Lucas Made Changes…So What?

by Sergey Protasov

I discovered “Star Wars” when I was 9 or 10 years old. It was in 1986 or 1987. Since it was Soviet times in Russia, I couldn’t possibly watch it in the cinema or on TV. I watched it when I was visiting a friend whose father was a diplomat. He bought 3 “Star Wars” videocassettes in the UK.

I didn’t know a word in English, yet I was overwhelmed by these movies. Instantly I was obsessed by its reality, both visual and musical. I was returning home after watching “Return of the Jedi” with a fever because the music during end credits was something incredible. It was a revelation. I was a young musician, yet only after hearing John Williams’ immensely complex and beautiful orchestral scores I have realized what music is – what music is capable of. Until this day when I have a showing of “Star Wars” at my home I always insist on watching it without translation because of my first experience. Much later I have heard George Lucas’s view on “Star Wars” as sort of silent movie, as space opera. I’m explaining all these things to people who never watched “Star Wars” before, and even if they don’t know English they always get the right feeling of “Star Wars.” Even snobs who usually don’t like movies with spaceships, or with shooting and fighting, or with some mystical conceptions – even they make an exception for “Star Wars”.

Since then I have watched “Star Wars” dozens (if not hundreds) of times. How I was able to? The only way available for Russians in the early 1990s was through piracy, of course. Thousands of little shops in Moscow were selling pirated copies of every movie imaginable, usually with abominable one-voice translation and distorted original sound. Having seen “Star Wars” in this pathetic form I regarded myself as a person who knows every frame of it by heart. And I remember my hesitation when in 1995 I first saw these huge LaserDiscs in the shop window announcing, “The Last Chance to Buy Star Wars In Its Original Edition.” I remember myself thinking, “I took everything I could from this movie, so why I must spend so much money for the relic of my past?” Yet I bought this LaserDisc edition of “Star Wars,” and I bought a LaserDisc player. I came home and plugged it in my multiple-speaker system.

What came next was indescribable. Suddenly I have realized that I never have watched “Star Wars” before! To hear its sound as it was recorded was equally powerful revelation! It was like resurrection of something that was already dead in my soul. Yet only much later I have discovered the infamous quote of George Lucas: sound is 50% of the cinema experience. Already I had proof through my own experience. Furthermore this 1995 LaserDisc edition was in widescreen format which also became a valuable lesson about how one must always watch a movie in it original format.

I met the announcement of “Special Edition” with great enthusiasm, and as soon as it was released on LaserDisc I bought it.

And then I have experienced a shock I wasn’t prepared for.

From the very start all was very different. It took me 5 minutes to realize that the picture was restored! Yet 10 years of watching “Star Wars” with dusty and distorted picture didn’t pass without effect. The 1995 LaserDisc edition of “Star Wars” also had a grainy picture which in my opinion only added to realism. As if it was an old documentary from space. The 1997 Special Edition of “Star Wars” showed me a picture of pristine quality as if it was shot yesterday. And this in my opinion was unrealistic. It took me many-many times of watching the Special Edition to became accustomed to its restored quality. Until this day I believe that it was the main stumbling point for the majority of fans who complain about Special Edition: aesthetical change – not actual changes.

I welcomed all additions George Lucas made in the 1997 Special Edition (and subsequently in 2001 DVD Edition and in 2011 Blu-ray Edition). I was not alone in cheering when the camera suddenly soared above Mos Eisley. For me it was the most symbolic change. When much later I have learned that there is major dispute about “who shot first: Han or Greedo?” I finally recognized that I will never be able to understand American fans. My first reaction was, “Who cares? Is this really the most crucial point of the whole saga to make such a fuss about it?” And what is precisely dreadful about the new scene when Vader is returning to his ship in the end of “The Empire Strikes Back” especially considering the fact that James Earl Jones recorded this phrase back in 1980?

I didn’t really care about new “Jedi Rocks” music. The new scene was good but I grieved for “Lapti Nek.” I couldn’t agree with the argument that “Lapti Nek” was too 1980s. So what? Incidentally, it is another American thing I can’t grasp: again and again and again I read comments in Internet with “it is too 1980s” or “it is too 1970s” sayings. What does it mean? Mark Hamill once said that one can say when “Star Wars” was made only by his haircut. OK, “Star Wars” mirrored some aesthetical realities of 1970s – so what? Why it must be timeless in terms of haircut or music if in all its designs “Star Wars” consciously borrowed from a vast number of world cultures of different times?

There is just one change I can’t agree with: “Ewok Celebration” music has been replaced by new “Victory Celebration” music. So every time I watch “Return of the Jedi” I eject the blu-ray disc after the funeral pyre scene and replace it with “original version” DVD. Perhaps, as a musician, I am too sensitive about changes of music. Therefore it is not at all satisfying for me to listen to new extended versions of end credit music in Episodes IV – VI each of which was lengthened by replication of one section.

Yet the basic question is: what is stopping me from ejecting one disc and inserting the other? Nothing!

All versions of “Star Wars” are legally available on various mediums! So why is this chorus of disapproval?

Do you like the original version of the “classic trilogy?” Go ahead! It is available on Betamax, VHS, LaserDisc, and DVD! You can easily find a new copy via eBay and choose it from hundreds of various sellers. What else is bothering you?

Everybody have their immovable aesthetical preferences – it is only natural. But in any case it is your problem if you are in disagreement with an author – it is not an author’s problem. An author can do what he likes – and if you don’t like it you can blame only yourself and has no rights to blame others for your dissatisfaction and especially a person who created this fantasy world you wish live in.

I never had met a person who would love “Star Wars” for the same reasons as I do. This is the main issue. Whatever version of the movie one may call “canonical” there still be the difference of interpretation. People will still be arguing about different aspects of the story.

The conflict between fractions of “Star Wars” fans is like the conflict between the Roman Catholic Church and Russian Orthodox Church arguing about the subtleties of the Christian Symbol of Faith! The passion is so high! The arguments are so serious! The blame is so merciless! “Star Wars” is a fantasy, for heaven’s sake! It was created by a man for entertainment. Even if “Star Wars” can be called a statement about triumph of good over evil there will still be lots of kids who would play for the dark side of the Force. Because, in the end, “Star Wars” is the playground for thoughts. Perhaps the richest that was ever created.

Would George Lucas soften the blow if he would release all versions of “Star Wars” simultaneously, as Ridley Scott did with his “Blade Runner?” I don’t know. Perhaps not. “Star Wars” folk are too serious about themselves. They are defending their truth like religious fanatics. And worst of them, as we know, go as far as wishing death to a man who created their beloved fantasy world.

Will this separation be forever? Will it be the legacy of “Star Wars”? Is it really necessary to have only one official fan view of “Star Wars”?

The prequels were yet another change George Lucas made to the “original trilogy.” The mystery about Luke’s father is no longer a mystery. We no longer look at Yoda from Luke’s point of view when he met him. We know from the very beginning that Leia is Luke’s sistetr. We remember Obi-Wan and Vader as young men, and this gives us a completely different view upon a character. The Force is no longer a miracle substance for a viewer but a humanistic concept being rooted in such matter as symbiosis.

Just like with his new panoramic shot of Mos Eisley in the Special Edition where George Lucas sort of widened a scope of a single scene, Prequels have widened a scope of the “original trilogy”. Suddenly all those fun adventures became burdened by complex issues established in Prequels. We can’t see the narrative of the “original trilogy” as it is anymore. It became an outcome of the Prequels’ narrative.

Of course, a keen viewer – who was much more interested in the philosophical side of “Star Wars” than in its adventure side – has embraced the Prequels with all the gladness of one’s heart. Prequels made obvious various things in the “original trilogy” that one could sense but could not explain. I remember my own fruitless attempts to prove “Star Wars” as a spiritual drama rather than an action drama to some people.

I remember my own feeling of complete satisfaction when I first saw “The Phantom Menace.” It really was Episode I. I mean literally an episode number one. It was an exposition of all major themes and storylines of “Star Wars.” As a prologue to a saga it was in the same league as C.S. Lewis’ “The Magician’s Nephew” in which we learn prehistory of five previous books. Every scene of “The Phantom Menace” has a string attached to the “original trilogy” being a forecast or forewarning. The elegant intertwining of fateful lines places the Episode I of “Star Wars” amongst finest examples of storytelling.

With Episodes I, II and III filling the blanks of the saga I could finally illustrate my own interpretation of Episodes IV, V and VI. One can’t say I liked the Prequels because they met my expectations. Not at all. For example, I imagined Episode III to be a completely different story. I thought George Lucas will never show us how Anakin will become Vader. I thought George Lucas will hide somehow that crucial moment when defeated Anakin will be clad in Vader’s suit for us to doubt whether this figure in black is really the boy we once knew. Yet the logic of the story devised by George Lucas convinced me how pathetic my own expectations were. Because what I saw in the final movie was much more powerful and meaningful than all my predictions about how it should be. One must leave one’s ego behind to fully embrace an author’s vision.

The story of the Prequels is in discord to expectations of some fans who wanted to see different things. It is obvious and it was said many times before. Even George Lucas foresaw this in one of his earliest interviews about the Prequels. J.K. Rowling said that her “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows” will disappoint many people a year before its publication. Every author knows that adoration of fans is often so powerful that it becomes dictatorial. The more they like something the more they feel as if they own author’s imagination – as if an author’s thought belongs to them and must fulfill their wishes.

George Lucas was not alone in his wish to make changes to his work. We know J.R.R. Tolkien wanted to make many corrections to “The Lord of the Rings” and exactly for the same reasons: “The Silmarillion” and other stories of the Elder Days were his Prequels, and the more he worked on them the more he felt the necessity to alter his published work.

Now, with “Star Wars” being sold to a faceless company it became exactly the same thing as “Star Trek.” All the things that were done after Gene Roddenberry are fan fiction. It is maybe as good as his imagination – it maybe even better – but it isn’t his imagination anymore. Nowadays we can only hope that some creative talent will be recognized by a producer to give his artistic input to “Star Wars.” But it will be an input of a different artist. “Star Wars” won’t be George Lucas’f anymore. Weyland-Yutani Corporation will play the music now. In these conditions masterpieces and abominable monstrosities may live together under the roof of the same franchise, as we see in the case of “Star Trek” or “Alien” or “Terminator” or any other like that.

“The Force Awakens” will prove for many people whether they really need George Lucas to keep “Star Wars” alive. But regardless of its success – and I’m talking about artistic success here – personally “Star Wars” will no longer be a safe haven for me – a place where I can drop my anchor, so to speak.

As for George Lucas, Iain McCaig once said: “He always praised the design for the film, and people talk about the designers and the Art Department. But ultimately, it was George! We gave him everything, including things that would never fit in Star Wars, and it was George who came along and said ‘take that one and that one and that one. What he picked worked. It worked beautifully. Nowhere does the design look like a patchwork quilt, and that’s because of George”.

I remember Trisha Biggar was once asked about a costume design: “Where is George in that?” And she replied: “George is in everything”.


Tags: , ,

8 Responses to “Lucas Made Changes…So What?”

  1. roxam91 Says:

    I can identify with Sergey a bit when it comes to our astonishment at American fans obsessing over ridiculous things like “Han shot first”. I’m not saying people have to like a change (I personally preferred the theatrical version of the podrace in TPM to the one we have now), but obsessing over something like that for over a decade indicates that you have some serious issues.

    Also, minor nitpick, but the DVD special edition actually came out in 2004, not 2001.

  2. bansheegun Says:

    I’m Russian as well, but I wasn’t born in the Soviet Union so it was fascinating to hear your perspective.

    Love that final quote “George is in everything”. The only time Star Wars has made me cry, ever, was the final shot of The Clone Wars episode ‘Sacrifice’. I guess it was the realization that that’s the final shot, the final finished, scored, edited work from any Star Wars production that George created. It’s strange, I never met George, I probably never will, but he was such a huge part of my life I couldn’t help but feel a sense of loss when he walked away for the last time. It felt like an era had ended and his story as a filmmaker had come to a close. I’m probably just being nostalgic.

  3. Lisse Says:

    Good article. I liked what you said about the prequels unveiling the mystery and how it forced people to see characters from the OT differently. And, that’s one of the reasons I love them.

    Deconstruction of what the OT leads us to believe is one of my favorite things about the prequels. Everyone from Obi-Wan to Vader (the deconstruction of the stoic badass) to the Jedi Order is shown differently, and their eventual reconstruction into who they become in the OT makes all kinds of tragic sense – and it’s one of my favorite things ever.

  4. jarjarbacktattooguy Says:

    Fascinating post, Sergey. People forget that most Western movies, including Star Wars were not officially shown in the Soviet Republics and (I think) the Eastern Bloc countries. Most there didn’t see Star Wars until the 1990s! Now Russia is one of the biggest markets for Hollywood films. It’s a whole new world.

    Your post shows one case where the power of myth, and Star Wars in particular, transcended cultures and the Iron Curtain and clearly had the same effect on you as it did on us, the kids in America.

    I am glad you were able to experience the 1995 home video release as well as the Special Editions, the same as we did.

    The SE’s were the first time any of the films were shown in US Theaters since the 1985 Jedi re-release. I found a great General Cinema (now defunct chain) with THX- certified sound to see them at. This was the beginning of the massive worldwide Pepsi/Frito Lay promotion that ran through Episode I. Pepsi was also involved in the Taco Bell/Pizza Hut promotion. I really consider the SE releases to be the beginning of the Prequel era.

    It was wonderful to see the films at the cinema again, and the restored prints were beautiful. I was young, so I found the concept of adding modern effects to a catalog film really novel. *sigh*

    I realize the majority of fans on this site really like the SE’s. I love George….I love the prequels. I love the Holiday Special. I love the Ewok TV movies. I love Willow. I love Captain Eo. And I especially love Jennifer Connelly…we all did!

    I really, really dislike the Special Editions.

    I am not criticizing the quality of the new F/X. I just do not believe they should have replaced the original effects. I do not believe *any film* should be altered with original content created at a later point. The new effects may have been technically superior. They may have been more crowd pleasing. But when you erase something old, and replace it with something new, then you erase a part of what made the original film unique.

    What if Kathy decides to replace the CGI of the prequels with practical effects? It’s a Pandora’s Box.

    Yes, George was the main creative visionary on the films. However, George was not the one who actually built the models and puppets. The SE’s erased the achievements of those who did.

    The Greedo scene was reshot when they realized the Jabba scene would not be included in the final 1977 cut. They included dialogue that was originally in the Jabba scene. So the reinserted SE Jabba scene is terribly redundant.

    I love CG, it allows directors to do things that couldn’t be achieved any other way. But having CG in films that clearly predate the CG era just doesn’t work. The CG Jabba and Sy Snootles scenes do not fit in with the 70s/80s aesthetic of the films.

    The only segment that is really original is the extended celebration at the end of Jedi. This is really the only aspect of the SE’s that I somewhat enjoy. It felt like a preview of the prequels. It was our first glimpse of Coruscant. Still, the aesthetic problem of inserting CG scenes in a 1980s movie hurts this segment. Plus, those who have only watched the OT would have no idea what planet this was. The added Naboo scene further complicates things.

    A solution would have been to use Coruscant and perhaps the other extended ending planets as the setting for a short film set at the same time as the conclusion of Jedi. Set at the same time, yet not included in the actual film. Fans would have been hyped up to see this new planet in the prequels, yet the ethical and artistic compromises of inserting the scenes into the original would have been avoided.

    Anyway, I think Sergey made a very balanced and eloquent argument about the pros and cons of the SE’s.

    Your story of how you discovered Star Wars when you were not supposed to was very inspiring. You did so at a time when it was not being appreciated in its homeland. Like in the east, the saga was also rediscovered in the west during the 90s and a new generation of fans were born. The SE’s were a part of that, so I guess they served their purpose.

    • Jim Raynor Says:

      Whining about whether “Han shot first” for 18 years and counting is such a First World problem, for people who don’t even have to deal with typical First World problems. If you put in 12 hours of work every day, take care of your family, exercise regularly, or even do other things with your free time, the changes in the Special Editions suddenly seem a LOT less important. Fans should be able to freely voice their opinions. However, if they’re still clinging to their bitterness after newborns in 1997 have already reached adulthood, something is seriously wrong with your priorities.

  5. ladylavinia1932 Says:

    [“Every author knows that adoration of fans is often so powerful that it becomes dictatorial. The more they like something the more they feel as if they own author’s imagination – as if an author’s thought belongs to them and must fulfill their wishes.”]

    Now this is a powerful statement that has rung true since the Special Edition were first released back in 1997.

  6. starwarsanon Says:

    This is an amazing read. Reading about Star Wars from a completely different, non-American perspective helps you realize what’s important and what’s not. Something to chew on.

  7. Branislav Marček Says:

    A thing I realised about some of “The Original Star Wars Trilogy” only fans is that they demand the original unaltered theatrical cuts of A New Hope,The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi getting released for the sake of the preservation of film history, but they never demand the same thing for the original unaltered theatrical cuts of The Phantom Menace, Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith.

    I consider that to be a great ignorance and hypocricy on their part.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: