by Bob Grimm
Many a Star Wars geek has been screaming in Internet chat rooms, refusing to pony up for the long-awaited DVD release of the original trilogy, because of all the alleged changes George Lucas has made. For purists, the recently released, four-disc edition of the films is pretty much a nightmare, consisting of major visual and even performance alterations that "massacre" the original.
I consider myself a hardcore Star Wars geek, and while some of the changes might irk me, some of them, including the controversial insertion of Hayden Christensen as a spirit ghost alongside Yoda and Obi Wan at the end of Return of the Jedi, make sense and are perfectly acceptable.
Right now, seeing Christensen's smirk next to a smiling Alec Guinness is a bit shocking, but when the current trilogy completes with next May's Revenge of the Sith, it might actually be quite heartwarming and welcome. Still, to truly make the change work, you would have to have a more aghast reaction from Mark Hamill, who is seeing a vision of his young and charmingly handsome pop for the first time (as it is, the original and somewhat bemused reaction shot of Hamill remains). The jury is out on this change until next year.
Lucas has publicly refused to release the original, untouched trilogy on DVD, and fans (for now) will have to settle for the 1997 special editions, which include enhanced visuals during some of the space fights, a scene in Star Wars between Han Solo and Jabba the Hut and Solo no longer shooting Greedo first in the cantina. (In a further update to the '97 version, Han and Greedo now shoot at the same time. Still lame.) My argument with Star Wars remains this: The films, including Jedi, are so good that their flaws are inconsequential. Even with the tinkering, they remain classics.
I accept the goofy Ewoks in Jedi, because the film has what remains the most rousing space battle sequence ever put to screen (not to mention the Princess Leia bikini). Lucas hasn't screwed with the films enough to truly hurt them, even if some of the changes don't better the experience. Someday down the road, Lucas might oblige the fans and release the original works unscathed. Until then, take good care of those VHS copies, but don't deprive yourself the joy of seeing these movies in full DVD glory. As a purist, you might hate yourself for indulging, but as soon as that Star Wars logo gets sucked back into space, you stand a good chance of being hooked.
Like the Indiana Jones Trilogy, special features are included on a fourth disc, and they are ecstatically good. Empire of Dreams, a documentary that reveals many secrets behind the trilogy's production, is a must-have. In fact, purists who can't handle the idea of watching the "altered" films would be advised to get hold of this set just for Dreams. Among the delights: the sight of Kurt Russell and William Katt (the Greatest American Hero) trying out for Han and Luke respectively, and Cindy Williams (of Laverne and Shirley) reading for Leia. Somewhat patchy yet informative commentaries by Lucas and company for each of the films are worth ingesting, although Lucas shies away from explaining some of his major changes. Most amazing is a preview of Sith, which shows Hayden Christensen getting into his Darth Vader costume. All Star Wars geeks, repeat after me: "Oh boy!"
Publication date: 10/07/04