Friday, January 7, 2011

And So, The Big One is Announced for Blu-Ray

In case you've been under a rock for the past 24 hours (if you're one of my geekier readers), the Star Wars Saga, as a whole, will be released on Blu-Ray disk in September 2011. No exact street date, yet, but it'll be that month. As you might have guessed, I've already put in my pre-order with Amazon.

Yeah, I am an old-school, first generation (5 years old at the initial release in 1977) fan. These movies have loomed LARGE in the choices I've made in my life, for good or ill. I am who, and what, I am today in no small part because of what George Lucas created.

There's three buying options, Each trilogy, the original (Ep. IV, V & VI), and the prequels (Ep. I, II & III), is available individually, or you can purchase The Complete Saga on 9 Blu-Ray disks. This includes all 6 films, and 3 disks of what amounts to 30 hours worth bonus content. This bonus content will only be available with the complete saga set.

I'm sure you can guess which I've pre-ordered.

It's worth it to me. I mean, yeah, sure, I've purchased these movies over and over again. I'm on that consumer treadmill, I fully admit it. The simple fact is, these movies, and I do mean all six of them, make me happy. There's something about that moment, right after "a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away..." fades off the screen, and you're waiting for the blast of John Williams' unmistakable fanfare, with the bright yellow "Star Wars" logo. It just hangs there, and I feel like that five-year-old kid, sitting next to my father, waiting for something magic to happen.

Y'know, it almost always does happen.

Oh, yes, I am well aware of the problems with the Prequels, the oddness of some changes in the "Special Editions" of the Original Trilogy, I get it.

I don't care.

I mean that in the most sincere, "live and let live" way possible. I realize that there are a lot of people out there who feel betrayed and hurt by the way George Lucas has developed and handled the Star Wars Universe. I understand the desire to get a decent copy of the Original Trilogy exactly as they appeared in theaters in 1977, 1980 and 1983. (Although, I doubt few would want Episode IV A New Hope without the "Episode IV: A New Hope" title that was added for re-releases when The Empire Strikes Back was in production)  I get that, and I was very happy when those versions were included as "special features" with the original films in 2006, even if they weren't remastered, and not in anamorphic widescreen.

(Meaning, the films were presented "letterboxed," so the full widescreen frame image was there, but the image would not "size up" to fill the screen of a 16x9 television [which most are now]. So, you got black bars not only above and below the image, but also to the left and right. It was not optimal, but it was the movies as originally released)

I understand that having Han shoot Greedo first in the cantina scene is ridiculous, and changes something about the mercenary attitude that was inherent and cool about the character. That was a mistake, and it bugs me every time. Doesn't help that the digital manipulation is just downright sloppy. The change just isn't possible with the footage as it is.

So, that's a problem....

But that for me doesn't change that I love the new footage of the Sandtroopers and Dewbacks, as well as the really, truly awe inspiring new shot of the Sandcrawler coming over the ridge to the Lars homestead. That I love the changes to the architecture of Cloud City, the more open hallways and windows. The city was clearly never supposed to be a claustrophobic as the original sets required.

I am not against digital reconstruction of sets, and new footage of creatures to add mobility where limited puppetry was used before. The Wampa cave sequence, as re-worked, is cool to me. I even like the Jabba sequence in A New Hope, even if it really only repeats exposition we've already heard from Greedo. It's not needed, but it's fun...

I understand why some are bothered by this stuff, I really do...but I'm not. Especially since I now have the original versions on a legally-obtained DVD, even if it's absolutely, positively the most bare-bones release you'll ever see. I enjoy watching Escape from LA, too, and my copy is non-anamorphic, too. Yeah, it's a obviously begrudging acquiescence to fan wishes by Lucas, but it's there, and I've always said, "change everything you want, but let us have access to the original too."

(Spielberg does it the best with the E.T. The Extraterrestrial DVD release, and the Close Encounters of the Third Kind Blu-Rays...every version of the movies, the original, and every different cut, with every change, is available by picking a menu choice, or dropping in another disk. Classy, Steven.)

I think it's also important to really understand that Lucas doesn't do these things just because he hates his fans...He really just feels the original versions of the original trilogy are utterly flawed, and do not represent what he wanted to put on screen. I love this story that Drew McWeeny put up for his "Motion Captured" blog on yesterday;
"I remember going to see "Star Wars" at the Egyptian theater with George Lucas in attendance at one point, and he sat about two rows directly in front of us.  Watching him watch the original version of the film, with visible matte lines and all of the "flaws" of the film still in place, and it was like watching someone get waterboarded.  He was physically uncomfortable with the experience, and there were moments where it looked like he was about to bolt.  I may not agree with his reasons for not selling me the versions of the films that I fell in love with, but I get that it really does make him crazy.  I wish there was some middle ground..."
I do too, but I also have to respect that Lucas made these films, he put his own money on the line, and owns them. I don't, no one else does, and the sooner we all just learn to live with that the better. Shouting and bitching and dumb comments about "raping my childhood" aren't going to change anything, and just make you seem like a loser who's WAY too wrapped up in a dumb movie.

Then, of course, there's the Prequels, and the firestorm of disappointment that their releases in 1999, 2002, and 2005 engendered.

Again, all I can say is that I get it. I get that there is clunky dialogue, and some of the performances are far less than amazing. I also get, very clearly, that the storyline didn't turn out to be what everyone wanted to see.

Again, I don't care. Ditto on the "live and let live" vibe.

As it happens, I found the idea that maybe the Jedi have become too complacent and convinced of their superiority for their own good to be really interesting. That a democratic body could be manipulated by fear and anger into destructive choices (Hmmmmm....That NEVER happens!) equally so. That Darth Vader, the terror of a universe, becomes that by trying to do what he thought was the right thing, out of a desire to protect the people he loved, to be really, really cool.

And certainly more of a thought-provoking lesson for kids than, "bad people are just bad, and should be defeated."

I also think that Hayden Christensen gets a load of shit for playing a bratty teenager (albeit without a ton of nuance from the script or dialogue) as exactly that. At least he was trying. Natalie Portman checked out the day she walked on the set for Episode II. I mean, you have a kid, told early on that he's "the chosen one," raised by a bunch of guys who already seem to feel overly entitled, and you wonder why he can't understand why he can't have what he wants, exactly when he wants it?

No, there's not a lot of subtlety or grace to how the Prequels are executed, and they are not, even remotely, as good as the originals. However, they do have a lot of really interesting concepts and ideas. Plus, here's the deal;

They felt like Star Wars. I'm sorry, but it cannot be denied. The design, the way things worked, the nature of the imagery, it didn't feel like we were in a whole new universe from what we'd seen before. A different part of it, sure, but there was a unifying vibe.

The other point to be cognizant of. These are the story. This is how Anakin Skywalker fell from grace. This is it. So, you can reject it or accept it, vow never to watch them again, or embrace them as, no matter how flawed, the story. Bitching and screaming about it won't help change the facts. I don't mean to be snotty by saying that, just...There isn't going to be a "do-over."

And there's Ewan MacGregor as Obi-wan Kenobi. I've never met a single person who didn't think he was wonderful. He truly is the only member of the cast, save Ian McDiarmid, who approaches the effortless level of performance that Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher and Harrison Ford have in the original trilogy. I still think a lot of people got star-struck about "being in Star Wars," and just forgot to make anything real. (Looking at you, Sam Jackson.)

I just, really, can't believe people continue to be upset about all this stuff. I know, it's a fringe element, and it only seems pervasive because they're quite, quite vocal. Still, I think I can make a pretty strong argument that these movies, or at least the first one, were THE pivotal moment of my life. I've been plenty mad about things regarding this (The cheap over-use and insertion of Boba Fett to curry fan favor, the feeling like the entirety of Episode II was a naked attempt to suck up to the fanbase), but man...I got things to do.

It's just a bunch of movies.

Movies I love, movies I'm willing to talk about, and engage in vigorous debate over, for hours. Movies that inspire my imagination and make me feel young. That said, the fact that Lucas made choices that I didn't particularly think were strong, or were downright poor, is not something I want to dwell over, and launch into a rage about every, single time the movies are re-released on some new home video format.

I'd rather think of the enjoyment that the films, and George Lucas, have given me. the friends I've made, and the fun I've had. That's why I can't be angry that I'm not getting everything that I want, because the Star Wars Saga, from day one, has given me more joy than I ever had any right to expect. It boggles me how so many people can forget that joy over some bit of CGI frippery on the screen.

Yeah, maybe I allow nostalgia to whitewash some of the more egregious problems. Doesn't matter. I don't care. This franchise has given me so much, I'm willing to allow myself to still be a little starstruck by it.

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