A while ago, I wrote this piece, in reference to George Lucas’ continued editorial meddling in home releases of Star Wars movies. At the time, I was kind of jocular about it, because, honestly, I don’t give a shit. I like the original Star Wars series, but I’m not hysterical over it. I never owned any of the toys, never considered following up on the expanded universe through novels and comic books, and though I did have a set of Star Wars bedsheets as a kid, I am fairly certain that these were requested by my brother, and not me–particularly since I was unaware that linens were something to be purchased. I figured the Fitted Sheet Fairy brought them or something.
About a year after the original Star Wars trilogy was released on DVD, I purchased it used from Academy Records on 17th Street. I had no plans to watch them right away, I merely wanted to own the movies in this format just in case I felt like popping them on. I was aware that Lucas had made changes to the movies–some slight, others major–and I didn’t really care. I mean, these are just stupid movies about space dudes in cloaks and giant bears wearing bandoliers waving around flashlights. I read a lot of the online vitriol against Lucas with a kind of bemusement, shaking my head at the poor souls who had invested so much of themselves into this silliness. So Greedo shoots before Han Solo. So Lucas added a bunch of cgi shit to Cloud City. So what? It’s not like the basic plot of the story is any more or less stupid than before. Star Wars is a space fairy tale, a story of wonder and whimsy and weird incestual overtones and maybe some religious dogma.
A few weeks ago, my girlfriend asked to watch the Star Wars series. I hadn’t sat through the trilogy in many years, and I was curious to know just what George Lucas had changed from the originals, so we started watching them. Immediately, I was entertained by the small and large changes to these movies. For one thing, the graphics and sound were definitely enhanced from what I remember. But I was more tickled by the incongruous cgi characters hanging around with crude puppets, extra scenes of worthlessness that didn’t pertain to the story, and obnoxiously overdone explosions which stripped the original works of their charm. All the while, I chuckled inwardly at the fans whose childhoods were ruined by these augmentations, as if one should be proud that their childhood is based on a blockbuster space movie in which Carrie Fisher adopts an awful British accent. Then, we got to the final movie, Return of the Jedi.
My relationship to Return of the Jedi is a strange one, to say the least. I wasn’t old enough to see the original Star Wars in theaters, but I did see Empire Strikes Back when I was about five or six. I was too young to understand the plot, and took away from the film a fear of Darth Vader and a love of Yoda. I was eight or nine when Return of the Jedi came out, and not only did I understand the plot, but I loved the movie: I loved the space battles, I loved the creepy Emperor, and yes, I loved the Ewoks. They were pretty much targeted to my age group, so it was difficult not to. It wasn’t until years later, when I would obsessively watch the trilogy on VHS with my college roommate, that I came to understand how Return of the Jedi is kind of a let-down in the series. It’s basically a big-budget remake of the original Star Wars, with Ewoks (who were initially supposed to be Wookies) patched in to pander to eight and nine year-olds. Still, it was the most technically proficient of the three movies, and though it doesn’t stand alone as a great work, it closes out the story as we know it rather nicely. It’s always held a special place in my heart, as “my” Star Wars movie, far removed from the Disco-era’s shitty spaceship models and poorly-done mattes which are hallmarks of the other two films.
So I naively thought that Lucas wouldn’t fool around with Return of the Jedi. What’s to update? By the time that movie came out, Star Wars was a multi-million dollar property and the movies’ formula had been exacted. Sure, there might be some technical changes, but by and large I considered it a perfect movie for the genre, one which was both ageless as well as a contextual piece for the Reagan era. How wrong I was. Due to my familiarity with the movie, I was able to pick out the alterations immediately: a horrible cgi scene in Jabba the Hutt’s compound where a bipedal, female fish sings a song about Jedis as Jabba’s concubine is playfully dragged to her death. Ugly-looking tentacles issuing from the toothy sand pussy meant to end the lives of Han Solo, Chewbacca, and Luke Skywalker. Every few minutes, there seemed to be another pointless addition to the movie, which either detracted from the tension and pacing of the original or padded out the film with useless footage. I found it all generally annoying, but it was nothing to get angry over. These are movies for kids, and as the theatrical version of Return of the Jedi pandered to my grade school self, so too should the DVD re-releases pander to eight and nine year-olds today. Maybe they want to see their sand pussies with beaks and tentacles, how would I know? The point of that scene wasn’t diminished, just its impact, which is sad but not unexpected from a champion of mediocrity like George Lucas. Still, I had to laugh at those who feel the home releases of these movies are “ruined.” Every change Lucas made to the movies made sense in terms of continuity with the newer trilogy, as well as technological advances and George Lucas’ softer sensibilities.
And then we got to the end of Return of the Jedi.
I can only assume you’ve seen these Star Wars movies, otherwise there’s no reason to have read this much of my essay. But to refresh those who may not have seen it in years, the end of Return of the Jedi depicts an Ewok celebration on their home planet of Endor (or one of Endor’s moons, I forget which) after Darth Vader and the Emperor have been killed and the Death Star blown up. During the celebration, Luke sees the ghostly images of Obi-Wan Kenobi, Yoda, and his father before he went all black robot suit, smiling warmly at Luke as if to say, “Good job, bud.” There’s a song that plays at the end, a much lauded or hated song, depending on individual opinion. It’s kind of an Ewok chant that supports the action on-screen of Ewoks doing somersaults and dancing around in their stiff, costumed manner. In fact, here it is:
Well, they fucking changed the song in the DVD release!
Upon seeing this, I crossed over from the Light Side to the Dark Side of Star Wars fandom, from chortling at the whining pleas of those who would dress as Storm Troopers to joining their angry ranks, gathered at comic conventions, calling for the head of George Lucas. Why did you change this song? Why? Not only does it make the Ewoks’ scenes of celebration seem bizarre and out of sync, over the mild dirge that replaces the happy and annoying Ewok song, it also completely changes the end of Return of the Jedi from triumph to contemplative confusion. I’m not even mad at the stupid cgi scenes of interplanetary peace, though they look imported from another movie entirely. I’m okay with changing the original actor that played Darth Vader’s human ghost to the brooding dude from Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith. That was all for continuity with the newer trilogy. But why change that final song?
Because, ladies and gentlemen, George Lucas is worse than ten Hitlers combined. Fuck him.