Last year I pointed out that there’s a certain hypocrisy in Star Wars creator George Lucas’s penchant for tinkering with his beloved Star Wars series. Lucas, after all, testified before Congress to stop the “colourisation” of black-and-white movies. Does he genuinely believe that the Star Wars trilogy – the first Star Wars trilogy, produced at a time when it was impossible to make an Ewok blink – are inferior? That’s the message he seems to be sending us – that his “vision” for the trilogy was so much greater than what could be achieved at the time.
The new Star Wars Blu-ray boxset (released in the UK this week and the US tomorrow) includes several changes to the original films, including a scene where Darth Vader has the sudden urge to speak as he throws the Emperor down an exhaust shaft. Not all of the changes revealed in the box set (which contains the entire saga, including the prequel trilogy) have been negatively received. Footage of a CGI Yoda (replacing the puppet version in The Phantom Menace) has been welcomed. The change is acceptable, fans argue, because the puppet looked absolutely terrible. But then, in a movie awash with CGI spectacle, a puppet Yoda was always going to look out of place.
Which leads me to wonder if we judge special effects against the context of when the film is released, rather than what we expect of films today. The Star Wars movies pioneered all sorts of visual trickery, so surely our loyalty isn’t swayed by the arrival of movies with more dazzling effects? Lucas’s films don’t struggle to compete with the bombast of Transformers and Pirates of the Caribbean. Lucas might argue that it’s because of his changes, but it could also be that Star Wars is simply a well-met marriage of story and spectacle.
Of course, Lucas isn’t alone in tinkering with his films after they’re released. Francis Ford Coppola and Steven Spielberg do it, as do other contemporaries such as Ridley Scott and James Cameron. Their efforts to recut their films are greeted with both positive and negative reactions, but never with the fervour that greets an announcement about changes to Star Wars. That’s because, by and large, other recut editions don’t tend to supersede their originals. The Apocalypse Now Blu-ray set includes both the “Redux” edition and the original theatrical presentation. The release of Blade Runner’s “Ultimate Collection” Blu-ray features as many as four different versions of that film to compare and contrast.
Lucas has made one concession to beleaguered fans since the Special Editions were released in 1997. A limited-edition run of DVDs in 2006 issued the 2004 sweep of changes on one disc, and included a low-resolution, poorly transferred version of the theatrical originals on a second. He had previously claimed the original negatives were destroyed in the production of the Special Editions.
New fans continue to be swept up in the world of Star Wars, and while some older fans may complain, most will happily line up when the Blu-ray goes on sale. Still, Lucas’s disregard for a significant portion of our cultural heritage is more important than our own memories of seeing Star Wars in its original form. Lucas has the money, the means and the materials to restore and re-release the original Star Wars trilogy in its theatrical form. As the man in charge of those materials, he has a responsibility to do so.
• This article was amended on Thursday September 15 2011. An older version of the article was published including an opening paragraph written before the boxset’s release in the UK last Monday. This has been removed. The boxset is available in the US on Friday September 16.
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