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"The Battle For Star Wars' Soul - Collin Kelley reviews the Star Wars DVDs



© 2004 Collin Kelley


Fanatics get up in arms -- for no reason -- 

over DVD release


I am a Star Wars purist. The original three films, Star Wars, Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi, are enough to sustain me. I hate the prequels; I don't play video games; fan fiction is creepy; and the "worlds" created by a legion of sci-fi authors attempting to extend the Star Wars franchise bore the hell out of me (except for the first one, Alan Dean Foster's excellent Splinter of the Mind's Eye, where he has Luke and Leia getting horizontal before they realize - oops - they're brother and sister).


So when creator/director George Lucas announced that he was finally releasing the original trilogy on DVD, I was overjoyed. This was all I needed. Then rumors started creeping in that he had tinkered with the films: adding new scenes, making Greedo shoot at Han first in the cantina, super-imposing Hayden Christensen at the end of Return of the Jedi. Basically, he was erasing the original films in all of their 1970s flawed glory. Lucas said he would not put the original cut on the DVDs, because he believed those were inferior and not the "complete" films he wanted to make. "The originals are on VHS," Lucas said in one interview. "If you want them on DVD, you can burn them on to disks." Thanks, George.


Lucas had already toyed with the original trilogy back in the late 90s when he released the 20th anniversary editions into theaters. He layered in more CGI work, more elaborate matte paintings, made the explosions bigger, cleared up the weak battle sounds. The most notable change was in Star Wars (which Lucas had started calling Chapter IV: A New Hope in the run up to the release of the prequels) with the addition of more scenes on Luke's home planet of Tatooine and the port city of Mos Eisley. These were basically computer generated scenes of the city and its many creatures. I could live with that. I didn't like seeing Jabba the Hut show up to talk to Han Solo, slithering on the ground and looking fairly small in comparison to the Jabba we see in Return of the Jedi. Still, no big whoop. Theatrical re-releases of The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi remained pretty much unscathed except for cleaning up battle sequences and better sound.


The DVDs were a different story all together. After the Internet exploded with fans demanding the originals on DVD (a petition signed by more than 60,000 fans was sent to Lucas demanding their beloved un-molested versions), and the rumor that a scene of Jimmy Smits as Bale Organa (Princess Leia's adopted father) screaming in horror as Alderaan is destroyed had been inserted in...ahem...A New Hope, had me ready to boycot the DVDs as well.


Let me put this in perspective. When I was a kid, I didn't even want to see Star Wars. I was eight years old when the first film came out and had never been exposed to science fiction. What I wanted to see was Smokey and the Bandit, which had been filmed near my family's home. I had seen Burt Reynolds and Sally Field sitting in the TransAm getting ready to film a chase scene. The day we were going to see Smokey and the Bandit, my childhood friend Chad had spent the night and begged to go see Star Wars instead. I protested, probably pouted and stamped my feet, but my ever proper parents said the polite thing to do was see my friend's choice since he was company. I know my parents still rue the day they made that decision. Star Wars had me hook, line, and sinker from the opening credits. I had to have EVERY toy made, every action figure, coloring book, promotional glasses sold at Burger King, etc. I nearly sent my parents to the poor house buying merchandise. Serves them right.


The original Star Wars films have remained a childhood touchstone for me. They still thrill me like nothing else (although Return of the Jedi is pretty damn weak -- and I hate those Ewoks), and I even managed to save some of my action figures and toys. Drawn like a tractor beam, I was at Borders on the day the DVDs were released and went home with the widescreen set. Why did they even bother with a "full-screen" pan and scan version? Wake up, George. I watched the three films in order over a long weekend, and my review? They are still like nothing else. Yes, there is more CGI, more explosions, Greedo shoots first, Hayden Christensen shows up at the end of Return of the Jedi, and the Emperor gives some new dialogue in Empire Strikes Back that helps tie this trilogy to the prequels. Thankfully, there is no Jimmy Smits. The films are still brilliant; they look and sound better than ever and the "new stuff" does not distract from the experience of the "originals."


The only bitch I really have with the four-DVD set is that the "bonus material" disc is a bit bloated. It's bizarre to see other people screen-testing for the lead roles, including a horrible Terri Nunn reading for Leia. She made a wise choice by turning to music and becoming the lead singer for Berlin. The long documentary is fascinating and a must-see, but Lucas gives away too much from the final prequel Revenge of the Sith, by showing Hayden Christensen being put into the Darth Vader costume. Less is more, Georgie, less is more.


Lucas said the films now feel "complete" to him. Luckily, his need for completion hasn't marred the legend that is Star Wars.



Collin Kelley is an award-winning playwright, poet, and journalist. Visit his site at  




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