Chris Walsh (chris_walsh) wrote,
Chris Walsh

"Star Wars." No one's still barred "Wars."

Today, Star Wars is 40. Cool. Forty years ago today, fewer than 40 theaters in the U.S. and Canada showed it, and that first day broke records. People left theaters and got right back in line to buy tickets for later shows. Creator-writer-director George Lucas was getting calls from Alan Ladd, Jr., his biggest ally at 20th Century Fox, updating the day's unreal box office returns; Lucas was careful not to get effusive ("the film has been out for five hours; I'm not counting my chickens before they hatch"), but he had right to be excited. Star Wars was special. It would dominate the year, still be in theaters a year later (this was more likely in the Seventies), and become a huge pop cultural thing.

That's not enough for some people.

The original film was revised, then really revised, because a) Lucas hadn't been able to do much of what he'd hoped to do visually in 1977 and b) Lucas had the rights and the money to do whatever he wanted to revise the film. It got retitled Episode IV: A New Hope (with those words added to the opening crawl) in 1981; it was re-released in spring 1997 as the really revised Special Edition; and each DVD release since has tweaked it further. Same with 1980's The Empire Strikes Back and 1983's Return of the Jedi.

For years there've been campaigners asking Lucasfilm and, more recently, Disney to re-release the un-revised versions of the original three films. They claim that the films must be preserved as people saw them back then and if they can't have official releases, they'll just torrent them.

Lucasfilm did re-release them. The 2006 DVD releases of the original trilogy had bonus discs of the original releases, using the laserdisc transfers with at most slight tweaks (to clean up some special effects). I bought those DVDs. Most people didn't; those DVDs didn't sell well. Would a new undoctored DVD of each film do much better now? Not really worth Lucasfilm's or Disney's time and money to find out. And my hunch: the market for an unchanged Star Wars is smaller than the campaigners want to think.

I wonder if the people who made that statement feel crusade-y about anything else, any other causes, or if this is their big issue. If the former, I can respect that; if the latter, I think they're funny. Especially since (again) THEY COULD HAVE BOUGHT THE DESPECIALIZED VERSIONS ON DVD IN 2006, and mostly didn't. They aren't championing the rediscovery of some little-seen film like my beloved The Adventures of Baron Munchausen or trying to complete Orson Welles' unfinished Don Quixote, they want a 1977 version of the biggest film of 1977. That's, um, focused.

The unique circumstances of the original Star Wars, a film that no one expected to be so big, that is soaked in the weirdness that George Lucas brought to it and which still found a blockbuster audience, that Lucas felt was incomplete at the time so he's used his rights to change it — and it's not like he literally destroyed what he cut out, the way Stanley Kubrick did with the 17 minutes of 2001: A Space Odyssey he cut after the premiere — make this, I think, a strange crusade. Also, the changes, even in the original film, which was revised the most, aren't that big, especially not to the general non-geek audience. There are weird additions Lucas made (Greedo shooting first, which Lucas later changed to Greedo and Han firing simultaneously), but no Poochie, to put it one way; nothing that drastically changes the story. But people still think they're missing something. I'm amused.

Again, Lucasfilm and Disney most likely wouldn't earn enough from a despecialized re-release to make a re-release financially viable. And the torrented existence of the despecialized versions don't lose them enough money to lead them to go after torrent sites, which they could do to prove a point (I know they wouldn't be able to shut all of them down, but they could make a dent. They don't).

I like that I bought those 2006 DVDs so I can watch whichever version best fits my mood. I looked up the original ending of Return of the Jedi online today, for reference ("Yub nub!"), and I can pop in either version to watch right now. I could be a jackass and pretend Gungans are on Tatooine, but I won't.
Tags: star wars

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