My admiration for Mr. Lucas fizzled out many moons ago. His first three films were simply stunning. THX-1138, AMERICAN GRAFFITI and the very first STAR WARS. The man didn’t return to directing until he decided to single-handedly destroy the “franchise” he’d built in the late 70’s and early 80’s. The three STAR WARS prequels he helmed are among the worst films I’ve ever seen. Incompetently written, showcasing the largest collection of god-awful performances by some of our industry’s leading actors, and completely devoid of any heart, these films can only be loved by either very small children or geeks capable of extreme levels of blind devotion.
Anyone who knows me at all knows that my beef with Lucas has less to do with these abominations and more to do with the absolute rape he has committed to the original three films. While even at the time of its release RETURN OF THE JEDI started to reek of Mr. Lucas’ desire to make toys over films, it was still watchable and had some terrific moments. Of course much of the film and story’s darker edges were eliminated (see clip below), some in post and much as early as the script stage (goodbye Wookies, hello Ewoks). But despite the early signs of Mr. Lucas’ transition over to the “dark side,” I had never imagined at the time that the films I loved (warts and all) would one day be digitally manipulated to such a degree that they could barely be recognized as the same films. Even THX-1138 has been completely overhauled, and in so doing, thoroughly destroyed. AMERICAN GRAFFITI, luckily for us, had only one scene altered, leaving the bulk of the original movie-going experience intact. But STAR WARS and its early companion films can only be seen in their original, un-assaulted forms in crummy, non-anamorphic transfers on Standard DVD or laserdisc.
With the recent announcement that the STAR WARS films will finally be making their way to Blu-ray next year (sadly in a box set where one will be forced to buy the unwatchable prequels), Lucas has, again, denied the call of the films’ true fans and stated:
“You have to go through and do a whole restoration on it, and you have to do that digitally. It’s a very, very expensive process to do it. So when we did the transfer to digital, we only transferred really the upgraded version.”
In other words, the original versions will not be included.
And I dare say it will be a lifetime before they ever are. And, from what Lucas himself has stated in the past, there’s a good chance they never will be.
George Lucas may have started out as part of the new breed of filmmaker that emerged during the 70’s including Martin Scorsese, Francis Coppola, and Steven Speilberg (they were all friends and created a small but well-respected community around them), but his interests veered so far away from those ideals that he eventually became a marketing entity with no trace of filmmaker left to be found. And, sadly, those of us out here who still believe in something pure (like the Rebel Alliance itself), must suffer the consequences until someone steps in and makes things right. Perhaps after Lucas himself has left this world (and I am not urging that he do so any time soon), a lover of cinema and restoration will step up and return to the world that which was taken from us: an innocent and creative young man’s vision that touched millions and inspired almost as many.
One day, perhaps…
Here’s a scene cut from THE RETURN OF THE JEDI before its original release. It will be included as an extra on the new Blu-ray set. A set I will not be buying. It seems the scene was simply too dark. But one gets a sense of what the tone of this film could have been. Had Lucas not heard the whispers of the dark side…