COLUMN: The Empire Strikes Back
By Paul Fruitman
Long, long ago, in a galaxy far, far away. Well, perhaps it just seems like a different galaxy because of the immense changes which have taken place in the two decades since George Lucas first unveiled Star Wars to the earthly realm.
But it sure was long ago, at a time when most people reading this column were not yet walking, let alone recounting the glory of the Rebels in their struggle with Darth Vader and the Empire.
So now, as the preview goes, Star Wars is being re-released on the big screen for an entire generation to see for the first time. But the new Star Wars is not all it is cracked up to be. In many ways, the special edition is more. Like more scenes, more monsters, more sound, more technology.
Scenes have been added to the original picture, while others have been enhanced with superior cinematography, new characters and better sound. But does more mean less? To many people of our generation, Star Wars is a timeless classic. A Gone With the Wind for children born in the age of disco. So we must ask this: Is the addition of cinematic and technological advances of the '90s to a film which helps to define the '70s acceptable, beneficial or even necessary?
When I say acceptable, I mean justifiable. Now, one school of thought says that George Lucas has every right to do what he wants with his art. After all, many of the new additions were originally intended to grace the Star Wars screen in 1977 but were unrealistic due to the technological and economic constraints of the time.
But some purists may say that tampering with Star Wars images and special effects can be likened to colourizing Gone With the Wind or Miracle on 34th Street. Star Wars was on the cutting edge technologically for its time and adding current innovations seems sort of like drawing a proverbial mustache on the film.
If it looks as good as we can imagine from Lucas, it will admittedly be hard to complain about defacement. But then we must ask if it will improve the overall Star Wars experience. Though the enhancement may be sonically and visually impressive, there is a danger that the new visuals in particular will clutter up the scenes or even draw attention away from the picture itself.
And are the changes necessary? No one will argue that part of Lucas' motive with these re-releases is financial. And for people in their 20s and up, Star Wars on the big screen would be a massive draw with or without the changes made to the film.
Despite how things may seem, we are not the target audience here. The re-birth of Star Wars is not limited to just the film, but also to the merchandise which has already returned to the shelves action figures, books, cereal boxes, video games. Underoos might even become fashionable again.
And that means grabbing the all-important youth support. Could Star Wars, in its original form, be able to woo kids weaned on the technological superiority of Jurassic Park and Independence Day. Star Wars' mythological and religious allegories are lost on most kids who will end up looking for impressive MTV-type visuals to keep interest. And compared to current film technology, Star Wars could almost be considered primitive.
One thing which won't be primitive will be Star Wars' box-office take this weekend, a three-day stint that promises to rival all established records. It will be hype and new technology but mostly nostalgia that will bring the crowds.
And so in keeping with that theme, I propose the price of admission to be in tune with what it was when Star Wars first opened 20 years ago. Maybe then I will have enough money left over to buy a new-and-improved Darth Vader action figure. The original variety is now worth about a hundred bucks.