Sep 5, 2011

[Star Wars] Messing With The Classics

A portrait of George Lucas, Pasadena, Californ...Image via WikipediaThere's been a lot of press buzz going around related to the additional changes made to the Star Wars films in line with the debut of the Blu-ray collection of these iconic movies. One could argue that this is nothing more than the kind of backlash George Lucas first received when he created the "Special Edition" of the original trilogy, which consisted of updates made to the first three movies mainly related to the inferior special effects technology available at the time.

However this is a lot more than just tweaking the excessive black edges where different sets of footage were spliced together or the lack of CGI alien creatures in a busy starport. These have included some strange thematic changes that have altered the narrative to some extent or tried to present additional insight into certain sections of the movie.

So I figured today was as good a day as any to try and discuss some of the changes and weigh in on the modifications as best as can be expected.

For purposes of organization, I decided to go through the changes in terms of the narrative order of the films instead of their release dates. This means that I'll follow the Episode numbering in terms of sequence, just to give this piece a decent amount of flow.

So here's our first clip from Episode I: The Phantom Menace:

Admittedly, the changes here are somewhat minimal - instead of the puppet they used the first time the movie was replaced, Yoda has been completely replaced by a CGI version of himself. On the one hand, we've already seen CGI Yoda in Episodes II and III of the franchise and that didn't turn out too bad. His computer model provided for nice expressions and of course he had some wicked Jedi fighting to boot. On the flip side, I still feel a little bad that the industry in general has moved away from puppetry. There's something to be said about the kind of movies we get with really well-done puppets as opposed to always relying on CGI to get things done.

Now this next clip is a user-edit of the original footage combined with an audio clip that has been going around the web related to Episode IV: A New Hope:

While this could fall into the category of just another "tweak" to the original movie, I'm not sure why this was made at all. The original cry that was created in the first movie wasn't all that bad - it was a strange noise to be sure, but it seemed feasible that someone might be able to create it on his own. This new cry seems excessively complicated and makes you wonder if Obi-Wan has swallowed an Auto-Tune device similar to what Finn had done in the Adventure Time animated series. Seriously, what is this?

This next clip is already infamous and again comes from Episode IV: A New Hope:

The "Greedo Shoots First" scene was the one scene that had generated the most fan backlash when the Special Edition movies were first released. It implied that the inept bounty hunter had managed to get even the slightest drop on Han Solo by managing to get a shot off first. And no, it didn't really seem logical that Greedo was SO bad a bounty hunter that he'd miss Solo from across a table. This new release tried to tighten the editing to make it seem more plausible, but no matter how much I re-watch this clip, I continue to hate it.

This next clip now comes from Episode VI: Return of the Jedi:

This is another very minimal change - allowing Ewoks to blink. In the first release, Ewoks were a nice combination of cute and cuddly aliens with rather disturbing capabilities. Yes, they look like giant teddy bears. But they also have some elaborate religious practices and managed to attack Imperial forces with much more superior technology. Their previous unblinking gaze was nicely disturbing, even if it was only a limitation of the original costumes. Now they can blink and well...they can blink. It's not necessarily a bad change, but it does seem like an irrelevant one. I mean seriously, did Lucas really go back to his movies and think, "Darn, I always wanted those Ewoks to blink." If that is the case, he's a lot more obsessive than I had originally realized.

And now for the big finish, the infamous scene coming from Episode VI: Return of the Jedi:

At the end of Episode III: Revenge of the Sith, we were treated to one of the most ridiculous pieces of voice acting ever - Darth Vader screaming NO for a tad too long. It has been immortalized in a variety of internet memes including this website and is yet another example of something fans have universally panned. The clip above indicates that they now want Vader to say NO again, but in a manner that is somewhat more appropriate and relevant given it marks his turn against his master and his decision to keep his son Luke alive.

James Poniwozik of TIME Magazine presented a pretty good analysis / argument against this particular change. Beyond how ridiculous it ends up sounding, he also pointed out how it didn't really feel necessary to the narrative. Did we really need Darth Vader to mirror his prior Revenge of the Sith moment in a manner that also redeemed his past mistake? Did this really add new dimensions of depth to the overall 6-movie story? I really doubt this as well and instead it feels like Lucas wanted to drive home his point to dumber audiences with a sledgehammer, leaving the rest of us wondering why he has resorted to overacting as a narrative device.

Overall, I think this just stresses the point that George Lucas may not necessarily be the great director we always claim him to be. I respect his creative vision and the fact that he managed to create this fantastic movie and merchandising franchise together. But sometimes, he just lacks the kind of reasonable aesthetic sense to avoid over-editing his work or adding nuances that really play out like overly obvious attempts at metaphorical representation.

Wish luck, perhaps these clips are all just internet rumor mongering and the final result will not be so horrible. But given the Special Edition, I have to admit I doubt we'll be spared these horrors at all.
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