Et Tu?: When is Enough Enough?

Warning right up front: this is a Star Wars…well, not a rant, I’ve never been one of those who believed that Lucas did unspeakable things to my childhood, but it does confuse me, and given that I like to examine this sort of stuff regardless of the film, it seems appropriate to discuss it here. I’m a little late to the party, but I discovered the existence of this monstrosity this weekend, and I knew the time was right.

First, the item in question:

I’m sure it’s been talked about to death by this point, but for those who don’t know what’s going on here, the Star Wars “saga” is being released on blu-ray next week. On a side note, I’m embarrassed to admit that I just had to pre-order the set with all six movies, specifically for the mythical ninth blu-ray disc that includes a bunch of interviews with the creators of the originals that I’m dying to see.

But that’s not what I’m here to discuss. What I am here to discuss is this…thing. I just can’t get over what I’m seeing here. I mean, I get why Lucas would want to do this. He’s obsessed with making the prequels and the original trilogy “rhyme”, and have millions of echoes between each other. The value of the concept is incredibly debatable. I think it’s fairly useless, but having a few echoes here and there wouldn’t hurt, I suppose. As long as they don’t get in the way of the story. I fear, however, that Lucas sees them as some sort of out to prove that he had this grand vision all along, as that’s his obsession.

Still – the key thing being “not getting in the way of the story”. As Lucas has proven time and again, he is utterly incapable of making changes to a movie without fundamentally altering the movie itself. Of course, there’s the infamous Han shooting first change that changed the nature of the character, just one of a rainbow of crappy changes that I don’t need to talk about here.

I think this even goes beyond Greedo shooting first. Here you have a scene that is the culmination of six films’ worth of work building tension (as badly as the prequels did this, it is at least payoff for that as well), and the original version of this scene was pretty much perfect, a real noteworthy example of how purely physical acting can sell a scene. I mean, here we have a guy in a mask, no facial expressions at all, and the original version perfectly sells the conflict that Vader is experiencing – and on top of that, it becomes something of a cipher for the viewer’s emotions, which makes it even more genius. The viewer can imagine all sorts of thoughts going through Vader’s head, and each could be right.

As many problems as I may have had with Jedi, I just don’t see how the entire conflict between Vader, Luke, and the Emperor could have been done better. The way that emotions shift back and forth during the battle, the ebb and flow of action – just sheer perfection. I still get goosebumps watching those scenes, and they’re part of why I want to be a writer.

But this. The most disappointing thing for me is that it removes the cipher aspect of that scene. I never, ever imagined Vader saying “no” in his head. I imagined his emotions tearing him apart, as he tried to decide between what he had always seen as “right” and his love for his son. At last he arrives at the conclusion that his son is more important, and makes his move. He’s determined, but accepts the fate that he is likely to die. It doesn’t really matter if that’s what was originally intended, that’s a valid interpretation, and I’m willing to bet I’m not alone.

That’s gone now. Now Vader overtly expresses his emotional state, and the grim determination is replaced by…I’m not even sure what you’d call this. A whiny negation? It really takes the wind out of the scene’s sails, and I’m baffled that Lucas went forward with this. Here’s the thing, though. I’ve watched the relevant scene in Revenge of the Sith to see if I’m crazy, but Anakin was silent the entire time he made the choice to go to the Dark Side in the first place. Seriously, check this out. The choice wasn’t made when he was put in the suit. It was made here:

See? That has plenty of echoes with Anakin making a choice involving a loved one. So the scene as originally filmed worked just fine and even “rhymed”. It’s just bizarre that he would make this choice, especially given the universal (and well-deserved) derision of the NOOOOOOOO in Revenge of the Sith.

Maybe he missed the importance of this scene. I don’t know. But these changes have become pretty laughable at this point, which brings me to my second point. When is enough enough? For most artists, once the work is complete and released to the public, that’s it. It becomes property of those who read or view it. Most artists just don’t get to tinker in this fashion, endlessly changing their work and in the process removing any traces of the original work. My question is…is this right, for lack of a better word, even ignoring that a film is not the work of any individual artist. Say Star Wars was a series of novels, and Lucas was not only making significant alterations to the book with new printings (which actually happens from time to time), but also refusing to publish the originals in eBook format.

Oh wait, that already happened…

Sigh. The danger of having heroes.

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