I’ve had a little time to recover from the emotional upheaval brought on by my little revisionist fiction rant last week. I’ve also had time to watch the entire original Star Wars trilogy in the manner dictated by its creator.
First, the good. Everything looks brilliant. The entire trilogy looks as though it could have been released in theaters yesterday. There is nary a speck or scratch to be seen. The folks over at LucasFilm did a fantastic job of restoring the films. Every image is crisp and clear, and some of the less-than-pristine effects have been cleaned up quite a bit. In Return of the Jedi Luke Skywalker’s battle with the rancor looks much less blue-screen-y than it did in previous releases. Also in Jedi, the evil black floating blob on the left (screen right) side of the Emperor’s face that was present in some scenes has been completely eliminated. Viva la technology!
The sound is equally impressive. Yes, there are a couple of oddities in A New Hope, but it’s far from disastrous. The revamped THX sequence that plays before each of the three films was mighty mighty on my surround sound system, and almost everything that followed was aurally satisfying.
And guess what? The magic isn’t gone. A New Hope still has the same effect on me that it did when I first saw it so many yesterdays ago. Yeah, Greedo shoots first. In the DVD version, it’s pretty much simultaneous. I can live with it, really. It doesn’t make Han any less bad ass. Also, the DVD version of Jabba the Hutt is far superior to that seen in the Special Edition. It’s still not quite there, but it’s a huge improvement. All in all, the first of the trilogy suffers least from Lucas’ most recent meddling tweaking. I watched it on the 21st and was fully prepared to watch it again on the 22nd, when Miscellaneous G™ came over to watch The Empire Strikes Back.
Ah, Empire. Of the three original films, it has always been my favorite, for several reasons. First, Vader was at his nastiest. Second, it introduced Yoda (who seems far more alive as a puppet than as a computer-generated image) and Boba Fett. Throw in AT-ATs, snowspeeders, Cloud City, Lobot (hell yeah!) and a cliffhanger ending, and you’ve got the best of the best.
Alas, it is my beloved Empire that suffers most in the DVD release. The changes Lucas introduced with the Special Edition were largely benign: an expanded Wampa ice creature scene (good), an extended Cloud City landing for the Millennium Falcon (bad; the computer-generated Falcon looks far too flat), a more open, airy Cloud City (good), Luke’s scream as he falls (bad, bad, bad; this greatly diminishes Luke’s bravery in choosing death over the Dark Side) and an extra line from Vader (bad; clearly not James Earl Jones). Lucas actually removed the aforementioned Special Edition scream, for which I applaud him. Unfortunately, he also completely emasculated Boba Fett.
Boba Fett has a mere three lines in The Empire Strikes Back. The first is on board an Imperial Star Destroyer. Darth Vader instructs a group of bounty hunters that they may use any methods necessary to apprehend Solo and his companions, but the fugitives are to be delivered alive. Addressing Boba Fett, he says, “No disintegrations.” Fett responds, “As you wish.” Three little words, and the manner in which they were delivered in pre-DVD releases was an acquiescence, but not a submission. To maintain continuity, Lucas opted to dub over Fett’s original voice. What we now hear is Temuera Morrison, the actor who portrays Jango Fett in the prequels. Morrison’s delivery of the line is entirely devoid of menace. No longer is there a sense that Fett is dangerous, formidable and respected. Instead, he is obedient and submissive. In Vader’s presence he has no spine whatsoever.
That’s a lot to read into three little words, isn’t it? It’s an entirely subjective debate, of course. To me, Fett is transformed from mysterious, edgy bounty hunter into just another of Vader’s whipping boys. His second line doesn’t really improve the situation. “What about Solo?” he asks on learning that Han is to be frozen in carbonite. “He’s worth a lot to me.” Maybe it’s the accent. Maybe it’s that the emphasis has moved from “lot” to “me.” Whatever the case, it simply grates on me. Whether or not I’m able to grow accustomed to this change after further viewings is unknown.
Thankfully, Fett’s final utterance is Morrison’s best attempt at capturing the bounty hunter’s previously menacing, gravelly voice. “Put Captain Solo in the cargo hold,” he says, as he stands guard outside Slave I, ensuring that no one will snatch his long-sought prize at the last minute.
Boba Fett comes out of this new Empire with some of what made him cool chipped away by Lucas’ revisionist hand. While it could be argued that Fett’s dying (or not) scream in Return of the Jedi certainly didn’t help his badass image, that is an entirely different film. Within the confines of The Empire Strikes Back, Boba Fett’s badassedness was matched only by Darth Vader’s; but that was a long time ago, before the technology was available to tell the story right.
Still, not all of the changes in Empire are bad. I was quite pleased (despite my initial trepidation) with Ian McDiarmid’s recreation of the Emperor. The dialogue was changed a bit, but not enough to incite outrage, and the overall effect was quite good. Here, at least, I can appreciate the new continuity.
Finally, we move to The Return of the Jedi. Long recognized as the weakest of the original trilogy, even at its worst Jedi doesn’t approach the levels of decrepitude achieved by The Phantom Menace and its even feebler successor, Attack of the Clones. With the Special Edition, it came pretty darn close, though.
Of the original trilogy, Jedi got the most Special Edition attention. Unfortunately, that attention was realized in the form of a musical number in Jabba’s palace that was, in simplest terms, awful. To paraphrase Obi-Wan Kenobi, it was more cartoon than CG, wretched and horrifying. The original song, Lapti Nek wasn’t exactly a high point in the Star Wars saga, but it was at least passable.
Still, that’s Special Edition. That’s old news. It isn’t until the very end that the far-reaching hand of Lucas twists Jedi, replacing the ghostly image of Sebastian Shaw with that of Hayden Christensen, who looks as though he’s trying out for the Jack Nicholson role in a remake of The Shining. Seriously, there’s nothing in his gaze that says, “I’m at peace now, thank you, son. Thank you for freeing me from the grip of the Emperor and redeeming me.” No, it’s more along the lines of, “As soon as you look away, I’m going to kill and eat the little green fellow and the old man. Now go, my son, leave me.” I suppose it could have been worse. It could have been Hayden’s scarred head Luke revealed when he removed Vader’s mask.
In the end, this is Star Wars. None of the changes Lucas made – whether they be Special Edition or new to the DVD – can truly negate the fact that this trilogy has finally made it to DVD. Yes, it would have been nice to see the original versions. No, I don’t think Lucas is going to reconsider. So I’ll take what I can get, and I will enjoy it. The magic, as I said, is still there, even if the magician seems quite mad at times.