Appeared on Youtube not too long after Mr Lucas announced his desire to retire from making big budget movies. I do feel sorry for the man, but surely he must be able to see some of the incredible tonal and structural changes such tiny edits to the film have made. Han Solo is now missing character development because of him not having shot first, for example. The Hitchcockian suspense built when we see Han kill Greedo relatively unprovoked before taking Luke and Obi Wan on board is also lost. In the original version, Han is an unpredictable criminal in it for the money. In Lucas’ update, his attempt to clearly delineate light and dark sides causes him to make Han’s action reactionary and undercut any of the tension to be found in Han’s early relationship with the other characters. In attempting to make Han a more clearly good character, he made Han a less interesting character, and made the film less interesting as a result.
So, this just impacts on the early portion of the film, right? So what? Small change to an event of the film results in small change in the tone of the beginning of the film. At least we still have the iconic trench run at the end, right? The original Theatrical cut of Star Wars had presented Han as a self interested criminal up until the very end of the film. He only helped Luke save Lea because she was a princess and he wanted a reward. He only flew them back to the rebel base because he was saving his own neck. Hell, when the Death Star arrived, he left them because his job was done! Why unnecessarily endanger himself after he’s finished with his obligations? His sudden return to the aid of Luke is exactly that, sudden and surprising. Just when all hope was lost, Han had a change of heart and wanted to fight for these people he had come to know during the course of the movie rather then leave them to die. This marks the end of his character arc, moving him from self interested smuggler to jerk with a heart of gold.
In Lucas’ update, Han is always good. Why should we be all that surprised when he returns to help Luke at the end? Why is this scene as significant in the movie? What does it say about his character? If anything, I think it undermines Lucas’ message more than it serves to help it. If Han was always good, he would never have learnt the value of fighting for friends and loved ones as he did in the Theatrical edition because he would never need to. In the Theatrical edition, Luke’s conviction and purity, along with his belief in upholding the ideals of the light side rub off on Han, illustrating that people can have a positive influence on others through their actions and beliefs. This message is much more evident in the theatrical version where Han was of grey morality rather than white.
One small change to an event in the movie had far reaching consequences. It changed the tone of the movie and undermined its message of inspiring change and bringing out the goodness in others. I believe it was foolish for Lucas to change Han’s character in such a way for the benefit of children because really, a more important lesson for children is being diluted in the process!!
Let’s not get into how he was initially against film makers making post release revisions to films they made. I do not have the details to do it justice and I am sure that has been covered many times before.
Also for those of you wondering why my definition of Hitchcockian suspense seems to sound more like “Suspense is when there is a discrepancy between the knowledge of the audience and the characters” rather than “If it’s suggested and left up to the audience to imagine, it is scarier”, you can check out this lovely article which has a wonderful illustration of the point. (I suggest you read the article before watching the videos I linked).
Paraphrasing: Suspense is knowing something that the characters don’t know, e.g. the person who runs the motel they checked in is really a murderer. Us and the characters not knowing and then being surprised by an unforeseen event is exactly that, a surprise.
Getting back to Mr Lucas’ announcement regarding his retirement from big budget movies. I would very much like to see what he is capable off with a smaller budget and less technology backing him up. Let’s hope he can see beyond the visuals and into the heart of the film. ❤
I shall sign off, for I have taken up enough of your time with these musings. Bye!