Fans feel the Force
In the most anticipated DVD box set of all time, Greedo fires first.
And as fans and retailers alike can tell you, there are no insignificant details when it comes to George Lucas’ beloved Star Wars trilogy, which finally arrives on DVD in a four-disc collection on Sept. 21.
Greedo, as you may recall, was Jabba The Hutt’s bug-eyed henchman — the one who Han Solo (Harrison Ford) fries in that alien bar on Tattooine.
In the original 1977 film, Solo fired first.
By the time Lucas revisited the trilogy for its 1997 theatrical re-release, the director had decided Solo shouldn’t be that cold-blooded and gave the scene a digital facelift with Greedo firing first and Solo reacting in self-defense. It was just one change Lucas made to the trilogy — much to the dismay of purists — but, as the DVD editions screened by the Sun reveals, it was far from the last.
Most notably, the legendary director has added Canadian Hayden Christensen to the final moments of 1983’s Return of the Jedi.
Christensen — who plays (future Darth Vader) Anakin Skywalker in Episodes 2 and 3 — turns up as Skywalker’s ghostly spectre, alongside Alec Guinness’ Obi-Wan Kenobi and Jedi master Yoda.
In the original film, it was Sebastian Shaw who appears as Vader’s redeemed alter-ego. (Lucas didn’t go so far, thankfully, to erase all traces of Shaw — the actor’s death scene as the man behind Vader’s mask remains unscathed.)
In the feature-length audio commentary, Lucas vaguely addresses the issue, explaining Anakin learned — as did Obi-Wan and Yoda — to retain his “original identity” — before he was resurrected as the black-masked master of evil (a sequence that will likely cap off next year’s Episode 3: Revenge of the Sith.)
Other additions Lucas has made to the trilogy? Replacing the fleeting image of the Emperor seen in The Empire Strikes Back with Ian McDiarmid (who portrayed the dark overseer in Jedi as well as in the prequels), and adding the planet Naboo — from The Phantom Menace — to Jedi’s finale.
Naturally, the tinkering has fans appalled all over again. On the website Aint-It-Cool-News, head geek Harry Knowles recently griped about the revisions, complaining Lucas has “polished his diamond into dust” by mucking with it so many times.
Perhaps — but the director isn’t listening.
Lucasfilm spokespeople continue to adhere to the official line — that the director is merely using the digital tools he didn’t have in the ’70s to make the trilogy more like what he originally envisioned. For his part, Lucas, in his commentary, praises technological advances, referring to the era of rubber aliens and plastic models as “the old days.”
In other words, don’t expect the original theatrical films on DVD anytime soon — purists will have to make do with the 1995 video cassette editions if they want to see the trilogy un-doctored. One thing both Lucas and his detractors are likely to agree on is the trilogy has never looked as good as it does on DVD.
Lucas’ technicians painstakingly cleaned up the original negatives frame by frame, removing the usual dirt, scratches and scrapes that come with time, along with any still-visible seams in the special effects.
In addition to Lucas’ audio commentary, the movies — collected in three discs — include commentaries by sound designer Ben Burtt, effects wizard Dennis Muran and Princess Leia herself, Carrie Fisher.
(Reflecting on the “iron bikini” she wore in Return of the Jedi, Fisher wisecracks she thought it was just Lucas’ way of getting her to exercise.)
The fourth disc offers all the extras fans might expect — more than four hours of footage and featurettes, the centrepiece of which is Empire of Dreams, a 21/2-hour documentary that tracks the saga’s origins (Lucas wanted to pay homage to the 1930s adventure serials he had grown up with as a kid) to its iconic status as modern-day mythology. Unfortunately Empire of Dreams also spirals into abject corporate infommercial by the end.
Of course, that a nearly-30-year-old trio of films can still generate this much attention — and devotion — goes to show how much a cultural and financial Force this space opera remains. No wonder the release of the films on DVD (with a pricetag of around $60) is considered a seismic event, expected to take its place among the top-selling DVDs of all time. (It has been No. 1 on Amazon.com’s best-seller lists in the U.S., Canada, Germany and the U.K. for months.) So with the trilogy on DVD at last and production on Episode 3 set for release in less than a year, is this really it for the saga set in a galaxy far, far away?
Don’t count on it — the Internet, that bastion of wannabe Jedis and bounty hunters, has been rife with rumours for months that the filmmaker and multimedia mogul intends to again revisit the six movies sometime in the future with an “Ultimate Special This-Is-Really-It Edition” — would you expect any less from the man who released the original films twice on VHS in almost as many years in the mid-1990s?
As well, reports (or perhaps the wishful thinking of a few fans) have been circulating that Lucas is mulling shooting three sequels to the original trilogy — Episodes 7, 8 and 9.
(This would be in keeping with his original vision of nine films, the last three of which would feature an elderly Luke Skywalker mentoring an apprentice. Even 20 years ago, Mark Hamill was telling interviewers that Lucas had approached him with this concept.)
Naturally, Lucasfilm representatives have shot down any talk of Star Wars sequels — and you have to wonder, considering how Lucas refers to the films as a “day-to-day struggle,” if he’d ever want to make more.
Then again, as with all things Star Wars, only Lucas — and Yoda — know for sure.
For many fans, a DVD set isn’t about the movies, but the extras. The Star Wars Trilogy boasts more than four hours of bonus features — enough to satiate even the most fervent of followers:
* Among the numerous trailers and TV spots on the DVD is the Revenge of the Jedi preview that debuted in 1982. (Lucas later decided revenge was something the noble Jedi Knights would never seek and retitled the final chapter Return of the Jedi.)
* Episode III Behind the Scenes Preview: The Return of Darth Vader reveals behind-the-scenes footage of the lightsabre battle between Anakin Skywalker and Obi-Wan Kenobi. No, not the one in A New Hope in which Obi-Wan dies — but the one that is the cornerstone of next May’s Episode III: Revenge of the Sith. Actors Hayden Christensen and Ewan McGregor are shown trading lightsabre blows and choreographing the showdown fans have waited more than 20 years to see. Also included: the creation of Vader’s new helmet and the moment in which Christensen dons the famed black garb — especially tailored for the Canadian actor — for Episode III’s climactic moments.
* Kurt Russell as Han Solo? William Katt (The Greatest American Hero) as Luke Skywalker? Laverne & Shirley’s Cindy Williams as Princess Leia? As unlikely as this sounds, it could have happened. Screentests included in the documentary The Characters of Star Wars have the actors reading for the roles that would ultimately go to Harrison Ford, Mark Hamill and Carrie Fisher. Before he was even casting actors, though, Lucas was trying to figure out who his characters were. In early scripts, he had a hero named Luke Starkiller (who was also an old general) and a giant green alien named Han Solo.
* Other features include a documentary devoted to the creation of the lightsabre and love-in with Peter Jackson (Lord of the Rings), James Cameron (Titanic) and Ridley Scott (Alien), who explain how Star Wars shaped their careers.
A long time ago in a Hollywood far away …
* George Lucas based Chewbacca on his dog Indiana, a malamute that was also the inspiration for Indiana Jones.
* Lucas wrote an original treatment called The Star Wars in 1973.
* The opening crawl for Star Wars says it’s Episode IV: A New Hope. But that was not in the original 1977 prints. It was added for the film’s theatrical re-release in 1981.
* Every studio in Hollywood turned Lucas down. Fox boss Alan Ladd Jr. finally agreed to make the movie only because he liked Lucas’ American Graffiti. During clashes with Fox, Ladd would lose his job. As a result, Lucas took his next project Raiders of the Lost Ark to Paramount.
* When Darth Vader tells Luke that he is his father, actor Mark Hamill didn’t know about the plot twist until just before the scene was shot.
* Industrial Light and Magic completed more than 900 F/X shots for Return of the Jedi, nearly three times the number created for the original film.
* Lucas made his fortune because he convinced Fox to agree to give him the merchandising and sequel rights for a nominal fee.
Fans feel the Force