So for the next 34 years, Lucas would continually tinker and re-imagine his space opus which also included "The Empire Strikes Back" and "The Return of the Jedi" by using sophisticated computer technology to make things the way he wanted. In the late 1990s, he released the "Special Editions" of that first trilogy with new special effects, a now-infamous altered scene involving Han Solo, and a computer-generated Jabba the Hut. Then he made more adjustments for their eventual release on DVD. Now Lucas is at it again.
All six "Star Wars" films are finally arriving on Blu-ray disc Friday, and they already have stirred a controversy so hotly debated some hardcore fans are ready to call Lucas a stuck-up, half-witted, scruffy-looking Nerf herder.
Some of the changes for the Blu-ray include:
• A shot from "The Return of the Jedi" where one of the fuzzy Ewoks blinks.
• A scene in "Star Wars" where R2-D2 now hides behind rocks that were digitally inserted.
• In "The Phantom Menace," the original Yoda puppet was replaced by an all-digital CGI Yoda.
• Obi-Wan's dragon call in a desert scene in "Star Wars" was drastically altered.
But the biggest change that has many fans furious is a shot in "Jedi" in which Darth Vader now screams "Nooooo!!" before tossing the Emperor into the Death Star's core. Originally, he said nothing, but some argue the tweak drastically changes the tone of the scene the same way Lucas altered Han Solo's character by allowing the space pirate to shoot the bounty hunter Greedo second.
"I think he's lessening any power behind the [original] film," said movie special effects supervisor Clark Schaeffer, of Salt Lake City-based Schaeffer Studios. "He's not showing the respect of what the original was."
"Lucas almost turned to the dark side to go to computer graphics. So much of it does not have the heart that it had before," said Schaeffer, who has worked on such films as "Die Hard" and "Iron Man 2." "When that film was done it was 30 years ago. Let it be what it was. Why change history?"
Thanks to computer technology today, any aspect of a movie can be changed as if the original never existed. Actors can be taken out. New ones can be put in. Entire settings can be manipulated. This goes way beyond the colorization craze of black-and-white movies in the 1980s. Lucas' constant manipulation of the original classics now brings up the question: Just because you can change a movie with new technology, should you?
"It's very easy," said Schaeffer, himself a devout "Star Wars" fan who actually has worked with the original special effects artists from that movie. "The old film is already digitized to go to DVD, so it's a matter of time and energy [to manipulate the film]. If you want to, you can make any change you want you can drop actors in there and change any scene you want. I mean, why not pull out 'Wizard of Oz' or 'Gone with the Wind' and change those?"
There was a time when Lucas defended the historical significance of an original film. In 1988, he spoke before Congress against the colorization of black-and-white films.
"Today, engineers with their computers can add color to black-and-white movies, change the soundtrack, speed up the pace, and add or subtract material to the philosophical tastes of the copyright holder," he said. "Tomorrow, more advanced technology will be able to replace actors with 'fresher faces,' or alter dialogue and change the movement of the actor's lips to match."
Since then, Lucas isn't the only director to dabble in revisionist history with his movies. For the 2002 DVD release of "E.T.," director Steven Spielberg inserted an all-CGI version of ET in a new scene and digitally replaced guns with walkie-talkies in a scene with pursuing FBI agents. And the directors of both "The Matrix" and "The French Connection" altered the color timing of both movies for their releases on video and Blu-ray respectively.
While many on the Internet have voiced their outrage at Lucas, many other fans think it's OK.
"The movies belong to Lucas, and he can do whatever he wants with them," said Brady Hales, a Salt Lake County actor and member of the 501st Legion, the world's largest "Star Wars" fan club. "As a creator, I believe that nothing is ever finished; it's only abandoned. I feel that any author of any book or of any artwork has free liberty to make the changes they want."
"People are making it out to be more than it is," said Mark Fordham, of Provo, a former international president of the 501st Legion. " 'Star Wars' is going to outlive George, and it's going to outlive me and you."
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To buy or not to buy?
The "Star Wars" films come out on Blu-ray this Friday in three different sets.
"Star Wars: The Complete Saga" • Contains nine discs with Episodes I-VI and special features.
"Star Wars: The Original Trilogy" • Contains three discs with Episodes IV-VI.
"Star Wars: The Prequel Trilogy" • Contains three discs with Episodes I-III.