Last weekend saw the rerelease of the prequel of one of the Star Wars movies, because apparently no one's gotten tired of that shit yet. Rejiggered to now be in 3-D -- because no one's gotten tired of that shit yet, either -- a number of other changes are evident in the film when compared to its original theatrical release. There's a new Yoda now, some tweaked special effects and, probably, an extra 28 hours of scenes set in the Galactic Senate. This is fairly typical for the Star Wars franchise, which has a long history of "special editions" and "rereleases" and something called "laserdiscs," all of which feature movies that are slightly different from each other. People who always have a little bit of fudge on their faces have tracked these changes exhaustively and, as is their way, at times have even gotten quite upset about them. News that Lucas was planning changes again with this latest rerelease even prompted threats of a boycott from these folks, news that delighted scientists who had created a device capable of measuring extremely small threats and were looking for something to calibrate it with.
"0.08 microPescis. Incredible!"
I'm not actually going to get too condescending here, because I am more or less a
Star Wars fan myself. I've seen the films, I've played the games, I even went through a regrettable Star Wars novel phase in high school. (The phase was what was specifically regrettable, although the novels are no things of glory, either.) I know all about Han shooting first, and I know the logical explanation for the Millennium Falcon making the Kessel Run in 12 parsecs (it makes so much sense
when you think about it). I am, for lack of a better word, a tremendadork. What I'm not, though, is upset about the changes Lucas keeps making. Here's why:
Because They're His Damned Movies
An obvious point, but it needs to be stated clearly: Star Wars fans don't own the Star Wars movies. We just like them. If they get changed and we don't like them anymore, that's perfectly cool, because we don't have to like them anymore. That's the deal. All sorts of creative works come in multiple editions, director's cuts, abridged versions, expanded versions. Lucas appears to be far more into this tinkering than other filmmakers, but he's hardly unique. Take
Currently available in 12 different cuts, the most recent of which implies that Deckard was a ghost the whole film.
Really, if Lucas wants to fix something he thinks was a mistake in an earlier film, that's his business. Our lives aren't affected in any serious way if he changes it, nor does he have a contract with us to preserve
The Phantom Menace as some kind of cultural monument to poor plotting. We're just not talking about something that's that important -- it's not the Constitution, or the Bible, or
The Godfather. I should be clear that none of this is to say that Lucas is right or wise to make these changes. Irrational or not, he knows these changes will piss off a portion of his fan base, and although pissing off his fan base hasn't done much damage to him yet, it's not something many other creators get away with so readily. And under no circumstances should this be taken as a blanket defense of the artistic merit of the changes, which Lucas has a very spotty track record on.
But it turns out that not
of the changes Lucas has made have been bad ones, nor is it a guarantee that any future changes he makes will be bad ones. In fact, there's always a chance that ...
He Might Actually Make the Movies Better
Among all the hair-pulling about Greedo shooting first, or that new Jabba scene with an ambulatory beanbag chair clumsily CGI'd over a fat guy ...
... it's been forgotten that a lot of the changes actually kind of improved the films. Here's a small one:
Oooh, who's a sexy little torus? You're just a dirty old space orifice, aren't you?
And here's another ...
Episode IV: A New Hope prefix wasn't there in the original theatrical release. It was added a couple years after, when it became evident that Star Wars was going to be a thing. Isn't that a nice little tweak? Doesn't it make the movie seem like part of a greater whole? "What an epic story this must be!" the audience says. "But where the hell were the first three parts? Did I ... did I black out for several years again?" These troubling questions set the hook perfectly, priming the viewers for an unforgettable cinema experience and forcing them to confront their demons. Let's look at the biggest change being made in The Phantom Menace 3D, aside from the addition of the dreaded Z-axis. The original release featured a puppet Yoda that has since been replaced with the CGI version we see in the other two prequels. Now I've seen
The Phantom Menace a few times, and I can't recall a thing about Yoda -- which I'm inclined to say is a good thing. In retrospect, this was probably my favorite interpretation of Yoda, in that he didn't do any goddamned backflip sword fighting in this film. But if you look at new Yoda side by side with old Yoda, both look fine. I don't see what the problem was with the old one, and I don't see what the problem is with the new one. There's just nothing here to get worked up about, and there never will be, so long as there's no goddamned backflip sword fighting. Finally let's go back to "Han shot first" -- the most egregious violation of everything, ever. I won't defend this completely -- it's a clear-cut example of Lucas making his film worse -- but it's nowhere near the big deal some people would make it. For the uninitiated, here's the Coles Notes version of the controversy: While in the Mos Eisley Cantina, Han Solo is getting the gears from Greedo, a bounty hunter looking to collect space dollars. In the original film, as the conversation turns sour, Han gets the drop on Greedo, blowing him away under the table. In the revised version of this scene, Greedo shoots and misses, then Han shoots a fraction of a second later, finding his mark. Many people loathe this change, preferring the original version, where Han shoots first because they think this makes him more of a badass. I've since found out that Lucas has made about five more versions of this scene with small variations, but in all the versions, the same three things are unchanged: 1) Han was reaching for his blaster because he was about to use it. 2) After shooting Greedo, Han walks away coolly, like he's done this kind of thing before, and is kind of bored of it. 3) George Lucas is an idiot. Whether George Lucas is an idiot and Han is a badass or George Lucas is an idiot and Han is a
very lucky badass honestly makes no difference in how we think of Han or watch the rest of the film or live our lives. I will freely acknowledge that it's a stupid change to make because of how it muddies the waters, but it's way less of a big deal than everyone makes it. And even though it is undoubtedly a mistake, that actually turns out to be a good thing, because ...
It Gives Us Something to Complain About
Let's take a holistic look at the whole Star Wars experience:
Star Wars isn't a bug, it's a feature. The Internet probably would have collapsed due to lack of interest around the year 2000 if people didn't have The Phantom Menace to bitch about. And in 2012, with the economy still struggling to regain its feet, we should be applauding Lucas and his addled authorial vision for his stimulating effects on the world's bitching industry.
"I'm an AARB-certified Master Complainer, and I've been out of a job since 2007 when the Revenge of the Sith hate petered out, and what are you going to do about that, Mr. Lucas?" -- thunderous applause, chants of "SUCK MORE, SUCK MORE, SUCK MORE"
But if I had one final word of advice for the complainers and bitchers rushing to the ramparts to battle these latest revisions, it would have to be "moderation," because lest we forget ...
It's Just The Phantom Menace
Come on, fellas. It's The Phantom Menace we're talking about here. This one just isn't worth getting that worked up about. Save your real fury for when he puts an R2-D2 flying scene in the next Episode IV revision.
Because you know it's coming, and you know it will make your blood shit.