There’s this movie that Netflix keeps recommending to me: The People Versus George Lucas. It’s a documentary about where fans (represented in this film by greasy, overweight American Studies majors) think Lucas went wrong with the Star Wars franchise, particularly with the special edition remastering of the original trilogy and his treatment of the new trilogy. There’s even a low blow mention of the demented Star Wars Christmas special.
I never had a huge problem with the prequel trilogy. I thought those movies were pretty good. Not great, but good. On their own, they wouldn’t have made Star Wars a cultural phenomenon. Their main improvement over the older films is a more sophisticated storyline. For example, in Return of the Jedi the Emperor is just a cantankerous old man with electric fingers. But in the new trilogy he’s a master manipulator who’s pulling everybody’s strings.
I agree with the critics that Jar-Jar Binks and the midi-chlorians or whatever the hell they were called were pretty stupid. And as my brother points out, the transformation of the Anakin Skywalker into Darth Vader is not really convincing: how does this guy get from loving his mother and wife to slaughtering children? It took me a while to admit I agree with him. Intellectually I can understand that story arc; emotionally I just don’t feel it. But people who were disappointed by the new trilogy expected to experience it the way they experienced the original, as awe-struck eight year olds. But I don’t think it’s fair to expect somebody, even George Lucas, to repeat that level of achievement.
Lucas’ real crime was tampering with him original films. With a lot of sequels, adaptations, and remakes, there is a fallacy among the faithful that original art is somehow damaged by its inferior successors. That is not usually true, but in this case Lucas actually did harm his films. I can sort of understand why he might want to dress up the old special effects, but the old effects were noteworthy in their own time. They were part of what made those movies cool to begin with. But the addition of unnecessary scenes, and the outright changing of one of them (Han shot first!) is unforgivable.