Is George Lucas Really Altering Star Wars Again?

There are videos lighting the Internet ablaze right now, purporting to be alterations to the Star Wars films made by George Lucas for the Blu-ray releases.

My first question is this: Why do you believe these rumours? The official Star Wars Youtube has released a mountain of video material and none of it shows any significant changes, but does look gorgeous in the HD format. Over the last couple of days, we've seen these videos flood out of the gates. Allegedly, some Chinese worker recorded all of this audio of alterations and people have been taking the time to sync it with Hi-Def clips of their own.

The one that seems to be angering people the most is the "addition" of Darth Vader saying "Nooooo!" as he drops the Emperor off of the reactor shaft at the end of Return of the Jedi:

The audio team from Skywalker Sound is much better than this.  This is clearly chopped up bits of audio from other parts in the saga with really bad echo effects on them.  Give Matt Wood and Ben Burtt and those guys the benefit of the doubt, really.  Even if they had made this change, it would sound a lot better.  Some places are "confirming" it, but no one has seen or heard it first hand and Lucasfilm has neither confirmed nor denied it.  And review copies have NOT gone out yet, at least from the Lucasfilm side of things.

(Side note on this: CinemaBlend reported on this and the writer there got on his high horse about how Lucas has no right tinkering with Empire and Jedi because he didn't direct them.  Wrong, buster.  As the producer and creator, he HIRED the director, essentially creating a work for hire.  Get your head on straight, man.  This is alarmist and you're just riling people up for no reason, FOX news style.)

The next clip is something we have confirmation they changed.  Matt Wood from ILM spoke about this on the Forcecast and confirmed it in July of last year. Does that mean the sound has changed and there's a good reason for it?  Yes.  Does that mean the following clip is actually what we're going to hear?  No.  Again, at its best, this is a bootleg of some crappily recorded audio synced up to some good looking footage.  Whatever the sound eventually ends up being will undoubtedly be better than this:

And let's be honest here, we don't even have a confirmation of changes we're relatively sure have been made, like the digital Yoda in Phantom Menace.  (Would that bring us a digital Yaddle, too?)

Another thing to consider about all of these changes:  The videos going around have ALL been uploaded by a youtube account called WideAsleepFilms.  If you go back and look at their history of uploaded videos, they've made a habit of updating effects and doing tests in After Effects using the Star Wars universe.  This could all be a hoax perpetrated by them.

The next rumour going around is that Ewoks blink and there will be a Dug in Jabba's palace.  Now, neither of these changes really bug me, IF THEY'RE REAL, but I really doubt it.  Rich Johnston from Bleeding Cool has a report from ILM where they pretty bluntly state, "We didn't do anything to the Blu-ray."

When I was at Big Screen a week and a half ago, I got to sit down with ILM's John Goodson and Bill George. While it's possible that they were mistaken and not properly briefed, both Goodson and George told me that, actually, no new material had created for the Blu-ray incarnations of the films.

I specifically asked precisely this, and they specifically told me that, no, George had not been making more changes of this fashion. I asked clearly, and they gave me a clear - and apparently definitive - answer.

So, I'll be more than happy to admit that I was too optimistic if my take on this isn't true, but this seems like the exact sort of skullduggery the legions of "Lucas-haters" would perpetrate to Strike Back at the man and company who brought us all of these wonderful stories in the first place.  If they're true, then I'll just have to see them in context.

I've requested an official quote from Lucasfilm, but haven't gotten one yet.  I'll update if and when I get one.

So in the meantime, as Qui-Gon says, just relax.  We're not in trouble yet.

Update 6:06 8/31/11:

I've finally gotten word from Lucasfilm. It's true. All the changes we've been obsessing over all day and night.

Yes, the updates are confirmed. We hope fans will wait to see for themselves how they fit into the Saga before making any judgments.

I'll say, over all, I'm not unhappy about most of the changes (just like the special edition). Ewoks with blinking eyes? Awesome. More creatures in Jabba's Palace? Sweet. An update on the Krayyt scream? Bring it on. Digital Yoda in Phantom Menace? Perfect.

This is the definitive version of the films on Blu-ray. I'll wait and see it before I get angry about any specific change. I'll calm down.

BUT: Though it's the way it is moving forward, Darth Vader screaming, "Noooooooo!" as he tosses the Emperor into the reactor shaft of the Death Star is incorrect. It's simply not a good change. It's on the level of Han firing first. No, I think it's worse. No, I know it's worse. There was never a moment more heartbreaking or poignant than putting the audience in Vader's shoes and forcing us to think about what's running through his mind. Giving him something to say somehow undermines every sweeping bit of emotion that scene had. It interrupts it. Will I feel differently about it when I see it in context? Maybe. But right now I feel pretty hurt by it.

I don't think I need to explain to any of you how much I LOVE Star Wars, and this will not diminish my love for it in anyway. I just hate seeing people better than me make mistakes like this.

Having said that, I'm still gladly buying these sets on Blu-ray. I'm still going to watch every minute of the films and every minute of bonus features. And I'm going to see the films in 3D when they happen as well.

Vader screaming no will simply be added to a list of flaws I don't like about the updates of the film. It stands next to Greedo firing first, Jedi Rocks, and Jabba's CGI work in A New Hope. Sure, it might be more major than those, but it's a small list of things that simply won't -- can't --outweigh my love of the world that's been created.

No matter how upset anyone might get about any of these changes, it's important to remember this is George Lucas' world. He can (and does) do anything he wants with it. If you don't like what he does with subsequent releases, don't buy them. But don't attack him or diminish the role he played in bringing us these stories in the first place. He deserves our respect for that.

Bryan Young is the editor of the geek news site Big Shiny Robot! and author of Lost at the Con.