Aaron R. Davis
I’ve always found the epic, constant whining of Star Wars fans to be pretty empty and, very often, completely hilarious. I’ve gotten into fights with the hardcore fans for the dumbest reasons, like my opinion that Star Wars is fantasy and not science fiction (not a criticism of the films, by the way) or that Boba Fett sucks (he does). People will go to the mattresses over the dumbest things when it comes to these movies. Oh, and daring to like the prequels? You’d better believe that’s a verbal paddling.
In brief, here’s my history with Star Wars fandom.
I was less than a year old when Star Wars came out, so there’s no version of the world where I wasn’t a fan of these movies. My childhood was dominated by them. And then, after Return of the Jedi was re-released in 1985, that fandom started to cool down. Most of us moved on to other stuff. Our action figures, sadly, were sold by our mothers at garage sales while we were out of town. The merchandising pretty much ceased, George Lucas moved on to making other movies and we began to let go of this legendary idea that there would eventually be nine Star Wars movies.
Star Wars fandom, for the most part, was kind of dead until George Lucas got divorced in 1987 and had to give up most of his money. Then he set the merchandising empire in motion again, beginning with a boxed VHS set of the movies for the very first time. I got it for Christmas in 1990 and was hugely excited. A lot of people were. It reignited Star Wars fandom, and soon new action figures were coming out, the Expanded Universe novels were on a regular schedule and Star Wars hit laserdisc.
But it was about this time that a lot of articles started to appear that were mainly Star Wars fans bitching about how much they hated Return of the Jedi. Apparently people who were my age — and I turned 18 in 1994 — were now claiming that, back when they were seven, they were somehow insulted by the presence of Ewoks in a series of fun kiddie movies that they were starting to take far, far too seriously. Even before the Special Editions came out, there was a very loud contingent of fans for whom loving Star Wars meant hating Star Wars. And with the release of prequels, TV shows and more and more merchandise — and, let’s be honest, the further these people get from a childhood they don’t want to share with kids who weren’t there when we had to wait three years to see what happened after Vader told Luke the truth about his parentage — that hate gets louder, sadder and much, much emptier.
What sparks my column this week is a post on an LA Times blog that has brought a lot of this anger into discussion. It’s partially an interview with Gary Kurtz, the producer of Star Wars and The Empire Strikes Back, who has always felt that the emphasis on toys and merchandising took away the integrity of the Star Wars movies. He actually does have some interesting things to say about the films, but where I find the usual hollowness is in the fans bringing a lot of the old saws to the comments and onto their own blogs.
The biggest complaint that gets brought up is the toys, particularly the Ewoks. The old song goes that George Lucas originally wanted to have Wookies in Return of the Jedi, but that he changed it to Ewoks in order to sell teddy bears. It used to be just an interesting factoid that Lucas originally had Wookies in mind; now the whole accusatory edge of it just makes me laugh. We’re talking about a man who had made Wookies the star of an embarrassingly awful holiday special here. Do fans really, really think that George Lucas wouldn’t have just been selling plush Wookies instead of plush Ewoks? Is this the battle of integrity you really want to have?
This is why I think the bitching is just empty noise. Fans are still going to buy Star Wars merchandise, no matter how angry they get with George Lucas for creating Ewoks or Gungans or Special Editions. Fans will go as far to create a documentary called The People vs. George Lucas, a monument to the epic whining of not liking a decade-old movie that they went to see multiple times, but who cares? You saw the movie, George Lucas made the money, it’s over and done with. Your whining doesn’t change anything.
It’s this simple: didn’t like the Special Editions? Don’t watch them. Didn’t like the Ewoks? I don’t care; being a crybaby about space teddy bears for 27 years doesn’t make George Lucas look like the guy with the problem. Don’t like the Prequel Trilogy? Ignore it. The Star Wars canon has apparently grown vast enough that you don’t have to like every single aspect of it. Hell, I don’t. I think Boba Fett sucks; he doesn’t do dick in the movies and he dies like a punk. But I don’t spend my online time sobbing like an immature twat over it. I shrug and focus on the aspects I do like.
The other complaint that’s getting brought up again is when — when, Lord?! — the original, unaltered films are going to be remastered for DVD. That people are still asking this question is proof that no one is paying attention to anything but their hurt feelings. The answer is never.
If you remember, when George Lucas decided to remaster and recreate the “definitive” versions of his movies, he did so by cutting into and altering the original film negatives. The original release versions no longer exist. Not that they ever existed, really. Hell, the original release version didn’t say “Episode IV: A New Hope.” That was added after the release of The Empire Strikes Back. George Lucas has been altering and re-editing these movies since day one.
Look around online and you can find sites dedicated to pointing out the differences between the various releases and re-releases of the original movies, their multiple appearances on VHS and their subsequent turns on DVD. Even The Phantom Menace noticeably had scenes added when it first showed up on DVD. Lucas has been tinkering with these things for decades. So, when the so-called “unaltered versions” appeared on DVD a couple of years ago, and everyone complained that the transfer was from a non-anamorphic 1993 laserdisc, that’s because it’s the best you’re going to get. Quit whining that George Lucas won’t remaster the original versions for Blu-Ray, because the masters don’t exist anymore. They’ve been Special Editioned.
But this is where I find the complaints completely hollow: it’s not like these people are going to just stop being Star Wars fans. And they’re not going to stop buying Star Wars merchandise. In the minds of far, far too many people, Star Wars is something they’ve got to hold onto very tightly in order to protect it from its own creator. So, in this twisted duality they have with a man whom they’ve never met but who, nevertheless, controls a lot of their mental space, they have to keep complaining in order to make sure the world knows that they are much better stewards of an imagined universe that only exists because George Lucas took the time to create it.
Ask yourselves: would you be happier if he had never bothered at all?
And: what’s the point of being a fan of something that clearly drives you nuts?
This is all coming at the same time as the big gathering for Star Wars Celebration V, where Lucasfilm premiered a short clip of a deleted scene from Return of the Jedi that, apparently, will end up on the Blu-Ray. The clip going around YouTube shows massive applause throughout. So, really, you guys can bitch all you want, but George Lucas has just offered you a 47-second incentive to buy these movies again, and we all know you’re going to take it.
You bought the VHS boxed set in 1990. You bought the THX-remastered widescreen versions in 1995. Maybe you bought the laserdiscs in 1993. As much as you bitched about the Special Editions, you bought them on VHS in 1998. You bought the trilogy DVD set with the extra disc of documentaries in 2004. You bought the original trilogy again in 2006 because it had the original versions as DVD extras, even though they were laserdisc transfers. And now you’re going to buy them again on Blu-Ray. And mark my words, there will be changes. George Lucas has already said that he’s going to take the puppet Yoda out of The Phantom Menace and replace him with the CGI model used in Revenge of the Sith. So there will most likely be changes made to the original trilogy, his work in perpetual progress, when it hits Blu-Ray. Be prepared.
But whenever they come out, you’re going to buy them. You are. Because you can’t quit your abusive relationship with Star Wars.
You have no credibility when you’re angry about Star Wars toys, because you keep buying Star Wars toys. You have no steady ground when you question George Lucas’ integrity as a filmmaker, because you consistently (and vocally) refused to support his career when he was making anything other than Star Wars or Indiana Jones.
And until you stop buying the movies over and over, I refuse to take your complaints about them seriously.
Aaron R. Davis lives in a cave at the bottom of the ocean with his eyes shut tight and his fingers in his ears. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.