So, the question remains. Had Star Wars always been crap?
Adding insult to injury
I may have been young and impressionable at the time, but my answer is still: I don´t think so. The original Star Wars at the time seemed like nothing you had ever seen before. The Empire Strikes Back remains, along with The Godfather Pt. II, the finest sequel of all time. Improving in every way upon its predecessor - in plot, in characterisation, in dialogue, in effects - it remains as magnificent a piece of celluloid entertainment as any. By Return of the Jedi, Lucas was repeating himself by revisiting Tatooine, the Death Star (why not climax with an attack on Empire City?) and had his eye firmly on merchandising with the addition of teddy bears to the films. Nevertheless, the hour long three-in-one battle at the end bears repeated viewing well. Still, due to the prequels and the not-so-special editions, the Star Wars universe has forever lost some of its charm.
Where did Lucas go wrong? Is he a burned-out genius who, like so many reunion bands, remains committed to destroying his legacy in his old age? The question is prompted by the belated release of the Star Wars saga on DVD. It does not, as had long been promised, include any new scenes. Perhaps thankfully, but at least these would have been interesting to watch. Nor does Lucas give us the original classic trilogy back. Instead, he presents us with the abysmal not-so-special editions. To add insult to injury, he even pastes poor old Anakin out of the final scene to replace him with the Hayden Christiansen incarnation. If any of my dead relatives were to appear to me, I´d be pretty surprised if they turned out to be younger than I was at the time.
An incestuous brother, a robot and a monkey
George Lucas is the brains behind Star Wars, but watching the bonus material on the newly released Star Wars DVDs, it seems to some extent that Star Wars succeeded in spite of, and not because of, George Lucas. After the first film Lucas was burned out, and wisely decided to hand the reins over to his old mentor, Irvin Kershner. Scriptwriting duties were shared by Lawrence Kasdan and Leigh Brackett. Lucas would mostly concentrate on the astonishing special effects. When he interfered in the story, he was often off. He wanted Han Solo, before going into carbon freeze, to say “I love you too,” to Leia. Harrison Ford disagreed and had his way, giving us instead the immortal “I know.” Ford had his way then. Sadly, in the next disagreement, he didn´t. He wanted Han Solo killed early in the first film, realising the character had no plot purpose anymore. The death of Han Solo might have been a classic movie scene. Instead, he gets the girl in the end.
The extent to which Lucas had the trilogy planned in his mind when making the first film is open to debate. An early trailer called “Forbidden Love” refers to a love affair between Luke and Leia, whom we later found out are brother and sister. Does the title of the trailer refer to incest? Lucas does admit, in a voiceover, that the love story between Han and Leia is underdeveloped, putting it down to the inevitable attraction a movie hero and heroine feel for each other. Well, a man and a woman are stuck on a spaceship for a long time with a robot and a monkey. What do you think is going to happen? Certainly, the other possibilities are not explored.
By 1999, a new generation of filmmakers had appeared that grew up watching the Star Wars films. George Lucas would have been wise to hand over the reins to one of them. His legacy might have remained in better condition.
The first warning signs appeared with the Special Editions. The first film was marred by Javas yelling and falling of their mounts. Star Wars humour was not always funny, but it had never been this irritating before. To make matters worse, the films´ coolest scene was ruined by having Greedo fire first. The Empire Strikes Back escapes relatively unscathed, but this is more than made up for by the awful Muppet song and dance scene at the beginning of Return of the Jedi.