I remember the first time I saw George Lucas not as the creator of all things wonderful, but as a human with just a hint of the Dark Side about him: I had never minded spending every penny of my allowance on Star Wars action figures, trading cards, and bedsheets. Sometime after adolescence, though, as I started to become aware of the nasty side of capitalism’s excesses, I realized that Lucas had exploited me. Not content to have the hundreds of dollars I gave him at the box office, he licensed an endless river of product that, if I really cared about the Force, I was morally obligated to collect. A pint-sized but extremely dedicated Consumer was born.
By the late ’90s, I was able to divorce the Star Wars brand from the story I loved. What, Lucas wants to muck up the originals with CGI effects, or make new prequels that suck? Who cares? It doesn’t change the film I saw enough times to know by heart. When he declared that he’d never release the original theatrical versions on DVD, I was cynical. I knew he’d do it eventually, because George Lucas doesn’t leave money on the table.
But I wasn’t so cynical I expected this: After loudly trumpeting that, for a limited time only, in a grand gesture to the die-hard fans, he’d break his promise and release the films as we all remember them on DVD, Lucas has slapped them out on discs that don’t meet the technical standards that are afforded even to disposable junk like Van Helsing.
What he has done, it appears, is to make discs using the same masters used more than a decade ago for a Laserdisc release. Where even bargain-basement discs today get a resolution-enhancing anamorphic transfer, Lucas couldn’t be bothered. He has even paired each theatrical version with its “Special Edition,” so fans can watch side by side and marvel at the difference: Wow, that sand dune looks lousy! Check out the muddy shadows in this Cantina scene!
Granted, we now get to see the Death Star explode without that dumb ring-of-Saturn flame effect. And those of us who understand why Han Solo wouldn’t have waited around for Greedo to shoot him at point-blank range can finally hop over to the video store and see it the only way that makes sense, lousy picture quality be damned.
But here’s a message for old George: All those crazed consumers you created with the lunch boxes and bubble-gum cards? A lot of them grew up to take this stuff more seriously than you do. Some of them — nobody I know, of course — long ago used those Laserdiscs to make bootleg DVDs that look every bit as good as what you’re now trying to sell them. And they sold them to their buddies for not much more than they cost to make.
Until you decide to treat those original versions with the respect you would, say, a vintage Kurosawa film (and yes, we know you’ll cave in eventually), a healthy chunk of those fanboys will do something they never dreamed of doing in second grade. They’ll keep their money in their pocket.