Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Open letter to George Lucas

Dear Sir,

We've all recently read this news, George Lucas Announces Star Wars on Blu-Ray at Celebration V.

A couple of weeks ago I would have shrugged this news off, one way or the other, leaving until next year or to even consider whether I'd get these upgrades or simply finally get around to picking up the DVD sets that include both versions of each of the original movies.

However I've recently found out I'm going to be a father. As a parent yourself, I'm sure you understand that this has loaded my mind with things I want to share with my child as they grow up, some trivial, some deeply important to me. Between these poles somewhere is Star Wars.

I saw Star Wars in 1977, the year it came out. I was six years old. I have since seen it many times, although certainly nothing that will make me sound like the most impressive fan of the series, I'm sure.

But it does feel like a part of my life, and one I'd like to share.

I know you run into a lot of knee-jerk critics, a people who overstate things for drama and make wild accusations about your credibility. I want to promise I'm not one of those. I've been forgiving of new versions and the prequels at my worst. I've genuinely enjoyed most of what you've offered with all of them.

My child will be experiencing all of this new, and will be a member of a younger generation. I expect that the CGI changes to the special editions will seem a more natural part of its expectations for a movie of this kind, although I can't be certain, it will after all be raised by a father who will certainly show it plenty of Ray Harryhausen movies and such as it grows up.

But I'd expect to show my child the special editions in general terms. I may even try raising it on the order advanced in Reconfiguring the saga by Adam Ross.

Frankly, I think most of the changes you made to the original movies are admirable in intent, even when I don't think the result is as successful for me as I would prefer. I'm curious how these eyes fresh onto the series will view the invigorated Mos Eisley or the much larger looking Death Star destruction.

I may not get this opportunity.

You see, I'll let the things go that sniggle at other fans. Heck, the whole Midi-chlorian thing seems unnecessary, but it makes a basic sense to me in the scheme of things. I understand that they don't change the nature of what The Force is, as explained so wonderfully by Obi-Wan Kenobi, "The Force is what gives a Jedi his power. It's an energy field created by all living things. It surrounds us and penetrates us. It binds the galaxy together."

Yes, I'd prefer any new editions included both versions as equally valid alternatives to one another that I'd like to enjoy for different reasons. My nostalgia will always want me to be able to return to the versions I grew up with on occasion, and I'd certainly like to see you re-consider how important that nostalgia is to so many of us.

But for this coming generation, I must say, I'm quite pleased with the idea of introducing the story as it now exists, and seeing this smoothed out version play to someone coming to it fresh.

Unfortunately that is conditional.

There are two concerns I have with the Special Edition of Star Wars. I'm guessing you already know what they are.

First, is the Jabba scene. It's terrible. Not inherently terrible, just dramatically worthless. It gives the exact same plot information, largely including the exact same dialogue as the preceding Greedo scene. It's a nice deleted scene for the extras. Just cut it out and put it there... or put it as a choice to stream either way on the beginning menu.

Second, Greedo shoots first. My child will not see any version in which Greedo shoots first before experiencing it the way that it clearly works better dramatically. I'd drag out a raggedy old VHS or buy a half-working LaserDisc player in order to ensure that happens.

Heck, while I'd surely make sure that any version that restored these changes while keeping the other changes to the Special Editions was the one my child was raised with, I'll concede the first one, if you concede the second. Perhaps the young 'un and I will alternate versions, just so it can see how the movie plays out without the Jabba scene, too. But I promise I'll start with any Special Edition that restores Han Solo shooting first.

I know you've put your foot down on this issue and said it's the way you originally conceived it, and I can hardly live in your mind to tell you that you're wrong, but I find it implausible.

But I know what works for me as viewer, a fan, as well as dramatist myself.

I know you hear a lot of dumb attempts at criticism, like The Empire Strikes Back is better because it's "darker" (it is better, but that's hardly a complete or compelling explanation of why, in fact, on its own, it's downright lazy and ignorant) or that The Phantom Menace is a "stupid" title (which I previously addressed here), so I understand your reticence to accept all pieces of fan criticism, even well accepted ones, on their face.

I appreciate, as I'm sure most do, that you did improve this sequence in the DVD edition, as compared to the original version that was released on the "Special Edition" theatrical release that didn't work at all.

Now, it's not completely embarrassing to look at, which saves us long time fans a bit of face, but it doesn't ultimately solve the problem.

The problem is that one of the key themes of Star Wars that has kept it so resonant for so many of us over the years is the redemption of Han. I assume you've spent so much time knowing the redeemed Han of The Empire Strikes Back and the castrated Han of Return of the Jedi that you no longer see the Han you introduced us all to as clearly as you once did.

That character was very much like Joe, the character Clint Eastwood played in A Fistful of Dollars. I'm not sure that was exactly your conception at the time, but it certainly feels right at this time. Both characters are mercenary on the surface. We are, in both cases very briefly, introduced to some reason that either may be more complicated. But the key piece of motivation we're introduced to is a self-interested rogue.

Han shooting Greedo first is one of the key ways in which this is revealed to us. Without that, we are largely left with Han telling us that he's a selfish cowboy. Harrison Ford is very convincing in the part, so that almost works, but without that one key demonstration, it's too hollow, and ultimately leaves the climax of the movie significantly less resonant.

I won't rob my child of the full resonance of that ending. Having seen it a child myself, and seeing it at that time, the way it was then, it was one of the most powerful movie experiences I've had to date. I won't have that watered down in any way I can avoid.

I'd seriously consider this, if I were you. I'm hardly alone in these complaints. They are easily the most repeated complaints regarding all of the newer versions, although I'm aware there are changes you made to the later two movies that are brought up with some regularity. If you made these changes, you'd have considerably less call for restored versions of the movies as they first appeared... not none, as there are any number of reasons that many of us feel the desire to revisit those movies as we experienced... but perhaps it would reduce it to a more tolerable level.

I hope you will see the wisdom in a compromise here.

Still a fan,
Neil Sarver

UPDATE: In a relatively timely fashion, I just saw Star Wars Re-Remastered: The Control Panel Shot First, which seems an appropriate comment on this issue.

UPDATE II: Request to Restore the Theatrical Cuts of the Original Star Wars Trilogy for Blu-ray

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