Arts & Entertainment

Return of the Franchise: Thoughts on Star Wars revamps


Star Wars began its return to the big screen this year with the release of The Phantom Menace in 3-D. About a month ago, there was a post on the Star Wars Facebook page about the re-release of Return of the Jedi (the final film chronologically, but the third released). Included was a clip from early in the movie when Emperor Palpatine, the main villain of the series, arrives on the not-quite-finished Death Star (I think they just had to install the central air or something. It gets hot in those stormtrooper outfits).

Anyway, the clip had a little tag on it about the “AWESOME NEW LOOK” for the biker scouts, the specialized stormtroopers that rode around on hovering motorbikes that did the heroes a favor in killing themselves by driving into trees, instead of the typical running-out-into-the-open-and-standing-still-waiting-to-be-shot.

A lot of criticism has been directed toward creator George Lucas for changing things around in his original movies. You’ll hear the cries of many hardcore Star Wars fans, shouting “Han shot first” and “Why did they make the dead Anakin/Darth Vader ghost Hayden Christiansen? Why would he be younger? That doesn’t even make sense,” echoing into the night.

I’m with the diehards on a couple things. When The Empire Strikes Back was re-released in the early 2000s, they dubbed over the fan favorite bounty hunter Boba Fett’s original voice with the voice of actor Temuera Morrison, who played the character’s father in the prequel trilogy. I had a problem with that because you don’t go changing a character’s damn voice because you messed up and decided you wanted him to be from Space New Zealand 20 years later.

Also, that little song and dance number they threw into Return of the Jedi with the Special Edition in the ‘90s might have been the least necessary thing I’ve ever seen. That scene is less necessary than that last season of Scrubs. And I shudder to think the little fuzzy Louis-Armstrong-sounding alien yelling in my face in 3-D.

Aside from those two things, I don’t really care. Little things (like throwing in giant lizards in A New Hope or adding in a bigger yeti getting its arm cut off in The Empire Strikes Back) don’t mean that much to me.

Full Disclosure: I’m a huge nerd and know what both of those species are named. I think there’s a part of my brain that isn’t taking in new information like “what street am I on right now” or “everything on this environmental sustainability quiz” because it’s still full of random Star Wars information that serves no real use in my daily life.

The biker scout revamp is also a little change, so I shouldn’t really care, right? But with the smaller changes I can at least rationalize other smaller tweaks. The giant lizards in A New Hope were always in the background, they just didn’t look good enough to bring to the front. The yeti was scarier when it wasn’t seen, sure, but I’m not watching Jaws, here. I don’t want to be scared, I want to watch Luke Skywalker cut off a goddamn yeti’s arm with a lightsaber because that rocks.

But the biker scouts are just going to look slightly different, and then explode. I can’t think of any creative reason to change the way they look. The only reason I can come up with is that George Lucas wanted to sell more toys. That’s all.

Now, they’re his movies so he obviously has license to do whatever the hell he wants with them. But changing a part of them just to sell more toys is just slimy to me. It doesn’t seem like he really cares about the movies themselves, he’s just trying to figure out ways to make them look sleeker so Hasbro can shove out another collection of collectables.

It’d be like if they changed James Bond’s iconic drink of choice just so the movie production company could get a big contract with Heineken. Oh wait, they totally did.

Product placement and selling things are an inherent part of big blockbuster movies now. Even Twilight has action figures. What are people going to do with those? Rub them against each other? The most egregious example I’ve seen in recent years was in the Will Smith film I, Robot, where they explain his reasons for having the contemporary Sony stereo systems and Converse All-Stars (even though the movie is set in the future) by saying they’re “vintage” and he’s actually a total douchey hipster.

Now we have a ton of blockbuster franchises coming out that are actually based on freaking toys. Michael Bay’s “Loud Truck Robots” franchise is seriously still going to put out more movies, because three movies of Shia LaBeouf running and occasionally seeing the Transformers actually mess each other up weren’t enough. But there’ll be a break in there for Bay to put out a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles reboot even though they will be neither teenagers nor mutants. Our battleships will be sunk this summer in the aptly named Battleship, based on the board game. But now with aliens. “Because shut up, you’ll buy tickets” as the movie studios would likely say.

Maybe I’ll start a line of action figures for The Descendants, and in 10 years I’ll re-release the movie and change George Clooney’s shirt to a different color. Then I can pump out another line of Clooneys and someone will buy them. You know what? I think I’m starting to see George Lucas’ line of reasoning . . .

Keep your eyes peeled for those Clooney action figures, now with “Reconnecting-with-my-daughters-after-finding-out-my-wife-was-cheating-on-me” action!

By Patrick Braud