From the very beginning of Star Wars, changes have been a way of life. Even before The Empire Strikes Back came out, things were added and changed in the original theatrical version of A New Hope. In fact, it wasn't until then that the words "Episode IV" even appeared in the opening crawl. Audio was altered and things were changed slightly to make the filmmakers happier and to standardize the film with its coming sequel.
George Lucas jumped into hyperspace with the changes with the 1997 release of the Special Editions, adding scenes, altering special effects and sounds, and changing some fan favorite scenes that caused some modest outcry.
Sure, no one likes it that Greedo fires first and the Jedi Rocks sequence in Return of the Jedi is a little silly, but at the end of the day we all either embraced or ignored it and took to heart the mythology of Star Wars in whatever way it meant most to us. Other changes were arguably better in my opinion. I prefer the new ending of Return of the Jedi, Hayden Christensen's ghost included. And the scene with Biggs added to A New Hope makes the Death Star trench run twice as heart wrenching and thrilling.
When more changes to the films were announced for the upcoming Blu-ray release, I was largely ambivalent. One change, however, saddened and disappointed me to no end. I wrote about it at length here, but long story short, unnecessary dialogue to one of the most emotionally impacting moments in the entire Star Wars saga. As Darth Vader watches his son pleading for his help, he now shouts "Noooooo!" as he tosses the Emperor into the reactor shaft. Maybe it seems minor, but the moment was flawless as it was and didn't need the help.
I understand that it's meant to tie back into the much-maligned (though liked by me) "Nooooo!" in Revenge of the Sith. I get it. There's a reason behind it, though I still think it's the wrong choice.
But it doesn't matter.
I was at Dragon*Con over the weekend and attended a panel with Gary Kurtz (the original producer on Star Wars) and Timothy Zahn (perhaps the most well-known and beloved of the Star Wars expanded universe novelists) where they talked about the mythology of Star Wars. As they spoke about the myths and themes about Star Wars, a realization sunk into my brain.
It doesn't matter whether or not Darth Vader shouts "Noooooo!" or if Greedo shoots first or if there's a disco number in the middle of Jabba's palace.
Do any of those things change the fact that Luke Skywalker is an orphaned farm boy who heeds his call to adventure? Does it change any of the classic themes of the film and its mythological undertones?
No. It doesn't change any of that.
Does Han Solo still have a change of heart and become a reluctant hero? Is Ben Kenobi (and later Yoda) still the wizened master who imparts his knowledge on the hero of the story? Do good and evil still clash, bringing the hero to his lowest point before he's able to beat the demons within himself, save his friends, and win the day?
The answer to all of those questions is yes.
Sure, about 7.5% of the changes made to the films I don't like. The rest tie all six films into one neat and complete saga.
Do any of the changes alter the message of the film? No. Not at all.
Do the changes alter how much I loved Star Wars from the beginning? Does it alter how I felt about them as a kid and the lessons I learned watching them as I grew up? Does it diminish the value of the lessons that you can talk to your kids about by watching the films with them? No. Not at all. That might be the most important thing of all. And that's important to keep in mind.
I still want the original releases on Blu-ray, sure, but that's not going to stop me from getting this set or any other release of the films. Last time I asked for the original theatrical releases on the latest format, I got them. They came out on DVD in 2004. But you know what? I still watch the Special Editions every time.
More than anything, I'm getting this new release for the special features, deleted scenes and documentaries. Here's a taste of one that Lucasfilm was kind enough to let us premiere here:
There are three Blu-ray discs chock full of this kind of stuff. And whatever you feel about the changes doesn't change the fact that you still get giddy as a school boy learning about how they made the Star Wars movies in the first place.
As a bonus, it includes a documentary about the making of Empire that I've literally been searching high and low for for twenty years.
That alone is worth the price of admission for me.
What about you?