The Cynical Optimist : The Ultimate Edition Pt. 1

George Lucas. Say the name and most people will instantly hurl themselves into a Sarlacc pit of spite and anger. “The prequels sucked,” seems to fly from the lips quicker than the Falcon escaping a tractor beam. When referencing the original trilogy, “He raped my childhood,” is a popular choice. This is, of course, in reference to the 1997 and 2004 special editions.  If you’re a Star Wars fan, stumbling across these choice phrases is as common as a carded Darth Vader figure. It’s just something we have to live with.

And you know what? Star Wars fans aren’t glowing with joy over all of Mr. Lucas’ revisions to the saga. We’re also tired of the constant onslaught of merchandise and product being pushed on us. Since 2004, Lucasfilm has released the Star Wars trilogy three times on DVD.

There was the first box set, which included all-new special edition cuts of each film, as well as the documentary Empire of Dreams. Then the unaltered versions were released – and I do mean unaltered. The video transfer in the 2006 release is derived from the 1993 Laserdisc transfer, meaning that the film’s 2.35:1 Panavision format is letterboxed into a non-anamorphic 4:3 video frame. Not to mention it isn’t digitally remastered or anything. What a cheap shot.

Then to top it off, the 2004 box set was re-released minus the bonus disc in new packaging – and you know how us Star Wars fans are about different packaging! How could we resist?  Now lucas is doing it again, with another repackaging of not only the original trilogy, but the prequel trilogy as well. These sets will be released on November 4th in the states, and won’t include any new content. Regardless, the new packaging is compelling and I feel as if I’m being Jedi mind tricked into buying it.

Speaking of DVD releases, what of the eventual high-definition release? Ever since the first DVD set there’s been rumor of an ultimate saga collection that would put special editions of all six films together with tons of never-before-seen content. I often lie awake at night, tossing and turning, dreaming of what this ultimate edition might look like – what it might contain.

For those who have watched the special features on Revenge of the Sith, fans with a trained eye will notice footage of a digitized Yoda from Episode I, meaning that work on special editions of the prequels may be underway. With a 3D transfer in the works, and Blu-Ray as the chosen hi-def format, it’s only a matter of time before Lucas unleashes the ultimate edition upon us – so I better get my wish list out there while I can!

In this edition of the Cynical Optimist I’ll cover the Prequel Trilogy and all the changes I would like to see made. There’s just too much to cover to cram all six films into one column, so next week I’ll have my revisions to the 2004 special editions.

Episode I: The Phantom Menace

OK, so I guess getting a cut of the film without Jake Lloyd as Anakin Skywalker is out of the question? I’m just kidding Jake, but seriously, those “Yippee!” lines have got to go.

What about everyone’s favorite Gungan, Jar Jar Binks? He personally doesn’t bother me, he’s a pathetic character. He’s goofy and clumsy and totally absurd, but there is a possibility that Lucas and the gang could tone him down some – at least cut that scene of him stepping in crap, or his reaction to an animal farting. Talk about things that are unnecessary to the story.

That creepy puppet Yoda with the sideburns has got to go. It doesn’t resemble the Yoda we know and love from The Empire Strikes Back in the least bit. Replacing him with the digital model from Episodes II and III would give the prequels a bit more continuity.

The Podrace. Many people might not know this, but the theatrical release and the DVD release of Episode I differ. It’s nothing major but there are different cuts, some extended sequences – that kind of thing. In the DVD release, the podrace sequence is extended to incorporate Anakin facing off with another racer, Gasgano, and a scene where Skywalker loses an engine. It runs a bit too long, and Jake Lloyd’s stiff performance takes a lot of the fluidity and motion out of the race. AND FOR THE LOVE OF GOD, can we please get rid of that two-headed announcer? I HATE THAT GUY!

The existing special effects should be touched up, as they’re already outdated. With the numerous advancements in CGI since 1999, all of the digital backgrounds and character models could use a significant retooling. Add more textures to the Naboo landscapes, especially during that final ground battle. It’s literally just blue sky and green grass – it looks pretty bland George.

Episode II: Attack of the Clones

This is my least favorite Star Wars film. Yes, I enjoy The Phantom Menace ten times over – at least that film had Darth Maul, one of the most kick ass characters in the saga. As for Attack of the Clones, there are several things I would like to see changed – though I don’t think they’re the kind of things that can really be changed.

Is there any way possible we can make the performances of Hayden Christensen and Natalie Portman worth watching? They’re both so wooden and dull, their romantic scenes together are enough to make me want to gauge my eyes out with a rusty Ewok spear. Maybe there’s some alternate takes that worked better? What about that scene with Anakin riding the giant flea-tick thing? Can’t we just cut that out completely?

The droid factory sequence needs a major update. It looks like a video game level.  While on the topic of droids, can we excise all the campy dialogue between C-3P0 and R2-D2? I mean, I love the droids but when the battle droid head gets placed on threepio’s body, it’s just a little too much. I’m quite beside myself just thinking about it.

Episode III: Revenge of the Sith

I love Revenge of the Sith, though it certainly isn’t perfect. There are some cringe-worthy moments that hold the film back from being truly excellent. Lets start at the beginning…

What the hell is up with the suddenly comical battle droids and super battle droids? In previous films the battle droids weren’t exactly straight-laced, but they weren’t court jesters either. In Episode III they take every opportunity to turn every scene into a Three Stooges tribute. Their voices are ridiculous and they have way too much personality for battle-hardened robots. They’ve even got manners; remember the one that says, “Excuse me?”

Then there’s the whole super battle droid sequence with R2-D2, where the droid kicks artoo over. It looks strange and completely fake. There’s got to be a better way of handling that whole sequence. Every time I see it, it just irks me.

I wish some of the deleted scenes would be incorporated into the film. The sequences involving Mon Mothma, Bail Organa and the formation of the Rebellion were cool, not to mention Yoda’s arrival on Dagobah. There was also originally a cave monster on the sinkhole planet of Utapau that Obi-Wan Kenobi encountered – something similar to the Rancor sequence – that could have been really cool.

The birth of the twins needs to be stretched out some – the whole thing seems rushed. Padme names the twins immediately, there’s no weight given to their names. There isn’t any emotional moment between Leia and her mother to signify that memory later in Return of the Jedi. And what’s with the nursing droids? Boo-Bah. Boo-Bah. That doesn’t relax me – it weirds me out, you creepy ass droid.

During Yoda’s meditation scene, we are to believe he talks to Qui-Gon Jinn via the force, in much the way that Obi-Wan gave Luke guidance during the Death Star battle. In the novelization this dialogue is included, and it would be great to hear Liam Neeson talk to Yoda in the film – if only to bring back the great character of Qui-Gon for a moment.

Well, that’s all I’ve got for this edition. I’m sure there’s things I’ve forgotten – things I’ll want to add – but isn’t that how it goes with these special editions? Maybe I’ll do an ultimate edition one day of this column and fix all the things I wished could have been better.

Stay tuned for my next column, where I break down all the changes that need to happen in the Original Trilogy.