Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Guerilla Warfare: Why George Lucas is a sad, spoiled little child

Pretty much anyone who's ever bothered to come here knows who these guys are.

What a lot of people from my generation don't know is that everytime those guys show up in a new home video release, something is different about them. Since computer-generated imagery began to get more advanced and realistic from the early 1990s onwards, George Lucas has merrily added in dollops of the stuff to the Star Wars films, withholding the original, much-loved theatrical versions from being remastered in any way.

The very first time I saw Star Wars was in the Summer 1997. It was a relatively recent VHS copy (see above) we had rented not knowing that it was any different from the one that had recently been re-released to the cinema. We watched it so much that it we ended up being far overdue in bringing it back and had to pay a whopping late fee, as was often the case with films we really liked.

Admittedly, the first time I saw 'The Empire Strikes Back' and 'Return of the Jedi', I did in fact see the newer, CGI-ridden versions of them (I didn't see the theatrical versions until years later, when it was finally, shabbily released to DVD).

What comes to my attention now, as an adult is that not only are a lot of these changes kind of awful in how they end up effecting the characters in the movies, the original Star Wars trilogy remains one of the only extremely popular film franchises I can think of that specifically don't have their absolutely-original versions available with remastered video and sound. The only way you can watch and enjoy the same films that were released in 1977, 1981 and 1983 is if you buy either the original videos or the recent DVDs, that came with completely-untouched versions of the films (which unfortunately meant that they look like they were taped off a video and not remastered at all).

And this is kind of ridiculous.

First and foremost, let's dispel a few myths. George Lucas didn't direct every Star Wars film. He didn't direct Empire Strikes Back (which most people regard as the best in the franchise) or Return of the Jedi. He didn't design many of the characters (including Yoda) and he didn't even write the screenplays for the aforementioned films. He played a very important part in the production of all three in the original trilogy, but the fact remains that he left enough of the work to other people that the films cannot entirely be seen as 'his' to change. Not to mention the fact that hundreds of millions of people loved the versions they went to see in the cinema and were suitably outraged when those versions stopped being readily available to buy on newer home video formats.

As a child of the 90s, I'm inclined to say that the versions with which I most identify are indeed the initial 1997 digitally remastered versions, with the newly inputted extra scenes. There's enough of the original theatrical versions intact and I've become so familiar with some of the changes (like the song in Jabba's palace and the Ewok celebration - both of which are completely different from the original). But at the same time, as a fan of filmmaking in general, reading up on the original versions of the films and how innovative and imaginative they were at the time in terms of special effects; it greatly disturbs me that the originals aren't being preserved and saved for future generations - even if only for future generations of filmmakers.

This image explains it better than I ever could. It's far more interesting to watch the original movies in awe of what Lucas and Industrial Light and Magic were able to create with actual miniature models, make-up designs, camera trickery and the general principle of 'smoke and mirrors' rather than the idea that they just created everything on a computer. Ideas and imagination went into the creation of those special effects, rather than boring old zeroes and ones.

On the subject of that image, its creator was probably referencing the prequels as much as the 'redone' versions of the original trilogy. On the subject of the prequels, all I have to say is that they were what they were: out-of-touch and silly, focused more on selling action figures to younger fans than telling a compelling story. I have no real issue with the excessive CGI in those films, because it doubtless made more sense at that time to make the movies that way, rather than create elaborate soundstages and models. I generally just enjoy the prequels for what they are - inferior but fun additions to the story. Plus, George Lucas and wrote each and every one of them so he has much more right to change things around than before.

It's still annoying that the original version of The Phantom Menace won't be around for future generations, but at the same time, the changes aren't as drastic as in the other films, some of them are even welcome (Jar Jar has a newer, less annoying voice and Yoda's ridiculous model has been replaced with a CGI one) and it's also a pretty awful film so really, who cares?

Ultimately, it's just really sad and unfortunate that Lucas seems to be so ashamed of what were some of the most important fantasy adventure movies ever made. Warts n' all, the original ORIGINAL versions of Star Wars are fascinating pieces of pop art that really draw you into the zeitgeist, as well as transporting you into an alternate universe. With the newer, excessively changed versions of the films, they just become more and more like one of those drawings you started drawing as a kid, only to go back and rub it all out again and again trying to make it even better, only to end up with a mess of scribbles and worn-out paper.

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