September 19, 2004
Someday soon, I fully expect the term "Greedo shoots first" to become a hip media euphemism in the tradition of "jumping the shark" and "wardrobe malfunction." It will come to mean any timid deception designed to deny one of life’s basic, incontestible truths.
For instance, the basic, incontestible truth that Han Solo is one baaaaad hombre.
Let me clarify.
On Tuesday, George Lucas and Fox Home Entertainment will release the original "Star Wars " trilogy on DVD. You’re probably already aware of this, as most Americans have daily interaction with at least one sci-fi/Internet nerd — and for sci-fi/Internet nerds, this is just about the biggest news since Data and Yar did the nasty on "Star Trek: The Next Generation."
It will be a splendorous home video event, perhaps the biggest ever for the DVD format. A source at Fox calls the trilogy "the last of the classic movies unreleased on DVD" and Variety magazine predicts that the box set will be the most popular ever.
And, yet, amid the geek rejoicing, I must confess certain feelings of sourness. You see, the "Star Wars" trilogy so neatly packaged by Fox in a handsome DVD slipcase is not precisely the same the trilogy I and so many other movie fans remember from years ago.
Lucas, flush with an arsenal of computerized specialeffects devices that didn’t exist when he first shot the movies, has made numerous digital alterations to the original prints.
Silly alterations, alterations that subtly but significantly erode the timelessness of "Star Wars."
I’m not talking about the little things, like Luke’s trickedout landspeeder and the brighter, digitally-enhanced lightsabers. What really sticks in my craw are the loud, irritating computer-generated beasts in the Mos Eisley scene in "Star Wars" and, worse still, the ridiculous cantina re-edit that has Han Solo killing Greedo only AFTER the bounty hunter shoots first . . . and somehow misses, from all of two feet.
Granted, many of the digital changes appeared during its theatrical re-release in 1997. That’s not the point. By including the changes in the DVD and offering no unadulterated alternative, Lucas is essentially making this the definitive version of "Star Wars."
Eventually, any existing VHS tapes of the original version will get chewed up by the family dog or simply degrade with time, and future generations will only know a "Star Wars" where Han Solo trusts his life to the impaired shooting abilities of a neoprene green alien.
I realize that in the grand scheme of life, this tragedy ranks rather low compared to, say, the sinking of the Titanic, or Jennifer Gray’s nose job. But think about it: Until Han proves himself as a trusted friend, he’s a slippery, devious character. The new scene messes with his mystique.
Some fans are of the opinion that Lucas is artistically entitled to do whatever he wants with the movies, since he created them. Sorry, but I’m not down with that.
I have much more respect for and fealty to the 1970s Lucas who bucked convention and made movie history, not the tech-addled, latter-day version of the filmmaker who gave us the prequels. Let’s be honest, the prequels are junk, and the DVD changes are depressingly symptomatic of their diminished artistry.
"The Empire Strikes Back" and "Return of the Jedi" are left a bit more pristine — a notable exception being the final shot in "Jedi," where the ghost of Anakin Skywalker (formerly played by actor Sebastian Shaw) has been replaced by Hayden Christensen, who plays the character in the sequels. Lame.
In a broader sense, the "Star Wars" DVDs set a bad precedent. A motion picture should not be looked upon as an evolving piece of art, like theater or a marriage. What if the curator of the Louvre tried to enhance the bust of Leonardo da Vinci’s "Mona Lisa"? Would we stand for it?
Intoxicated by the technological terror of digital special effects, Lucas seems to have lost faith in his original vision. I find his lack of faith disturbing.