New Star Wars, A New Hope?
As fanboys/girls around the world have experienced repeatedly since 1983, a loving relationship with George Lucas is a heartbreaking experience. The Star Wars magnate had instigated, in spite of his most loyal fans, a tumultuous and violent affair with money and, like a beautiful lover with self-esteem issues, alienated those genuinely interested in him. Whether or not Lucas' sale of Lucasfilm to Disney for the measly sum of $4 billion is an attempt at a fresh beginning, is fare for the tabloids. More pertinently, does the reappropriation of one of the biggest film franchises in history signal the opportunity for fans to revisit the horrors of their past?
After all, everyone remembers the sheer repugnance of The Phantom Menace, and the crushing despair that followed as millions of ageing fans had their childhood hopes immolated and the ashes rubbed in their faces. This is no hyperbole. Mike Ryan, senior writer at Moviefone, has compiled the reactions of such fans, who also turned out to be critics. Actor/Director Rider Strong's recollection of his first viewing of The Phantom Menace is particularly haunting, "We went into that theater mere children. We emerged men. Aware that we could no longer count on an earlier generation to entertain us. It was up to us to find new filmmakers, and yes, somehow, some way, to make better movies ourselves." The complete human misery on this page is palpable, go here to peruse it.
Lucas had violated every dogma in the fanboy handbook. Facilitated by his seeming lack of self-consciousness, Lucas possesses an inability to fully grasp what Episode IV means to his fans. The production for The Phantom Menace had an air of doom about it; Lucas' direction was (and likely still remains) horribly subpar and the entire production was tinged with the foreboding doom that was to follow. The film was a farce, a trivial melange of decent special effects, poor acting, weak narrative and the most irritating characters in film. Jar-Jar Binks became the figurehead, the embodiment of everything that was wrong with the new trilogy.
Five years later, Lucas, in the grips of what must be acute megalomania, asserts that the original trilogy was only a fraction of what he had intended and that he would re-master them. They would be modified for 'the better' and be instated as the 'canonical' versions of the films. (For a full list of the changes, click here). This entailed overlaying, wherever possible, any incongruous SFX with a cheap, CGI rendering. [youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N-ufJAp6meU?feature=player_embedded] Case and point. Now arguments can be made for and against the burgeoning opportunity for directors to revisit earlier films and tweak them with digital aids. But the fact remains that other special-effects heavy films from the period, despite looking a little more campy than we remember, are still poignant and entertaining pieces of cinema to this day. John Carpenter's The Thing, released in 1982, is the perfect example of a great film ageing naturally. Despite being laden with animatronic and live-action effects, the film remains a classic of the genre, unhindered and undisturbed by a finicky, insecure director. And what makes it great, are these special effects; reminders of the days when horrifying, shapeshifting creatures from space were made from rubber and prosthetics. [youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lfdRTvytNvY?feature=player_embedded] It can be argued that, for die-hard fans of the original trilogy, these are the elements that made Episodes IV, V and VI, timeless; fans loved every little detail about these movies, dated SFX and all. Lucas has subsequently made Star Wars the filmic equivalent of Joan Rivers, where any semblance of the original has been left on the cutting-room floor. Whereas, The Thing still contains the natural beauty of Helen Mirren. As Lucas has said,
"So what ends up being important in my mind is what the DVD version is going to look like, because that's what everybody is going to remember. The other versions will disappear. Even the 35 million tapes of Star Wars out there won't last more than 30 or 40 years. A hundred years from now, the only version of the movie that anyone will remember will be the DVD version [of the Special Edition], and you'll be able to project it on a 20-foot-by-40-foot screen with perfect quality. I think it's the director's prerogative, not the studio's, to go back and reinvent a movie." (http://www.theasc.com/magazine/starwars/articles/sped/uni/pg1.htm)
Seven years have passed and just as embattled fans were finalising their rehabilitations, Lucas makes the announcement that he has sold the entirety of his production company, Lucasfilm, to Disney. The news must be bittersweet. The love-hate relationship has come to an end. The future of the franchise is now looking up: J.J. Abrams has been signed on as director; Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford and Carrie Fisher are all reprising their roles; and Michael Arndt, of Little Miss Sunshine and Toy Story 3 fame, has been recruited as writer. The film is slated for a 2015 release, to what is sure to be the hype of the decade.
"I was pleased that there would be new ones, that there was a chance to capture some of the spirit of the original trilogy that I’d worked on. I thought there’s an audience out there -- my grandchildren, lots of original Star Wars people -- and there always will be. It’s only good that we try to do some more great ones," says Lawrence Kasdan, writer of Episodes V and VI, (http://www.joblo.com/movie-news/screenwriters-lawrence-kasdan-and-simon-kinsberg-discuss-their-roles-in-the-next-generation-of-star-wars-films).
The tyrant no longer has the ability to further tarnish his own name. And given Disney's tendency towards nostalgic replay, the original prints of the film must now be in safe hands.