Word has it George Lucas is holding a press junket at Skywalker Ranch this weekend for the forthcoming Phantom Menace rerelease during which he will only field questions from children. This seems like a prime opportunity to put a tyke in a Howard the Duck costume for a lil’ bit o’ searing antagonization. Get on that, pranksters.
This is no dream! This is REAL LIFE!
George Lucas has been molesting his original Star Wars movies with CGI nonsense since 1997 while simultaneously disavowing the edits that grossed him millions back in the day. Sucky, but lightsaber-wielding nerds aggravated by this nonsense such as myself have long taken solace in what we perceived to be a tiny loophole in George’s quest to stamp out his “first drafts”: The National Film Registry. Established in 1988, the NFR annually selects twenty-five “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant” movies to induct and preserve for the rest of history, so after we vaporize each other in the final nuclear war there’ll be some big movie vault for our aliens overlords to discover proving we were an intelligent and artful race. One of the NFR’s first draft picks in ’89? Star Wars.
Ostensibly, the NFR chose Star Wars that year, Lucasfilm sent them a copy, and it’s been sitting there ever since, government property a la the Ark in Raiders. So even though George might digitally scribble The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi to the point of no return, even though he might be able to completely block the commercial availability of previous non-“Special Edition” trilogy releases, at least Uncle Sam has retained an untouched copy of the first film. At some point in the future, cinema restoration people could use that government copy of Star Wars to create a another home video release of what audiences first saw May 25, 1977. At least we could have one regular Star Wars movie some time before the apocalypse…right?
Yeah, about that: Preservation website SaveStarWars.com recently investigated the National Film Registry situation at Washington, D.C.’s Library of Congress, and they’re reporting that the NFR never received the copy of Star Wars they requested in 1989. Apparently Lucasfilm ignored the NFR until 1997…the year the “Special Edition” of Star Wars was completed. When George told the gub’ment that’s what he planned on sending them, they balked. Quoth Reference Librarian of Congress Zoran Sinobad:
“While both Star Wars (1977) and The Empire Strikes Back (1980) are on the National Film Registry, the Library has not yet acquired new prints of either one. When the request was made for Star Wars, Lucasfilm offered us the Special Edition version. The offer was declined as this was obviously not the version that had been selected for the Registry. We have not yet requested a print of The Empire Strikes Back, [which was] added to the Registry late last year.”
Our leaders may have been fucking up the economy and starting unnecessary wars for the past decade, but hey, at least they’ve been trying to do the right thing when it comes to Luke Skywalker.
So there you have it—more Lucas allegedly being Lucas. But what of the separate copyright prints that exist for Star Wars, Empire, and Jedi? A 35mm print of every film in this country has to be sent to the Library of Congress to officially be copyrighted (or had to be sent—I don’t know if they still put movies on 35mm). So yes, the LoC is sitting on at least one set of original original Star Wars films from the years of their release that could prove a total failsafe. Unfortunately, according to Zoran, the copyright version of Empire now boasts “extreme color fading” and there is “no report” on the condition of Return of the Jedi (which one assumes could mean it has turned to finite dust by now).
Of course, the very notion that anyone but George Lucas/Lucasfilm will ever control the ultimate fate of Star Wars is laughable. I’m sure it’s written in blood somewhere that public domain doesn’t exist in Obi Wan’s dojo and that no other entity can ever even consider purchasing the rights to those movies. Related tidbit: The aforelinked report throws out a claim that Lucasfilm’s contract with Fox RE: Star Wars has some foreboding clause which demands versions of the pre-’97 trilogy must be “hunted up and destroyed.”
This sounds like fabricated fanboy fear-mongering, but who knows. It seemed just as crazy thirty years ago that a relatively unknown filmmaker would give up his studio paycheck in favor of merchandising rights for the characters in his cheap little space movie everyone and their uncle thought would bomb. Today, Darth Vader’s face is on every household item imaginable and George Lucas is so goddamn rich he can just blatantly fuck with the government (allegedly).
Private collectors, it looks like the future of unaltered Star Wars may be up to you. Don’t let your moms clean out your basements!
Digital Bits Editor Bill Hunt, who is, like, the dude when it comes to home theater stuff, posted his review of the Star Wars Blu-Rays today. Hunt sings the same refrain as so many others: While this set is far from what’s best in terms of current technology and many screw ups from the ’04 DVDs have carried over, it’s still the best Star Wars has looked since you paid to see it during Reagan’s presidency. Bill spilled an interesting/exclusive tidbit, however, while kvetching about the CGI revisions Lucasfilm whipped up for these Blu-Rays. To wit:
“For those of you who hate the past changes [to Star Wars] (and the new BD changes), believe me I get it. Let me just say, it could be a LOT worse. Sources well-positioned to know have told me that Lucas actually seriously considered replacing the puppet Yoda from The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi with the all-digital version, and even had tests conducted to see how it would look. Fortunately, cooler heads prevailed…”
Emphasis added. It goes without saying that the “cooler heads” in this situation should be awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Painting over Frank Oz’s superb puppetry would have been some cold, disrespectful shit. Just thinking about it makes me want to draw giant magic marker penises on every American Graffiti poster I can find.
HOW WOULD YOU LIKE THAT, GEORGE LUCAS? IF I JUST DREW GIANT PENISES ALL OVER RON HOWARD’S CARTOONY FRECKLED FACE? YOU WOULDN’T BE ABLE TO STOP ME, YOU COULDN’T POSSIBLY BE IN FRONT OF EVERY AMERICAN GRAFFITI POSTER AT ONCE.
Meanwhile, Howard the Duck is still atrocious, and Lucas does nothing to try and correct that.
Vadergate: Let’s Pretend To Be Outraged By The One Shot In Phantom Menace Where Yoda’s Still Not CGI
Episodes I-III from the controversial and forthcoming Star Wars Blu-Ray set leaked over Labor Day weekend, which proved not to be such a big deal because A) the prequel films aren’t as universally revered as the original Ewan McGregor-free trilogy and B) reviewers/savvy consumers began receiving physical copies of the set this week anyway. Long story short: Unexpected alterations have been made to the prequels as well, including various color shifts and bits of rerecorded dialogue. The most drastic update was actually revealed last month—Lucasfilm has finally replaced the dubious Yoda puppet they initially insisted on using in The Phantom Menace with a CGI Yoda akin to what was seen in Episodes II & III.
Strangely, I think I support this specific tinker. Lightening did not strike twice for Frank Oz and the Yoda puppet in 1999, and I know several people who were confused by the diminutive Jedi Master’s shabby appearance in that first prequel. “Does Yoda age in reverse?” they all asked me after witnessing Jake Lloyd interact with what looked like a green decaying Bette Davis. I had no answers, so I simply shrugged and turned back to the “F-Troop” marathon I busied myself with the week Phantom Menace came out.
Reports are mixed concerning how well the newly minted digital Yoda emotes, but he definitely looks like Yoda now and not some hairy turd that sprung to life from the briny depths of Chaka Khan’s toilet. Yessir, that’s definitely Yoda the Jedi Master in Episode I now…well, except for the one wide shot where he’s still obviously a child in an ill-fitting Halloween costume:
That’s it. I’m flushing my last box of C-3POs cereal down the toilet in protest. WE WERE PROMISED DIGITAL YODA 24/7.
Of course, there might be bigger controversy over the fact the exceedingly detailed HD picture Blu-Ray presents now allows audiences to see with startling clarity the absolute shit makeup job Phantom Menace’s effects crew did on Darth Maul’s horns. The one legitimately cool part of that movie now tainted by what appears to be small lumps of congealed black glue. I guess fans should just be glad they didn’t CGI a pair of Oakleys on him.
Being the strident Star Wars prequel rebuffer/existence denier that I am, I’m not too invested in whatever other monkeying has gone on in Episodes I, II, & III and don’t plan to report any further details unless something utterly cataclysmic turns up (read: accidental Sam Jackson boner shot, Jango Fett breakdance sequence).
So, if we’re gonna keep talking about this hot Star Wars Blu-Ray mess, we need to come up with a catchier name. I vote for Vadergate. Let me know how you feel about that, Wampa jockeys. Also acceptable: Lucasgate, Jedigate, the Krayt Dragon Rock n’ Roll Swindle.
Phil Tippett (pictured) is a special effects master who’s worked on such incredible pieces of cinema as Jurassic Park, RoboCop, and—ahem—the original Star Wars trilogy. On Wednesday morning, Movies.com spoke with Tippett, a guy who spent countless hours whipping up creatures and spaceships for George Lucas at the dawn of the ’80s, and asked his opinion of the Star Wars creator’s continued CGI brush-stroking over the years.
“They’re shit,” Phil responded, damning all of Lucasfilm’s digital scribbling since 1997 as unnecessary. A not unexpected reaction from the co-genius behind Empire Strikes Back’s still-impressive Imperial Walkers. Tippett, who won an Oscar for his work on Return of the Jedi, also shared a behind-the-scenes story from that film which will surely not garner Georgie Boy any more cool points:
“[Industrial Light & Magic] had a little room where you could get chips and drinks and I was getting something. George and Richard Marquand, [Return of the Jedi’s] director, came in and Richard was saying, ‘George, I don’t totally get where we need to go with this picture.’ And George said, ‘Well, did you see Benji?’ ‘No George, I didn’t see Benji. ‘Well, what we’re doing now is kind of like a cross between Benji and what we did on Empire Strikes Back.'”
Ewok haters: You have a new enemy.
Star Wars Celebration V was held this past weekend in my old home base of Orlando, FL. Part of me wanted to fly down there and check it out because some of my friends were going, but then I remembered I’d have to pay something like $60 or $70 just to stand in endless lines with hundreds of Lucas Kool-Aid drinkers so I could hear someone like Anthony Daniels talk about what the “Droids” cartoon meant to him personally. Not too keen on that notion, I decided to stay in NYC and celebrate by watching the original Star Wars movies when they came on Spike TV Saturday, flinching every time some of that post-1997 CGI bull honkey flashed onscreen (“Jedi Rocks” still feels like a shower in Louie Anderson’s ball sweat).
The big news to come out of Celebration V is that the Star Wars saga is arriving on Blu-ray next year. Of course Lucasfilm is only putting the 2004 “Extra” Special Editions of the o.g. trilogy on these discs, because it would cost too much to find copies of Star Wars, Empire, and Jedi without all that shit they started adding in the late ’90s and restore them all digital-like just to appease a few hundred / thousand / gazillion die-hard fans. Seriously, that’s what they said. I guess we didn’t buy enough merchandise, guys. If we had all bought that one extra Stormtrooper figure back in the day, maybe George could afford to release the versions of the movies we fell in love with.
Orthodox SW fans might be enticed to purchase these Blu-rays anyway, as they’ll allegedly feature oodles of never-before-seen bonus materials. Yeah, we’ve heard that before plenty of times, but Lucas stepped to the plate at Celebration with the following deleted scene from Return of the Jedi in which Luke is seen constructing his lightsaber:
Pretty bad-ass, right? Well, some people don’t think so. In fact, some bitter Chewbacca jockeys instantly decried this footage as fake, nothing more than a quick scene cobbled together with computers and stand-in actors to give the fan boys a boner and move more Blu-ray units.
Is it possible? Is George Lucas that much of a dickhead? Certainly! Thirteen years ago he took three of the greatest movies of all-time and started making significant digital alterations. We now live in a Star Wars world where Jabba the Hutt left his dais to visit Docking Bay 94, the Ewoks never sang their immortal “Yub Yub” song, and Darth Vader’s ghost is a teenager. Lucas has proven he’s not above fucking shit up just for the sake of fucking shit up.
However, previous instances of bullshittery do not alone prove this newly released footage is fake. I’m hard-pressed to spot one instance in those fifty-six seconds that makes me say, “Ah HA! Trickery is afoot!” The film stock looks a little too clean and clear to be some throwaway shit from 1983, but they may have spruced it up a bit for the Blu-ray release. That’s definitely Mark Hamill and his cleft-ass chin. Doesn’t seem to be any CGI junk there (Mark personally confirmed this reel was legit, apparently, before it was unveiled at Celebration; what motivation would Hamill have to lie?). Besides, aren’t we looking at a YouTube clip of a video of a video? I imagine it might look a little better first generation.
I love a good conspiracy as much as the next nerf herder, and I’m all about adding more fuel to the Lucas-hating funeral pyre, but I don’t think this clip is worth going to war over. Still, I’ll do the world a favor and hit up my intel on the inside of Lucasfilm and see what they get back to me with RE: fake-ass Jedi shit. Grumpy Rappoccio may not be the greatest janitor in the world, but he was right about Howard the Duck coming to DVD!