Kevin Smith should look on the bright side… there was a time I swore I’d never write about George Lucas and “Star Wars” again, too.
As I’m sure you’re aware by this point, whether you care to be or not, the “Star Wars” films are coming out on Blu-ray this month. All six of them. And this pains some people. More than that, though, even the original films are showing up only in special edition form, and this isn’t the special edition you’ve already seen. It’s another extensive overhaul. He’s done a lot of little nips and tucks.
In other words, fandom has once again lost its damn fool mind.
That is not to say that anyone having any reaction to this information is wrong, but I think there is a predictable drumbeat that begins right away that is little more than anger at the very nature of the person being discussed. George Lucas is George Lucas. The sky is blue. Gravity works. The sun is in the sky. These things simply are. You cannot change them by being angry about them or railing against them or signing petitions. Ain’t gonna happen. Ain’t gonna change. And so it is.
Beyond that, the point of being a “Star Wars” fan when I was growing up was to enjoy the conversation with other “Star Wars” fans. Without fail, every time I met a “Star Wars” fan between the years 1977 and 1990 or so, it was a great encounter, and an instant kinship was felt. There was a common vocabulary that was just easy and fun and shared instantly. When I met Scott Swan, I was 15 years old. “Return Of The Jedi” was only two years old at that point. I’m not even entirely sure it was on video yet. “Star Wars” was fresh, and as far as we knew, we’d be getting more films every few years for the rest of our lives.
Obviously, that didn’t happen. I don’t think either of us could have predicted the odd path to the next “Star Wars” film, or where we’d be, or the ways we’d collide with Lucasfilm and fandom in general. It’s been a long strange trip to say the least, and for me, the only real value in “Star Wars” is in sharing the storytelling with my kids. That’s the main event as far as I’m concerned. And, hell yes, there’s going to be a special “Film Nerd 2.0” event about the experience as soon as it happens. Toshi’s been talking about it for months. Not me. Toshi. He’s hyping up his little brother, and Allen’s excited without any clear idea about what he’s excited for. All he knows is that Toshi is chomping at the bit to understand who the characters in the films are that he only knows right now through appearances and/or references in the “Clone Wars” series.
Anakin’s a good guy.
Obi-Wan’s a young general.
Stormtroopers are the heroes.
Yoda is awesome.
And he has no idea how Darth Vader connects to all of this.
That’s Toshi’s general “Star Wars” knowledge so far. He knows some character names, he loves light sabers, he thinks it’s all very exciting, but he has no idea about the story told in the films. That’s been on purpose. I told him he could watch the “Clone Wars” show at a certain age, and his godfather actually wrote some of the episodes, something that delights Toshi to no end. But he does not know what happens. He does not know any of the twists and turns. I’ve kept it all a secret so far.
We’re planning to watch them in the Official Order Lucas Should Start Using, as I’m going to call it from now on, because I’m right. Lucas should accept it and renumber the films. My boys will see the 1977 film first. “Star Wars.” That’s all I’m calling it no matter what it says onscreen. That’s the first movie. The starting point. Then “Empire Strikes Back,” because that’s how you hook them for life. That one-two punch, seen first, is about as potent a storytelling set-up as I’ve ever seen, even today, even after endless imitation and homage and outright theft. And then, after the colossal surprise of the end of “Empire,” cliffhanger firmly in place…
… we’ll go right into “The Phantom Menace.” And we’ll follow it up with “Clones” and “Sith” as part of one long flashback, designed to answer some of the shocking revelations of “Empire,” and also to set up the Emperor and Vader and their f’ed-up co-dependent soap opera of evil, and then we wrap it all up the only way it can all wrap up, with “Return Of The Jedi.”
So it should be, if Lucas wants to get it right in the future…
EPISODE I: Star Wars
EPISODE II: The Empire Strikes Back
EPISODE III: The Phantom Menace
EPISODE IV: Attack Of The Clones
EPISODE V: Revenge Of The Sith
EPISODE VI: Return Of The Jedi
… and the moment you start to think about it, you know I’m right. And even if I’m not, the fun of being a “Star Wars” fan is always acting like your opinion is the only truly correct opinion. The boys will simply know this as the order of the movies from the start. And that’s me playing revisionist, the same way Lucas plays it. And that’s what “Star Wars” is at this point. It’s whatever version you want it to be, within limits.
Here’s a letter I got from a reader this week, and I think it eloquently manages to say some things that are on many people’s minds:
As a long-time admirer of your work – it”s always extremely well-written and concise and makes me angry I can”t express myself with near the same degree of seeming ease – I”m hoping you have plans to write about the Star Wars Blu-ray release and George Lucas” continued fascination not with desecrating the films but his
insistence on burying the original versions, which is why I”m writing you this morning.
Honestly, I”m crushed. My (first) son was born last year. Like you, I”m a child of the early 70s, and among the roughly 8 billion things I can”t wait to share with him, introducing him to the original trilogy was high on my list. I would like the opportunity to do it in the same manner in which his then-6-year old dad experienced it – beginning with Episode IV and without the prequel nonsense that has since been added to the films with all the subtly of a jackhammer to concrete. But as you know, that is a choice Lucas is denying me.
George Lucas obviously has his detractors. I know some of that crowd can wallow in a great deal of hatred. I”ll readily admit to disliking the Special Editions as well as all three prequels – but I wouldn”t consider myself a member of the ever-popular “Lucas raped my childhood” gang. I gave up on Lucas as a creative force years and years ago and I don”t take any of his missteps personally.
I believe Lucas has every right to tweak, test and turn upside down *his* version of the film. But I also believe an obligation remains to concurrently preserve (and offer) *our* version, the one we grew up watching, over and over, for 20 years. The interpretation and processing of art, IMO, ultimately belongs to the viewer; he can”t
arbitrarily decide those memories are no longer valid.
I can think of no other example in all of cinema in which a newer version has outright replaced its predecessor. Sure, we have director”s cuts – but they universally exist in concert with their theatrical cuts. Even remakes aren”t designed to wipe from existence the original versions; in fact, studios will often use a remake”s release as an excuse to trot out another version of the original for mass consumption.
I hope you share my disappointment – not anger, but disappointment over his decision. That”s a key distinction because I don”t believe the vitriol is ever going to reach Lucas. Which is why I hardly see
the more human reaction represented. I want those films for my child; so that together we can share that experience and have that internal connection. Thirty-plus years later, *that”s* what Star Wars means to
me. I”ve seen the films so many times that I no longer want to see them through my own eyes but through the wonder and excitement of fresh eyes.
And I just think that if more and more people expressed that sentiment – disenchantment as opposed to anger – that maybe, just maybe, Lucas will understand the origin of our frustration. I don”t hate him. And I don”t begrudge him. I”m just at a loss why he”s made this curious decision when our technology has advanced enough to allow multiple versions, giving viewers a choice.
When Scott and I sat down this week to record the podcast, I didn’t originally have “Star Wars” talk in mind. But I made a decision mid-recording, and it ends up dominating most of the podcast. And as we were having the talk, I realized this isn’t enough. We’re going to have to talk about it after the discs, too, and that’s probably going to be a multi-part podcast, because I don’t think we can limit ourselves to an hour.
If that is too nerdy for you, then I accept that. No worries. It’s been a part of my life for the better part of forty years now, and it remains a touchstone for me. And if I’m going to contribute more to the conversation, then Scott Swan’s definitely a part of that.
For now, here’s a breakdown of this week’s podcast, the last until after Toronto:
Introduction and opening music: 00:00 – 01:00
‘Tower Heist’ and hypersensitivity: 01:00 – 08:00
General chatter: 08:00 – 10:20
“Star Wars” – the pre-show: 10:20 – 35:50
A Look At New Trailers: 35:50 – 48:00
What’s Opening In Theaters This Week?: 48:00 – 54:00
An exceptionally long and rambling wrap-up: 54:00 – 1:09:38
We’ll have more soon. In the meantime, you can listen to the podcast embedded below, or download it here, or you can go to iTunes and subscribe to the podcast there. If you do, please leave us some feedback on iTunes. We appreciate it.
“Star Wars” arrives on Blu-ray Friday September 16.