by Rob DiCristino
One of the defining aspects of Star Wars fandom is the eternal longing for clean, legal, HD editions of the unaltered Classic Trilogy. George Lucas has been tinkering with his magnum opus since the 1981 re-release of Star Wars (1977), when he added “EPISODE IV: A NEW HOPE” to the head of the opening crawl, and that tinkering has continued through each theatrical and home release of the series, including its recent upload to the Disney+ streaming service. All ten (then) available live-action films in the saga were given their latest round of color corrections and optical tweaks, tweaks that are likely to continue until long after we’re around to notice them. The truth is that we’ll never get those unaltered editions because Star Wars has gone beyond cinematic exercise. It’s gone beyond a production originating from a time or place. It’s now a cultural touchstone that will continue to evolve as an arbiter of our collective mythology. If Lucas has his way, it will never be stagnant or sacred. He’s not romantic about his creation. In fact, after selling Lucasfilm to Disney in 2012, he criticized the Mouse’s uninspired approach to 2015’s The Force Awakens: “There weren’t enough visual or technical leaps forward,” Lucas said. “There’s nothing new.”
And who am I to argue? First turned onto the trilogy during its 1997 Special Edition theatrical release, I had no frame of reference for the films in their original form. I grew up with CGI Jabba the Hutt, with the “improved” digital dogfight footage, and with the alternate celebration song at the end of Return of the Jedi. Hell, I didn’t hear Jedi’s original song (“Yub Nub”) until high school, and I maintain that the Special Edition song is actually much more solemn and weighted, much better suited for the climax’s tone. It wasn’t until the 2004 DVD re-releases that I began to buck against another round of changes — Lucas’ desire to integrate the Classic Trilogy with his new prequels led to (among other capital offenses) Gungans and Hayden Christensen creeping into Return of the Jedi. That, to me, was too far. “The prequels are fine,” I thought, oblivious to my own lack of historical perspective, “but leave my originals alone!” I was feeling what many original Star Wars fans were probably feeling in 1997: Why mess with something that means so much to so many people?
The Last Jedi. For the first time, I have a real historical appreciation for the films that defined my childhood.