Undoubtedly the most notorious of these new additions has been to the scene outlined above, in which Darth Vader finally redeems himself by rescuing his son from Emperor Palpatine’s electric fury, mortally wounding himself in the process. It is a truly gripping scene, and while arguably melodramatic it is commendable for its tension and cathartic quality, as Anakin Skywalker returns just in time to save his offspring from a torturous demise, only to perish himself as a result. A huge aspect of the tension is created by the camera’s focus on the black, distinctive mask of Vader as he silently watches Luke in agony, his inner turmoil almost visible despite the absence of facial expressions. Even when Vader springs into action, hoisting Palpatine into the air and dropping him off the gantry into the reactor core of the (fully operational) Death Star, he utters not a word.
Lucas, however, clearly felt that this physical act of redemption was not quite conspicuous enough and resolved to add some helpful dialogue to this as yet untouched scene in Return of the Jedi. Not just any old lines though, but a variant of arguably the most hated piece of Star Wars dialogue since Jar Jar Binks first used the word “mesa”.
So, as is the norm with each new edition, the Blu-Ray release of the Star Wars saga features more changes and additions to special effects, audio, character actions and dialogue, leaving them an even further cry from their original cuts. This kind of seemingly uncalled for, radical revision remains relatively unequalled in any film or series, and for this reason it is worth asking: “Why, George?”
There has never been any indication that George Lucas ever lacked creative control on Star Wars, and thus wouldn’t have been able to bring his true vision to life until now. This was an issue that led to a couple of the various cuts of Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner coming into existence (namely the ‘Director’s Cut’ and 2007’s promisingly definite ‘Final Cut’).
There has, to my own knowledge at least, never been any significant fan pressure on Lucas to add to or improve the quality of the films so beloved by millions. Quite the contrary in fact – the online chatter alone regarding these new changes (particularly ‘NOOOgate’) is representative of the alarming negativity surrounding what should be an exciting HD release for fans to anticipate.
The most plausible explanation to these repeated revamps is also the most simple – technology. Lucas completed the original trilogy in 1983, and while his production budgets on The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi were significantly higher than on his original feature, there were still significant limits (by modern standards) on the special effects capabilities of his pioneering Industrial Light and Magic company. As computer technology has leapt forward at a rapid pace, as has Lucas’ desire to implement more CG alterations to his phenomenal space opera.
It is often said that a great artist knows when to put down the paintbrush and walk away from the canvas. Many will feel that George Lucas’ time to do so was in 1983. Others may even settle for 1997 (Special Edition on VHS). All that has followed has generally been deemed unnecessary and unwelcome – even the existence of the prequels is a thorn in the side to some. Greedo shooting first, the ‘Jedi Rocks’ musical number and Hayden Christensen’s addition to the conclusion of Episode VI are high-profile special edition controversies that have left Lucas’ position of reverence amongst fans in some dispute.
Could we see other globally adored cinematic greats re-mastered, revamped and upgraded to the same degree? Will the likes of Lord of the Rings ever need a touch-up? Is it a matter of time before Christopher Nolan returns to tweak his thrilling Batman trilogy? The chances are extremely slim, it must be said. As a director Lucas has failed to move on from Star Wars, and it seems he still refuses to let go.
Changing, removing and adding dialogue to the iconic scripts boggles the mind, and while the CG additions to the original trilogy may make them more visually in keeping with modern sci-fi and the prequels, fans never demanded that of them. Cinema-goers were thrilled by the effects achieved at the time, but it was the characters they fell in love with. The relentless addition of digital effects and computer generated visuals have left them (to paraphrase old Ben Kenobi) more machine than man.