How many times have we endured a new edition of the "Star Wars" canon? The original trilogy "Star Wars" (aka "A New Hope," released in 1977), "The Empire Strikes Back" (1980) and "Return of the Jedi" (1983) has been tweaked repeatedly over the years, with scenes added or altered in "Special Edition" re-releases. And there probably isn't a home in America without a copy in one format or another (and possibly several as it's gone from VHS to DVD to Blu-ray).
Then there are the prequels, Lucas' effects-laden, plodding and emotionally distant chapters of Darth Vader's childhood and troubled teen years. And there is "The Clone Wars," a computer-animated TV series based on the exploits of Anakin Skywalker, the boy who would be Vader, that's supposed to fill in the narrative gap between episodes II and III.
Mocking Lucas' Etch-a-Sketch attempts to alter the movie experience of a generation has become as much a staple of pop culture as "Star Wars" itself. (A perfect example: On an episode of the sitcom "The Big Bang Theory" last fall, a planned viewing of the latest Blu-ray edition of "Star Wars" was being delayed, and one character said, "If we don't start soon, George Lucas is going to change it again.")
Vast quantities of the Internet are devoted to lambasting Lucas for the changes he made to the original trilogy. (I'm following the guideline set forth by the Twitter feed @FakeAPStylebook, and its companion book Write More Good, which stated "Episodes IV-VI are to be referred to as 'the original trilogy.' Episodes I-III are not to be referred to at all.")
The list of egregious changes include: having Greedo shoot at Han Solo first in the Mos Eisley cantina, which means Han is shooting in self-defense (and making him less of a bad-ass); explaining "The Force" not as a mystical, quasi-religious entity but something that can be measured in the bloodstream; adding an extraneous ring of light expanding from the exploding Death Star; and having Vader yell "Nooooooo!" as Emperor Palpatine zaps Luke Skywalker (when the silent Vader was so much more emotionally effective).
And don't get me started on the prequel films (all directed by Lucas), with their dull dialogue, wooden performances and leaden pacing. Even the most die-hard "Star Wars" fan thinks twice before popping those discs in the DVD player.
The fans have become the bane of Lucas' existence. In a recent profile in The New York Times Magazine, Lucas complained about the sniping he has received on the Internet and cites the harsh fan response as one reason he's not making any more "Star Wars" movies: "Why would I make any more, when everybody yells at you all the time and says what a terrible person you are?"
Lucas says the movies are his, and in terms of copyright law, that's true. But in a broader sense, the movies belong to the collective imaginations of the moviegoers who have embraced them over the decades. Lucas may edit his master copy, but he can't revise our memories.
Lucas' revenge against his fans comes in a passive-aggressive form, by insisting on re-releasing the films in the order he dictates not in the order in which we fans fell in love with the franchise.
The first movie being re-released next week isn't the original "Star Wars" that Lucas made in 1977. No, he's starting off with Episode I, 1999's "The Phantom Menace," in which Jedi masters Qui-Gon Jinn (Liam Neeson) and his apprentice Obi-Wan Kenobi (Ewan McGregor), while protecting Queen Amidala (Natalie Portman), land on the isolated desert planet Tatooine and encounter a talented young boy named Anakin Skywalker (Jake T. Lloyd).
A byproduct of starting with Episode I is that Lucas spoils the most surprising moment of the entire series: the scene in "The Empire Strikes Back" when Vader reveals his true identity to Luke.
Revising "The Phantom Menace" in 3-D may add some visual excitement to the action sequences, like the pod race in Tatooine or the climactic battle between the Jedis and Darth Maul (Ray Park). But will 3-D make the clunky dialogue more fluid? Or Portman's fake British accent less silly? Or turn the jaw-dropping awfulness of Jar-Jar Binks (Ahmed Best) more palatable?
So when "The Phantom Menace" opens in theaters next week, I won't be getting in line to see it. I'll start with the original "Star Wars," which showed me at age 13 that the force of movies would be with me, always.
Sean P. Means writes The Cricket in daily blog form at www.sltrib.com/blogs/moviecricket. Contact him via email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @moviecricket or on Facebook at www.facebook.com/themoviecricket.