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07 Aug

Star Wars Restoration Projects

Written by Michael Fuchs
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Part of Our Cultural History: Fan-Creator Relationships, Restoration, and Appropriation

In his recent study of fan responses to Disney's acquisition of Lucasfilm, William Proctor writes that "without Star Wars, I would not be sitting here writing this article as an academic" (198). Attributing one's career choice to a science fiction saga may seem a bit extreme, but if you're reading this book, chances are you can understand where Proctor is coming from. Indeed, in the past forty years, Star Wars has arguably exerted a stronger influence on the lives of its viewers and fans than any other media text. Indeed, it is rare to find a person born in the last sixty years who does not have some sort of a relationship with what Matt Hills has called the "cult blockbuster" ("Star Wars") that is Star Wars. The proliferation of pop cultural references to the saga testifies to its unparalleled cultural force. When Rachel donned the Princess Leia slave girl attire to fulfill Ross's childhood-cum-adulthood fantasy in an episode of Friends or Bart Simpson quipped about returning to 1974 to experience "a world where no one's mad at George Lucas" ("Treehouse"), the respective creators could rest assured that the entire audience would be in on the joke. Indeed, particularly in America, the films have become a kind of unofficial national religion, to the point that when India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi visited New York in the fall of 2014, he closed his address to thousands of spectators with the iconic Jedi farewell, "May the Force be with you."

Beyond the passion of its fans, Star Wars shares another characteristic typical of many religions: the presence of a god-like creator figure who inspires a wide range of emotional responses in the members of the congregation. While in the early years, the dialogue between creator and followers remained "measured and entirely friendly" (Brooker, "Internet Fandom" 69), in this chapter, we will examine the complex ménage à trois between creator, fans, and text that has played out over the last forty years. After a brief overview of the formative years of this complex relationship, we will examine two events that transformed this civil exchange: the release of the Special Edition of the Original Trilogy in 1997, which sowed the seeds of discontent, and the release of the Prequel Trilogy between 1999 and 2005, which provoked an all-out rebellion. In particular, we will focus on the ways in which, especially in the more recent past, fans have leveraged new technologies to challenge George Lucas's iron grip on the Star Wars story.

The Franchise Awakens

From its inception, Star Wars's promotional effort anticipated the cross-channel, multi-media campaign that has become standard for Hollywood blockbusters in the twenty-first century. Among science fiction fans, Star Wars had already become a household name by the time the first movie hit the screens. Multimedia presentations and original props from the first movie's production were shown at the 1976 San Diego Comic-Con (back then attended by a mere few hundred fans) and the 1976 WorldCon.1 Trailers were shown in theaters starting in the holiday season of 1976, with the first movie's novelization being published around the same time and eventually selling more than 500,000 copies by May 1977. A couple of weeks prior to the movie's release, Marvel launched its Star Wars comics series.2 When Star Wars was eventually released on Memorial Day weekend of 1977, it was shown in only 43 theaters. By August, more than 1,000 theaters had screened the movie, and in the summers of 1978 and 1979, the movie was again presented in more than 1,000 theaters across the United States.3

In the wake of the film's huge success, a flood of spin-offs and merchandise (e.g. posters, t-shirts, buttons, and even a disco version of the score) followed, with Kenner selling 42 million Star Wars-themed items in 1978 alone, 26 million of these being action figures. These products not only brought in unprecedented profits, but also helped cement the audience's attachment to the narrative. As media scholar Robert Buerkle has noted, "Star Wars was … a meta-experience: the larger experience of how kids revisited, expanded on, and performed the trilogy. … But more than anything else, Star Wars was the toys" (italics in original). Indeed, the toys may be considered an early vehicle for facilitating fan appropriation, as children around the world (including the authors of this paper) spent countless hours using the characters and props of the Star Wars universe to "bring[] the Star Wars story to life" (Geraghty 127) and, perhaps more importantly, to create their own stories with the beloved characters.

However, these children's mini-theaters, performed in private, were not the only creative license taken with the Star Wars galaxy. First, there were the official, Lucas-sanctioned ancillary texts. The documentary The Making of Star Wars (1977), for example, was hosted by fictional characters C-3PO and R2-D2, making it an early example of the blurring of borders between the diegetic world, the production process, and the fan experience, which has continued to the present day and, in fact, intensified with the passage of time. A second spin-off, the much-maligned 1978 Holiday Special, represented an early, and rare, case where Lucas and the fan base were in complete agreement about the worthlessness of a project, as well as offering a prime example of a Star Wars product that Lucas is on record as wanting to erase from public memory. Unfortunately for Lucas, his attempts to suppress this spin-off was rendered impossible due to the circulation of non-sanctioned video copies and, eventually, widespread (again unauthorized) digital distribution on the internet.

Beyond losing control of the official ancillary texts, as early as the spring of 1978 Lucas and company were already engaged in an effort to exert control over the evolving world of unofficial, non-profit fan publications. Asked about his stance toward fanzines, Lucas responded: "Right now we're working out a policy about fanzines. Basically, a problem with copyrights has to be resolved" ("Open Letters"). This early tidbit from Lucas was featured in issue no. 6 of the Star Trek fanzine Scuttlebug, which also included the following information: "The Star Wars Corp. wants to keep track of what SW zines are coming out. They are not out to hassle, sue, etc., anybody. They just wan [sic] to convince 20th Century Fox's legal department that there are more than five SW fans who are interested in publishing zines. Even if you are planning a zine, they would like to know about it" ("Open Letters"). While this sounds friendly and encouraging, around the same time, Probe reported that the Star Wars Corporation was starting "to inform [publishers of unsanctioned fanzines] that they are in violation of copyrights" ("Open Letters"). In the summer of 1978, rumors were already circulating that Lucas would allow fan fiction as long as it stayed PG-rated, a policy that was confirmed in the summer of 1981 when Lucasfilm started sending out letters to fanzines which published "x-rated material" informing them that

a great deal of the infringing material published in small circulation fan publications has been overlooked by Lucasfilm because the costs of stopping such activities are often out of proportion to the amounts involved. This situation is tolerable to Lucasfilm only so long as the materials published are not harmful to the spirit of the Star Wars saga. ("Open Letters")

Interestingly, the letter neither acknowledged the free marketing provided by fanzines nor explicitly mentioned Lucasfilm's tolerance of material written in the spirit of Star Wars. Rather, it highlighted that tolerance was not a form of encouragement, but rather based on recognition of the prohibitive legal costs of halting such fan appropriations. In any case, the letter continued to explain that editors

should seriously consider [their] responsibility to Lucasfilm, the copyright owner of these materials, and to the many loyal fans whose high regard fro [sic] the Star Wars saga is based in part on the wholesome character that everyone associates with it. Any damage that [editors and fanfic writers] do to this character hurts both Lucasfilm and the fans, and it would be irresponsible for [editors and fanfic writers] to act without a sense of duty [they] owe to both. ("Open Letters")

Revealingly, the planet-destroying Grand Moff Tarkin and his neck-snapping henchman Darth Vader were apparently included in this category of "wholesome characters," indicating a typically American acceptance of violence. Fortunately, a short time later, Maureen Garrett, then director of the Star Wars fan club, sent out notifications to fanzine editors which clarified the real target of Lucasfilm's injunction: "Lucasfilm Ltd. does own all rights to the Star Wars characters and we are going to insist upon no pornography" ("Open Letters"; emphasis in original). It is worth noting that, unlike modern-day online fan communities and similar forums, the original fan club was actually run by Lucasfilm Ltd. and used as a tool for propaganda and fan control. Thus, in a subsequent letter to the fanzine Warped Space, Garrett could even lay out edicts from the Grand Leader himself: "The word has come from George Lucas, himself, that STAR WARS pornography is unquestionable [sic] unacceptable. … Pornography is directly opposed to the very ideals and the spirit that the STAR WARS Saga embodies" ("Open Letters"). In a rhetorical flourish worthy of a political spin doctor, Garrett later defended this edict in a letter to Judland Wastes by explaining that Lucasfilm's banning of "pornography" "is an exercise in OWNERSHIP not censorship" ("Open Letters"). In a final step, Garrett clarified in a letter to Imperial Entanglements that Lucasfilm "cannot authorize homosexual expression [sic] of love …. This controversial subject must remain detached from the world created by Lucasfilm in order to preserve the innocence even Imperial crew members must be imagined to have" ("Open Letters"). After pushback from the fan community, even the "corporation" was forced to acknowledge the ethical questions raised by a code of conduct condoning the genocide perpetrated by a group of people while strictly prohibiting any potential homosexual interactions between them. In October of 1981, they finally reversed course and officially approved the first fan fiction containing homosexual content.

Thus, from an early time, three things were clear. First, unlike Gene Roddenberry, Lucas's counterpart in the world of Star Trek fandom, who was a regular attendee of conventions and eager to interact with fans, Lucas remained aloof, peering down from his Olympian perch and interacting via vaguely threatening official releases. Second, the injunctions against pornography provide early evidence of Lucas's desire to maintain a "pure" fictional universe suitable for viewers of all ages. And third, like the real universe, the Star Wars universe abhorred a vacuum, and with too much time left between primary texts, fans and Lucasfilm licensees alike were ready and eager to fill the void.

The Universe Expands

Whereas at the time that Star Wars was released, there was no guarantee of a sequel, the situation was entirely different when The Empire Strikes Back came out three years later. Even the opening crawl, which labeled the film "Episode V," made it clear that more films were to come and offered the first hint at a much longer history that had preceded the events of the first film. Of course, the movie's conclusion, with its range of unresolved storylines, left fans clamoring for more. Similarly, although Return of the Jedi brought a more definitive (if widely mocked) ending, it still raised at least as many questions as it answered, both about the diegetic past (How did Anakin turn to the Dark Side to begin with? What were the Clone Wars?) and the diegetic future (So when we finish singing ridiculous nonsense songs with the walking teddy bears, what happens next?). And indeed, these narrative mysteries, as Jason Scott has noted, generated "fanzine discussion" and led to "[d]eveloping scenarios that resolve such enigmas" through fan fiction (15). In addition, official tie-ins answered some of these questions, as the Star Wars universe gradually evolved into what would be labeled the "Expanded Universe." As a result, by the mid-1990s,

the Star Wars universe was far bigger than it had been twenty years earlier. In the long drought between official primary texts, fans had taken what they could get, and characters like Mara Jade and Xizor had become favorites; they appeared in comic books, on trading cards, and as mini action figures. (Brooker, Using 70)

The serial (but, at times, also parallel) publication of these stories (and fan productions based on them) not only heightened anticipation for each new publication (and, eventually, film release) but also sustained fan investment, both emotional and financial, in the saga.

In this context, Nathan Hunt has emphasized "the importance of trivia" in science fiction fandom, whereby the seemingly unimportant knowledge fans have accumulated is transformed into cultural capital. As Hunt concludes, "[t]hrough their use of trivia, fans lay claim to having special access to, and hence dominion over, specific texts owing to their … superior knowledge of them" (186). As a classic example, one of the current authors was once the proud owner of the Star Wars edition of Trivial Pursuit, a full-fledged, official release of the wildly popular 1980s game, packed with hundreds of Star Wars-related questions. The very existence of such a game pre-supposes a (sizable) customer base of people who have seen the films dozens of times (if not more). Such a game could not have existed in the pre-VCR era. However, the release of Star Wars coincided with the emergence of VCR technology and cable movie channels such as HBO, which provided the technological means for undermining Lucas's vision of the fan-text relationship. In a 2004 interview, Lucas expressed his conviction that when he made the original movie, it "was not meant ... to be seen more than once in a movie theater. It was designed to be a large theatrical experience that ... would blow you away" (qtd. in Lyons & Morris 190). Apparently, Lucas not only believed that Star Wars should not be seen multiple times, but he was also initially unwilling to show the films on the small screen, as this would diminish the Star Wars experience. However, the one-two punch of cable TV and the VCR knocked out this vision of a passive fan experience and fostered an intimate fan-text relationship which introduced a new type of cinephilia that transcended cinema. In the case of Star Wars, the combination of mass appeal and technological conditions thus led to the emergence of a passionate fan base with a detailed knowledge of every aspect of the original texts. Add in a creator afflicted with a serious case of Whitman Syndrome (i.e., the irresistible urge to continuously tinker with one's artistic creations after they have already been released to the public), and conflict was inevitable.

One such conflict emerged in the run-up to the release of the Special Edition of the Original Trilogy in the mid-1990s. In 1994, Jason Ruspini set up an unofficial Star Wars website. With up to 40,000 visitors per day, it was a hit in the early days of the internet. Yet as Ruspini reported, Lucasfilm "nicely asked me to shut it down, with the implication that if I didn't[,] they would bring in a lawyer or something" (qtd. in Sommer 7B). When Ruspini then posted excerpts from the communication with Lucasfilm on his site, fellow fans grew angry and flooded the company with thousands of emails. In May, Lucasfilm issued the following statement:

There has been quite a bit of confusion on the internet regarding Lucasfilm's position on Jason Ruspini's web page. Please let us clarify. First and foremost, we are not "shutting down" Jason's website. We are sorry for any confusion that may have emerged from any miscommunication on our part.
Lucasfilm appreciates Star Wars fans' support and we want you to be able to communicate with one another. Your energy and enthusiasm makes you an important part of our Star Wars family. As you can understand, it is important, as well, for Lucasfilm to protect the Star Wars copyrights and trademarks. Since the internet is growing so fast, we are in the process of developing guidelines for how we can enhance the ability of Star Wars fans to communicate with each other without infringing on Star Wars copyright and trademarks and we hope to make these guidelines available in the near future.
As we prepare for the Star Wars Trilogy Special Edition[,] which will be coming to theaters next year[,] and as we begin pre-production on the upcoming "prequels," we are now entering an exciting new Star Wars era. Many thanks for your support and interest. (qtd. in Brooker, Using 167)

As the failure of this early attempt to suppress fan productions shows, the evolution of technology had already empowered the fans. The emergence of the internet provided the perfect vehicle for fans to interact, organize and, ultimately, resist the decrees of the "authorities," an activity which would soon increase dramatically.

Rebellion Brews

Although the then-still-unnamed first episode in the Star Wars saga was originally slated for release in 1997, by 1996 it was clear that this release date would not be met. Fortunately (although many fans would disagree with the use of that particular word), "ILM had been brainstorming how they might alter the original movie as early as 1993" (Taylor ch. 21). Since Lucas "became frustrated that the costumes, sets, and other production elements weren't living up to his vision of Star Wars" while shooting the original films, as the Lucasfilm-produced documentary Empire of Dreams suggests, the creator had always insisted that, in particular, the movie that came to be known as A New Hope "was a half-finished movie that just got thrown into the marketplace" (qtd. in Pollock 290). As a result, ILM didn't need to convince the godhead that, in the mid-1990s, changes were no longer merely a possibility for the distant future, but rather a dream whose time had come. So, by the mid-1990s, Lucas had "the energy and the stuff … need[ed] to fix" (qtd. in Pollock 290) the original movies. Yet beyond "finishing" the "half-finished movie," Lucas rationalized his decision to re-visit the Original Trilogy as follows:

The most obvious thing that's happened is we've gone back to the original negative, cleaned it up considerably, redone a lot of the optical effects, the dissolves and improved the quality of the film, because it was deteriorating. One of the things I wanted to do was preserve the film so that it could still be a viable piece of entertainment in the twenty-first century. ... This one had deteriorated a lot more than anybody expected .... … The audience will get a brand new print that's very clean and actually better than the original release in terms of technical quality. It's less grainy, it's less dirty, and it's just a better print. (Jedi News)

Although Lucas claimed that preservation was the primary driving force in creating the Special Edition, he also admitted to adding scenes "that had been cut out due to time and money constraints" (Jedi News). If it had been merely about the preservation, or restoration, of the original movies, no one would have probably cared too much (or fans might, in fact, have even embraced the restoration4), but among the nearly three hundred changes between Star Wars and A New Hope's Special Edition were some that truly caused a stir—in positive and negative ways.

On the positive side (from a "serious" fan's perspective), the Special Edition contained some nods to the hard-core fans of the Expanded Universe. These references "mark[ed] a dramatic shift in the hierarchy between canon and quasi-canon," for certain elements from the Expanded Universe were suddenly "drawn into the primary text" (Brooker, Using 71). For example, Dash Rendar's starship Outrider, which was introduced in Shadows of the Empire (an ancillary text published in 1996), is supposedly seen during one of the inserted panorama shots of Mos Eisley. While the verification of Rendar's existence was, arguably, more of a construction of overzealous fan interpretations, the Special Edition marked the first appearance of Coruscant, the "Imperial City" (Zahn 15) at the center of both the Old Republic and the Empire, which was briefly shown in the celebration scenes at the end of the Special Edition of Return of the Jedi.5 Finally, one further addition that even casual fans noticed was the re-incorporation of a deleted scene in which Luke meets his old friend Biggs just prior to the launch of the attack on the Death Star in A New Hope. This scene struck many as being "an important scene," for it emphasized "their friendship" (Walker) and thus deepened the emotional impact of Biggs's death for the audience, which had been relatively minimal when Biggs was just a name that Luke had mentioned way back at the beginning of the film.

However, beyond these few exceptions that catered to various audiences, a number of other changes received a less-than-favorable reception from the wider fan base. In some cases, alterations can reasonably be viewed as enhancements. Beyond the simple visual improvements of many scenes and the erasing of matte lines,6 a legitimate case can be made that changes such as the Millennium Falcon rising up from Docking Bay 94 to escape, some digitally enhanced and inserted shots of Cloud City, or CGI shots of the Sarlacc added to the films' visual ambience.

Yet when the camera lingered too long, or when the digital elements became too obtrusive, it crossed a line for many fans. We would posit two reasons for fan displeasure. First, for many fans, viewing Star Wars may be compared to a religious ritual, something familiar one returns to time and again for the feeling of stability and comfort. This feeling is inevitably disturbed or destroyed by the introduction of new, unexpected elements. Inserting an unnecessary dewback into a desert scene or some faux-comic slapstick of jawas falling off a ronto when Luke and company enter Mos Eisley is analogous to a priest performing a Jim Carrey spit take when sipping the wine during a Catholic mass. The second reason for fan resistance we would put forth is the quality of the effects themselves. In the initial release, the new digital effects did not blend in very well with the older footage, and this dissonance only worsened as technology improved in the ensuing years. Comments posted by fans on Drew Stewart's remarkably thorough online breakdown of the Special Edition's digital alterations allude to this issue, as when user Ludvik Herrera comments, "The dewbacks are so CGI fake that I really cannot stand it." Or, as another fan put it, the Special Edition's primary concern seems to be "shoving more shit on the screen to distract" (RedLetterMedia) viewers from the narrative.

While scholars have recently emphasized that digital visual effects may be "used to transmit story information" (McClean 11), the Special Edition's new "spectacular visual effects" clearly do not "articulate a range of complex concepts and thematic concerns that are central … to the narratives of the films" (Whissel 4), but rather merely fetishize the technological apparatus. Tellingly, as Stephen Prince remarks, "Lucas was relatively slow to incorporate digital effects into his own films" (21). While The Wrath of Khan (1982) sported ILM-created effects that served as "the era's great industry eye-opener, showing what digital imagining could do for cinema," Return of the Jedi, released a year later, "used only a small amount of digital animation to simulate graphics displays" (Prince 21–22). Indeed, in the 1983 documentary From Star Wars to Jedi, Lucas took down fellow science fiction creators because, in his sweeping generalization of his profession, they were "showing off the amount of work" they had put into the establishment of an environment rather than effectively employing the setting and failed to understand that "special effects are just a tool, a means for telling a story. People have a tendency to confuse them as an ends in themselves. … Special effects without a story is a pretty boring thing." [We pause here briefly to allow you to revel in the amazing irony of this quote.]

Considering the eventual triumph of effects over plot in the Prequel Trilogy, Dan North's point that one of the Special Edition's primary objectives was "making the six films more visually continuous and compatible" (163) is thus endowed with another level of resonance: The Special Edition may be considered a testing ground for the gradual replacement of narrative with spectacle. As North correctly concludes, the Special Edition presented "an irrevocable push towards a digital aesthetic" (165), which was fully realized in the prequels.

Perhaps the premier example of the Special Edition's foreshadowing things to come was the reinsertion of a deleted dialogue scene between Jabba the Hutt and Han Solo using a CGI Jabba. In his video analysis on YouTube, user HelloGreedo succinctly sums up fan reaction to this scene: "Overall, CG Jabba looks like complete shit. … [T]hat giant piece of digital shit was really approved to be in the final … film." In the 2004 DVD release, Lucas attempted to salvage the scene by updating the digital effects, but this misses the point. In this case, the technology was just the tool, but the fans were objecting to how it was employed, for the Jabba-Han dialogue scene touches a fan nerve by altering important characters. First, Boba Fett, who quickly became a fan favorite after his introduction in The Empire Strikes Back, appears in the scene seemingly demoted to the job of bodyguard, a departure from his usual role of lone bounty hunter. However, Boba Fett's diminution pales in comparison to what the scene did to Jabba. In terms of physical size, the staging of the scene, which was originally shot with a human actor who was shorter than Harrison Ford, made it impossible to insert a digital figure that would match the scale established in fans' minds by Return of the Jedi. Furthermore, no matter how good the digital effects might have been, they could never mask the fact that Han Solo looks down on Jabba and interacts with him casually. Jabba thus sheds the menacing, merciless image from Return of the Jedi to become a kind of avuncular godfather figure, complete with slapstick comic tendencies, mediocre bargaining skills, and hollow-sounding threats. Here, Lucas's technophilia trumped his (already limited) sense of character development and his (also limited) directorial sensibility.

Of course, no discussion of Lucas's Special Edition tinkering would be complete without mentioning the most infamous change of all, the notorious "Han Shot First" controversy. Here, we enter the realm of what Dan North has labeled "a more foundational refurbishment of the trilogy" (162) that "disrupt[ed] the text's received interpretations" (163). Since we assume the basics of this issue are familiar to anyone reading this book, we will just summarize briefly. In the original version of the cantina confrontation scene between Greedo and Han Solo, Han engages Greedo in conversation long enough to get his gun out of his holster and then "happily" (or at least without much sign of remorse) shoots him dead. However, in the Special Edition, the scene was edited to make Greedo shoot first, in an apparent effort to provide Han with some sort of "stand your ground" defense. Like the removal of the laser impacts with Imperial officers (i.e., non-Stormtroopers), this was clearly not a visual cleaning, but rather a moral cleaning, and the fans were not pleased to see their beloved rogue sanitized in this fashion. Although Lucas would eventually alter the scene twice more (at the time of writing), Han never again shot first. In an illuminating 2012 interview with The Hollywood Reporter, Lucas explained his side of the story:

[W]hat I did was try to clean up the confusion, but obviously it upset people because they wanted Solo to be a cold-blooded killer, but he actually isn't. It had been done in all close-ups and it was confusing about who did what to whom. I put a little wider shot in there that made it clear that Greedo is the one who shot first, but everyone wanted to think that Han shot first, because they wanted to think that he actually just gunned him down. (qtd. in Bock; our emphases)

This explanation is notable for two reasons. First, it shows Lucas not just trying to set the record straight, but rather to re-write history entirely. The disingenuous suggestion that Greedo shot at all is clearly contradicted by existing evidence, no matter how hard Lucas has tried to suppress it, and supports Will Brooker's assertion that

Lucas's recent interviews, which obsessively rewrite the history of the production process and the saga's evolution, just as the series of Special Editions and DVD versions rework the detail of the narrative world, overriding and repressing any contradiction, are no longer a reliable document of his authorial intentions or reflections. (Star Wars 83)

The second, and perhaps more important, point about the Han Shot First controversy is that it highlights Lucas's fundamental weakness in understanding and staging character development. The fans don't want Han to be a cold-blooded murderer; they simply want him to be a likeable ruffian who plays by the criminal code of conduct. By this code, shooting down a fellow criminal who points a gun at you and has just threatened your life isn't cold-blooded murder; it is simply being a good gangster. Waiting for him to fire first, on the other hand, just makes you a lousy gangster and a bit stupid (setting aside the ridiculousness of a bounty hunter shooting at a stationary target from three feet away and somehow missing; unless subsequent edits of Han "dodging" were meant to suggest that Han has Jedi-like anticipatory abilities that allow him to dodge laser bullets, which would be a complete contradiction of everything Han stands for… but we digress.). In the end, this episode makes one thing abundantly clear: CGI is just a tool, and ultimately, CGI doesn't kill movies, sub-par directors kill them.

Attack of the CGI

If the Special Edition was the first step on the seductive path to the dark side of digital wizardry, the release of The Phantom Menace would soon prove that Lucas's transformation was complete. Where the Special Edition was Lucas's attempt at re-writing and re-contextualizing his history as a filmmaker, the prequels were his attempt to claim a place in the pantheon of visionary filmmakers who have influenced the way movies are made. To get an insight into Lucas's mindset about the prequel films, it is helpful to look at the making-of included in the Phantom Menace DVD box. This documentary begins with a few snippets taken from a 60 Minutes interview with Lucas that was originally broadcast in March of 1999, in which Lucas stresses the significance of auteur theory. Introduced by François Truffaut in the 1950s, it was American critic Andrew Sarris who distilled what came to be known as "auteur theory" from Truffaut's essay by claiming that a movie director assumes three key functions in the filmmaking process: "those of a technician, a stylist, and an auteur" (133). While Lucas is laying claim to these aspects (i.e., directing, editing, and, crucially, technical innovations), he is also reviving a point from Truffaut's original work that was omitted from Sarris's discussion—the emphasis on the power of "homme[s] de cinéma" (20), which Truffaut understood as filmmakers directing movies that are based on their own scripts. Lucas's emphasis on being an "homme de cinéma" makes his claim to sole authorship of the entire Star Wars series explicit.

For the Original Trilogy, this claim is clearly overstated. During the filming of Star Wars, there were people who questioned Lucas's decisions (e.g. the well-known point that the actors repeatedly told him, "You can write this stuff, but you can't say it") and strongly impacted the final shape of the movie. Indeed, as Chris Taylor has pointed out, "The first reel of Star Wars was vital—and yet a surprising amount of the credit for it belong to people whose names are not George Lucas" (ch. 11). Alfred Newman had composed the Fox fanfare, a sound that came to symbolize Star Wars more so than Fox, in the 1930s; John Williams's Academy-Award-winning music sets the tone for the entire movie; and the opening crawl was heavily edited by Brian DePalma and then-Time movie critic Jay Cocks. Once viewers virtually enter the diegesis, they are welcomed by ILM's special effects. Add to these aspects the fact that Lucas didn't want Anthony Daniels voicing C-3PO and the importance of the (Academy-Award-winning) editing team, and it becomes obvious that Star Wars was a collaborative project. For The Empire Strikes Back, Lucas then delegated directing duties to his former teacher Irvin Kershner, provided only the story (which was refined by Leigh Brackett and Lawrence Kasdan), and retreated to the function of executive producer. However, already prior to Return of the Jedi, Mike White argues in a fanzine, Lucas "bought into his own hype and felt that he could do no wrong," which led him to once again assume a more active role on the film when he thought director Richard Marquand was not up to the task. Afterwards, his "self-delusion spiraled out of control back at Skywalker ... ranch" (White), a process which culminated in the near-total control he exercised over all aspects of the Prequel Trilogy.

Tellingly, in the documentary The People vs. George Lucas, Lucas's biographer Dale Pollock notes, Lucas "is beyond a certain level of criticism. He is beyond the idea of true collaboration." The Phantom Menace's making-of supports this idea. After the aforementioned snippets from 60 Minutes, viewers see a storyboard meeting. On the agenda is deciding which elements of specific scenes will be CGI effects and which will exist in the pro-filmic reality. As Lucas goes through the storyboard, there are several looks of disagreement and utter confusion among the crew members, but no one challenges Lucas. There is complete silence in the room until he mixes up the color codes and, tellingly, begins laughing at himself, upon which the others apparently feel okay joining Lucas in laughing at Lucas. The odd aspect of this making-of is that, assuming that Lucas was involved in its creation, it seems to be Lucas doubling down on his own questionable decisions, as if to say, "Yup, that was my call, and there is nothing you can do about it."

And what did this total control bring about? Since brutal takedowns of the Prequel Trilogy abound (we can recommend the well-known RedLetterMedia review), and our space here is limited, we will restrict ourselves to pointing out two flaws that are most relevant for the discussion below: the excess of CGI and the misguided attempts to maintain the alleged innocence of the fictional universe. Relevant to the former, while the Original Trilogy is permeated by "feelings of ambivalence … towards technology both within and without the film texts" (North 158), the prequels embrace technology on all levels, as is evident in both the selection of production techniques and the technophilia on display in the storyworld. In the diegesis, for example, one need only contrast Vader's famous warning to not be "too proud about this technological terror you have created" with Qui-Gonn's technobabble explanation about the midichlorians behind the Force to see how the very soul of the Original Trilogy has been assimilated by a Borg-like technological sensibility in the prequels. On the production level, from the much-maligned podrace (which, astonishingly, is the edited version—Lucas had initially planned a longer cut, as revealed in the special features on the DVD) to the cartoonish final battle between Obi-Wan and Anakin,7 the prequels are replete with examples of the very kind of special effects excess at the cost of storytelling Lucas had so decried in his fellow sci-fi directors twenty years earlier.

Yet the most reviled technological innovation of the prequels, which also brings in our second topic of infantilism, is none other than the world's first fully digital actor/character—Jar Jar Binks. In his detailed analysis of this widely detested character, Dan North has pointed out that the character is "inconsistent with the worlds of Star Wars because of his interpersonal clumsiness, gesticulatory fervor, and childish persistence" (156). However, North stresses, "in his appeal to the youngest members of the film's audience," Jar Jar "might be a jarring reminder … that Star Wars was always" intended "for kids … and that merchandise and toy sales by far outstrip the box office takings of the films" (156–157). This explanation echoes Matt Hills's earlier intervention that Jar Jar haters "belong to a certain generation; or, at least, they discursively construct themselves … as a generationally 'truth-seeing'-section of Star Wars fandom" ("Putting Away" 78). As Hills continues, "These fans consistently devalue Jar Jar through articulated discourses: the character is childish and/or for kids, and is also simultaneously 'commercial', being a case of George Lucas 'selling out'" ("Putting Away" 79).

Since we prefer to avoid prequel-bashing (unfortunately, a near impossibility for a first-generation Star Wars fan), we will simply acknowledge the arguments above and suggest one possible twist. Perhaps it is a false nostalgia, but it seems to us that kids back in the pre-Return of the Jedi days did not need walking teddy bears and slapstick cartoon aliens to get excited about Star Wars. It was a simple story of Good vs. Evil, in which the evil characters were as intriguing as the good guys. For example, one of the present authors' fondest Star Wars memories is the plastic Darth Vader costume he wore for Halloween in 1977, and the other spent many glorious hours making his Imperial walkers stomp all over Ewok villages. Either kids have changed a lot in the nearly two decades between the trilogies, or Lucas overshot badly in an unnecessary effort to pander to his perceived next generation of fans, while simultaneously managing to alienate large portions of his older generations of fans. We will leave this question to the child psychiatrists and Star Wars fanatics to debate, but the indisputable fact is the prequels set off a veritable revolt in the Star Wars community.

The Fans Strike Back

Despite the intense criticism, most fans were unwilling or unable to reject the prequels completely and have acknowledged that the Prequel Trilogy adds important details to the Star Wars experience. Thus, two different methods of making the prequels "watchable" have arisen among fans: identifying a viewing sequence for the complete epic which minimizes the prequels' weaknesses and excising their more offensive parts. To address the former option first, on the surface, there are two possible ways to watch the films. First, Lucas advocates watching them in diegetic chronological order (i.e., episodes 1–6). Lucas has always argued that the saga is the story of Anakin Skywalker's rise, fall, and eventual salvation, in which case this order would make sense. However, for the fans, this entails a few problems. First, the would-be protagonist is clearly not the focus of episodes 4–6. Second, this order destroys the dramatic tension created in Empire and Jedi revolving around the revelation that Vader is Luke's father and Leia his sister. The "I am your father" moment is so iconic that filming one's children's reactions to this scene has become a genre of YouTube videos, and fans are simply unwilling to give that up. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, fans have pointed out that the prequel films were so horribly executed that Anakin simply is not a sympathetic or even believable character. Buried in digital shenanigans and inept directing and acting, the character becomes little more than a caricature in the first three numeric episodes. Most fans have thus rejected Lucas's argument that Star Wars is Anakin's story and stuck to the original fan experience, in which Luke was the first hero we met.

Naturally, complete faith to the original fan experience would mean watching the films in order of original release date. But not even fans blinded by nostalgia can miss the obvious problem with this approach: the prequels simply lack suspense, as it is absolutely clear what will happen to the main characters before even watching the first minutes of The Phantom Menace (a fact which, to be fair, one must acknowledge made the challenge of making the prequels interesting not insubstantial). To remedy these problems, TheForce.net user Ernest Rister has proposed introducing new initiates (usually kids or new girlfriends) to the movies in the following order: A New HopeThe Empire Strikes BackThe Phantom MenaceAttack of the ClonesRevenge of the SithReturn of the Jedi. Thus, after Vader outs himself as Luke's father, the Prequel Trilogy functions as an extended flashback to shed light on Anakin's journey to the Dark Side. Rod Hilton has taken this idea a step further in his "Machete Order," for he suggests leaving out The Phantom Menace entirely, as the movie is "completely irrelevant to the rest of the series." As Hilton highlights, apart from the fact that "it's almost as if this is somehow the intented [sic] order," the decision to exclude the first prequel has a number of advantages, such as "[v]irtually no Jar Jar," "[n]o midichlorians," and "[n]o virgin birth."8

While some fans have made peace with the Prequel Trilogy via these alternative viewing orders, others have felt compelled to employ the more radical solution of re-editing the movies to fit their needs. For example, the relatively famous (for fan edits, that is) "Phantom Edit" reduces the runtime of the entire Prequel Trilogy to just over two hours. Here, the only thing that remains of The Phantom Menace is the "Duel of the Fates" lightsaber battle (a decision which reveals the deep fascination with lightsaber duels that lurks in the heart of even the most committed narrative critics). Padmé's family is introduced in Attack of the Clones (a scene which had ended up on the cutting room floor), the action on Kamino (and, thus, effectively, the existence of the Clone Army) is cut, and the narrative jumps from the Geonosis arena battle to Dooku returning the Death Star plans to Sidious. General Grievous is completely excised from the narrative (suggesting that the aforementioned passion for lightsaber duels contains a purist ethos that does not extend to the protection of duels with droid villains), as is the oft-parodied "Noooo!" at the end of Revenge of the Sith. Although this fan edit (in fact, it's merely a cut, not an edit) highlights how many relatively insignificant scenes the movies contain, it also manages to even further flatten the prequels. However, this is ultimately consistent with the project's stated aim of "cutting away all the fluff and focusing on the narrative of how Anakin becomes Darth Vader," that is, reducing the entire flawed prequel to an overblown flashback from the "real" story.

L8wrtr's edits of the three movies, on the other hand, are more involved. By the fan editor's own count, there are more than two hundred edits in each of the prequels, which reduces the first two installments down to 96 minutes each, while Revenge of the Sith clocks in at 112 minutes. Each of the three edits opens with a disclaimer that "[i]t is a not-for-profit educational experiment in the use of consumer editing software as a means to offer a critique of the original source as well as explore the means of telling different stories using existing media." Indeed, these versions represent a stronger act of appropriation. The Phantom Menace has been renamed Shadow of the Sith, and even the opening crawl indicates the fan edit's difference from the original text by highlighting that "[a] thousand years have passed since the Jedi Order vanquished the Evil Sith Lords." The opening paragraph thereby not only sets an entirely different tone to the original text, but also clarifies an aspect the entire Prequel Trilogy never makes explicit—what the Sith took "revenge" for. Indeed, the entire opening crawl evokes more of a Star Wars spirit than The Phantom Menace's, as it continues,

The Galactic Senate has come to rely on the Jedi to settle disputes and maintain peace throughout the Republic.
Jedi Knight Qui-Gon Jinn and his apprentice, Obi-Wan Kenobi, have been dispatched by the Supreme Chancellor to resolve a dispute between the Naboo and the Neimoidian Trade Federation.
Little do the Jedi know that a Phantom Menace has been plotting revenge...

By cutting out all of the original text about trade disputes, the revised crawl simply and effectively sets the stage for the events to follow.

Overall, viewers have praised the much tighter pacing of the fan edit in comparison to Lucas's movie. Some scenes were cut entirely (e.g. the longish underwater journey from Gungan City to Theed), while others were trimmed (e.g. the never-ending podrace). Jar Jar is (mercifully) demoted to a background character with little screen time; the Neimoidians no longer appear like cowards who would have never struck a deal with a Sith but seem to have some sort of motivation (that this motivation remains a mystery, indeed, adds to their character); some deleted scenes are re-integrated into the movie (e.g. Anakin fighting Greedo); and the timing in the lightsaber battle just prior to Darth Maul's death has been adjusted such that Obi-Wan no longer telegraphs his plans for several seconds. Finally, in terms of narrative, Anakin no longer just stumbles into heroic acts, but takes an active role in the destruction of the droid ship.

L8wrtr's edits of the other two prequel movies—re-titled to A Republic Divided and Dawn of the Empire—follow a similar pattern: More effective opening crawls, the cutting of superfluous scenes and irrelevant dialogue, the re-integration of some deleted scenes, and some re-editing of scenes. L8wrtr's edits not only eliminate the midichlorians, but also transform Anakin into a more responsible agent, who, in fact, kills Padmé (rather than the extremely kitschy notion of her dying of a broken heart). Finally, Dawn of the Empire also manages to avoid spoiling the narrative twists in the Original Trilogy by showing the birth of Padmé's babies but omitting the scene in which they are named.

Creative fannish interventions such as these fan edits are nothing new and have existed since home video technology became affordable. However, in the digital age, these productive appropriations of cultural artifacts reach a much wider audience, as even casual fans become aware of how "[f]ans make unauthorized and 'inappropriate' uses of cultural texts" and "combine conspicuous, enthusiastic consumption of official texts and spin-offs with their own creative and interpretive practices" (Gwenllian-Jones 172). Especially since these "creative and interpretive practices" have become so visible in the digital environment of the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries, the public at large has come to understand that Star Wars "fans themselves have also contributed to Star Wars, not simply as consumers but participating in creating and producing the Star Wars culture" (Scott 11). In this way, fans have effectively become (co-)authors of Star Wars.

On the Battlefields of Nostalgia

While the prequels, as widely disparaged texts, were viewed as fair game for slicing and dicing, fan resistance to Lucas's tampering with the Original Trilogy has been more complex. Lucas clearly identified the mission of his own "restoration" efforts in a 1997 interview:

What ends up being important, in my mind, is what the DVD version is going to look like, because that's what everybody is going to remember. The other versions will disappear. Even the thirty-five million tapes of Star Wars out there won't last more than thirty or forty years. (qtd. in Magid 68)

In the documentary Empire of Dreams, made for the 2004 Trilogy box set, Lucas further advanced his agenda of re-writing history. Empire of Dreams tells the story of the production of the Original Trilogy, but especially Star Wars (when it was just Star Wars, not A New Hope or Episode IV). It employs a somewhat "devious" trick: Toward the end of the documentary, the Special Edition is introduced as a kind of climax with a brief synopsis of some of the most explicit changes, such as the dewbacks in the first shots of Tatooine, the digitally added shots of the X-Wing formation prior to the approach of the Death Star, and Han confronted by dozens of Stormtroopers (and a TIE Fighter in the background) after being chased through the Death Star's corridors. The implication is that this is the first time in the documentary that re-vamped scenes are shown, which is, however, clearly not the case.

The most obvious attempt to integrate scenes from the Special Edition into the original production of Star Wars occurs when the documentary shows some brief clips of John Williams recording the movie's score with the London Symphony Orchestra in 1977. A jarring discord emerges from the difference between the aged look of the images recorded in London and the Special Edition's slick images that are digitally projected onto a screen in the background, effectively creating a "special edition" of the 1977 studio recordings. While we do not mean to suggest that the documentary implies that these images were projected onto that specific wall on that specific day in March of 1977 (or, at least, we hope it doesn't try to), juxtaposing the crisp images of the Special Edition with the antiquated look of the recording from the 1970s emphasizes the documentary's (and, thus, Lucas's) desire to clean up all confusion and construct a (more or less) coherent narrative. And while there are rather obvious scenes in which Special Edition shots are used in the documentary, there are also moments when original shots more or less smoothly segue into Special Edition shots or vice-versa (such as in the scene in which Red Leader misses his shot in A New Hope), whereby Lucas's re-imaginations literally supplant the original movies.

In addition to the problem indicated above, neither the documentary nor Lucas himself has been able to maintain the coherence of this constructed narrative. As Graham Lyons and Janice Morris have pointed out, "Lucas's at-times contradictory stance toward his own edits—that is, preserving at once the intended, 'correct' shot and the narrative integrity of the story—completely collapses" (202). After all, upon the Special Edition's release, he proudly proclaimed that this "won't be what I would call the 'rough cut,' it'll be the 'final cut.' The other one will be some sort of interesting artifact that people will look at and say, 'There was an earlier draft of this'" (qtd. in Magid 68). Nevertheless, the Special Edition was revised for the 2004 DVD release and, then again, for the Blu-Ray release in 2011, evidence that Lucas will perhaps never be able to leave well enough alone.

Of course, Lucas knew all along that there would be resistance to his efforts to re-write history, as already discussed above. With reference to Star Wars fan videos, in 2002, Jim Ward, then Vice President of Marketing at Lucasfilm, said,

We've been very clear all along on where we draw the line. We love our fans. We want them to have fun. But if in fact somebody is using our characters to create a story unto itself, that’s not in the spirit of what we think fandom is about. Fandom is about celebrating the story the way it is. (qtd. in Harmon)

Referring to this statement, Henry Jenkins appropriately quips, "Lucas wants to be 'celebrated' but not appropriated" (Convergence 149).

As indicated by Ward's statement, the attempts to regulate the production of fan texts, which had begun in the 1970s with fanzines, continued in the digital age. For example, when Lucasfilm offered free web space for Star Wars fan sites and unique content for these sites in 2000, the company only did so "under the condition that whatever [fans] created would become the studio's intellectual property" (qtd. in Jenkins, Convergence 152). Likewise, when their subsidiary AtomFilms began hosting official fan video contests in 2003, "Lucasfilm drew a hard line that fan creativity could be parodic but not expansive of the Star Wars universe" (Gray 165). The key point here is that parody has a clear legal foundation, and Lucasfilm couldn't keep fans from producing parodic fan vids. Their decision to "allow" such productions and even support them by providing a download library full of sounds, effects, etc. from the movies was ultimately an attempt to convey an illusion of goodwill toward fan producers grounded in Lucasfilm's claim to authorship and authority over the text by "permitting fans to make their own meanings but only within the tightly constrained limits offered up by the producers" (Pearson 92).

However, some fans have always seen through these attempts to re-write history and control fan responses. United by a "faithfulness to and love for the original" (Lyden 777) that endows the unaltered Original Trilogy with a nearly sacred status, fans have been quick to turn Lucas's own words against him to criticize his incessant tampering. When testifying before Congress in a hearing that ultimately led to the introduction of the Film Preservation Act of 1988, Lucas condemned such practices as adding color to classic black and white movies, defiantly proclaiming:

American works of art belong to the American public; they are part of our cultural history. … People who alter or destroy works of art and our cultural heritage for profit or as an exercise of power are barbarians, and if the laws of the United States continue to condone this behavior, history will surely classify us as a barbaric society. … Our cultural history must not be allowed to be rewritten. (qtd. in United States 295–297)

In the court of fan opinion, Lucas has been found guilty of these very crimes. By tinkering with the original films, Lucas destroyed part of the look and feel that made Star Wars special. Lucas himself stressed this specific production design ethos in an interview in the early 1980s, "I'm trying to make a film that looks very real, with a nitty-gritty feel .... … I like to have that edge of reality because I want the movies to make you believe they are real" (qtd. in Rinzler 105). This is the "old future" look that made Star Wars famous. In his BFI companion to Star Wars, Will Brooker echoes this point: "Dirt, trash, scuffs, scratches. The desert battered surface of Luke's landspeeder, and the worn, washed-out fabric of his farmer's clothes .... Han Solo's outfit ... and his customised 'piece of junk' pirate ship. This is the aesthetic of the Rebels" (23). Needless to say, some fans did not take Lucas's sanitizing of their cherished texts lying down. Scorning the corporate attempts to encourage them to produce safe, officially sanctioned (and owned) projects and accept Lucas's constant re-writing of history, they set out on a mission to restore the sacred texts on their own by fighting fire with fire—or in this case, technology with technology.

While there are numerous projects in Star Wars restoration circles, we would like to briefly focus on two general types of approaches to digital restoration and highlight the important distinctions between the goals and motivations of these approaches. The first kind involves the straight digitization of the best-quality original source copies the project leaders can obtain. To date, this digitization approach has been most successfully applied by Team Negative1, which is converting and restoring the original movies from multiple 35mm Lowfade Positive Prints (i.e., reels that were distributed to theaters during the films' original runs). The group released a first, raw high-def transfer of The Empire Strikes Back in December 2014, explaining they had received better prints and thus meant the transfer to function as a very early sample of what Star Wars purists can expect. A second project, run by originaltrilogy.com user poita, uses a similar approach, which, however, includes some special selling points, such as the use of a professional-quality Imagica Digital Film Scanner Model 5000 (original price of $400,000, which he got for a bargain price via ebay) as well as a range of high-quality prints. The goal of this project is to (re-)release all three restored original movies before January 31, 2017, as that will mark the date on which the lifetime of the Special Edition will officially exceed that of the original films (if one concedes that the originals "died" when the Special Edition was released).

In terms of ethos, the digitization approach could be considered the most purist exercise in nostalgia. When these projects talk about restoring the "grit" that made Star Wars special, they are not only referring to the diegetic grit, but also the filmic grit; that is, the graininess of the actual prints. Here, viewers can really see the film as they might have first experienced it upon its original release. Of course, this claim to authenticity is somewhat false, as fans watch the movies in their private homes, not in the public spaces of movie theaters. In addition, the original source prints themselves have inevitably deteriorated to some degree and the technology used to consume the new versions is entirely different from the projectors of days past. As fans are quick to point out when criticizing the official Lucasfilm efforts, new technologies highlight flaws that were easily overlooked in original, lower-quality versions. In particular, poita's project scans at a resolution of 10k (compared to the typical Blu-ray level of a tad below 2k), which yields a per-frame file size of about 120mb! At this level, you can be sure every tiny error from the original print will leap right off the screen in ways they never would have when buried in the original film.

The second class of restoration approaches involves a more creative and radical re-working of the source material. These approaches once again feature a complex tension between various impulses and raise interesting questions about the "proper" goals of image and audio optimization, the acceptability of changes made for the special editions, and how to maintain consistency. One prime example of this type of approach is "de-specializing," where the primary (stated) goal is to reverse the changes Lucas made in the process of creating his various editions. In this field, Petr Harmacek's (Harmy) project has gradually eclipsed other projects due to its outstanding efforts and results. This high-definition "de-specialization" project has already reached version 2.5 for Star Wars, version 2.0 for The Empire Strikes Back, and version 1.0 for Return of the Jedi. For Star Wars alone, Harmy has worked with seven primary video sources and incorporated no fewer than twenty-one audio tracks (including three tracks from the theatrical release and commentary tracks from different releases) in order to "reconstruct[] … the 1977 theatrical version of STAR WARS," as he describes it on the originaltrilogy.com forums. For an example of the painstaking effort put into this labor of love, one need look no further than the opening of the first film. Harmy uses a color-corrected 1977-style Fox logo (taken from the Alien Blu-ray), replaces the new Lucasfilm logo with the one from 1977 (taken from a 35mm print), and includes a self-made opening crawl recreated on the basis of frame scans taken from a print. In the later stages of the movie, he even goes so far as to re-introduce matte lines and special effects bloopers (e.g., scenes, or even just frames, in which lightsabers are white).9

This final point highlights an interesting tension in the de-specializing approach. On the one hand, it embraces some of the technological accomplishments of Lucas's official restoration. As a primary source, Harmy uses the Blu-ray editions, thereby acknowledging the value of the color and sharpness corrections that Lucasfilm achieved in its restoration efforts. On the other hand, re-inserting matte lines and special effects bloopers suggests a nostalgic romanticizing of the limitations of "ancient" technologies and the trivial gaffes which the "true" fans somehow cherish. Here, the fans are challenging Lucas's authority to dictate the terms of the films' authenticity. From a fan perspective, the shared knowledge of such trivial mistakes and the production histories behind them are key factors uniting the community. As Timothy Corrigan diagnosed as early as 1991, fan groups frequently "establish a relationship with technology itself," a relationship which is often based on a "secret ground" that is "closer to Pittsburgh [an allusion to the production of Night of the Living Dead] and grainy stock than to the glamor of Hollywood" (27). Continuing Corrigan's ideas, Kate Egan has more recently noted that "low-budget production histories … allow for a sense of closeness and a more intimate access to a film and its makers" (34). The fact Corrigan and Egan made these statements in reference to cult movies testifies to the cultish origin of the entire multi-billion-dollar Star Wars franchise.

Furthermore, Harmy's decision to use his own skills with the technological tools at hand to restore imperfections may be read as an attempt to further undermine the authority of the (former) CEO of the Star Wars universe by subtly aligning the project with the front line special effects workers who participated in the films' original production—an alliance made more explicit in The People vs. George Lucas when Jay Sylvester, founder of originaltrilogy.com, remarks

George Lucas may be the brainchild [sic] behind Star Wars, he may have come up with the story and all of the characters, but everyone who participated in the making of those films had some type of creative input. I mean, they won an Oscar for Best Special Effects. Some of those effects are stripped out and replaced with "CGI enhancements," if you wanna call them that. I think that that's really disrespectful to the people who worked on those models and did those shots.

To further explore the idea of challenging authenticity and using technology to appropriate the original texts, it is helpful to look at one final example of what we have called the "radical re-editing approaches"—Adywan's "Star Wars Revisited." The site's mission statement informs visitors that Adywan set out "to make what he felt the Special Editions should have been" (our emphasis) with the goal "to recreate how he remembered watching the film when it first came out." These statements reframe the debate about authenticity by first basing it on an individual's subjective memories and second claiming the authority to dictate the alleged ideal form of the films. As the word "revisited" implies, this project has outgrown the imperative of re-creating the theater experience of the 1970s and 1980s.

The real mission of this project is perhaps best captured in the quasi-legal disclaimer that appears on the right-hand side of every page: "All rights and respect to George Lucas, who made this universe for us to play in." The operative word here is "play," for the project transcends mere nostalgia and replaces it with an ethos of creative license, whereby the original text becomes the raw material for the project leader's exploration of the possibilities of modern technologies. Adywan follows his own vision and is not constrained by reverence toward a "sacred" original text. For example, one of the 250 (!) changes listed for A New Hope indicates how he inserted a battle droid from one of the prequel films into the jawa sandcrawler. In some fan circles, this type of inter-trilogy mixing would be considered a cardinal sin, but such actions are consistent with the idea of revisiting (i.e., reconsidering), as opposed to restoring.

Furthermore, Adywan has preempted the criticism one might receive from hard-core fans by inviting them in to play in the Star Wars universe with him. By leveraging modern communications technologies, he has fostered a community spirit around the project. The project website features regular updates on Adywan's current and planned efforts, side-by-side video comparisons of the originals and his altered versions, comment sections, where users can offer praise and suggestions, and even the occasional auction, where users can bid on models and other props used as part of the editing efforts. Such measures echo the "corporation's" use of behind-the-scenes documentaries, official fan clubs, and newsletters to build a community, but this time in the service of the re-imagined text.

As a final point, the website clarifies that revisiting the Original Trilogy is simply woodshedding to master the technological tools in preparation for a much bigger effort—a complete reworking of the Prequel Trilogy with the goal of enabling a diegetically chronological viewing of all six films which preserves the narrative surprises of the Original Trilogy (i.e., the virgin viewers' jaws should still drop when Vader says, "I am your father"). This will require a Herculean effort of digital changes and plot reconstruction, which Adywan says should render the prequel trilogy films "unrecognizable." Thus, Adywan plans to use the power of technology to transform his project into a kind of modern-day video version of fan fiction. However, its goal emerges as far more audacious, for Adywan is working in the same medium as the original, and ultimately, the project outcome should replace the original text for future generations, rather than simply augment it. In this way, Adywan will usurp the authority of the original creator, and the apprentice will become the master.

In Disney & J. J. We Trust?

The writing had been on the wall for Lucas for some time. In December of 2012, Lucas made his own bid to salvage his maligned prequels and prolong his relevance in the universe he had created by commencing the release of his own prequel special edition. However, rather than addressing fan dissatisfaction with the technophilia of the prequels, Lucas doubled down on the technology by remaking the films in 3D. Predictably, the release of The Phantom Menace in 3D failed to generate much excitement and was perhaps a harbinger of events to come.

Indeed, a not-so-phantom menace was already hovering ominously over the fandom like a giant Death Star, albeit sporting two giant mouse ears. As one might expect, news of the sale of Lucasfilm to the Disney Corporation met with widespread suspicion in the fan community. While few tears were shed over Disney's first act, the decision to discontinue the 3D prequel releases and cancel the planned 3D Blu-rays, fan suspicions were soon confirmed by the company's decision to retcon much of the Expanded Universe ("As if millions of voices suddenly cried out in terror, and were suddenly silenced.").10 However, a new hope soon arose with the anointing of J. J. Abrams to direct Episode VII. Speaking for the middle-aged demographic of hard-core Star Wars fans, filmmaker Eli Roth (who wrote a scathing review of The Phantom Menace a week before its official release) said, "Thinking that George Lucas made 'The Phantom Menace' for me is symptomatic of my entire generation who grew up with Star Wars, because as kids in the 70's and 80's, those films were made for us. We just assumed that would continue in the 90's (and secretly hope it does with J. J. Abrams at the helm of the new ones)" (qtd. in Ryan).

Although the expectations are essentially impossible to fulfill, Abrams's chances of success are at least better than 3,720 to 1 ("Never tell me the odds."). Abrams is among the current generation of directors whom Suzanne Scott has dubbed "fanboy auteurs." These are filmmakers who draw on their own past experiences as fans and therefore occupy a liminal position between "visionary auteur and faithful fanboy" (440). This is hardly a new trend; after all, George Lucas also emphasized his fanboy credentials during interviews in the 1970s: "Some of my friends are more concerned about art and being considered a Fellini or an Orson Wells [sic], but I've never really had that problem. … I'm more drawn to Flash Gordon. I like action adventure, chases, things blowing up, and I have strong feelings about science fiction and comic books" (qtd. in Farber 9).

Also working in Abrams's favor is the fact that he is battle-tested, having already braved the treacherous seas of sci-fi fan expectations when he tackled the daunting task of directing the recent Star Trek reboot. In fact, during this ordeal, he even drew strength from the example set by George Lucas, as he expressed in a 2013 interview (months before he became Episode VII's director): "And it is for me a heartening lesson to see that George has had his battles before, during, and after making films. When you see that you can't please everyone, that includes studios, actors, the audience … You're always trying to do the best you can" (qtd. in Curtis).

Clearly, Abrams has a reasonable perspective on fan expectations. And what are these expectations? The media emphasis on Abrams's own fannish past has certainly baited fans into expecting "stories which reflect the aesthetic traditions and shared tastes of the fan communities from which [he] emerged and which [he] now seek[s] to court" (Jenkins, "Guiding"). The early signs are good (but, then again, so were the signs prior to the release of The Phantom Menace). Within days of their release, the teaser trailers for The Force Awakens had been deconstructed and analyzed frame-by-frame and sparked wild speculations on an unprecedented level for such texts, a clear sign that Star Wars fan culture is alive and well, and thriving like never before in today's era of user-generated content.

We will leave the speculation to the "professionals," such as IGN's orgasmic review of the second teaser trailer, and limit our comments to two points relevant for the present paper. First, there is a complete absence of any slapsticky, child-pandering comic relief to tempt the digital cutting implements of future disgruntled fans. And second, the visual effects are stunning, yet restrained, and used to support the main mission of the trailer—tempting the audience to speculate on the stories of the many characters (both new and old) featured within. Indeed, regarding production technology, perhaps the most encouraging words came from Abrams himself in a February 2015 interview, when he told The Verge writer Jacob Kastrenakes:

I feel like the beauty of this age of filmmaking is that there are more tools at your disposal, but it doesn't mean that any of these new tools are automatically the right tools. … And there are a lot of situations where we went very much old school and in fact used CG more to remove things than to add things.

One thing is for certain: as with all official releases, the release of The Force Awakens is sure to be a major event that is bound to stir up enough emotions and ideas to keep critics, fans and academics (not mutually exclusive categories, of course) busy for years to come. No matter how the final film turns out, it is sure to provide the raw material for countless fan appropriations, deconstructions, and reconfigurations, thereby adding yet another chapter to the never-ending romance between the fans and their beloved fictional universe.

Notes

01 For a pretty interesting retelling of how Star Wars, in fact, came to the 1976 WorldCon, see this YouTube video. | return to main text |
02 A move that Jim Shooter (assistant editor and writer at Marvel in 1976; editor-in-chief by 1978) has claimed saved the iconic comic book company from impending bankruptcy (Thomas). | return to main text |
03 Numbers taken from Box Office Mojo. In the 2004 documentary Empire of Dreams, Alan Ladd, Jr., states that Star Wars opened in 37 theaters. | return to main text |
04 See, for example, the extremely positive responses to the high-def restoration of Jaws, which presents the film in unadulterated form on Blu-ray; indeed, it even includes the original 1.0 audio track. | return to main text |
05 The first draft of Return of the Jedi refers to "Had Abbadon, the Imperial capital planet. It is almost entirely urban, extremely overpopulated and polluted heavily" (Bouzereau 236). Up until the third draft of Star Wars, Alderaan was the capital of the Empire. | return to main text |
06 Matte lines, which are typical of older special effects, appear at the intersections between two visual layers when they are combined. In the Hoth battle, for example, the aircrafts were miniature models. Especially in the cockpit scenes, white lines marked the intersections between the aircraft and the background, which were filmed separately. | return to main text |
07 In the making-of the Mustafar scene, stunt coordinator Nick Gillard tellingly remarks, "[A]fter three or four minutes in, you get over the initial explosion of the fight, why they are fighting, and all the flashy moves are done." | return to main text |
08 The "virgin birth" has been toned down in the Expanded Universe, as the novel Darth Plagueis (2012) strongly implies that Shmi's immaculate conception was a reaction by the midichlorians to Plagueis and Darth Sidious's manipulation of the Force hinted at in Revenge of the Sith. In other words, Anakin—the Chosen One who should bring balance to the Force—was practically created by the Dark Side. | return to main text |
09 Harmy has provided detailed photo galleries illustrating all of the changes he made. | return to main text |
10 "Retcon" stands for "retroactive continuity"; that is, the process by which established facts in the continuity of a fictional work are altered or removed. | return to main text |

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