The Most Evil Man in America

The story of George Lucas's fall to the Dark Side
August 16, 2010
On May 25, 1977, George Lucas made history and didn't even know it. His film, Star Wars, had just opened in America, and he and best friend, Steven Speilberg were sitting on a beach in Hawaii. The movie ran over schedule, over budget, faced constant studio interference, had hospitalized Lucas for exhaustion, and had its release pushed back from its coveted Christmas release date to Memorial Day weekend. In 1977, a summer release was not what it is today. The summer blockbuster did not exist.

George Lucas and his beach buddy Steven Speilberg changed that.

Star Wars shocked everyone, including Lucas himself, when it turned out to be the biggest movie of all time. Two sequels were made, The Empire Strikes Back in 1980 and The Return of the Jedi in 1983. Lucas self financed the sequels and owned the films outright, only using 20th Century Fox to distribute theatrically. He did not direct the sequels, instead he acted as a producer. The directors were essentially hired guns. It was still Lucas's show.

Lucas made millions of dollars off of the films and even more off merchandising. His flicks had a cult following while achieving mainstream success, something that never happens in Hollywood even to this day.

Lucas would not direct a film again until 1999. Instead he spent the 1980s and a majority of the 1990s acting as a producer and making breakthroughs in the realm of special effects via his company Industrial Light and Magic (ILM). His credits for this period include the highly successful Indiana Jones trilogy, as well as the box office bomb Howard the Duck. He was worshiped by fanboys and considered a pioneer in the science fiction genre.

This all changed in 1997.

In lieu of Star Wars' twentieth anniversary, Lucas announced the films would be re-released to theaters, with brand new film prints, as well as a new state of the art soundtrack. This would give those who had only experienced the films on cable, video and laserdisc, the chance to see the films on the big screen in a community setting, the way it was supposed to be seen. Lucas was also branding all of the films as “Special Editions.” Lucas's real justification for these re-releases to the world what can be done with an ample amount of free time, millions of dollars and computer technology. Lucas did some of what he considered to be “minor touch up” work on the films. He added new “enhanced” effects to the film, reinserted some deleted scenes, and altered pre-existing scenes for no specified reason.

Apparently Lucas, never heard of the old adage, if it isn't broke, don't fix it.

While these new versions did good business, they infuriated fans to no avail, mostly because Lucas said these were the definitive versions and the original releases would never see the light of day again.

Both statements turned out to be falsities in 2004 and 2006 respectably.

While I can understand his wanting to go back and “clean” some things up, it was not the least bit necessary as no one had ever complained before. The new shots looked out of place, especially in Star Wars. This was the film to receive the most changes, as the sequels were mostly cosmetic work. The shots from 1997 stood out like a sore thumb, particularly the added scene of Han Solo (Harrison Ford) talking to a CGI Jabba the Hutt. The whole scene just felt off, and completely ruined the reveal of Jabba in The Return of the Jedi.

Like I said earlier, the sequels were mostly cosmetic changes and didn't really detract from the films. There were no scenes added to Empire, but Jedi contained two small digital additions. The first scene comes during the scene in Jabba's palace in the form of an extended musical number. The other comes at the end of the film showing the various celebrations happening around the universe to commemorate the end of the Empire. These changes are nothing compared to what Lucas would do to this film seven years later.

And then there's the whole issue of Han shooting first.

In the '77 version when Han is approached by Greedo in the cantina about paying his debt to Jabba, Han cocks his gun under the table, and then blasts the green bastard away. In the Special Edition, Lucas in all of his infinite wisdom, added red laser blasts of Greedo shooting first. This addition completely destroys the scene. Lucas still leaves in the shot of Han cocking his gun, so the viewer still knows that Han will fire at him, now it just makes shooting Greedo more like self-defense. This addition also lessons Han's character arc. Han is supposed to be a bad ass space pirate, who over the course of the three films changes, to where by the time Jedi rolls around, he's actually in charge of a rebel operation.
The Special Editions hit video stores in the fall of '97 followed by a re-release in 2000. True to his word, these were the only versions of the trilogy available. And those VHS tapes and laserdiscs would have to suffice for quite some time, as Lucas was in no rush to get the films on DVD, and with good reason, he was too preoccupied with a new series of Star Wars flicks, dubbed the “Prequel Trilogy,” which told the story of Anakin Skywalker's rise to becoming a Jedi, and his succumbing to the dark side, and eventually becoming Darth Vader.

The prequels, in their own right are truly a sight for the senses. They are however, far from reaching the quality of the original trilogy. They're not bad films; they just don't deserve to be branded as Star Wars movies. They are missing big components that made the original trilogy so great, and why it still attracts new fans even to this day. Let's get this out of the way right now, all the special effects in the world can't make up for shitty story telling. While they all look pretty, all the CGI makes them look very artificial and makes it hard for the viewer to immerse themselves into the film. Another fault of the new movies is they lack the cynical edge that the original trilogy had. The reason the original trilogy worked so well was because of the humor speckled throughout. And my biggest beef with the prequels is they have a plot that is very difficult to follow on initial viewings, as it is too politically grounded, with too many characters. Less is more George, less is more.

Also stop telling people you've had these on the backburner for years. If you did indeed have them sitting in a vault for years, then you could have at least taken some time to go back and edit your work, as the pacing on the films is very uneven.

The only compliments I can give to the guy are he holds the distinctions of creating the most annoying character to ever appear of celluloid, or in the case of the prequels, hi-def tape, Jar Jar Binks. He also hold the distinction of casting Hayden Christiansen, possibly one of the worst actors currently working today, in some of the most expensive films of all time. That takes balls, especially when it's your money at stake.

To tie in with the release of the final film in the prequel trilogy, The Revenge of the Sith, Lucas finally decided to get around to releasing the original trilogy on DVD in the fall of 2004. They would of course not be in there original incarnation. Many folks were expecting Lucas to simply use the '97 Special Editions. No, instead Lucas, being the ego maniacal perfectionist, he claims to be, went back to make another pass at the believed and revered trilogy. He decided to make Han and Greedo fire at each other, at the same time. He made Harrison Ford digitally bob his head away from the blast in one of the crudest effects seen in recent history. It looks like half of his body is floating while everything from the waist down stays perfectly still. He also went back to create another CGI model of Jabba the Hut that's colors are more true to his appearance in Jedi but still makes him look like a green turd with a mouth, sliding around.

The biggest gripe fans have with new additions comes at the end of Jedi. Originally Luke saw the apparitions of Obi-Wan, Yoda, and his father, minus the black suit. Sebastian Shaw, the actor who played Vader without the mask, was used for this scene. Lucas felt it fitting that since Hayden Christiansen is Anakin Skywalker to insert him in the shot, and remove Shaw. His justification for this was it was how he looked before turning to the dark side. What a fuckin' cop out! He also digitally removed Shaw's eyebrows when Vader's helmet is removed. Someone please take away this man's mouse and keyboard privileges.

To be fair, the writing has been on the wall since 1981, when Star Wars was theatrically re-released. Lucas added a subtitle to the film at the start of the opening crawl: Episode IV A New Hope. Apparently everything is a rough draft with this guy.

Fans hated these changes more than those from '97 so websites started to emerge, such as petitioning Lucas to release the films in their original incarnations. Fans were sick of waiting so a number of “fan-edits” were released, which were glorified laserdisc to DVD transfers. The films didn't look that spectacular, but at least they were watchable and hadn't been touched by Lucas's hands. The best part about these “fan-edits” were they couldn't really be considered bootlegs, as they were not sold for profit, just compensation for time and materials. Star Wars fans have each other's backs.

The final and latest slap in the face came in the spring of 2006. It was announced that Lucas was going to re-release the trilogy in its original form on DVD on a limited run, and would only stay in print to the end of the year.

They're still sitting on store shelves to this day.

Fans rejoiced, Lucas had finally seen the error of his ways, this would more than make up for the Special Editions and the last crop of DVDs, which locked great, but contained a defective soundtrack for Star Wars. It would however never make up for Jar Jar Binks or the acting abilities of Hayden Christiansen.

As the spring transitioned to summer, the final specs of the Limited Editions come out. Instead of remastering the films in any way, Lucas decided to go the cheap rout and simply transfer the 1993 laserdiscs to DVD. It was obvious from this, it was simply a way for him to combat piracy and to make sure that if anyone put out a release of the original versions, he'd make money off it.

Also, to add more insult to injury, the original versions were considered a bonus feature. The first disc of each set would be a copy of the 2004 bastardized versions. The new DVDs were using 13 year old technology that not even display properly on next generation HDTVs as they were not formatted to take advantage of the TV's maximum resolution.

What Lucas just can't understand is that he's destroying a lot of people's childhoods by continuing to make his changes. It's like he's altering photographs of valued memories. We take pictures to immortalize memories, so we can go back and look at them. Lucas has decided to alter your memories every couple of years, in his quest for perfectionism and pursuit of draining every last dime out of his fan base. Lucas has the opposite character arc of Han Solo. He started off an alright guy; now he's nothing more than a scoundrel.
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