National Catholic Register

Arts & Entertainment

Video Picks & Passes

BY John Lilly

| Posted 9/22/06 at 6:43 PM


Star Wars: PICK


The Empire Strikes Back: PICK


Return of The Jedi: PICK


Content advisory:

Stylized sci-fi combat sequences; some scary and menacing images. A few mildly risqué images in Return of the Jedi. All three could be too intense for young children.


Two weeks ago, the Lord of the Rings trilogy came to DVD in new multi-edition sets offering each film in its original theatrical cut and the special extended cut. Now, from Sept. 12 to Dec. 31, the original Star Wars trilogy is available in a multi-edition release offering not only the revisionist, much tinkered-with “special editions,” but also the long-suppressed original theatrical versions. For Star Wars fans who’ve complained about the revisionism of the special editions, this seems a dream come true.

No more Greedo shooting first at Han Solo in the Mos Eisley cantina in Star Wars, a lame bit of whitewashing that looked silly and made no sense. No more dubbed Boba Fett speaking in Jango Fett’s voice in The Empire Strikes Back. No more Hayden Christensen as young Anakin appearing to Luke at the end of Return of the Jedi — now once again Sebastian Shaw’s dignified old Anakin gives the scene the gravitas it should have.

Ah, but there are catches. The fact is, Lucas resents these original editions and didn’t want them released at all. Illegal bootleg editions are popular, though, and Lucas has compromised — up to a point. Unlike most DVD editions of older films, the Star Wars films haven’t gotten a brand-new restoration and digital transfer. Instead, Lucas simply slapped a 13-year-old transfer originally made for a 1993 laserdisc edition onto DVD. This means that the original editions aren’t anamorphic — they won’t work right on widescreen televisions — and visually they won’t be up to today’s standards for DVD quality. As an added disincentive, you still have to buy the special editions along with the original versions.

Lucas has pontificated about the importance of “our national heritage,” expressing concern that “the films that I watched when I was young and the films that I watched throughout my life are preserved, so that my children can see them.” Why has he treated the “heritage” of his own films — in the version that many of us saw in theaters when we were young — so shabbily? In spite of the allure of the original editions, these new releases probably aren’t worth paying retail prices. Rent them instead, enjoy the original cuts and hope for a worthy restored DVD release in the future.

Still, in any edition or version, the original Star Wars films remain an important landmark in American culture and are very much worth watching, if not necessarily owning in every possible permutation. Along with Superman, Raiders of the Lost Ark and E.T., Star Wars helped turn Hollywood away from the jaded, gritty sophistication of the Easy Rider generation back to old-fashioned good-vs.-evil storytelling.

As The Wizard of Oz is the quintessential American fairy tale, Star Wars is the quintessential American mythology. It’s a Hollywood take on King Arthur and Tolkien, dressed in Buck Rogers space-opera trappings and festooned with nostalgic Hollywood influences: serial-adventure swashbuckling, WWII movie dogfights, movie-Nazi villains, saloon shootouts.

Star Wars gave us one of the screen’s most indelible icons of evil, Darth Vader. It also gave us space-age chivalry, knights and swordsmanship combined with laser lightshows.

In a mythic genre in which female characters are too often passive prizes to be won or rescued, it gave us one of the genre’s spunkiest heroines. And in the Force, it gave us a potent symbol of mystery and transcendence over the anti-religious Imperial culture and the cynical skepticism of Han Solo.