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Friday, September 9, 2011

Blu-Ray Blues: A Love/Hate Letter to Star Wars

I was a weird kid.

Well, I am a weird kid, but back then, it was really bad, because I was a weird LITTLE kid. And when you're a weird little kid, you've just got nothing. Those are the years where most people begin to have lives but that never really panned out for me. I didn't genuinely start making friends until later in life. This would've been okay if I had some kind of special talent, if I was some kind of reclusive "Good Will Hunting" esque genius, but, I wasn't. I was plain ol' Brian Magid, just a weirdo.

My childhood was spent daydreaming about things that couldn't happen in my friendless, mundane existence: things like monsters, adventures, lasers, guns, swords, violence, shooting, blood, basic boyhood interests. But while for most kids, these boyish fantasies were something to fall back on if being social wasn't an option at the time, that was all I had. This wasn't a second option, it was my ONLY option.

The lack of people to share this with only made me grow into these fantasies more and live in the real world less. If I was sitting with a friend, talking about this stuff, it'd be fine to everyone, but I wasn't. I was talking to myself about in my bathroom. And I discovered that my generation really didn't have a place where these boyish fantasies were true. People had moved on from that. There was no big sci-fi epic movie anymore, that was reduced to silly low budget turds on the fucking "Sy Fy" channel (pronounced: see-fee). The big thing then was comedy. People only liked comedy movies, which is fine, it's just that no other genre could gain favor with my generation. I felt alone in these fantasies of mine, that no one shared them with me; that there was no place to see them.

And then I did see them. I saw fucking Star Wars.

I don't remember exactly how or when, but I do remember seeing them like most people did: on the now infamous VHS boxset released before the special editions. I also remember being enthralled beyond my wildest imagination. These were the movies of my dreams and I was seeing them play out before me. It was like they were made for me.

Star Wars was the first movie I shared a real connection with. It was the first time I became emotionally invested in a story. It was the first time I had a real experience.

When I was a kid, I knew nothing of how films were made, and I barely understood the concept of people making them. I guess I just sort of assumed they were whisked into existence. But after seeing these movies so many times over the course of a few years, I became more aware of my surroundings and the fact that movies are made by people. So I asked my Dad, "who made Star Wars?" And without even looking up from his morning newspaper, he recited "George Lucas." It was so engrained in his mind that Star Wars and George Lucas were one that he didn't even have to think about it. That's really great.

I knew nothing of special editions or re-releases at this point. If I had seen the special editions originally instead of the theatrical releases it probably wouldn't have mattered much to me. I was a little kid, and these movies were amazing no matter what. Plus, for a long time, I was unaware of the true cultural impact Star Wars had on society because I was born to a generation that had forgotten about it, I just sort of assumed that I was the only one who really liked it. Adding things to a movie didn't make sense to me. I didn't even know what it meant.

Between the ages of 7 and 10 I learned in great length about the Star Wars films. I learned of the true cultural impact they had on society. I learned of how famous and well received they were. I learned how they opened the imagination of an entire generation, and thus, like all great art, reflected that generation. 

It's during this time that I saw the prequels.

I always hated The Phantom Menace. Always. From the first time I saw it onward I despised it. Even as a fucking seven year old I hated this loathsome cunt of a movie.

Attack of the Clones I just didn't understand. All this political mumbo jumbo was confusing and boring to me. I liked the action though. I was a little kid. I mean, I wasn't getting emotionally invested like I was for the originals, but it was Star Wars. What me worry?

By the time Revenge of the Sith rolled around, I had gotten a good group of people into Star Wars along with me. I was so excited for a new Star Wars movie that it blinded me from the truth: that this movie is a gigantic piece of shit. But once again, for the time: it was Star Wars, I didn't care.

I was sitting in my grandparents house watching TV when I saw that Star Wars was on. I watched the whole movie and liked it again obviously, but something about it seemed different to me. I couldn't put my finger on it but this just wasn't the same movie I had originally seen. And then that Jabba the Hutt in Mos Eisley scene rolled around and by this point I was just confused. Why does Jabba look so bad? Why would he leave his palace? He's completely immobile! Plus, why is Jabba saying things like "Han, my boy, you're the best." This makes no sense! Was this a TV edit? Where did this scene come from? What's going on?!

I did my research and found out that in 1996, 1997, and 1998, Star Wars, The Empire Strikes Back, and Return of the Jedi had been re-released, respectively. Lucas added more special effects and alterations to make them more applicable to the time they were re-released in.

 I was confused as to why they existed. They were undoubtedly worse than the other movies, and at this point I understood why Star Wars was such a big deal to people, so I couldn't get why they'd be changing movies apparently so near and dear to an entire fucking generation, a generation I wasn't even a part of and felt sorry for.

However, this wasn't that big of a deal to everyone, for a few reasons. First of all, VHS was still a format that was very much the mainstay of home entertainment at the time. LaserDisc had basically died off at this point, and DVD's existed but very few people had them. So, when the special editions were released on VHS, it didn't seem that far off at all from the original VHS trilogy that was released only about 3 years prior. And the special effects at this point were just kind of a fun little add on to these classic movies that we all loved, just a little more incentive to see them again in the theater. No big deal.

That is, until the 2004 DVD release.

This is when everyone started shifting in their seats about Lucas changing these movies. The special editions at the time were fun little extras. Little did we know that the original movies were now becoming the extras. The originals were put on the DVD as a bonus feature and not only that, the quality was jack shit! The aspect ratio was completely off and at times, it seems like Lucas just cropped out the sides of the screen instead of fucking letter-boxing it like any normal DVD release. It looked like a shitty VHS transfer! And not only that, there were more fucking changes to the "main feature"! I mean, Jar Jar Binks was placed in Return of the Jedi! They put Hayden Christensen's emo ass in Return of the Jedi also! Why? It makes no sense. This is something that only Luke could see, and he never saw Anakin in this way, so it makes no fucking sense. I was just fed up at this point. I saw these movies in their altered form at a friend's house and refused to buy them. To this day, the only format I own Star Wars ia VHS, and yes, I do also have the special edition boxset of the VHS tapes, but I didn't buy that. I got that for my birthday one year.

We have a gap now of about 7 years with no home video releases. At this point, most people felt like a battered house wife. It's at this point that I began to separate from Star Wars. Around seventh grade, my hormones dropped, and I dropped Star Wars in favor of chasing after girls that didn't like me. I gave up and by eighth grade I was back into Star Wars full swing, but with a new catch: I had a newfound hatred for all the prequels. I hated one and two for a while now, but this is the point where I denounced 3, finally. I was hardcore original trilogy-er now. And when I returned to the Star Wars world, I discovered that while I was gone, they released A FUCKING CARTOON MOVIE. Why?! Are you fucking kidding me? Did you need a bigger Skywalker ranch, George? Just leave it the fuck alone! Now we're feeding this CGI pig slop to 3 year old babies who are most likely only vaguely aware of the original trilogy and just want seizure inducing stupid death defying action scenes that flash bright lights that make little kids drink too much fucking soda in the theatre and go on a bathroom break every fucking 5 minutes while the fast paced boring action created by thousands of computer animators that just want paychecks rages on unattended or unstopped.

I was done. I was really done. I had a kid come up to me at this camp I work at, and, knowing I'm a Star Wars fan, he walked up to me and said "Who's your favorite Jedi? Mine's Plo Koon, or maybe Kit Fisto." I said "Yoda", resisting the urge to pummel the 9 year old bastard. Then he said, "Yeah! It's so cool when Yoda fights in the clone wars! He doesn't even touch the ground!" I lost it. "No, I like Yoda because he had a character. The entire idea of Yoda is that the force is beyond the physical, because Yoda is a little guy whose decrepit and can't fight. We all thought that Yoda would be a great warrior who was physically strong, but when we found out this little green guy was Yoda, it made us all understand that the force was a mystical entity that was beyond the physical. Having Yoda fight ruins that entirely. Besides, that clone wars movie sucked." He nodded and walked away.

And now, we come to 2011. And the Star Wars Blu-Rays are coming out. With even more changes. Only this time, the original trilogy is nowhere to be found. George Lucas is trying to bury it and get rid of it. As if he has the right to do that.

I'd like to take you back a bit to when I asked my dad who made Star Wars and he responded with George Lucas.

George Lucas didn't do all that much. I'm sorry, he didn't. What George did was get the ball rolling. He gave the initial spark that got the trilogy in motion. It's people like Gary Kurtz, his producer, and others, who really shaped Star Wars into a masterpiece. I've read George Lucas's original Star Wars script, and guess what, the thing sucks. It drags and really lacks an emotional connection with the audience. George went through a lot of shit to get the original Star Wars movie out there and I respect him for that, but after that, if he had taken the complete control he was offered, then The Empire Strikes Back wouldn't be the masterpiece it is today, and Return of the Jedi would've been much worse. We can see this in Gary Kurtz's departure after Empire. Kurtz is responsible for making Star Wars into a poignant epic, as opposed to Lucas, who was out there to make a fun little nod to the old sci fi serials of the 1930's. It Kurtz's pitch that got the studio to spot them the money necessary to make the movie into the epic that it is today. And Lucas's first edit of Star Wars was a disaster. It was re-edited by Richard Chew and Paul Hirsch, who gave the film a kick. Their editing techniques created the pacing that carried the story, and made the film exciting and entertaining. Compare this to the editing of the prequels where Lucas had complete control. Everything is done at a flat, dull angle. Typical shot reverse shot editing. The audience needs a visual uhmf, especially if we're listening to shitty ass love dialogue.

When Star Wars became STAR WARS, one of the greatest films of all time. Lucas must've found himself getting a lot of praise for the movie, and he must've convinced himself over the course of 1983 to 1999 that he was in fact the father of all this. That Star Wars was his creation. And that explains why he thinks he has the right to keep changing these movies. I got a message for ya George: you wanna change something, go back and edit and "Howard the Duck."

The Star Wars trilogy is such a perfect reflection of its time. It's one big story that plays out over the three films and is carefully constructed to work just the way it is. You may not realize it, but Lucas's changes affect major character arcs. Here's an example:

We're at the tail end of The Empire Strikes Back. Vader says to a Luke, stranded on the end of a balcony about to plunge to a bottomless pit, "Join me, or die." Luke looks down, and makes the ultimate self sacrifice: he jumps. He can't see himself become what his father had. He'd rather die than join the dark side.

Cut to the special edition. Same deal, but when Luke jumps, he screams "AHHHHHHHHHHH!" What the fuck Lucas?! Do you understand what's going on in the scene at all? What, did you think he tripped?

This is why I don't think George made Star Wars. And when he gets credit for it he does shit like this. And now he's trying to bury the original trilogy as if its inferior to the new versions.

But as long as I shall live, the original Star Wars films shall be watched and exist, in a box set in my basement. I could never let go of the Star Wars trilogy. Don't you ever tell me it's just a movie, because it's not just a movie. It's the force that binds us.

Long live Star Wars.

    "American works of art belong to the American public; they are part of our cultural history... In the future it will become even easier for old negatives to become lost and be "replaced" by new altered negatives. This would be a great loss to our society. Our cultural history must not be allowed to be rewritten."
    --George Lucas, 1988


1 comment:

  1. long post is looooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooong, but complete