The Cynical Optimist : The Ultimate Edition Pt II


“George Lucas raped my childhood.”

In 1997, Episodes IV, V and VI were re-mastered and theatrically re-released as ‘Special Editions’. For the re-release, in addition to extensive clean-up and restoration work, creator George Lucas also made a number of changes to the films in order to his initial vision match the final product.

The Special Editions made use of computer effects technology and other new production techniques that emerged in the two decades after the original trilogy was produced. These changes were controversial with critics and fans alike, with opponents claiming the changes detracted from the original spirit and essence of the films. A popular phrase among members of the Star Wars fandom, “George Lucas raped my childhood,” was coined in response to these so-called blasphemous changes to the trilogy.

In 2004, in addition to an extensive high-definition digital cleanup and restoration job, the original trilogy films were changed once again for their release on DVD on September 21, 2004. In these new versions of the films, a few changes, which had been made for the 1997 Special Editions, were removed and new changes were made to the films. Lucas claims the original films are “25 to 30 percent” of what he intended. Despite this, the original films were massively popular and regarded as “groundbreaking”, and much of his meddling since has been received with lukewarm reception.

With the 2004 DVD release, changes enhanced the cohesiveness of the films and aimed to eliminate continuity errors between the original trilogy and the prequel trilogy. Perhaps the most controversial of all changes was including Hayden Christensen, who played Anakin Skywalker in Episodes II and III, at the conclusion of Return of the Jedi as a Force ghost. Other changes included the inclusion of actor Ian McDiarmid as Emperor Palpatine in The Empire Strikes Back, replacing the original performance (voiced by actor Clive Revill and portrayed by an uncredited actress wearing a specially made mask, with chimpanzee eyes superimposed over her own).

Now that Blu-Ray has won the high-definition war, it is only a matter of time until George Lucas releases the beloved trilogy on the format – and rumors are already circulating Star Wars message boards as to what changes might be included in this “Ultimate Saga Edition” box set.

In this edition of the Cynical Optimist, I plan to explore changes that I personally would like to see, while also detailing changes that might be made to suit the saga as a whole. I’ve watched each of the original trilogy films roughly 400 times – and that is no exaggeration. I’ve studied every frame of these classic space fantasy movies, through their various versions and releases, and am ready to release my thoughts on the future of the series.

Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope

The Special Edition of Episode IV was perhaps the most controversial, as Lucas felt it was the most incomplete of the films. Lucas made Greedo shoot first, which isn’t earth shattering, but people insist it has completely affected their lives. “Han shot first,” another phrase birthed out of the Special Editions, seems to still be relevant even now. In addition to Greedo premature laser fire, a CGI Jabba the Hutt was added to a previously deleted scene in which Solo confronts the notorious crime lord in a hangar. There were also numerous changes and improvements to the Death Star battle. The 2004 edition improved on the CGI used on Jabba, though the scene still feels strange and unnecessary. As for Greedo, now he and Han seem to shoot at the same time – which, again, makes little to no difference to the story.

People ask, “Why can’t he just leave them alone?” and I don’t really have a good answer for that. As a writer and someone who creates, I can tell you that I often go back and revise and edit my work. I understand the feeling of never quite being satisfied with my work, and in George’s case – here’s a guy who has the money and technology to actually tinker with the past and try to improve his work. The question of if he should, well that’s not for me to decide.

With this Ultimate Edition, Lucas should set out to eliminate the damage done by previous Special Editions while keeping all the improvements his meddling has provided. Jabba’s appearance in A New Hope is unnecessary, and worst of all – the whole scene is broken and contradictory to the character we see in Return of the Jedi. The Jabba of Episode VI would never let a smuggler like Han walk all over him… literally. If this scene cannot be altered to remove the trail-stomping part, it should be removed. It’s that simple.

Cohesion and continuity between the two trilogies should be made top priority. The Special Editions helped opened up places like Mos Eisley and Cloud City and made the galaxy feel bigger. While I don’t approve of all of the changes, like the “nana-nana-boo-boo” robot sequence during the entrance to Mos Eisley, I think we could use more digitally created settings. The galaxy of the original trilogy, with its sparse sets established in Earthly locations, bares little resemblance to the prequel’s glitzy worlds and locales.

While the lightsabers have been improved, there’s still a lot of work to be done. In the 2004 DVD release, Luke’s saber is sometimes blue, sometimes white and sometimes green in A New Hope. Backdrops and matte paintings should also be replaced with digital backgrounds to match the prequels. Space battles should also be changed to reflect new groundbreaking techniques. No more strange boxes around Tie Fighters or X-Wings. Honestly, with the exception of scenes with actors, these space battles could be completely recreated digitally – though I can only imagine the controversy that would produce. Also, while on the subject of space battles, explosions need a big upgrade. Lets add a little drama to Alderaan’s destruction with a new explosion and an asteroid sequence (minus the glitter) for the Falcon’s arrival to the missing planet.

Obi-Wan Kenobi’s lightsaber duel with Darth Vader was never that exciting. It’s essentially a fight between a crippled old man and a walking iron lung. It’s not intended to match the fierce acrobatics of the Prequels’ duels, but that’s not to say it could be made a little more dramatic. The 2004 release sped the fight up some, but it still feels sluggish. Being as George put Christopher Lee’s head on a digital stunt double of Count Dooku, I have to wonder if he wouldn’t consider doing the same thing with Alec Guinness’s performance – and totally reshooting the scene. It’s hard to imagine, and call it profane if you will, but I’m thinking on behalf of the saga as a whole here.

For instance, “The Imperial March” is included in every Star Wars film except A New Hope, for the simple fact that John Williams hadn’t written it yet. Perhaps it should be inserted, if even subtly, to Episode IV to give the consistent presence of evil and darkness.

People often mention adding scenes like Palpatine on Coruscant, disbanding the senate, and as cool as that would be it’s completely unnecessary. Others might suggest adding a reaction shot of Bail Organa on Alderaan as the Death Star prepares to fire – again, superfluous but cool.

Overall, A New Hope is a classic, timeless film that deserves better. Lucas should release a remastered, digitally restored version of the theatrical release, while also providing an Ultimate Edition that he considers to be canonical. Instead of including individual scenes that may not really add much to the story, the aim here should be make the universe bigger and bolder – more real. Expand upon the forests of Yavin and the slums of Mos Eisley, but for God’s sake fix the things you’ve broken. Let Han kill Greedo in cold blood, and let Jabba gracefully slide and slime his way out of A New Hope.

And just to set the record straight, George Lucas did not rape your childhood. For me personally, George Lucas built my childhood from the ground up. He provided me with infinite adventures and a universe-worth of imagination. If he made changes you didn’t like, then that’s understandable, but you can’t honestly blame him for your disenchantment – your eventually maturity – and your inability to look back upon Star Wars with the same eyes you had as a child.

Join me for part III of the Ultimate Edition where I examine past editions of The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi and possible further changes yet to be made.