This year marks the 40th anniversary of the Star Wars franchise. It’s been through a lot of changes, some good and bad. I’ve decided to look at both the original and the Disney versions as a way of showing how much it’s changed, and whether or not the Disney version is good or not. Let’s start where it all began.
George Lucas has been getting a lot of flack since the prequels. Frankly, I think it needs to be toned down. The man was a genius, even if all his ideas didn’t pan out. To me, Star Wars was at its best when it wasn’t the top of the mountain that it is today. That might be its biggest problem: it can’t die no matter what happens.
It’s hard to believe, but Lucas had a lot of trouble getting A New Hope off the ground. His first movie, THX 1138, was a huge flop. (To be honest, I’ve never even seen it.) But one thing helped immensely: American Graffiti. American Graffiti was an unexpected hit. It resonated with audiences both young and old and presented an America people missed. It was a new hope for an America that was still dealing with the aftermath of the Vietnam War. Lucas was good friends with Francis Ford Coppola, who at the time was making Apocalypse Now, the epic commentary on the Vietnam War inspired by Joseph Conrad’s “Heart of Darkness”. He actually wanted Lucas to help out, and Lucas was interested, but he still had visions to turn The Star Wars (which was the working title for A New Hope) into something great. And the popularity of American Graffiti was enough to encourage him to take this chance. But Lucas was also nervous. Star Wars was expensive to make. He needed to film it outside of America for the Tatooine scenes (which were filmed in Tunisia). That, and the effects seemed like they might stop the film from making even enough money to recover from the cost of making the film itself. Lucas was even concerned that he had borrowed too much from Akira Kurosawa’s film The Hidden Fortress and even wanted to buy the rights to it just in case he should ever be accused of plagiarizing it. Eventually, he realized there was no need. It was a homage, not a remake.
Probably the most controversial thing about A New Hope and its sequels these days is the changes that were made when the film arrived on DVD. Yes, the quality definitely needed improving and the DVD helped with that. But there were also changes made to the story itself. There’s the infamous change to Han Solo’s scene with Greedo where now Greedo actually gets a shot in before Solo, creating the “Han shot first” meme. The originally cut scene with Jabba the Hutt is included, and seems redundant since a lot of what’s said between Han and Jabba is already discussed in Greedo’s scene. Mos Eisley seems busier than it was in the original. There’s a scene where Han is running on the Death Star, and is overwhelmed by Storm Troopers, more than were in the original version. Were these changes needed? Yes and no.
I disagree that the scene with Jabba is unnecessary. Yes, it does repeat what we already know, but it sets things up for both Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi. And truth be told, Lucas already had plans for sequels. Seeing Jabba sets the stage for both sequels. And while Solo seems silly deliberately stepping on Jabba’s tail and calling him “a wonderful human being”, I think it helps define his character. Solo is a scoundrel and while he’s afraid of Jabba, he’s still defiant, and I think him stepping on his tail shows that. He’s like a prisoner still defiantly spitting on the warden. Yes, it’s not a smart move, but it shows he’s defiant to the last.
Making Mos Eisley more populated is also a good move. I’ve always thought that if it’s supposed to be a spaceport, it needs to be lively. Seeing all the bustling activity helps establish that. Sure, the comedy is a bit much, but I like it.
No, I’m not saying all the changes were good. I hate Greedo shooting first as much as everyone else does. But I don’t complain because I don’t see the point. None of these changes ruin the experience for me. The film looks excellent and still blows me away every time I pop it in the DVD player. It’s still just as enjoyable now as it was then. So let’s celebrate the legacy of this epic tale. Next month, I’ll continue with the first Star Wars movie I saw in the theatre, The Empire Strikes Back.