Seeing “Star Wars” again after 20 years is, like revisiting an old flame, something not to be undertaken lightly. Sure you had fun together, but that was a long time ago. Would the attachment remain strong, or would a reunion lead to a shaking of the head and a muttered, “Thank God we’re not involved anymore”?
George Lucas, the man behind the “Star Wars” phenomenon, is giving everyone a chance to get reacquainted with one of the most popular films of all time. What is being called a “special edition” of “Star Wars” hits theaters today, with “The Empire Strikes Back” following it Feb. 21 and “Return of the Jedi” coming March 7.
As is the norm with reissues, “Star Wars” is first of all being technically spruced up. Ten million dollars has been spent digitally remixing the soundtrack, enhancing the visual effects and restoring the negative, which, surprisingly for a film so young, had begun to seriously deteriorate. Saving the day was a group of some 30 people who, Fox publicity insists, “worked for three years cleaning the negative with a sponge, frame by frame.” And you thought show business was just fun and games.
Apparently still irritated by things that were beyond his control when “Star Wars” first came out, Lucas has added some footage to the reissue. One change is an enhanced, more elaborate look at the city of Mos Eisley, which Obi-Wan Kenobi memorably calls a “wretched hive of scum and villainy.”
Most anticipated of all is a new computer-enhanced version of a scene cut from the original, Han Solo’s confrontation with a younger, more mobile Jabba the Hutt.
Even without those scenes, the original “Star Wars” was, of course, enormously popular. It earned $322.7 million domestically, placing it No. 4 on the Variety list of top-grossing films, the only picture in the Top 10 to date from as far back as the 1970s.
Sometimes forgotten in the glow of all that lucre is that the saga of the making of “Star Wars” is as heroic a story of unlikely success against long odds as anything that appears on the screen.
As related in Dale Pollock’s entertaining “Skywalking: The Life and Films of George Lucas,” “Star Wars” faced numerous obstacles, from an initial rejection by Universal to resistance by the 20th Century Fox board (one of whom called it “that science movie”) to the first rainstorms in Tunisia in half a century.
Sooner or later, almost everyone involved in the filming apparently got angry, from the British crew to the special-effects workers to Fox executives. Director Carroll Ballard, who did second unit photography, told Pollock that “making that movie was like backing up 50 feet from a rock wall, running at it full speed, bashing your head and falling flat on the ground - and doing it again until you busted that bloody wall down.”
If the passions aroused at a preview screening of the new version are any indication, what you notice most about “Star Wars” at this remove is what a religion it has become to its fans; seeing it now with the faithful is akin to finding out that your popular college roommate has just become the pope.
All of that aside, it’s a pleasure to report that the power and attraction of “Star Wars” remains undiminished. Though the passage of time has made the film’s flaws more apparent, it has made it equally evident how little they finally matter. “Star Wars” may not be irresistible (Pauline Kael called it “exhausting, like taking a pack of kids to the circus”) but it comes close enough for this galaxy.
Still as much fun as ever is “Star Wars” ‘ cheeky, playful sensibility, the right touch of attitude both Carrie Fisher and Harrison Ford bring to their verbal sparring.
Ford’s brio remains the one acting element the film could not survive without, and arch lines like his “Do you think a princess and a guy like me … ?” still have all their original appeal.
More than the obvious dead spots, what strikes one now about “Star Wars” is how many things are exactly right: Princess Leia’s stark hologram plea, Obi-Wan’s dignity and clarity, Darth Vader’s heavy breathing, and, of course, the concept of the Force.
If there was a Force that looked after and protected this film, it was and remains the power of George Lucas’ vision, his intuitive understanding of the forms of popular moviemaking. It has already lived long and prospered, and it shows no sign of losing its sway.
MEMO: This sidebar appeared with the story: “Star Wars” Locations: East Sprague, Lyons and Showboat cinemas. Credits: Directed by George Lucas, starring Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher. Running time: 1:20 Rating: PG