Revising a Masterpiece: George Lucas and Star Wars

Star Wars has by this point become a worldwide phenomenon at least 3 times in the last 35 years. It has left its mark on classic cinema, modern cinema, and more recently TV with The  Clone Wars. The series has constantly pushed special effects and new technology that has in turn given millions and potentially billions of viewers an entire universe full of possibilities and imagination. Something that is very unique and interesting about Star Wars is that the films are still being tweaked to this day. George Lucas  has seen fit to “fix” his masterpieces by adding some new special effects, deleted or extended scenes, and tweaked many other small aspects of the films(remember the entire “Han shot first” outcry?). Beginning with the 1997 special editions Lucas began adding this little tweaks here and there and this was pushed even further in the 2004 DVD releases. With the Blu-rays being released its only a matter of time before more fan arguments begin. These arguments beg the question; should George Lucas be able to tinker with the very masterpieces he created or should it be up to the world to decide whether or not these films should be even remotely edited with modern technology?

Lets see what the man himself has to say about the matter:

There are many questions that are much bigger than just Star Wars that are being raised by George Lucas tweaking Star Wars. Is it alright to edit art? Can we make a masterpiece better? Lets look outside of just the world of film for answers. Do you think Beethoven would come back and revise the sixth orchestra?  Would Leonardo da Vinci repaint the Mona Lisa? Would Shakespeare re-write Hamlet or Macbeth? Even those these works of art are not film I believe that these questions are relevant when we consider that film is modern art/literature. These works of art are all grand masterpieces that changed the world around them when they were constructed and their impact can still be felt to this day. Star Wars is very much like this in the sense that it changed cinema as it was known in 1977. Is it a perfect movie? No. Is it the best thing Lucas could create with what he had at the time. Absolutely. The masterpiece that is the Star Wars trilogy was a revolution when it came out, and even though the special effects may not seem as grand anymore I believe there is still quite a bit to appreciate about the film in its original form. Is it possible that by letting Lucas tweak his films we are allowing other directors to have the same level of power on their masterpieces in the years to come?

The next question many of you may be asking is does it really matter? Does it matter that Lucas added CGI creatures in the Mos Eisley Spaceport? Does it matter that Vader had altered audio in Return of the Jedi?  Does it matter that Lucas added a CGI Jabba the Hutt into a deleted scene from A New Hope? Does it matter whether or not Han shot first? I think these types of questions are important on this particular issue because  when it comes down to it these movies still have the same content, purpose, and goals even if they are presented slightly differently. Lucas has never intended to “butcher” his masterpieces. In fact Lucas himself has stood in front of congress to make the argument that films should not be edited just to fit more contemporary film standards.  In 1980 there was a movement trying to have black and white movies recolored to fit  more modern film standards and Lucas was one of many directors to stand against this notion. While there may some hypocrisy in what Lucas is saying here I believe that he believes that these films have not yet met his original vision for the Star Wars films which has lead him to constantly tweak these films. So in many ways Lucas is actually trying to better tell his story in what he considers the best way possible.  Sure some of these small tweaks may bother fans with that nostalgic tie to the original films, but in many ways I do see how these tweaks actually do make the films fit together better. Small changes like the re-edited Darth Vader/Emperor conversation in Empire Strikes Back, the ending to Return of the Jedi, and even the CGI Yoda in The Phantom Menace really do allow these films to feel tighter and more in line with the continuity of the entire series. To say that all of these tweaks have damaged the films would be a bit inaccurate when taking the entire six movies into account. Aside from just that; fans of Star Wars act as though this has never happened before. Clearly they have never watched all four cuts of Blade Runner, the director’s cut of Beauty and the Beast, or the Lord of the Rings Extended editions that did many similar things to what Lucas has been doing to Star Wars. Star Wars may be the most popular example of a director tinkering with his films, but make no mistake; Star Wars is not the only series guilty of such things.

I suppose with pretty solid arguments on both sides that one question that people will always be asking is”Is it fair?”. Fair question(no pun intended). Despite how fans may feel about the prequels or the edits done to the classic trilogy these movies still belong to George Lucas and he still has the final say so on what happens to his movies. Is this fair? To an extend. Unlike the other artists of music, art, and literature that I mentioned; Lucas is still alive while his masterpiece is hugely popular. Many of these other artists didn’t become nearly as popular until after they were dead and people realized just how much of an impact these artists had made on their particular type of art. Lucas has the advantage of seeing his hugely successful films become a part of our culture. This means he gets the money, fame, and glory that many artists don’t live to see. This also means that since he does own them he can change them as he wishes which is also unlike many of the world’s greatest artists. This will not however, sit well with many of the fans; particularly those who grew up watching the original trilogy in theaters. I believe that the biggest reason for this is one emotion that is greatly underrated and many times forgotten and it is the emotion of nostalgia. Nostalgia in many ways blinds people to how things really were. For instance; Star Wars may have been amazing, but can all of those fans who complain about Jar Jar honestly tell me that the Ewoks or even Jabba the Hutt weren’t a little out there? How about the Storm Trooper who knocks his head on the ceiling? These little things are usually appreciated because that’s what fans grew up watching even if they too were a little out of left field. If someone, especially Lucas changes one thing from how they remember it; the movie is being defiled and destroyed. In reality the film hasn’t really changed; it is the memories that are being challenged. Coming from a person who grew up seeing the orignals many times and then receiving the special editions I can say that I never really saw it as a huge deal. I also never found the prequels to be all that bad(although they do have their problems) despite what many of the older fans make claim to. I believe that the prequels and these tweaks represent something different than what fans remember growing up with which is why they all go up in arms when something is tweaked or changed. Thats just a bit of my insight. When looking at this series more objectively I can say that I believe that the new films have just as many problems as the original trilogy(gasp).

In the end the answer to this question is a personal one that fans will have to decide for themselves. I personally may not like everything Lucas has tweaked, but I do see the value in many of the things he has done to the original trilogy. Is it fair? Not really; but it’s how things are and until Lucas  is dead there isn’t a whole lot fans can do about it. I hope reading this has caused you to examine the weight of the situation and hopefully it has encouraged you to come up with your own conclusions.

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