This being the Internet and all, I’m sure you’ve already heard the rumors that George Lucas can not leave well enough alone and will once again be mucking around with his Star Wars films for their release on Blu-ray. Our own delightful Joanna Robinson even mentioned it in yesterday’s Pajiba Love post and many of you probably already have your opinions on the matter, I know a few of you sounded off in the P-Love comments. Regardless, I’m posting this anyway because the New York Times confirmed the alterations with Lucaslfilm, and their questionable priorities aside, I feel like one piece of the puzzle is still missing. Granted, the image on the puzzle box is George Lucas As A
Bag Of Dicks Hypocrite, but a complete picture is much more satisfying to spew vitriol that than one that isn’t. Right? Right.
From what I’ve seen written, and what I feel in my own gut, the worst offense, from the known offenses, seems to be the inclusion of two instances of the word “no” in the climax of Return of the Jedi. Specifically, the moments when a previously wordless Darth Vader finally realizes the error of his ways in time to save his long lost son by killing the man who drove him to evil and madness (and who put a big hurt on the galaxy, also, natch) suddenly utters a guttural “No…” followed by a loud, angry “NOOOOOOO!” that sounds like it was ripped straight from Revenge of the Sith’s agonizingly bad penultimate scene. Oh, and spoiler alert, I guess?
Below is the scene the majority of the world has watched since 1983, and below that is the audio of the Blu-ray Edition laid over the older footage:
There is some solace to be had in that the voice is still James Earl Jones and not Hayden Christensen, but I’ve a feeling they probably didn’t pay him for those bits of sound. Really, as slight as the change is, it would be pretty painful to watch even if the scream didn’t have the connotation of the most parodied moment of the Star Wars Prequels, and it’s pretty gorram silly in its own right. So while the Internet was righteously (and rightly) foaming at the mouth about this news, I think Topless Robot Rob Bricken boiled the outrage down nicely when he described this change (and all of Lucas’ meddling of the old films) as “galling” because…
“George Lucas has spent so much of his post-Original Trilogy career trying to make movies, all movies, look and sound better. THX, Skywalker Sound, ILM — all of these things were created to improve the quality of movies. The man clearly knows and cares about visual and sound standards for his films, and yet he purposefully released the non-fucked-with Original Trilogy in an inferior format, despite his own standards[…] Having the choice between the Special Editions and a shit-quality non-Special Editions set is no choice at all, and George Lucas fucking knows that.” [Emphasis mine]
Exactly. It’s the lack of choice that blows everyone’s gaskets and makes Midichlorians shoot comically from our ears, and rightfully so. As much as we call film an Art Form and ourselves an Audience, we’re all more Consumers than Connoisseurs, and Consumers, more than anything else, want to be able to exercise what little power they have to choose. When it comes to Star Wars, most of them want to choose the older models, even if their upgrades are slighter than the newfangled ones. Of course, our roles as Consumers also serves to make George Lucas’s endless pursuit of supposed perfection somewhat necessary, as he is merely trying to sell us something and all Products improve over time. As such, I merely want to point out something that seems to have been largely missed in this most recent Lucasian kerfuffle.
A long time ago (actually, as recent as 2004), in a galaxy far, far away (actually, it was this one), George Lucas railed against the colorization of movies. Some of you might be surprised to know that movies weren’t always in color (or in sound!), but were instead black-and-white. Scientists have not disproven that reality was colorless at that time, but Pleasantville offers some compelling evidence. Anyway, George Lucas, as any decent human being would who saw his profession and his art being attacked by corporate interests, testified before the U.S. congress on the subject, lambasting anyone who tried to “fix” black-and-white movies by adding color to them.
So obviously, in 2004, when Sony released the Three Stooges library on DVD, the Stooges’ catalogue would now be available in that chintzy, painted on look that colorizing old film stock causes - like the Oz sequences in The Wizard of Oz, only worse, and pointless. George Lucas, naturally, had some strongly negative thoughts on the subject.
At the time, Lucas said:
“Would color distract from their comedy and make it not as funny anymore? Maybe just the fact that they’re in black-and-white makes it funny, because their humor is dated. But by putting it in black and white, it puts it in a context where you can appreciate it for what it was. But you try to make it in full living color and try to compare it to a Jim Carrey movie, then it’s hard for young people to understand. Because you’re then thinking you’re comparing apples to apples, when you’re not. You’re comparing apples to oranges. I’m saying it’s not fair to the artist.”
Fair enough. Colorizing movies isn’t “fair to the artist” because it isn’t their choice in the matter. Of course, newsflash, the Stooges are dead and their descendants don’t own the rights to their films, so Sony, or whoever owns them at the time, can do whatever the hell they please if they think altering it in some way will further monetize the art in question by bringing it to a new audience. Some of you may chafe at that, and I understand, but have you ever read Beowulf? Did you read it in ye Olde English? Unless you have an English degree, you probably read a translation of the poem in a modern form of English, or your native tongue, and if so, then you can probably understand why Seamus Heaney and others might want to clarify the matter for you.
But, Lucas, clearly, is an Artist who still lives and breathes, and ostensibly makes, Art and he is entitled to do whatever the hell he wants with his “art” because he still owns the rights to it. However, considering Lucas’ history with his own Art, and remember this was 2004 (after the Special Editions and the Prequels) he really should be able to appreciate why Sony wanted to colorize the Three Stooges — even if colorization feels wrong, and might be wrong, that is still not a universal truth like Gravity. And clearly, when it isn’t true in his favor, he’s quite all right with that.
But please don’t misunderstand me, I agree that colorization is downright awful. Were I old enough at the time when Lucas testified to that effect in the 1980s, I would have cheered him on and championed against the blanket colorization of black-and-white films. But there’s something Darth George seems to have missed in 2004, and is still missing today…
Sony didn’t release the Three Stooges on DVD only in color - the movies were released colorized and in crisp black-and-white transfers, on the same discs, not as special features, but as complements to allow the viewer to choose which version he or she wanted to watch. Hell, that’s a better deal than the belligerent film snobs who once railed against full screen DVDs (myself included) ever got. Except for the near universal conversion to widescreen TVs, I suppose. But, if I had to guess (and I do, because I don’t and will probably never know the man), I would assume that Lucas willfully ignores the aspect of Consumer Choice in regards to his own movies.
In reality, though, acknowledging that your audience might not agree with your vision is not a failure to win the message war, it merely shows that as an artist you’re as proud of the original work as you are of the touched-up version. (Or, that you know you can at least make money off those fans who think you ought to be.) But this acknowledgment would immediately prove that Lucas’ own greedy actions in regards to his original Star Wars trilogy are inherently wrong, not “director’s cuts,” and he would have to admit that he’s so much less an Artist than he is a Business Man — a damn good one, unfortunately. He would have to admit that he’s a hypocrite.
No doubt, Lucas will release some version of the originals again for purchase at a local retailer, but they surely won’t be the same quality as these Blu-ray discs will be. They’ll likely come out years from now, too, in the hopes that you, the Consumer, will buy the movies twice. Again.
But, remember, you don’t have to buy these movies just because they’re labeled as “Star Wars” and you really want Star Wars to watch on your Blu-ray player/PS3 that’s hooked up to your HD/Plasma/LED 52” TV. You don’t, you really, really don’t. Unless we count the RiffTrax for the Prequel trilogy, I haven’t purchased a Star Wars movie since the Special Editions came out in 1997. From personal experience, I can tell you that it’s pretty nice not being a slave to George Lucas’ Mammonic devotion. I highly recommend it. Don’t boycott or protest, just don’t buy. If enough of us do it, he’ll know why.
In closing, I give you George Lucas’ own words, as seen above, but altered slightly to (hopefully) illustrate my point. Listen to yourself, Mr. Lucas, and stop being a
bag of dicks hypocrite.
“Would CGI distract from the spectacle and make it not as spectacular anymore? Maybe just the fact that they’re in real locations makes it exciting, because their actions are grounded. But by keeping it in models and sets, it puts it in a context where you can appreciate it for what it was. But you try to make it in full CGI and try to compare it to a Michael Bay movie, then it’s hard for young people to understand. Because you’re then thinking you’re comparing apples to apples, when you’re not. You’re comparing apples to oranges. I’m saying it’s not fair to the artist or the audience.”
Rob Payne also writes the indie comic The Unstoppable Force, co-hosts the internet radio show We’re Not Fanboys, and is only a master of evil on the Twitter @RobOfWar. He longs for a more civilized age.