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The Star Wars Trilogy

A Digital Star Wars Scrapbook.

21. August 2014 05:55
by jedi1

Star Wars Fans, DVD, and Cultural Ownership

21. August 2014 05:55 by jedi1 | 0 Comments

I'm beginning to like this Will Brooker chap, his views on Star Wars are very much inline with my own. With rumors of a new Blu-ray release of the original Star Wars trilogy on the horizon, let's take a look at how fans reacted to the long awaited 2004 DVD release... 

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An Interview with Will Brooker

by Derek Johnson.

Although DVD titles have been distributed in the United States since 1997, three of the most popular and high-grossing films of' all time—Star Wars (1977), The Empire Strikes Back (1980), and Return of the Jedi (1983)-have only recently been digitally restored and released worldwide in the format.1 With the theatrical rerelease of all three films in special editions in 1997 and the launch of a prequel trilogy in 1999 with Star Wars: Episode I-The Phantom Menace and its continuation with Episode II—Attack of the Clones in 2002, the Star Wars saga has remained in the public eye throughout the entirety of this absence. While each ot these cultural events represented a chance for a cross-promotion and has kept Star Wars in the public eye, Lucasfilm, Ltd. (the production company of franchise creator and overseer George Lucas), did not deign to circulate this original trilogy on DVD until September 2004. In the interim consumer demand was allowed to simmer; retailers like claim these three films went unchallenged as the number one, two, and three most requested DVD titles throughout the majority of the seven-year wait.2 This perceived demand was borne out by the DVD release itself, in which 2.5 million copies of the four-disc box set (retailing at $69.98) were sold on the first day of release, setting a record for single-day multidisc titles but also {with the concurrent launch of the Star Wars: Battlefront video game) for the amount of money—$115 million-spent on an entertainment franchise in a single day.3

Although the actual DVD release of these long-awaited films could be attributed to even larger cross-promotional imperatives (the special features do indeed offer glimpses of the last film in the prequel trilogy; Episode III-Revenge of the Sith, in order to build interest for its premiere in May 2005), their escape from the Lucasfilm vaults might alternately be explained by threats to the corporation’s distributional hegemony. Lucas himself explains that he hadn’t wanted to release the original trilogy on DVD for another several years but that “the market has shifted so dramatically. A lot of people are getting very worried about piracy. That has really eaten dramatically into the sales. ... So rather than just sit by and watch the whole thing fall apart, better to bring it out early and get it over with,”4 But while Lucas and other producers must surely be concerned about the impact of piracy on their DVD profits, Star Wars at the same time presents a particular case in which the bootleg market may be more culturally complex than this industry-under-siege discourse suggests. While these three films have finally been released officially on DVD with restored prints and enhanced sound, the question remains whether it is the saga for which some audiences have truly been waiting.

DVD consumers—and Star Wars fans in particular—have paid much attention to the changes that Lucas has made to these films in this most recent release in order to bring the franchise more in line with his original, authorial intent. Just like the changes made to the films in the 1997 theatrical special editions, these new alterations have proven quite controversial among attentive audiences who catalog the changes in online discussion while debating their merits and their impact on the narrative.5 Many of these fans express disappointment that Lucas has refused to release the originals along with these newly enhanced versions that work to eliminate the diegetic inconsistencies between themselves and the prequel trilogy6 After all, how original is the original trilogy any longer? Lucas nevertheless insists that these original cuts were unfinished works in progress, drafts of his original vision. The original trilogy as it was in the 1970s and 1980s "doesn’t really exist anymore, ”Lucas explains, “It’s like this [the 2004 DVD] is the movie I wanted it to be, and I’m sorry if you saw half a completed film and fell in love with it. But I want it to be the way I want it to be.”7 But in a seeming battle with Lucas for cultural ownership of this saga, fans still “in love” with the originals nevertheless persist in distributing the original original trilogy by alternative means. While online auction sites like eBay do indeed allow bootleggers to offer counterfeit copies of the 2004 Star Wars, they also enable pirates to sell DVDs burned from antiquated, pre—special edition laserdisc transfers, offering consumers the product that Lucasfilm refuses to provide.8 Moreover, networks of Star Wars fans have banded together to resist the practices of the so-called Darkside Dealers on eBay whom they feel are gouging the audiences that want to see the films in their original form on DVD.9 Instead, these coalitions distribute bootleg DVDs free of charge in hopes of preventing the cultural disappearance of the originals in the transition of film and home video to a new digital medium.

Amidst these discourses it is clear that Star Wars poses many questions about DVD in relationship to audiences’ experiences with the text, relationship to the industry, and claims to ownership of culture. To answer these questions we turn to Will Brooker, whose scholarship on popular culture, fan audiences, and cultural convergence has grappled with the tensions between the culture industries and the audiences that, through active engagement with commodity texts, take up custodianship of them. Currently senior lecturer and field leader in film at Kingston University, London, Brooker has published numerous books and articles, including, most recently, Alice’s Adventures: Lewis Carroll in Popular Culture10 He has also edited several volumes, including The Audience Studies Header, which engages with the transformation of research paradigms throughout the history of audience research.11 His work in Batman Unmasked: Analyzing a Cultural Icon takes an historical approach in examining the conflicts that emerged between audiences and producers over cultural uses of the iconic comic book character.12 At the same time, his study of the British program Attachments and its website, Seethru, examines cultural production “evolved to a point where . . . the boundaries between producer and visitor, media convergence and cultural convergence, were increasingly blurred.”13 In this intersection of the realms of audience and producer Brooker offers a theory of “overflow” in which the experience of media consumption has been altered and expanded by the spillover of textual content onto Internet sites that offer immersive, more participatory experiences, where audience members are actively encouraged by designers to contribute to the production of cultural content. While he cautions us not to consider these practices as necessarily resistant, his argument emphasizes the need to reconsider the ways in which scholars conceive of media consumption.14

At the same time, as both a scholar and a fan, Brooker provides a unique perspective into the Star Wars phenomenon.15 In addition to his scholarly work Brooker is a participant in the Star Wars fan community who works on both sides of institutional academic/fan boundaries. Brooker himself contributed to fan discourse surrounding the DVD release with an essay entitled “Return to the Mos Eisley Cantina:The Star Wars Trilogy on DVD,” presenting the fan community with a Bazinian analysis of computer-generated images and challenging Lucas’s claims to authorial vision.16 From an academic perspective, his 2002 book, Using the Force: Creativity, Community, and "Star Wars" Fans, offers an in-depth analysis of the franchise that examines the discursive struggle over interpretative strategies not just between audiences and producers but between fragmented factions of fans.17 On the one hand, Brooker argues that Lucas is “in the ironic position of reclaiming control over an Empire, stamping his own vision on the Star Wars universe and stamping out ‘rebel’ interpretations such as slash fiction or [fan] films that infringe copyright.”18 On the other, his ethnographic research reveals deep tensions and ambivalence within the fan community following the retooling of the original trilogy in 1997. The fan dynamic Brooker uncovers is one of a war between “gushers” who accept Lucas’s revisions and authority as author and “bashers” whose outrage at what Star Wars has become disavows the author’s claims to the text, their continued fandom based instead on a past golden age that Lucas has tried to erase. Debating the new versions’ technical improvements, appeals to realism, placement within canon, and changes to characters, these two factions “formed their own opinions and strongholds on the online bulletin boards where they consolidate their own opinions and preach to the choir.”19 Through these dynamics Brookers previous research provides a context for understanding not only how DVD might change the experience of consuming Star Wars but also how the consumption of Star Wars on DVD might reformulate our understandings of the relationships between audiences, producers, and texts.

DJ: What first interested you in Star Wars as a cultural phenomenon?

WB: Well, I got interested in Star Wars before I could spell cultural phenomenon, I was eight, so I have lived with that fandom for twenty-six years, though it has waxed and waned. During the late eighties and early nineties there was little to keep a fan going in terms of primary texts, so it was like a latent fandom. Star Wars became more of a nostalgic cult. It was something that could unite people in a community as it was a mythos not everyone even remembered, let alone cared about. Whereas now it’s back to being an all-encompassing entity that everyone knows something about: corporate merchandising rather than something from childhood memory, something you just cherished yourself. So Star Wars was the powerful myth tor me during some formative years, eight to fifteen or so. It matters to me now because it meant so much to me then, so whatever happens to Star Wars as a myth, especially the original trilogy, is important to me in some respect. I imagine a whole generation feels the same way as me. 

Dj: In that respect should we then consider the release of Star Wars on DVD a significant cultural event? Or is it just part of that merchandising aspect as one in a long line of Star Wars products?

WB: The release of this new DVD is an important event in one way because of the ways in which it rewrites, revises, “corrects,” and fiddles with the history of the existing Star Wars mythos, presenting itself as an authoritative version of the original trilogy that replaces the previous editions and effectively tells fans they never happened that way. On the other hand, it can be seen as trivial for two reasons: first, because Lucas is inevitably going to bring out further reworked and amended versions of the film, apparently lacking any ability to leave these films alone; and second, because I think fans have the stubborn determination to resist the revisions they dislike, claiming that for them it actually happened as it did in 1977 or, alternatively, in 1997 with what we’ll now have to call the “original special edition.”

DJ: So while the original trilogy has been released many times before on home video, including these “special editions,” what changes has the technology or the format of DVD brought to the experience of viewing the trilogy so important to you and other fans?

WB: Well, I can’t speak for all other fans or even just “other fans.” For me, the DVD release is important primarily because it’s another revisionist version by Lucas, supposedly replacing the special edition as well as the originals. The format and technology of DVD are important in the improvement to picture quality and the increased potential of examining scenes in detail, in slow motion, and so on. And there is the addition of some interesting documentary material, but personally I always feel the add-ons to a DVD, in general, aren’t all that important. By this I mean the director’s and actors’ commentaries, the behind-the-scenes documentaries, and so on. I’m aware that to some fans these are a real incentive for buying DVDs, but in my experience they have seemed tacked on to justify two discs and a special edition label. I don’t think DVD is the best format for bonus material like viewing poster artwork or scripts because of the way we watch DVD with that distance from the screen and the limited interface via the remote. As such, the DVD is just pretending to be a home computer, and it feels gimmicky to me. The front ends on the Star Wars DVDs are always polished and a pleasure to use, but even so their style gets in the way of function because it significantly slows down transition from one menu to another if you have to watch some cutscene of a TIE fighter approaching the Death Star every time you want to add or remove subtitles.

RJ: How does the ability to examine scenes in detail potentially enhance or alter the fan practices that you’ve studied in Using the Force?

WB: It enables new levels of pedantry' for those inclined to take that approach.

DJ: Can you give me an example?

WB: Well, I’ll give yon an interesting example because it seems to me this isn’t confined to fan pedantry and monkish analysis. In the original A New Hope [appended subtitle for the original Star Wars] it is plain and simple that Han Solo subtly unholstered his blaster and shot Greedo under the table. In the 1997 reworking some CGI revisionism makes Greedo shoot first, which affects our perception of Han’s character.20

In the 2004 DVD there is a new fudge where they shoot “at the same time.” My point is that watching this at normal speed, no normal viewer without supervision could tell what the hell is going on. Whether Greedo shot first or at the same time as Han is only clear to the DVD viewer with that technology and the ability to freeze-frame or play in slow motion. So it’s not even “cinema” in the traditional sense,it is “DVD,” which seems a different mode of viewing in some ways. The action is not telegraphed in anything like the same way as it was for a big screen, when viewers saw it one time only. That is, some of this reworking seems to require or expect the ideal viewer to have that pedantic fan approach. Maybe DVD is the medium for that approach: filmmakers redoing their films or even shooting their films now will be aware of and making texts for that approach, the home screening with its detailed analysis.

[As Brooker predicted, Lucas wasn't done timkering with the Trilogy, with several new changes made for the 2011 Blu-ray releases. Above we can see the changes to the "Han Shoots first" Greedo Scene. In the original 1977 film (top left), Han Solo is a badass. He knows Greedo wants to kill him, so he doesn't let that happen. In 1997 (top right), some additional frames are added so that Greedo can shoot first (and miss from point blank range) while Han does an awkward CGI enabled dodge and returns fire. Now he's an honorable man. Self Defense! In 2004 (Bottom right), the scene is tweaked again, with them firing almost at the same instant, though Greedo still shoots first. Finally in 2011 (Bottom Left), the scene was tweaked yet again, this time trimming a few frames from the start of the shot so that it now all happens so fast that if you blink you will miss it, despite Greedo still shooting first, the timing is almost back to the original film. Give it up George! It was a bad idea!]

DJ: So it this digital DVD technology offers the potential for new relationships between viewers and the original trilogy text, would what you’re calling a pedantic mode of viewing be exemplary of some new kind of interactivity? 

WB: It might not be going too far to say that the fan mode, the interactive engagement with the text, may be becoming the norm for home viewing and also that films may be made for this type of viewing now more than they are for cinema-or, in the case of Star Wars, tweaked for DVD after their theatrical release. Aaron Barlow’s book The DVD Revolution makes a good point that films are now shot differently with an eye to the fact that they will have most of their life, and probably make most of their money, from DVD.21 So are we are all becoming what were previously called “fans”? “Geeks”? Maybe that mode is becoming the norm?

DJ: Do new DVD modes of viewing (like slow motion) appeal only to certain kinds of fan interests that you’ve observed in your work? Should we be talking about multiple modes of fandom, and, if so, could DVD add-ons, like commentaries and special features, be important to these other interests?

WB: My point is that this tendency to watch scenes repeatedly and in detail, with a painstaking attention to mise-en-scene and camera work, is encouraged and enabled by DVD to the extent that I think it will no longer be appropriate to call it “fan practice” because it will be more widespread. The actor/director commentaries on DVDs, as Barlow points out, invite the viewer to take a close look at the scenes using the tools of slow motion and perfect freeze-frame, to check continuity blips, notice a quick cameo, or examine a special effect. The “casual” viewer, the “nonfan,” is drawn or at least invited into this precise mode of viewing, this double-checking, careful examination that would previously, I think, have been the preserve of more dedicated fans. As I suggested, scenes like the Greedo encounter in the newest version of A New Hope actually need to be rewound and watched in slow motion to make any sense. That isn’t just a fan thing: I don’t think you can see what happens in that split second at normal speed. Similarly, I watched Paycheck recently on DVD, and I got the feeling the movie was designed for the kind of detective work DVD makes possible-clues appearing onscreen for a moment, motifs flashing up too fast for you to really take in without freeze-frame. Maybe this is one of a new generation of movies actually designed to be engaged with through DVD technology more than it is on the big screen. Or maybe I’m just old and slow.

DJ: Does this new mode of viewing bear any relationship to what you’ve previously called “overflow”?22

WB: I was using overflow mainly to talk about multiplatform marketing of a fictional “experience” across the Internet, overflowing from a TV show or film. But it does seem similar in some ways, such as the immersion in a fuller intertextual experience around the single text; different in other ways because the Internet enables far more exploration, ongoing involvement, interaction, and community involvement than does a DVD, however many featurettes that DVD has.

DJ: Is this because DVD as a technology doesn’t have the capacity for these kinds of explorations or because that potential is not being utilized by DVD producers?

WB: I'm not aware whether DVD technology has the capacity or the potential to be networked in the same way as a console game like Halo is networked, but if you could talk to other online viewers while watching a DVD, and if the DVD included clickable content that would link you directly to external websites, that would be a different matter and, I think, far more immersive.

DJ: Is there any way in which DVD technology might be mobilized alternately to shut down or control fan interaction and community involvement with the original trilogy?

WB: Mobilized by Lucasfilm?

DJ: Right. Might the new viewing mode ushered in by DVD be altering relations between fans, texts, and producers?

WB: I in not sure whether the existence of Star Wan on DVD is going in any way to affect fan activity online. To contain or police fan activity online Lucasfilm has to engage with it online—and they do. There is the issue of fans producing and circulating their own original films or edits of Lucasfilm official texts on DVD, which apparently is much harder to police. In a way, it’s back to the old school Samizdat circulation of fanzines and small press.23 To send out a homemade DVD is, I think, a lot safer than putting something up on a website in terms of copyright and Lucasfilm's ability to prosecute you.

Dj: I’d like to explore these relationships between audiences, producers, and texts further, as they figure prominently in your work. In Using the Force you suggest that the 2002 theatrical release of Attack of the Clones brought in a kind of gusher hegemony within Star Wars fandom.24 Yet the release of the original trilogy on DVD has been controversial in fandom (and to a lesser extent in the media at large) for the “revisionism" you’ve already noted. Would you expect the relations between fans and the debates at the heart of Star Wars fandom to be altered by the new text offered by the DVD?

WB: Well, in regard to hegemony, I’m not sure that’s entirely the case. As I remember it, the former “bashers” were just so relieved that Attack of the Clones wasn’t as bad as The Phantom Menace—myself included. It was a feeling of “Thank God” and maybe a rush to embrace the movie with gratitude, being less critical than you might have been otherwise. Because the mythos does matter so much to these people, including me, it was a burden lifted that the Star Wars universe hadn’t been totally ruined and that Lucas could clearly be trusted to some extent. I am “spoiler-free until Episode III" at the moment, and I needed to step back from Star Wars online fandom after writing Using the Force, which had involved intense immersion in sometimes petty clan fights. So I don't know what clashes and rifts have been provoked by the DVD release, but I can imagine there are new divisions based around accepting George Lucas’s new vision and resisting it.

DJ: Why are these kinds of revisions a cause for resistance? What’s at stake?

WB: Again, I can’t speak for everyone at all, but for me there’s this really disquieting feeling that you cannot trust Lucas with this mythos that means so much to you—which is troubling, as clearly you owe him a debt of gratitude. I even listed him in the acknowledgments to Using the Force. It’s like finding out that God is some kind of wanker! Or, on a more critical level, it’s the feeling of the undermining of the author, a strange feeling that you, the fan, and the fan community in general would actually make a better curator of the myth and probably a better creator of new Star Wars texts than Lucas would now. What’s at stake is that Lucas’s tinkering is now called the “official” text. It’s not like he says, “Okay, you can have three different versions of A New Hope [1977,1997,and 2004]." He says,“The other ones never existed,” and in practical terms he makes it hard to actually own earlier versions. The previous versions only exist on VHS and so, literally, will not last. His new DVD noodling will fast, and the 1977 cut will not.

DJ: Except, as you’ve mentioned, in fan bootlegs.

WB: Possibly, yes. Though I don’t own any fan bootleg DVDs,so clearly they are not all that widespread. Of course, they are neither official nor broadly circulated. In theory, yes, I could probably burn a 1977 version to DVD; but it wouldn’t have the same picture or sound quality.

DJ: While the bootlegs aren't widespread, for what other reasons (other than video and audio quality) might it matter to some fans (or to yourself) that the DVDs they own are the “official” ones?

WB: It matters to me because on a simple level it annoys me. I know Lucas’s “official” version carries more cultural status. Perhaps a key factor is-and this has been true for other examples too—that fans know the “official” one is the text that matters to nonfans, to the wide outside world.25 It is the “official” one in the media, it’s the “official” one in the eyes of nonspecialist audiences. The other example that springs to mind is that Batman comic fans were upset and riled about the Batman films because they knew that this was the Batman nonfans would now accept as the “real” one—not just another interpretation but the one that the world would accept and believe.

DJ: If these DVDs have become the “official” Star Wars, is all of this talk of multiple versions really irrelevant to some degree?

WB: To Lucasfilm I think it probably is. But I would say fans have their own canon and hierarchy of texts now. Just as in DC Comics, when they ran the brutally revisionist “Crisis on Infinite Earths" storyline in 1986 and didn’t just kill off a ton of characters but ruled that most stories from the past fifty years-the campy, fun, ridiculous ones—had never happened, that didn’t stop a lot of fans from cherishing, discussing, and of course continuing to read the “Silver Age,” pre-“Crisis” comics.26 It’s like in Orwell, with Big Brother telling you there never was any war with Eurasia; we’ve always been at war with Eastasia. That doesn’t stop a small clan of rebellious souls from knowing full well this is false history and remembering that last year we were at war with Eurasia. So Big Brother Lucas is trying to impose this idea that it was always thus, and some people doggedly resist that idea, though they’re limited to lower-quality media like VHS and burned pirate DVDs. 

DJ: But aren’t the changes made to the original trilogy and other similar texts often justified by their ability to make the films relevant to nonfans by bringing the special effects up to current standards?

WB: Fine, if that is all the new versions did. But even that is problematic, because “current standards” will look clunky in time as well. And in updating effects you are trying to take a film out of its cultural and historical context. I mean, A New Hope was a 1977 film! It was astonishing for 1977, not to mention that in revising it you are erasing all the pioneering work that the original effects technicians achieved for the 1977 movie. Anyway, if that’s all these special editions did, okay, but they are also erasing actors’ performances, changing aspects of character, adding trivial slapstick to the background of shots, changing the entire tone of the movie. I would go so far as to say it’s an ethical issue, especially in that George Lucas keeps wiping out the work individuals contributed to his movies. Are nonfans so dim that a film is only acceptable to them if it’s full of 2004-standard special effects? Then presumably they’ll never watch any classic cinema because it fails to match up to the CGI in Elektra. People must be encouraged to see films as historical artifacts, surely, not to discount them because they don’t have tons of state-of-the-art CGI.

DJ: If fans are then circulating bootlegs not just of re-edits like The Phantom Edit but also of things like the 1977 A New Hope (and even the infamous Star Wars television Christmas special), could we then consider the DVD as enabling fans to be curators (or custodians, as you say in Using the Force) who rescue and protect film history and canon? Or can we really speak of “canon” in terms of a text like Star Wars anymore?

WB: I suppose we must accept that now there are several different ideas of Star Wars canon.27 Some fans will accept anything George Lucas says as canon and revise their own idea accordingly. Equally, some fans have, for some time, thought Expanded Universe books and comics were canon-and some would accept the Christmas special as canon.28 I would myself, to some extent, for various reasons. To be fair to George Lucas, they are only rescuing their own idea of canon. But yes, I don’t see how it could be argued that they aren’t preserving film history. It seems almost criminal that the original 1977 film is being deliberately cut loose as an “unofficial” version now and apparently left to perish. You would have thought George Lucas was someone who loved cinema, but his attitude toward the original trilogy doesn’t suggest as much.29 He seems to have no sense of loyalty or affection himself toward the films he actually shot as a younger man and no feeling of duty to preserve some of the most important films of the twentieth century in their original state.

DJ: On the other hand, could Lucas be the one who is trying to preserve a history of sorts? In terms of needing to make the prequels mesh with the original trilogy, should we consider intertextual history in addition to the extratextual history of which you speak?

WB: Lucas is not trying to preserve a history, he is trying to create a history. Ultimately, it’s as though he wants the movies that were originally released between 1977 and 1983 to look and feel the same as those released between 1999 and 2005. I can understand that, from his point of view as an obsessive hobbyist forever tinkering with and trying to perfect his science fiction saga as if it was a train set or a model of the Titanic made of matchsticks. But I don’t really understand why he doesn’t see the original films as a document of an earlier stage in his own life, let alone the life of cinema. Sure, he’s into “history,” the “history” of Anakin Skywalker, which is why he’s prepared to totally Stalinize an actor, Sebastian Shaw, in order to replace him with Hayden Christensen in the new Return of the Jedi.30 For Lucas, the integrity of the fictional history overrides any kind of documentary truth, the fact that Shaw actually did act in that scene when they shot it in the early 1980s. He is a slave to internal history, to the extent that he’s prepared to dub the voice of Temuera Morrison over Jeremy Bulloch’s so that Boba Fett speaks with his clone-father’s voice—again, what could be seen as a barbaric disregard for the real history of the original film’s production, the integrity of that film as a document that exists within a specific context, and of the individuals who gave their talents to that movie.31

I'd like to quote here from the film critic David Thomson, who expresses a similar sense of dismayed outrage about the recent car advertisement that CGI-warps Gene Kelly’s Singin’ in the Rain choreography into body-popping. He explains very powerfully, I think, why this issue is so important:

Let me just say that our collective memory, our culture, our pleasure have all been monkeyed with. Yes, the film survives, and can still be seen, but its beauty and its integrity are being flagrantly interfered with. The nature of a movie is being insidiously mocked and exploited. There are vital ways in which Singin' in the Rain belongs to us and the future, as much as it does to a studio or a few heirs to the image and persona of an actor. . . . Digital is becoming the norm of ownership and storage. And digital is a medium in which the precious image can be tricked and monkeyed with if someone reckons there’s a fast extra buck to be had. So long fought over by business interests and claims of art, the movie is not adequately defined in our culture as a work to be preserved in its original form.32

DJ: It is similarly problematic that intellectual property and copyright laws prevent fans from openly distributing their preservations of these cultural artifacts. Do you assume that future HD-DVD “official” releases won’t see a super-duper restored version of the original original trilogy? It’s gone for good, “officially”?

WB: Frankly, the idea of fans distributing their own canon would not be enough to satisfy me even if it was legal, because we all know, as fans, that the “official” version, sanctioned by George Lucas, has more cultural status. What would satisfy me is an HD-DVD ultimate edition with all three existing versions of A New Hope on it, all of them sharing equal status. If George Lucas wants to tinker with it, fine, but not at the expense of the existing movies, especially not the 1977 cut, without which he would have no empire and no platform from which to tinker at all and without which cinema as a whole—and science fiction cinema in particular—would not be the same. I think it is a very important film culturally and historically, and I think he should show it proper respect. I don’t agree with wiping any original cut out of history. I don’t prefer the earlier 1982 version of Blade Runner, but I think we should all have access to a good quality version of it.33

DJ: But how do you draw the line in terms of historical preservation? DVDs offer enhanced, remixed Dolby 5.1 audio and, in some cases, restored or enhanced video. Are these kinds of tinkering cause for similar concern?

WB: The short answer is, no, that is not a concern as long as it stops before you actually “improve” the CGI. "Restored” video is potentially very different from “enhanced.” When you restore an old painting you are trying to get it back to the way it was, not the way you'd now like it to look.

DJ: Can Lucas’s true vision ever be realized?

WB: Lucas’s “true vision” is, I believe, going to mean a new version every five years or so. I can't read the guy’s mind, but he seems obsessed with going back to tweak his old films and make cosmetic changes. I don’t believe his “true vision” involves three versions of A New Hope on one disc. I would speculate that until his dying day Lucas may not be totally satisfied with A New Hope, that new technology may convince him it will help him come closer to his “true vision” which, as I’ve suggested [in “Return to the Mos Eisley Cantina: The Star Wan Trilogy on DVD”), is bogus anyway, as he made changes in 1997, then changed them back in 2004, hinting that he had no consistent idea in the first place. I am not convinced, for instance, that he was going to make Luke and Leia twins when he wrote and shot A New Hope. To be honest, I think Lucas has the problem of being a geek who can’t leave a good thing alone. There are Gungans in the DVD of Return of the Jedi, partially fulfilling my morbid prophecy that jar-Jar would turn up in future editions of the original trilogy.34 To be fair, perhaps George Lucas’s true vision of Star Wars is a never-finished text.

DJ: Then does the DVD reinforce notions of authorship, allowing Lucas to reclaim ownership of the text from fans?

WB: Not exactly reclaim, but, effectively, it does remind us all that he owns it and he can do what he wants with it. I don’t think Lucasfilm ever felt that it had lost ownership of the Star Wars mythos. But it does come as a wake-up call as to where the power lies.

DJ: If historicization is an ethical responsibility, as you suggest, to whom is the DVD author—be it Lucas or a bootlegging fan—responsible?

WB: Ultimately, perhaps the answer is “to history,” but I think the author also has a responsibility to audiences: to people for whom Star Wars meant a great deal in its original version and in a more general sense to anyone who believes that films are cultural documents or works of art that can’t be just taken out of their historical moment and brought clumsily “up-to-date.” A fan-editor is in a different position because their reworked Star Wars text is always going to be just one of many, without a lofty cultural status, so it exists as one variant in a democracy of interpretations. Lucas is saying, and has the clout to say, that because his product carries the official stamp worldwide to mass audiences, and because his version is technically of the best quality, “this is now the official Star Wars. The previous versions were inferior, and we can just let them fade away.” I think that’s an insult to anyone who loves cinema.

DJ: How does DVD technology specifically enable these kinds of erasures? Or does it?

WB: It enables it in that it’s superior to the previous editions and will both last longer and sell better.

DJ: Superior in a technical sense, you mean?

WB: Yes, technically. Obviously, only a diehard fan now would buy a VHS of Star Wars. On DVD it's been digitally enhanced and will last longer with repeat viewings. So an improved technology would, in 2010, ensure that an even newer StarWars “original” trilogy would effectively replace the 2004 StarWars DVD.

DJ: How does DVD change the way in which we as scholars need to look at the study of both film history and fan cultures? How do our analytical approaches need to be reevaluated to account for the multiple, ever-changing text?

WB: I m not sure whether Star Wars is an exceptional example. If they went back to the 1989 Batman and imposed Tommy Lee Jones over the original Harvey Dent actor, Billy Dee Williams, or if Coppola announced he was going to “improve” the first two Godfather movies so they look more like the third installment, this might become more of a broader issue. At the moment we do have films coming out on DVD in far longer and significantly altered versions, such as The Return of the King DVD that includes Saruman’s death.35 That version of The Return of the King is not the same in terms of character, pacing, and plot as the one we saw in the cinema. So already film scholars would have to be clear about which version they were referring to, and I think it’s questionable which one is more “official.” Home viewing traditionally carries a lower status than cinema—“straight to video” still has a stigma-but if Peter Jackson actually wanted those scenes in yet cut them because of time constraints, perhaps the DVD is “more official,” truer to the authorial vision, than the cinema edit. On the other hand, I personally think those additions to The Return of the King are pretty hokey, so if it came to it, I would champion the version I saw in the cinema as superior. Saruman, after all, does not die in Tolkien’s original novel by falling off his tower and being impaled on a spike. Again we enter into debates about who has the greatest right over the text, the informed fan or the creator to whom fans may feel indebted—but only perhaps up to a point. The tinkered-with text, the “never-ending story” like Star Wars, raises questions about authenticity and the status of all these variants, which of course never even existed until fairly recently: we don’t have to specify which edition of Citizen Kane we’re watching, though we do with Blade Runner, which remains an exceptional example of a film that can’t be pinned down to one text. So if Star Wars is symptomatic of a trend, then yes, I think this will make a difference to film scholarship, just as it did when film scholarship had to shift from being about remembering movies you saw in the cinema to being a close, detailed, carefully supported analysis of videos you could rewind and freeze-frame at home.

DJ: One last question: if Hayden Christensen replaces Sebastian Shaw as Anakin Skywalker at the end of Return of the Jedi, but Luke still sees Shaw in a prior scene when he sees his father’s face for the first time, how does Luke recognize Christensen as Anakin when he’s standing in spirit form with Yoda and Obi-Wan?

WB: He just “knows. ” In character terms, and in Jedi terms, that intuition makes sense. Logically, who else is it going to be anyway? But I think the reasoning is, Luke would “feel” it. I know Hayden doesn't look much like Sebastian Shaw, but if you saw a ghost of your dad as a younger man, I think even a non-Jedi would get it, especially if Yoda and Obi-Wan have their arms around him.

DJ: Fair enough-although I was expecting you to throw your arms up in disgust.

WB: I guess I’m a closet gusher. It’s testament to the love and faith I have for Star Wars that I try to make excuses for it. The true fan tries to keep making it work, whatever Lucas does to it.


1. According to Box Office Mojo, an Internet site that tracks film ticket sales, Star Wars ranks as the second highest performer in U.S. history with a domestic gross of $46(1,998,0117.Adjusted for inflation (based on an average ticket price of $6.25 in 2005), Star Wars remains in the second position with a gross of$l ,113,247,500, while The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi take the twelfth and fourteenth positions, with $613,629,000 and $587,871,300 domestic box office gross, respectively. For more see;

2. See Josh Grossberg, '“Star Wars' Finally DVD Bound," E! Online News, 10 February 2004, Items/0,1,13471,00.html?tnews. See also “Star Wars Trilogy on DVD,” Ultimate AV Magazine, 16 Feburary 2004,

3. Video Business magazine estimates that 90 percent of those revenues came from the DVD itself. See Scott Hettrick, "5/<tr Wars Force Stays Strong," Video Business, 23 September 2004, Also see Brian Borst, “Star Wars DVDs Smash Sales Records," Pop Culture Shock News, 23 September 2004,

4. Associated Press,“‘Star Wars’ Debuts on DVD,” 15 September 2004.

5. Thus, a discussion thread at entitled "The One and Only Star Wars DVD Alteration Thread” impossibly attempts to declare itself a centralized location for cataloging and debating the changes (, 21 September 2004).The debate becomes polarized enough that “a thread for everyone annoyed by he ‘constant complaining' about StarWars" begins just over a week later (, 29 September 2004).

6. This disappointment has also been perceived by the media. See Grossberg.

7. Associated Press,“‘Star Wars’ Debuts on DVD” 15 September 2004.

8. While an eBay search would evidence this, the differences between bootleg and official releases have also been recognized within industrial discourse itself. See Susanne Ault,“Retailers Enjoy Boffo Trilogy Launch," Video Business, 24 September 2004,

9. Personal correspondence with a bootlegger (who will for obvious reasons rename nameless), 31 July 2004.

10. Will Brooker, Alice's Adventures: Lews Carroll in Popular Culture (London: Continuum, 2004),

11. Will Brooker and Deborah Jermyn, eds.. The Audience Studies Reader (London: Routledge, 2002).

12. Will Brooker, Batman Unmasked: Analyzing a Cultural Icon (London: Continuum, 2(100).

13. Will Brooker,“Conclusion: Overflow and Audience,” Brooker and Jermyn 325.

14. Will Brooker, “Living on Dawson’s Creek Teen Viewers, Cultural Convergence, and Television Overflow,” The Television Studies Reader, ed. Annette Hill and Robert C. Allen (London: Routledge, 2004).

15. For a discussion of fan-scholars and scholar-fans see Matt Hills, Fan Cultures (London: Routledge, 2002). Hills discusses these positions as liminal identities that “exist between and transgress the regulative norms of academic and fail imagined subjectivities” (19).

16. Will Brooker, “Return to the Mos Eisley Cantina: The Star Wars Trilogy on DVD,” The, 29 September 2004,

17. Will Brooker, Using the Force: Creativity, Community, and "Star Wars" Fans (London: Continuum, 2002).

18. Ibid., 88.

19. Ibid., 96.

20. For an extended discussion of these changes and fan reaction to it see Brooker, Using the Force 75.

21. See Aaron Barlow, The DVD Revolution: Movies, Culture, and Technology (New York: Praeger Publishers, 2004).

22. For more of Brooker’s work on overflow see his “Living on Dawson's Creek" and “Overflow and Audience.” In these works Brooker defines overflow as "this tendency for media producers to construct a lifestyle experience around a core text, using the Internet to extend audience engagement and encourage a two-way interaction” (“Overflow and Audience” 323).

23. “Samizdat” refers to a means oi underground production and distribution of radical or otherwise banned media.

24. In Using the Force Brooker explains that after the 2(1(12 release of Attack of the Clones the baslier/gusher conflict subsided to the advantage of the latter. Strong support for the film “was seized upon by those who had previously defended the Prequel Trilogy, and parlayed up into a dominant gusher hegemony where the notion that Clones had restored faith in the franchise became ‘common sense’" (242).

25. For further analysis of non-fans and a call for studying their engagement with media texts rather than solely that of fans see Jonathan Gray,“New Audiences, NewTextualities: Ants-Fans and Non-Fans,” International Journal of Cultural Studies 6.1 (2003): 64—81.

26. Essentially, the “Crisis” storyline wiped away fifty years of history' for the characters who shared diegetic space as part of the DC Comics “universe.” The notion of the parallel universe was employed throughout the “Crisis” to explain away the inconsistencies between iterations of the same character as conceived by different writers and artists at different points in DC history (and between comic titles that were supposed to exist in the same world). Though many characters were killed in this massive crossover event, the backstories of the characters who did survive were altered and amalgamated in order to reset the universe and allow writers to start anew, unfettered by fifty years of (dis)continuity.

27. See Brooker’s chapter on the idea of canon in Using the Force (101—13). Brooker suggests that canon (that which is to be taken as having truly happened within the diegetic universe) is not a monolithically defined consensus among fans but a site of contestation. Moreover, Brooker engages with the problems that emerge in attempting to define canon when working with a continually changing, fluid text like the Star Wars saga {105). Canon is thus itself fluid.

28. The Expanded Universe refers to a group of secondary Star Wars texts aside from the films that are authorized and distributed by commercial media (such as books, comics, and video games) but nevertheless remain of debatable canonicity. Characters who originate in the Expanded Universe, however, have sometimes become canon (or have been argued as such) by their later appearances in a Star Wars film.

29. Ironically, Lucas might agree. In an interview discussing the colorization of The Three Stooges in its DVD release, Lucas explains that “I am very concerned about our national heritage, and I am very concerned 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.” Adding to the irony is the fact that these maligned colorizations are included alongside the original black-and-white versions-just the kind of have-it-both-ways preservation and alteration logic that Brooker later advocates here. See “Colorized Three Stooges DVD Revives Debate,”,—Entertainment, accessed 6 July 2005.

30. In Return of the Jedi Luke Skywalker unmasks Darth Vader to reveal the face of Anakin, his father. He later sees the “Jedi spirit” of his father standing next to those of Obi-Wan and Yoda during the celebration in the Ewok village at the end of the film. In the 1983 and 1997 cuts Sebastian Shaw, the same actor whose face is revealed under Darth Vader’s helmet, also plays Anakin's ghost. In the 2004 DVD the Jedi spirit of Anakin is instead the image of actor Hayden Christensen, who plays the elder Skywalker as a younger man in the prequel trilogy.

31. In Attack of the Clones it is established that Boba Fett is a clone of his father, Jango Fett. Thus, Lucas reasons that the actor who plays Jango in the prequels should also voice Boba Fett in the "later" original trilogy.

32. See Independent on Sunday, 6 February 2005.

33. Brooker refers here to the fact that the only version [at the time of publication] of Blade Runner that is available on home video from Warner Brothers is a recut directors edition, not the original theatrical one.

34. In Using the Force Brooker predicted that Lucas would eventually release "an Ultimate Edition that resolves all narrative bloopers and inserts prequel characters into scenes from Episodes IV—VI [the original trilogy], . . .The question is not when or whether it will happen, but how” (271).

35. The extended edition DVD of The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King contains extra footage reedited into the film that is not present on the theatrical version available on DVD.

[Source: Velvet Light Trap: A Critical Journal of Film & Television. Fall 2005, Issue 56, p36-44.]

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