9/06/2012

Much has been made over the new changes that George Lucas has been making to his Star Wars movies over the last few decades. Rather than just complain about the changes, I thought it would be interesting to use them to understand Lucas. Why did he make the changes? What do they mean? What do they reveal about Lucas himself? Let's find out.

1. Greedo Shoots First
The Change: In the original version of Star Wars: A New Hope, Han Solo faced bounty hunter Greedo in the cantina. Just as it seemed Greedo was going to get the drop on him, Han Solo fired his blaster and killed him before Greedo could even fire a shot. In the new version released in 2004, a laser bolt was added so that Greedo fired his gun before Han Solo did.
What It Reveals: The most controversial of the changes, Lucas made his argument as to why he did it to the Hollywood Reporter:
The controversy over who shot first, Greedo or Han Solo, in Episode IV, what I did was try to clean up the confusion, but obviously it upset people because they wanted Solo to be a cold-blooded killer, but he actually isn’t. It had been done in all close-ups and it was confusing about who did what to whom. I put a little wider shot in there that made it clear that Greedo is the one who shot first, but everyone wanted to think that Han shot first, because they wanted to think that he actually just gunned him down.
While Lucas claims this was his intention all along, if you watch the old shot and the new shot, the angle remains the same. What has been done is new effects added. There's no reason he couldn't have added Greedo's shot in the original movie. In fact, Han Solo shooting first fits perfectly into his character. I believe the reason behind Lucas' change is the same as what happened to Steven Spielberg when he changed the guns to walkie-talkies in E.T. Spielberg explained:
I was overly sensitive to some of the criticism E.T. got from parent groups when it was first released in '82 having to do with Eliot saying "Penis Breath" or the guns...
Lucas most likely encountered the same type of criticism with Han Solo from parents' groups. As he's gotten older, perhaps Lucas has seen the trend of anti-heroes and is concerned that he created one of them. He's concerned about his legacy and wants to control the impact. My conclusion is that the "Greedo shoots first" change is Lucas' attempt to make a small change toward improving the morality of the world around him, and leaving behind a better role model for future generations.

2. Anakin's Ghost Switch
The Change: In the final scene of Return of the Jedi, Luke looked into the forest and saw the ghost of Yoda, Obi-Wan, and Anakin Skywalker. The Anakin that he saw was played by Sebastian Shaw, the same actor who had played Darth Vader with his mask removed. In 2004, Lucas had Hayden Christensen's head replace Shaw's as the ghost of Anakin Skywalker.
What It Reveals: The problem that fans have had with this change is that it doesn't really make sense. Yoda and Obi-Wan both look the same as they did when they died, as elderly Jedi masters, and so did Anakin. So why would Anakin take on his appearance of when he was younger? While there have been arguments that it has to do with when he became a Jedi, it seems that the biggest reason is one of connection. I believe Lucas wanted to incorporate elements of the new movies into the old movies to link the trilogies together. It's his way of saying that the new trilogy is a part of Star Wars now, and he's looking for opportunities in the old trilogy to reflect that. In a sense, the change to Hayden Christensen is about validating what he's already done. He was trying to put the new actors into the old movies. He's saying, "The new trilogies are canon and part of the overall story, and here's the proof."

3. R2D2's Disappearing Rocks
The Change: In A New Hope, R2-D2 is attacked by Jawas, who then capture and imprison him. The change comes right before R2-D2 is caught. R2-D2 is hiding in a cave, then gets blasted when he comes out in the original. For a moment in the new Blu-Ray, we see more rocks in front of the cave than in the original shot, obscuring him more.
What It Reveals: While this is a somewhat minor change, I think it reveals a lot about George Lucas' frame of mind. First of all, one questions why they went to so much trouble to make such a minor change. I can only assume that the added rocks are there to explain why R2-D2 was in the cave in the first place. In the original shot, it shows no protection or cover. One could argue that it was a stupid place to hide. Adding the rocks is meant to explain why R2-D2 was there, and that if he had stayed put, the Jawas couldn't have found him. It seems like Lucas is attempting to fix perceived plotholes in the story, like why R2D2 would think that the cave would hide him. Yet there really wasn't a groundswell of fans complaining about this shot. Frankly, I couldn't find anyone who even noticed it until after the change. So what's happening?

I think the second point is the clincher. One of the biggest criticisms of the change is that it's made in isolation. In the very next shot, we see the same place R2-D2 was in, and the rocks are gone. Such a blunder reveals that Lucas wasn't focused on the big picture. He should have had his people put the rocks in consistently, but he didn't. Lucas is looking at each shot in isolation, not as a whole. In other words, he's lost perspective. I think he's spent so much time watching the movies over and over again that he's become fixated on the minuatiae, not on the series as a single narrative. He's seen the movies so many times that he can't see the forest for the trees. He needs to take a break and step away.

 4. CGI Yoda
The Change: In The Phantom Menace, Yoda was created with a new and younger animatronic puppet like the original trilogy. Then in Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith, Yoda was created entirely through CGI. With the Blu-Ray release, The Phantom Menace's Yoda has been replaced with a CGI version as well.
What It Reveals: Lucas claimed that the changes he made to the original trilogy were necessary because he didn't have the technology back then to do it right. But this time, he's made changes to a movie made with relatively modern technology, so that excuse doesn't wash. The new trilogy is famous for the enormous number of CGI effects - backgrounds, vehicles, and even whole characters. The physical Yoda puppet was an exception, probably one that Lucas regrets not using in the first place. I wouldn't be surprised if this leads to more character replacements. As an artist, I know what it's like to keep wanting to make tweaks.  No work of art can ever be "finished." However, at some point, you need to learn to let go. Lucas has become the consummate perfectionist who's never happy with his own work, and will never be able to resist tweaking them endlessly.

5. Darth Vader's Scream

The Change: In Return of the Jedi, when Vader finally throws the Emperor to his death, he originally said nothing. In the Blu-Ray edition, a scream has been added so Vader yells, "Nooooooo!" as he kills the Emperor.
What It Reveals: And now, finally, we get to what could be the more controversial humorous changes of all. Much humor has been made from the scream Anakin made when he becomes Darth Vader in Return of the Sith. Lucas is trying to justify this earlier addition by putting the same scream in the later movie.  I also think this goes back to the reasoning on the Anakin Ghost Switch. This is another attempt to connect and add symmetry between the new and old movies.

More than that, the scream is a clear sign that Lucas is  second guessing himself. I personally feel the original silence was powerful enough. However, Lucas no longer trusts his original idea that the emotion of the scene can support itself. He has lost his understanding of subtlety, relying on gimmicks rather than genuine drama. You can see a lot of that in the new trilogy, where I felt Anakin and Padme's love story in Attack of the Clones came off as cheesy and bland, having them saying how much they loved each other instead of showing it. Contrast that with romance between Han Solo and Leia in Empire Strikes Back, which crackled with energy just from a wayward glance. Perhaps Lucas has been away from storytelling so long that he's lost his grasp of it.

Do you agree with this analysis? What else do you think the changes reveal? Any other changes that highlight something on Lucas' part? Let us know in the comments.

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16 comments:

Pat Dilloway said...

I think most of these changes are because he has too much time on his hands. Star Wars and Indiana Jones are pretty much all he has. Maybe he should spend some time tweaking American Graffiti or THX 1138. Or a novel concept--make a new movie! I know he's old but lots of artists keep working into their 80s or even longer.

Kerry Amburgy-Dickson said...

I always thought the force-ghost switch made sense. The Force ghosts appear as that individual's mental image of themselves. Yoda and Obi-wan both grew old and knew what their changed bodies looked like, so their mental image changed along with their physical bodies. The last time Anakin saw himself was in Episode 3 and thus his mental image is still stuck at that point.

Anthony G. Laplume said...

I think in an effort to prove that Lucas has begun overthinking his own creation, you've overthought it. Just because the majority of fans who care about the changes hate them, doesn't mean the changes are bad. Point-by-point, these criticisms could be defended quite easily from the other side.

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

Anthony's comment about overthinking made me laugh!
I think Lucas is going to keep changing his movies until the day he dies, whether we like it or not.
And Solo still fired first.

J.W. Alden said...

Lucas is clearly a perfectionist who recognizes that Star Wars will be his legacy (something that he probably never planned in the early days). As such, he just can't seem to help tinkering around with it, endlessly. While I don't react quite so violently to the various changes made over the years (I don't mind emo Anakin being added to the end of ROJ, for instance), some of them are just plain bad.


I think ultimately what we've really learned over the years is that George Lucas' growing need to control every facet of Star Wars has probably harmed the franchise in the long run. He didn't always used to be that way. A lot of people forget that Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi were not even written or directed by Lucas; he was comfortable enough letting someone else take the reigns of his story back then. Over the years, his grip on the franchise has tightened, with the new trilogy and the old, and it hasn't really been for the better, especially where the writing is concerned.

Natasha Dythia said...

Loved these points - if you pay attention it says a lot about him.

Anthony G. Laplume said...

I'd argue that once we get past the fans who bitterly complain about these changes (in essence a complaint about their own memories), Star Wars will be perfectly fine. It's already proven to be pretty timeless. I wouldn't be surprised if at some point the movies are remade. I kinda want to be there when it happens.

Ciara Knight said...

I was so in love with the classic that it bothers me to watch the new versions. When a child learns every line to a movie, it is just wrong to change anything.

Nigel Mitchell said...

Pat, I agree. Lucas needs work

Nigel Mitchell said...

Thanks, Natasha, thought it was interesting

Nigel Mitchell said...

Anthony, I would like to see them remade. Without Lucas

Nigel Mitchell said...

Agreed on all counts, Alex

Nigel Mitchell said...

They could, Anthony, but I was approaching it from an analysis standpoint more than "good vs. bad."

Nigel Mitchell said...

You can make those arguments, Kerry. Was looking at it more as a analysis

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franky furbo said...

If he's gonna take the time to add in rocks in front of R2-D2, why not take the time to rotoscope out the mistake where R5-D4 reappears in the same shot as R2-D2 when only moments earlier R5-D4 blew his top because of a bad motivator?

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