When dealing with the most famous trilogy basically ever, it is hard to find things that have not already been said. Rather than do a film-by-film breakdown of the Holy Trilogy, I figured it is easier to throw musings on them all in one post since there’s no sense in devoting multiple pieces to how wonderful they are.
One interesting wrinkle this time around – until now with the advent of Disney+, I had never seen any version of the original Star Wars films aside from the theatrical cuts or the closest approximation to them available at the time. As a child, my brother had the original cuts on VHS, so that was my introduction to the universe. When I finally got the original trilogy on DVD, it was the editions with the theatrical cut on the bonus discs.
I knew about Greedo shooting at Han and Hayden Christensen appearing at the end of Return of the Jedi and I made the very nerdy decision to not abandon the Star Wars I knew and loved. George Lucas going back and editing the movies decades later seemed dumb as hell, and I had no time for that. I would not even watch the originals on TV for fear of seeing a great betrayal to my nerdy sensibilities. Instead, I became so devoted in my avoidance of the ‘90s and 2000s edits of these movies that I took to watching Harmy’s Despecialized editions to get my fill.
But since we are on the journey to the “last” film in the “Skywalker Saga” (if there’s not a followup to The Rise of Skywalker in 15-20 years I will eat my shoe), I decided it was time to take the plunge and see the versions that are canon.
I have no idea what Lucas’ obsession with CGI creatures inserted in every shot to a comedic degree was about. I have no idea why Greedo has to shoot at Han solo. I have no idea why Jabba was added to A New Hope, complete with the horrendous computer animation of Han stepping over his tail. I have no idea why Max Rebo and his scorching band have an incredibly shitty song now. I have no idea why “Yub Nub” was removed from the end of Jedi. I have no idea why Hayden Christensen now appears at the Force ghost, glaring into the camera like a creep instead of looking at Luke.
Other than all of that, it wasn’t a big deal. Some of the new CGI was really bad and really obvious, but nothing truly rocked my world. Enough has been said about what George Lucas did to these movies to expend more effort on it, but let me just finish by saying that Han-Greedo scene is still some bullshit.
As for the movies themselves, they are without equal. Taking a couple years off between viewings makes me forget just how much fun A New Hope is. A Springsteenian tale about believing you can break out of your small town and do something great, it is every bit as enjoyable to watch at 28 as it was when I was 8. Watching it right after the prequels is such a delightful breath of fresh air, too.
It still blows my mind how badly the prequels ruined Darth Vader. Think back to your youth and seeing Darth Vader for the first time when he barges onto the Tantive IV, choking people and throwing them. He’s an animal, even going so far as to choke a fellow Imperial just for not respecting the power of the Force. In The Empire Strikes Back he’s dropping one-liners and killing Imperial officers who fail him left and right. Even when he’s softening up in Return of the Jedi, Vader is still threatening to bust a cap. It was refreshing in 2016’s Rogue One to see how they honored Darth Vader as a great villain instead of playing to this whole “he’s just a tragic guy!” thing. Vader is considerably less intimidating as a viewer when you know underneath that helmet he’s secretly a bad actor who misses his mom. Who wants to know that?
Maybe it is because the prequels were Lucas unchecked, but those flicks really sucked the fun out of Star Wars. However, the one thing Lucas always understood was that these are movies for kids. In 2017, he said that the movies are intended to teach kids about “friendships, honesty, trust, doing the right thing, living on the right side and avoiding the dark side.”
That doesn’t mean adults can’t enjoy them – shit, the X-Men, Spider-Man and Batman cartoons of the 1990s are the definitive versions of those characters for viewers of all ages despite being intended for kids – but at the end of the day, these are family films that teach a very basic lesson in right versus wrong. While the originals deliver on that promise, the prequels are a complete failure in achieving Lucas’ intentions. They’re childlike in an insulting way. The aforementioned superhero cartoons succeeded in introducing adult themes to children in a way that respects kids’ ability to pick up on these things. The original Star Wars movies accomplish that same feat, meanwhile the prequels have references to “doo doo.”
Compare how The Empire Strikes Back handles dark themes in a mature, rational adult way with how Revenge of the Sith goes over-the-top absurd and campy to achieve its darkness. Sith becomes fun by way of ridiculousness, where Empire is fun by being an actual compelling work of art.
Also, a Jedi may not crave adventure and excitement, but an audience certainly does. The reason the original trilogy resonates so strongly with viewers of all ages is because you have an exciting and charismatic group of characters going on a fun, galaxy-spanning adventure. The prequels are full of middling characters doing boring stuff and talking politics.
It is also jarring how much better the original trilogy looks than the prequels. The overreliance on CGI in the prequels dates them badly, whereas the use of real sets and practical effects helps the originals stand the test of time. It is also why the sequels are far more aesthetically pleasing than the prequels. Practical beats CGI every time.
I have no real point to make in all of this, but I will end on just one more note about the Lucas changes. A good idea with poor execution was putting Ian McDiarmid’s Emperor Palpatine into The Empire Strikes Back. Getting rid of the original, frog-looking Emperor is something I can get behind. However, It is McDiarmid in his Revenge of the Sith makeup and he looks like absolute dog shit and nothing like he does in Return of the Jedi. Not the best idea in the end, but c’est la vie.
Now with the originals out of the way, it is onto the sequels for us.