Long Live VHS!

Star Wars has changed many times over the years. It seems to get tweaked again and again like Michael Jackson’s nose. It wasn’t even subtitled “A New Hope” until 1981 when it was released with a scene trimmed that had Luke and Biggs discussing his father (something that did not jibe with the revelation in The Empire Strikes Back). Lucas has been changing his work to fit the sequels. But where is the logic in making alterations to original films to match the latest installments? Each film represented quantum leaps in special effects when they came out. Those artists sweated and slaved to make the original trilogy state of the art for each year they were released, and that’s why the CGI additions make me miffed. They don’t add anything to the plot, and they belittle the achievements of the people who worked on the films decades ago. Would we be happy if The Wizard of Oz aired on television this year with CGI flying monkeys, and Charlize Theron digitally inserted in as Glenda? What if Orson Welles decided Citizen Kane was only a rough cut, and he wanted to add on an explanation for “rosebud”? Plenty of movies could have the effects updated, and I’m sure many directors would love to redo or recut their films. Spielberg took out the guns in E.T., and did that help anything? Thankfully he gave us both versions to look at in his DVD set of his biggest blockbuster.

Yeah, I bought the new release. I love the commentaries and the features, but don’t expect me to jump up and down and say the movies have been improved by “the changes.” These films don’t need new technology; they were pretty perfect when they were released. I understand wanting to go back and change your past efforts and improve them. But is this progress? The CGI does not match the styles of the films, and it sticks out worse on DVD than it did in theatres. The plot points changed are minor, and they never needed changing. Entire performances are lost, and new actors have done voice-overs or been digitally inserted into films. Wasn’t one of George Lucas’s first films (released only a couple of weeks before this) about technology taking over the world? It certainly seems to have overtaken his corner of reality.

I did something few people found themselves doing on Tuesday—I watched my VHS copy of Star Wars. It had Han Solo shooting Greedo under the table, far fewer drawbacks, and visual mistakes such as Kenny Baker’s face apparent in the Jawa’s stronghold for stolen robots (watch closely and you will see it). I loved the original trilogy as much as any self-respecting Generation “X”er did. I slept on sheets with Darth Vader’s face and collected plastic toys. The DVDs that came out aren’t the same to me as those dusty VHS copies. Despite the cruddy picture and Dolby 2.0 stereo, the VHS gave me a sense of nostalgia the DVDs didn’t. I am glad the latest incarnation is on the shelf. But when I want to feel like a kid again which copy do you think I’m going to reach for? This is one case where videotape is still my best friend. Lucas may have artistic control of the movies, but he doesn’t own the rights to tweak my memories. And in them, Han Solo is still a bad-ass, and Sebastian Shaw shows up right before the teddy bears start singing.