Like most Star Wars fans there are things about the Special Editions and the Special Special Editions that I don’t like. However there are a few that I do, like the Jabba scene finally getting back into the first movie, whether Greedo and Han Solo’s conversation said it all or not. And yes, I don’t like the Greedo shooting first part. However, a recent documentary has allowed me to better understand why George Lucas created them and why he felt the need to meddle with his own movie, as well as why I think he was wrong. As a fan I disagree with it but as a storyteller I understand it.
Yesterday SF Debris completed his own trilogy, collecting behind the scenes information about the history of Star Wars and George Lucas’ legacy. Hero’s Journey covered the first movie, Shadow’s Journey covered the rest of the first trilogy and what it ultimately cost Lucas, and the more recent Hermit’s Journey followed the prequels and the Special Editions as well as the spin-off material. You really need to see these to fully understand what Lucas was thinking when he was creating this franchise. It’s the last one where I really understood why he made the Special Editions, from the perspective of the creator (although I chose writing over film making). The question is…was he really wrong?
What drove George Lucas as a storyteller? He had a vision and he wanted to see it realized. Throughout the three documentaries you saw that what drove him most were his visions as a creative and creator. He had a vision for the original Star Wars but was limited by the technology. So he created new technologies via Industrial Light And Magic, which is still one of the go-to special effects studios decades later. He did the same with each successive movie, pushing the limits of what existed and finding people who could create what didn’t. And even then there were things he couldn’t do, like the scene where Jabba is waiting for Han at the Millennium Falcon docking bay. (By the way someone once said that the Greedo scene was added because they couldn’t do the Jabba scene, but the stand-in does mention Han shooting Greedo so at best some dialog was added.) For all that ILM could accomplish the technology still wasn’t there. He wanted more creatures on Tatooine, a better look to the climatic space battle between the Rebel and Imperial fighters, and there were still too many limitations with all he accomplished to achieve that vision.
Charles Sonnenberg also notes that at the same time Lucas was pushing to better use new technologies to expand how a creator could get his or her vision out there. Skywalker Ranch was supposed to be a place for filmmakers to gather and have access to the new toys while bouncing ideas off of each other. He used the prequels to push digital camerawork despite pushback from other directors who still believed only film could properly capture a movie. And like it or hate it greenscreen and virtual mattes do allow for more bang for your dollar, although too many directors overuse CG when practical effects would have sufficed. (Sonneberg even shows that some practical effects were used–like when the Jedi carve up the battle droids in the opening fight in The Phantom Menace or there were stand-ins besides a tennis ball. There is actually a Jar-Jar costume that Ahmed Best wore, complete with a fake head at the right level for the actors to look at when acting.)
As fans we only see and marvel at the results. Star Wars was a product of its time, and the sequels and prequels were no different. But as times changed so did Lucas’ vision. Replacing the actor playing adult Anakin Skywalker, Sebastian Shaw when the helmet was removed, with Hayden Christensen was his way of bringing the old movies more in-line with the prequels, further bringing the entire story of Darth Vader full circle. And more importantly the technologies were finally there for him to bring the visions he had to life…although at some point he went overboard from his original intentions like a kid with a new toy.
I think the reason fans fought back against many of the changes besides being what we grew up with and already enjoyed was that for the time period Star Wars was so groundbreaking. Han shooting Greedo first made sense on a number of levels (primarily self-defense and part of Han’s growth from scoundrel to war hero; Lucas made the change because he thought Han looked like a murderer when he’s supposed to be one of the heroes even though Greedo was trying to kill him anyway), the effects still mostly hold up, and for cinephiles it is interesting to see how far the effects came. For fans it feels like a sin to change what worked.
Linkara recently posted a list of his favorite episodes of Atop The Fourth Wall. In the video he notes that he hates his earlier videos because he has improved so much. BW Virtual Mentor Jerzy Drozd has said that for a comic creator to spend time redoing old stories because their art has improved or their storytelling has gotten better to the point that they hate their old stuff means less time creating new stories. I look back at early Jake & Leon comics and see how far I’ve come, or the earlier BW Video Reviews and see what I could have done with what I was working with at the time. I find it interesting to see how far I’ve come, which is why I’ve discussed comics I made in my teens during Art Soundoff despite never posting them and probably never will, especially one comic in particular where I hate what I did in it. In a similar vein issue #2 of Captain Yuletide was rushed and I don’t like how it came out (which is why despite being late I’m trying to make sure #4 is done right) and there’s that image for the Reconstruction Zone image of Batman that I want to re-draw because in both cases they don’t match what I could do at the time I made them. I probably won’t touch Captain Yuletide #2 because I have more stories to tell, but I still want to redo Reconstruction Batman.
But where we the fans are fascinated with what could be done at the time when the boundaries are pushed and redefined, Lucas was more interested in the final product and only created those technologies because of that vision. It’s that same “addiction” to his creative vision that led to his first marriage breaking up since he was so busy with the sequels (despite trying to distance himself) and using those proceeds to help create his other vision, namely Skywalker Ranch, that they grew apart and she ended up running off with the man who helped build the place while Lucas was working on the sequels. That reality check caused him to make more time for the family he had left after Return Of The Jedi was done, namely his daughters. The prequels followed a different vision, while Disney outright tossed out his vision for the current trilogy in favor of what J.J. Abrams would later come up with. Lucas was driven by the story and the visuals, and that drive often came back to hurt him either due to not acknowledging his limitations or working to create his dream without considering the consequences, although there were also great rewards.
This is not a defense of the Special Editions or the prequels, nor is it a condemnation of them. This is simply realizing that as important as your creative vision is sometimes you have to accept what you could do at the time, perhaps even embrace it, and work within it. I already mentioned my problem with Greedo shooting first and how it interfered with Han’s character growth. While I understand wanting to connect with the new narrative that Anakin was some kind of fallen “chosen one” and his redemption, I don’t think it benefited Anakin, and may have even weakened Darth Vader as a villain to some extent, although he’s still one of fiction’s best villains. I’d even wager that Vader’s badass moment in Rogue One was meant to solidify that status. Replacing adult Anakin with pre-fallen Anakin from a story perspective doesn’t work for me either, because “Hayden” represents Anakin as he slipped to the Dark Side and fell from grace as a young man while “Sebastian” represented the repentant Anakin as he was redeemed back into the light side as an older man.
Were the Special Editions and the tweaked Specials bad? You really have to go scene by scene and nitpick some changes and additions while others were unnecessary, but only a small fraction actually damaged the narrative. And yet there were some that benefited either the visuals or the story but maybe shows a disinterest in the process that fans have embraced. There are parts I wouldn’t have changed and others I welcome. My point in bringing this up, besides pointing you to SF Debris’ excellent documentary, is that the “breathing narrative” that can be changed to suit how the story has progressed may or may not be a bad thing, but the end goal was for Lucas to create the narrative he always wanted to and saw in his head. His goal was to create the best story he could and bring his dream to life. I can’t fault him for that, even if I can fault the results we got. And considering the mixed reviews I’ve heard (although I’ve been ducking all the spoilers I can so we don’t have a repeat of Han from The Force Awakens being ruined for me) we might not be better off. I’ll find out if I ever get to see The Last Jedi but I still would like to see what Lucas had planned for the third trilogy. After all this was his creation and as a creator myself as well as a fan of that creation there’s a certain excitement in seeing a vision come to life, even if I don’t care for the creation.
I do love what George Lucas created back in the 1970s. So what he planned for his baby is more interesting than what people building on the universe he envisioned come up with for the same reason I wish that intended change to Superman Jerry Siegel planned had happened and why I hate seeing creators removed from their creations. It’s his dream; anyone that comes after is just playing with it.