of director’s cuts. For those of you who don’t know, when a movie is shot there are hours and hours of footage and 99% of the time that footage is usually whittled down to 90 minutes. That 90 minutes is a concentration of the first cut from the director and then subsequent cuts from the producers and the studio.
Star Wars is George Lucas’s vision and no matter how much I hate Episode I and II, I will never hold a grudge against Lucas unlike many Star Wars fans. So on the surface it would appear that Lucas had every right to tinker with the films that he helped create. That’s on the surface though.
Lucas wrote and directed Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope. So in a sense, from page to film this movie was indeed Lucas’s vision. Lucas had every right to tinker and rerelease this movie as much as he wanted, well until he sold Lucas Films to Disney.
However, with The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi he did not write the screen plays or direct the films. Sure he crafted the stories behind these two films but it was Irvin Kershner (Empire) and Richard Marquand (Jedi) who brought these two stories to screen, with screen plays by Leigh Brackett (Empire) and Lawrence Kasdan (Empire and Jedi). Lucas has much right to change these movies as Stephen King did to Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining.
With these examples both King and Lucas created their respective universes but they chose to hand the reigns over to people who they thought would be perfect to bring them to film. Once they did that they allowed someone else to put their vision on film. Focusing just on the Star Wars Trilogy, both Kershner and Marquand put their own spin on the franchise and they feel like each respective directors’ vision.
With the latter two films in the Star Wars Trilogy they weren’t Lucas’s vision, at least not the films, they were the visions of the respective directors and Lucas adding to them is him stepping on the toes of directors he hired because he thought they would do a better job than he would. This might also explain why A New Hope has way more added to it than the other two films.
Granted some of the additions Lucas made were welcomed, like the enhanced effects, I’m not going to lie, back in 1997 watching the Death Star run on the big screen I was amazed by the updated dog fight and explosions, enhancing these effects didn’t bother me that much but oh where there changes that make me cringe.
Just looking at A New Hope for a moment, the only film I think Lucas has any right to change, there were some pretty terrible changes, I’m only going to hit some of the big ones though. For instance, Greedo shooting first. Overall, Han or Greedo shooting first doesn’t affect me as much as it does other fans. Granted with Han shooting first it adds to his character, but in the end it’s not a breaking point for me. What is though is how awkward that scene is and it looks terrible. Also from A New Hope the scene with Jabba the Hutt. It’s apparent from behind the scene footage that Jabba wasn’t originally going to be the slug monster that he came to be so taking the scene that was cut from the movie and adding a badly done CGI Jabba into it just looks horrible, especially when Han steps on his tail. Han doesn’t look natural as they had to take the footage of Harrison Ford walking behind a very human Jabba and shift him up to make it look like he stepped on Jabba’s tail. Once anyone at Lucas Film saw this scene they should have said, nope, leave it on the cutting room floor, this looks like shit.
As far as the three movies are concerned Lucas left Empire alone the most. I don’t know if that movie was exactly what he wanted, if he had an agreement with Kershner not to tinker with it or what, but given that it’s universally considered the best Star Wars movie there wasn’t much Lucas could do to it. The major changes to it were adding the Wampa to the Hoth cave scene with Luke, it was cool to see the Wampa fully instead of the glimpse we got originally but it doesn’t add to the movie. Then there was adding Ian McDirmid in as the Emperor to the scene where Vader converses with the hologram. Actor Clive Revill lent his voice to the character and I believe what we see in the movie (if I’m remembering the story right) is someone’s mother, I think Kershner’s in make-up for that shot. McDirmid was cast as Palpatine for RoTJ so he didn’t film the scene originally, I like this change only because it adds continuity to the films. I was always taken back the the two different Emperors in the films. Lastly the change in Boba Fett’s voice from Scottish actor Jason Wingreen, to Jango Fett actor Temuera Morrison again to give continuity since Boba is a clone of Jango. This change, again is kind of “meh” because honestly if you don’t know about the change you probably wouldn’t notice.
My biggest gripes with the special editions come with Return of the Jedi. First and foremost the dance scene in Jabba’s palace is as bad as anything in the prequels, I shit you not, I skip it everytime. This scene is so bad it totally takes you out of the movie and you can’t quite get back into it until the Rancor scene with Luke. The small musical number in the original was fine, it was a bit catchy but most of all it was in the background and didn’t take you out of the film. This addition is a total disrespect to Marquand because there was no way he’d want this in the film. The end of the film has some pretty big changes as well, the Ewoks song at the end of the special editions is terrible and not as catchy as the original, and Hayden Christainson replacing Sebastian Shawn as Anikan as the Force ghost, wasn’t terrible but since a lot of people hate Hayden because of the prequels this got a lot of people mad. But Vader’s “NO” at the end of Jedi when he confronts the Emperor is just bad and out of place. It takes a great silent change in Vader going from the Dark Lord to Anikan, father of Luke to a campy scene, another scene that takes you out of the movie.
So in the end the Star Wars Saga was George Lucas’s baby, he crafted the story and mythos behind it and gave us fans a great experience along the way. However, two of those films were not his vision and not his to tinker with but he did it anyways and didn’t quite ruin them, but hindered them along the way. So in my honest opinion, before he sold Lucas Films to Disney (by the way Lucas isn’t the terrible monster fanboys make him out to be, he did donate the 4 billion dollars to charity) he could have done what he wanted to A New Hope (or the prequels) because that was his film, he wrote and directed it, Empire and Jedi, however, were other film makers’ vision and he should have left them at that.