As the entire galaxy knows, this week finally sees the release of the Star Wars Saga on Blu Ray DVD. This initial announcement was met with excitement from the fan community, but soon led to some trepidation when we started to wonder just which versions of these oft tinkered with tales we were going to get. As the months wore on, and more details emerged, it became clear that the space madness that Mr. Lucas had apparently been exposed to sometime in the early 90s was wrapping itself around what little storytelling juice he had left and destroying it completely. While I understand and accept that these DVDs will sell by the Imperial Cruiserload, there has been more mockery and bitchiness for this round than ever before. I think most of that fury has to do with the changes and additions, but I’d like to tell you why I’M not going to be spending my heard earned sheckles on these new, shiny drink coasters.
Cliché that it is, I HAVE owned these films on every single format but Beta for the last 20 some years. Hell, I even owned that huge Lasedisc boxed set with hardcover book from ’93, the one that cost $300.00 when it was first released. I dragged that sucker all over the country with me on all my moves, as it was the only way to get pure, unadulterated Star Wars as we all knew and loved it. I remember being insanely excited that it had the theatrical trailers for the trilogy, and made a special VHS burn of them just to pop in whenever I felt like. See, before I get to my rant, I need to point out something very sad, but telling about myself and my relationship to that place far, far away. When I was at Best Buy the other day and saw the cardboard stand up of Threepio holding a sign saying ‘The Complete Saga’ coming to Blu Ray, my first instinct was to give that droid the finger (MY Threepio? One of my favorite characters from those movies?? Why??), and then tell him, “Yeah, but, see, it ISN’T the complete saga, is it? Because those AREN’T the films I grew up with and loved for so long”. And all of this nonsense, and (I’m sorry to say this and offend all the New Trilogy fans) the fact I always have to clarify just which part of the saga I love when I talk to people to distance myself from the complete awfulness of Episodes 1-3, has made me start to walk away from Star Wars.
It’ll never leave me as a thing, as a love, but I’ve realized that there are so many other obsessions of mine that haven’t let me down the way Star Wars has that I tend to give my attention, and more importantly my money, to them instead. So, I admit, the lure of extras and that purported to be amazing documentary is what got me to shell out for the trilogy when it hit DVD in 2004. I also have the 2007 editions, with the original versions as the ‘flip sides’, and most of the time, if I DO want to watch the Star Wars Saga (’77-’83, ‘natch) I put the latter in, because even though the quality isn’t as crisp and clean, they’re MY Star Wars movies, full stop. When I do try and watch the 2004 discs, I appreciate all over again just how terribly they’ve been tampered with. So, I don’t need to hit on any of the obvious points already being lampooned allover the ‘net about the new releases. They either bother you, or they don’t. You either ‘get’ why they’re a travesty, or you accept them. And May the Force Be With You, Amen.
So, all that said, there’s a very simple way I could have been lured to pick these things up, warts and all. It’s what I was getting to earlier, what really burns me up about these releases: the extras. Or should I say, the lack of extras. Most of us come from the VHS Generation, when that’s all we got and we were lucky to get it. Once in a while, a special VHS release came out as a stand alone, as in the Star Wars classic making ofs FINALLY being included with the Blu Rays (I had burned my copies to DVD long ago on my own, thanks George). But to actually get trailers and deleted scenes and commercials and such, that took the small but vocal Laserdic community to support, which led logically to DVDs. We’re living in the Wonderland of DVD, where anything and everything that ever aired, was filmed, got released or shown once on the ABC Sunday Night Movie is making it’s way to our shelves. And that is a good thing, a GREAT thing, it’s what gets us giddy about new release news, what makes us hopeful about long overdue films getting their place in the sun with all the bells and whistles.
Which brings me back to the Star Wars Blu Rays. Has anyone out there read the list of extras? OK, the big news that almost had me way back when we saw that Luke on Tatooine clip, are the deleted scenes. Up til now, we’ve had to rely on grainy footage from that computer game back in 1999, or on set pics from old issues of Starlog. I don’t know how many there are, but even a few are gold when it comes to these films. Hell, I could pick up Steel Magnolias and probably get an hour’s worth, why shouldn’t I for one of the biggest pop culture happenings in history? Well, it’s a good question, because if we go back to that list of extras, what else do we have? A documentary about the 501st? A documentary that chronicles how Star Wars has seeped into different comedy projects over the years? Star Wars Tech, a 45 minute piece that talks to scientists about the weapons and gadgetry….(zzzzzzzz……..) wha? Huh?? Oh , sorry, I nodded off there because I got bored shitless by just listing the filler they’re blessing us with. Oh, and I should add, we ONLY get this fried gold by buying the entire saga. So even if we’re repulsed by the newer films, we’re being forced to accept them into our homes.
So, am I being petty? Am I being a ‘whiny fanboy’ about this? If you think so, start bopping around the internet and doing some digging. Believe me, you won’t have to go far. Why, just last week someone unearthed an amazing clip that I’d certainly never seen before, from the UK series Jim’ll Fix It, of Mark Hamill having a picnic on Dagobah with a kid that won a contest. It was weird, kind of brilliant, and something you will NEVER be given on a Lucasfilm release. I could go on, but spend a few minutes on You Tube and have a look round, there are insane amounts of Star Wars goodies to be savored. Talk show appearances by the cast on the Mike Douglas Show, literally WEEKS after the phenomenon exploded; Kenner commercials galore; Hamill and Ford facing off against Jane Pauly on the Today Show as Empire is about to be released; Burger Chef and Burger King commercials; the cast at the Academy Awards; Carrie Fisher on SNL, the list goes on and on. These are the things true die hard Star Wars fans cherish, those hazy years between that first experience and Empire, when the world revolved around Luke and Vader, and it seemed to permeate every corner of our existence. And please, no one try and tell me these could be rights issues. Lucasfilm has more money than Europe, with a few days and dollars work it could all be tied up.
I have a friend that used to do some work for a studio in their archive department, and for years he used to beg his higher ups to seriously consider releasing some of the more obscure titles in their library, that there was an audience out there for them. His pleas always fell on deaf ears, but it seems Warner Brothers has caught on with their burn to order site, getting dozens of movies and specials out to market after their solitary airings. This is rare, most of the time when it comes to cult or lesser known films, the studio doesn’t want to go the extra mile at all, they just want to get it out. I had an experience a few years back, when I’d met with Universal about getting Flash Gordon re released on DVD after so many years in moratorium. I had gotten hold of a making of mini doc, and offered it to them for inclusion. The woman in charge told me, “well, we really don’t know where this came from, so we may not have the rights”. A making of doc on the set of Flash Gordon back in 1980 and shown to exhibitors round the world most assuredly belonged to them, but she basically didn’t want to do the paperwork and research to sign off on it, and so the release was bare bones.
My point is, this is LUCASFILM we’re talking about. Seriously, where is this stuff? And I’ll go even further, where is the Holiday Special? I know, I know, Lucas says he’d like to destroy every copy, but do YOU know any place else the main actors lent their voices to their animated counterparts? Further, any other place that has ever produced their animated counterparts? Or the only other place they all appeared as their characters, other than the original trilogy? I mean, hell, if you want to throw Bea Arthur and the Jefferson Starship in the bin and JUST give us the stuff with the original cast and the cartoon, we’ll take it! I find it bizarre and beyond frustrating that every time we get a new batch of releases we get shafted, and each time we think, “well, maybe next time they’ll give us everything”, and they never do. I listed a bunch of pop culture relics earlier, things that surrounded the original releases, but just imagine what else Lucas has in his archives. You know those snippets of screen tests we’ve seen on line and in the 2004 doc? Wouldn’t you love to have those, uncut? I know a guy who turned his hobby of collecting into a job with Lucasfilm, and he had scoured the globe for these promotional 7” singles that told the story of Star Wars, that got sent out to radio stations. They were a fascinating bit of memorabilia that few people ever knew about, and after a decade, he’d only found 3 of the 6 parts he needed. Just the sort of thing I’d love to have as an extra on a Blu Ray set of DVDs.
So, thanks for the memories George, they’re unforgettable. I’ll still watch my ‘classic’ DVDs and pick up the odd figure or two, but I have to draw my line in the sand. I know you don’t care, but I have better luck and more fun trying to find what you won’t give us on my own. It’s a lot less frustrating, and a lot cheaper. I keep thinking in the back of my mind, “he’ll come to his senses, he’ll give it all to us eventually”. But I’m now convinced that he never will. So, to those of you who will forgive and forget, enjoy the Blu Ray hoopla and releases. I know what Star Wars was, what it meant to me, and how it should be treated, and I’ll just put together my own box set illegally. It’s what Han would have done, back when he knew how to shoot.