First, let me say Happy Star Wars Day! I hope you get amazing deals on all the cool Star Wars swag you are surely hoarding in your mother’s basement. All jokes aside, I thought I would bring up a contentious topic among Star Wars fans in the spirit of the “holiday”.
Star Wars: A New Hope was originally released in 1977 and birthed two sequels, completing the most renowned film trilogy in the history of cinema. To celebrate the then 20th year anniversary of Star Wars, George Lucas(creator of Star Wars) released an updated version of his films now known as Star Wars Special Edition. The original intent was to update the visual stylings to make the aesthetic differences between the original trilogy and the prequel trilogy less jarring. Lucas, who had made the original film with certain financial and editorial constraints, wanted to create an experience that was more in line with his original vision for the film series.
Along with digitally restoring the picture and sound, Lucas updated some of the computer special effects, added whole scenes that had been cut out from the previous versions, and made a series of slight adjustments that dramatically altered the context of some key scenes and plot points. For a full list of the changes seen in the Star Wars Special Editions, click here.
“There will only be one. And it 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.’ The same thing happens with plays and earlier drafts of books. In essence, films never get finished, they get abandoned. At some point, you’re dragged off the picture kicking and screaming while somebody says, ‘Okay, it’s done.’ That isn’t really the way it should work. Occasionally, [you can] go back and get your cut of the video out there, which I did on both American Graffiti and THX-1138; that’s the place where it will live forever. So 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 35 million tapes of Star Wars out there won’t last more than 30 or 40 years. A hundred years from now, the only version of the movie that anyone will remember will be the DVD version [of the Special Edition], and you’ll be able to project it on a 20′ by 40′ screen with perfect quality. I think it’s the director’s prerogative, not the studio’s to go back and reinvent a movie.“
―George Lucas on the Special Editions
The changes caused a severe backlash from the fan community, a fact that was further compounded by Lucas when he ensured that the Special Editions were the only copies of the films that fans could obtain through official channels. This has led to piracy issues over the years as fans have released their own De-specialized versions of the films for mass consumption on the world wide web. The question I pose to all of you today is this: Do creative works belong to the creator or do they belong to the world once they have been released for people to enjoy?
As someone who creates content for others to enjoy and as an acolyte of all things nerdy and horror, I see both sides of the argument.
Artistic pursuits are not unlike childbirth in some respects, not to say the experiences are EXACTLY congruent(we know you have it harder ladies). The process can be emotionally, mentally, and physically damaging, but it all becomes worthwhile when you can finally gaze upon the product of all the ardor. To have something with your DNA so infused into every fiber of its being is the most personally resonant experience many of us can ever hope for. I am sure this is how Lucas views this mega force that Star Wars has become. You only wish the best for your children and Lucas thought he was helping them by releasing the Special Editions.
That being said, I also see the other side of it. An idea can not become a cultural phenomenon or obtain the success that Star Wars has seen by one man’s work alone. It, at the very least, requires emotional and fiscal investment from other people, like you and me. The more and more investment you place in an idea, the easier it becomes to feel a sense of ownership over that which is truly not yours. There is sometimes a toxic sense of over entitlement from fan communities, but shouldn’t their patronage and opinion be valued, rewarded, and respected?
I think both parties are right in this case, but Lucas made a fatal error with how he handled the situation by removing the fan’s choice to get the Special Edition or “Rough Cut” as he put it. People tend to get upset when their choices are stifled, especially when they feel they have a right to those choices. The Special Editions would not be so looked down upon if the “Rough Cut” was still available. However, there is a valuable lesson for creators of all types to learn here. Stay true to who you are when making decisions over the things you create, but mind your audience. You don’t have to be a slave to their opinions. Show them that their opinions are valued, respected, and rewarded and I believe they will send those vibes back to you tenfold.
I now pose the question to you: Do creative endeavors belong to the creator or the fans? Let me know in the comments below.