Friday, September 9, 2011

Why I (reluctantly) cancelled my pre-order for the Star Wars Blu-rays

By Citizenbot, courtesy BigShinyRobot!

I'm not generally one for hyperbole. No matter my misgivings about the Star Wars Special Editions or prequels I don't think George Lucas raped my childhood. I don't think I was even minorly diddled. But, in response to Swankmotron's excellent piece How I learned to stop worrying and love the changes to Star Wars, (nice title homage, btw) I just can't agree.

After seeing the changes made, especially to Return of the Jedi, something kept gnawing at me from the inside. "This is wrong." Like Luke nearing the cave on Dagobah, I felt cold. It was if millions of fanboys simultaneously cried out in terror and were suddenly silenced. All Labor Day weekend long it worked at me.  And Tuesday morning in a moment of clarity I cancelled my pre-order from Amazon.

Swank is ultimately right. The essence of the films is still going to be in place, and there are a ton of special features that I'm sure are worth watching.  And I realized that insanely, sickly, I was more excited to get retouched prequels that included switching the Yoda puppet for CG, hi-definition podracing and General Grevious and Kit Fisto. . . .and that was weird.  So, what was it that was the final straw?

It was the much-maligned and mocked "Nooooo!" from Vader.

Let me explain. Even as a little kid, I could see flaws in Return of the Jedi. Especially as a teenager, even though I nearly wore those THX-edition tapes out, I knew "Yub Nub" was not cool.  I hated the 26 second cutaway when ONE nameless Ewok dies compared to the tens of thousands of deaths when the Death Star or Executor exploded. BUT, I could always point to that throne room scene. Despite the silliness of teddy bears aiding in overthrowing the Empire on Endor, what took place between Luke, Vader, and the Emperor was the ultimate tale of seduction, a good person almost giving into their baser instincts to exact revenge, and the ultimate redemptive moment. Anakin's redemption is THE seminal moment of the ENTIRE STAR WARS SERIES.

And just like jazz music, as important as the notes that are being played is the subtext-- "listen to the notes he's not playing" is the aphorism. A monster in a plastic and metal visor and mask emoted more by saying nothing and watching his master torture his son, reach an epiphany that he could no longer be enslaved by the Dark Side, and toss off those shackles in a very literal sense. It's an emotional journey, made all the more powerful because Vader stays silent. Sometimes silence says more than words do.

Words can't express the pain, conflict, and resolution that a heroic and monstrous character like the duality of Anakin Skywalker/Darth Vader feel as he finally frees himself of his inner demons. Words shouldn't try to express it. And, barring something so beautiful and profound it could have come from the pen of Keats, Donne, Wordsworth, Shakespeare, Milton, Steinbeck, Faulkner, or another master practitioner of the English language, it should not be something as hackneyed and obvious as "No."

"No" is what my three year old says as he throws a fit. No is a terse, knee-jerk response to something that you don't want that is relatively inconsequential. "Do you want fries with that?" "No."

For years, Lucas explained that he was making the changes because the technology didn't exist when he made the films to achieve his vision. OK. But you certainly had the technology to make Vader say "Noooo!" in Return of the Jedi if you'd wanted to.  Vader didn't say "No."  I know because I never heard it when I saw Jedi in theaters as a kid, I didn't hear it on my VHS as a kid, I didn't even hear it on the DVDs that came out a few years ago. And yes, I know you're trying to tie it to the "Noooo!" moment in Revenge of the Sith-- but that script was written, that film was almost done being made when you released those DVDs. You sure could edit in Hayden Christensen, but the world wasn't ready for the "Noo!!!" yet?

Which leads to the conclusion that the "No!!!" was not necessary, did not really tie in to the prequel trilogy, and was the effect of either some sort of serial derangement on the part of George Lucas to compulsively change his work, or an intentional middle finger to fans who reacted badly to the "Noooo!" in Episode III.

Let's take it back to jazz for a moment. Listen to the notes he's not playing. Now imagine if someone "remastered" Miles Davis' Birth of the Cool and right an a pivotal musical climax they added in a note break where they started playing "Twinkle Twinkle Little Star."  Imagine if someone took Dave Brubeck's Take Five and decided that 5/4 time is too unaccessible for audiences, so we're going to record the song in 4/4 so people can dance to it. Travesty. You ruin the heart and soul of the artistic expression.

Making Vader say "No!" is a similar betrayal. Because you know, as much as people could rip on Ewoks, you could always point to that complete badassery of Vader's redemption- his rebirth, if you will. Because if Anakin dies and became Darth Vader from a certain point of view, so too did Vader die and come back to life as the man who tenderly told Luke, "Tell your sister you were right about me."

You know what else this is like?  The Doobie Brothers.  The Doobie Brothers were one of the best bands of the 1970s, hands down. Jesus is Just Alright, China Grove, Black water-- all good songs. They went through lineup changes, sure. But their essence was that of a great rock band. Then Michael Macdonald joined the Doobies as their lead singer. And they went from the southern-fried rock of China Grove to the craptastic-immediately-ready-for-elevator-music What a Fool Believes and It Keeps You Running.

That is what Lucas has done. In a futile attempt to gild a lily, he has ruined the essence of what it was.

And granted, he can do it. As he likes to lord over us desperate throngs, they are his movies. They are from his universe that he created from his imagination. (Or borrowed from Kurosawa's Secret Fortress and Joseph Campbell's Hero of 1000 Faces, but let's not mince around here)

But like the alcoholic who is destroying his own furniture, who yells at you, "This is my stuff- I can do with it what I want!"  Yes, yes you can, George. You can do what you want. But I do not have to sit here and watch this emotional and creative death spiral, wondering half the time whether you're doing this because you're sick and need help, or because you're intentionally trying to dick over your fanbase. That's one of the ways that alcoholics commit violence against those around them. And I won't stand to be part of your psychodrama any more.

Ultimately, I hope it serves as a warning. An intervention of sorts. George- we love you, we love Star Wars, but it hurts us to see you do this to yourself and your legacy. You need help, and we want you to get it.

I don't think my single act of protest is really going to affect Lucas. I wish it would. The Blu-rays will sell like hotcakes, as they deserve to.

But my limit has been crossed. I'll buy the Blu-rays when they are released with the forms of A New Hope, Empire Strikes Back, and Return of the Jedi as they existed without all of the additions.  In the meantime I'll watch the original version on DVD. . . . except for Empire, whose Special Edition was perfect and the pinnacle of what Lucas should aim to do when reworking his masterpieces.

This is not a call for a revolt. This is not a call for a boycott. This is the story of one fan's decision to try to "trust your feelings" and "let go".


Oh, and another thing why I'm not buying it. Lucas has still not fixed the damn rotoscoping on Ben Kenobi's lightsaber in A New Hope when he fights Vader on the Death Star. And the new krayt dragon sound is lame. The original one was fine and could just be left alone.

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