Letting go of Star Wars
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Assuming Lucasfilm keeps up with the proposed release schedule of one film a year, Star Wars, also known as Star Wars: A New Hope, will return to theaters in 2015 in a new 3-D conversion. I don’t think I’ll be there, and I say that with more than a little regret. My daughter will be 4 in 2015. I was 4 when I first saw Star Wars, and I wouldn’t mind reliving the experience with her. I might still if she asks to go, but I’m not going to drag her. I’ve tried to hold onto my affection for the Star Wars movies over the years, but I keep losing my grip every time they get re-released with scenes added, effects tweaked, and other changes. I’m not even sure those movies are there anymore.
My complaint is a common one, I know. I’m one of “those,” a first-generation fan who grew up watching the movies in their original format and would like to see them that way again, and not as some half-hearted DVD bonus feature designed for the finest televisions of the early ’90s. But I don’t feel like I’m one of the other sort of “those,” the fans sent into a lather by the thought of altering Star Wars at all. I wasn’t even particularly upset when the “Special Edition” releases came out in 1997, with Greedo shooting first and that terrible CGI Jabba The Hutt that looked more like a steamrolled slug than the creature from Return Of The Jedi. I didn’t love the changes, but I, maybe foolishly in retrospect, didn’t expect these new versions to supplant the old.
After all, how could they? A couple of generations grew up watching the original versions. We knew every moment of them. I write about movies all the time, and I feel like I can safely go back and offer an honest assessment of the films I loved as a kid, with the exception of the first three Star Wars films. I remember Nathan Rabin, never much of a fan of the series, reporting back from a viewing of Star Wars with complaints about its cheesy acting and less-than-compelling story. I suspect he’s right, but I honestly can’t see what he’s talking about. I don’t see Mark Hamill, a young actor straining at the far reaches of his ability. I just see Luke Skywalker.
Yet the movies I grew up with have pretty much been put in a vault. The last time I watched the Star Wars films was in 2004, when they first appeared on DVD, and watching the special editions, which had even more changes, felt a lot more jarring than before. I felt myself coasting along, getting swept up in the action like before, and then one of the alterations would serve as a speed bump. “Wait, that’s not the hologram of the Emperor that’s in Empire. That’s Ian McDiarmid, the guy who played the Emperor in Jedi and the prequels. And what’s Hayden Christensen doing next to Obi-Wan Kenobi and Yoda at the end?” Reports of even more changes made to the Blu-ray editions—blinking Ewoks and such—lead me to believe that I’d be even more frustrated with the new versions. (And probably more frustrated still with the alterations sure to be made to the 3-D re-releases, even beyond the dubiousness of converting the films to 3-D.) The changes are jarring not just because they alter the story, but because they drop the technology of the ’00s on films of the ’70s and ’80s. It just feels off, like a classic car outfitted with garish rims.
But I wouldn’t mind them at all if they hadn’t effectively replaced the versions I grew up watching. My wife and I were shopping for our daughter at Toys“R”Us recently when my eyes drifted to a huge display of Star Wars toys. It had the surely unintended effect of making me sad. The Star Wars marketing machine has gone out of its way to target nostalgic fans like me—nostalgic fans with kids and some money in their pocket to spend on toys, particularly—but the wall of action figures in packaging made to recall the Star Wars figures of my youth made me feel alienated from George Lucas’ world, not closer to it. As problems go, I know how frivolous this is. They are, as people say, only movies. But when I was growing up, they felt like so much more. In a recent Entertainment Weekly piece, Darren Franich argues that it might be time for old fans to see Star Wars as a fundamentally silly piece of entertainment from our collective past, best “left behind in our adolescence” like “fruit snacks and Nickelodeon.” He may be right, but there are plenty of silly things from my adolescence and before that give me pleasure even now that I’ve moved on to more sophisticated stuff, and I still like having them around.
I guess I could take extreme measures. On Facebook, Futurama executive producer (and former Onion writer) Dan Vebber wrote about watching a bootleg DVD of the old cut and offered another take on why the tinkering made so many angry:
IMHO, all this fan frustration comes from people who recognize that they will never in their lives produce anything as perfect as the original cut of Star Wars. So we’re pissed at Lucas because he was lucky enough to have produced One Perfect Thing, and now he just keeps fucking with it and ruining it. It hurts us as artists to see this happening. The good news is, those of us who are nerdy enough to be pissed off by Lucas’s tinkering are also nerdy enough to have a good copy of the original film before he started ruining it. So really, what are we bitching about, exactly? Let him release his piece-of-shit Blu-Rays. I know what Obi Wan’s Krayt dragon call is supposed to sound like. My kids will grow up knowing what Obi Wan’s Krayt dragon call is supposed to sound like.
I wonder if the next generation really ought to care so much about what a Krayt dragon ought to sound like. There are books, films, and TV shows of my youth that I look forward to sharing with my daughter, but I don’t expect her to claim all, or even any, of them as her own. If she doesn’t like A Charlie Brown Christmas, I can watch it without her. (But, seriously, how could she not like that?) As for Star Wars, I have no doubt it will still be around, but maybe she won’t care about it at all. I kind of hope she doesn’t. It’s had a good long run. She should have her own imagination-colonizing pop culture. I hope she loves it as much as I loved Star Wars, and that she gets to hold onto it all her life.