When Will It Bring Forth a Mouse?
After the Circus Left Town

Last Judgment on Lucas

Conservatism holds itself out as devoted to the preservation of what is best in our culture. That the definition of "our culture" has broadened considerably, even in conservative circles, is evidenced by Jonathan Last of The Weekly Standard, who blasts the liberties taken by George Lucas in the new DVD Edition of the original Star Wars Trilogy. Wickedness and revisionism are afoot:

These changes, counterproductive as they are, should be endurable. After all, George Lucas created these movies. He has the right to wreck them if he wants. But Lucas isn't just putting out newer, flawed versions. He is embarked on a campaign to create The One True Version of the Star Wars mythology. You see, every time Lucas tinkers with one of his movies, the changes becomes the official version. The older versions are then quietly and efficiently erased from the public record.

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In a few years the original versions of the Star Wars trilogy will be vanished completely. Many filmmakers put out director's cuts of their movies, which are sold alongside the theatrical versions. George Lucas, on the other hand, is so obsessed with airbrushing history that at the end of the day, only Jar-Jar Binks will be left seated on the couch with Lenin.

Some readers will necessarily reject Last's opinions, given that he is a notorious apologist for the Dark Side.

UPDATE 10/6/04: Like Homer, I nod, but in this case it is to express agreement. Greg Perry raises the level of the discourse with a kind link to this post and with a discussion of a point I thought about, but never incorporated here: the value of having all of the versions of a given work available, even if only one is deemed "finished" by its author.

As I suggested above, George Lucas is well within the bounds of his authorial rights, but I think he is harming his own long-term reputation as a creator even more than he is annoying his fans.

And while we're speaking of Greg: I haven't spent much time at all on any serious consideration of poetry here lately, but I have kept up my reading of others' poetry weblogs. I tend to agree with Mike Snider that Greg and Henry Gould have been particularly strong lately. I disagree with Mike's loss of enthusiasm for Wallace Stevens, though: as good as Frost was, I'm a die-hard Stevens man. But then, Stevens was an insurance lawyer, too.

Comments

david giacalone

With tens of millions of copies of the original movies in the hands of the public, how will they ever be expunged and unavailable?

George Wallace

A partial answer to that question is contained in the paragraph that I excised from my longer quote, to wit:

"If you want to see the Star Wars movies as they once were, tough luck. You'll need to go to eBay or the black market and pay hundreds of dollars for the 1993 laserdisc set, or find a bootlegged DVD of the same. The early, unscarred VHS editions are all aging and deteriorating and besides which, were mostly in pan-and-scan full screen."

So, the legitimate versions of the films in their original form -- as opposed to those that blatantly violate Lucas' copyrights -- are hard to come by, technologically obsolescent, in physical decline or incomplete, and become more so with the passing days. Lucas unequivocally refuses to permit the prints of the original films out for theatrical presentation, even to museums or prominent film festivals, so the films may never again be seen in their original medium and format. To overstate the case a bit, it's as though the heirs of Johannes Gutenberg were to say: "We've issued lovely improved Bibles on CD-ROM, you don't need these old printing press versions anymore."

All of this behavior is squarely within Lucas' rights as creator and owner of the Star Wars properties. He could, if he wished, acquire as many physical copies as he could get his hands on and throw them under a steamroller if he were so inclined. None of which means that old guard Star Wars fans, or film historians or others with an interest in the ur-StarWars, are required to approve of those exercises of his rights.

Rick Coencas

George, I hope your comparison of Star Wars to the Guttenburg Bible was merely for illustrative purposes.

Lucas has also done a similar number on the DVD release of THX1138. I much prefer what Spielberg did with the DVD release of ET, in which he included the theatrical version as an extra.

George Wallace

Oh yes, the Biblical example was purely rhetorical and illustrative. It was a poorly chosen example, as well, given that the copyright in that text either doesn't exist or is held by a Higher Authority.

david giacalone

Sure glad I made my own Sony-protected copy of the originals long ago, should the urge arise to see them again. I flashed back to seeing the first Star Wars flick, at the Uptown Theater on Conn. Ave., in D.C., when it first opened -- round-the-clock viewings, with lots of gum on the floors.

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