The creative process is not some formula you can apply unilaterally with predictable results. All art starts, presumably, with an artist’s vision, something they want to achieve and probably present to the public. After the vision is defined, it’s anyone’s guess as to how the creator will realize that vision, but we can safely assume that, along the way, the artist will need to make compromises and changes based on available time or money. Or perhaps they are constrained by their own abilities. Perhaps, even, the artist is able to change their methods and tweak the original vision along the way to get a desired result. Seldom does a creation match exactly the original vision that birthed it. This is but one part of the crushing loneliness of being an artist, that they rarely if ever show the world exactly what’s bubbling in that wild brain of theirs, and so people understand only a faint example of what the artist was attempting to say.
Most artists move past their finished works and set their sights on greater, more immediate things they’d like to accomplish. Once in a great while an artist finds themselves in the enviable position to revisit their earliest output and give it the finishing touches that it deserves. And so is the case with producer/sometimes director/Hollywood Guy George Lucas, the man who birthed the Star Wars franchise way back in 1978. The original Star Wars, aka Star Wars: A New Hope was an incredibly ambitious project for its time, and Lucas’ special effects department revolutionized the industry with their innovative tricks and groundbreaking techniques. It filmed in various locations, famously at London’s massive Elstree Studios where Star Wars took up all six stages. The movie needed to be written and re-written continuously during production, and entire scenes were dropped in order to save time, money, or make a more cohesive plot. It was a gamble, financially for 20th Century Fox and professionally for George Lucas, one which ultimately paid off and resulted in roughly sixteen zillion sequels, spin-offs, and units of merchandising, and the Star Wars industry is more successful today than ever.
And still, those of us who grew up watching the original Star Wars trilogy in theaters only got a pale example of the artistic vision George Lucas was trying to execute. Thankfully, in every home release Lucas has had the luxury to go back and digitally fix the problems that plagued his original movies and made them less than they could be. For example, near the beginning of Star Wars: A New Hope, when Luke, Obi Wan, and the droids make their way into that bazaar on planet Tattooine, the original movie has the characters interacting with some Stormtroopers before making their way into the city proper and ultimately visiting the Cantina where they will meet and hire Han Solo and Chewbacca. In the revised edition, available since 1997, George Lucas had some extra monsters and Jawas digitally added to the scene to amplify the point that this place is fucking busy. So busy, in fact, that there are monsters lumbering around. This puts a whole new spin on the franchise, as far as I’m concerned! See, I knew that planet Tattooine was a remote trading outpost, largely a desolate wasteland save for a few repositories patronized by bounty hunters, used android salesmen, and scoundrels, where they could rest up and look for employment opportunities. What I didn’t realize until 1997 was that there were a lot of monsters there, too.
A little later on, in the Cantina, we meet Han Solo and Chewbacca. Obi Wan hires them to fly the Millennium Falcon into the wild black yonder, but before take off, Han is accosted by an agent of interstellar gangster Jabba the Hutt who demands some money that Han Solo left in his other pants. In the original version, Han Solo banters with the alien for a bit before firing his blaster under the table, rudely and permanently ending their discussion. This was important because, through the whole first movie, you’re not sure if Han Solo can be completely trusted, and this scene in the Cantina reinforces that mistrust since it portrays Han as someone who values money and his own safety over life or morality. Though it makes for more compelling conflict, this is clearly not what was intended by George Lucas, since he altered the film in 1997 so that Jabba’s agent Greedo fires first, forcing Han Solo to fire back in self-defense. It’s all so much clearer to me now, Han Solo is not an opportunistic, greedy smuggler/thug-for-hire, but an ethically pure individual who comes off a little bit coarse at times. His relationship with the Rebel Alliance wasn’t one built over time, strengthened by valorous incidences and proofs of his loyalty, no, Han Solo’s loyalty was a fait accompli the minute Obi Wan spoke to him in the crowded Cantina. Which, by the way, was digitally made even more crowded by George Lucas, also in 1997. Thank goodness! I initially thought the Cantina was a dangerous bar crowded with alien lifeforms that had mean dispositions. I know now that the Cantina was actually very crowded with alien lifeforms having mean dispositions.
Of course, this essay comes on the heels of the revelation that George Lucas has augmented one of the final scenes on the Blu-Ray release of Return of the Jedi, having dubbed James Earl Jones (as Darth Vader) screaming “Nooo!” as he tosses the Emperor over a railing in order to stop his son from being electrified. People are annoyed at this change, only the latest in a list of changes to the home-released versions of the franchise, because they feel that it affects the entire tone of this scene and alters the character Darth Vader as we know him. What these people need to understand is that the Darth Vader we knew is but a bastardized, incomplete version of the human-cyborg hybrid, one that was helplessly castrated by the constraints of movie-making in the 1980s. These movies that we love and grew up with aren’t ours, they belong to George Lucas, and no matter how popular they are and how much money they generate, we’re still only seeing a piece of the puzzle until Lucas can go back and restore his initial ideas to the original movies. Give the guy a break! The technology to overdub “Nooo!” in what is arguably the most important scene of the Star Wars series didn’t exist in 1983.