Posted: Wednesday February 8, 2012, 11:36 AM
Star Wars: 3-D release will anger some fans

The wisdom of a Yoda it might take, to bridge the gulf between George Lucas and certain "Star Wars" fans that Friday's 3-D re-release of "Star Wars: Episode I — The Phantom Menace" is liable to open — yet again.

The issue: the director's habit of revamping and altering the "Star Wars" films — key youthful memories for so many people — every time a new technology beckons, or a new idea strikes him.

"Basically, they wish he would leave it alone," says fan Len Katz, an Elmwood Park resident who co-owns The Joker's Child, a Fair Lawn comic book store.

"Why not make new things, instead of tinkering with the old ones?" Katz says. "He's made six 'Star Wars' movies. They could have made 20 by now."

Things have gotten so bad that Lucas has threatened to make no new "Star Wars" films at all, unless his fans settle down. "Why would I make any more when everybody yells at you all the time and says what a terrible person you are?" he's been quoted as saying.

Actually, there may be less blowback for this revamped "Phantom Menace" than for certain other films in the franchise (Lucas plans to eventually re-release all the "Star Wars" films in 3-D). Many hard-line "Star Wars" fans don't acknowledge the legitimacy of the three Lucas "prequels" on any level. Meanwhile, kids — the main fan base for this film — will probably thrill anew to the adventures of Anakin Skywalker, Obi-Wan Kenobi and Jar Jar Binks (well, maybe not him) now that they're in three dimensions and enhanced digital.

It's when Lucas tampers with the original three films — as he did with the DVD Blu-ray re-releases of "Star Wars: Episode IV — A New Hope," "The Empire Strikes Back" and "Return of the Jedi" — and makes the originals hard to see or available only in inferior prints, that fans get testy. The "Special Edition" versions, released starting in 1997, contain substantial changes; the original versions, meanwhile, were only briefly made available on DVD in 2008 in a substandard transfer, almost as if Lucas was deliberately thumbing his nose at the purists.

"For a lot of fans, when you start adding things to the original trilogy, it diminished them, and cheapened them," says Jeremy "Mr. Beaks" Smith, an editor with Ain't It Cool News, the go-to website for all things fan-related.

The tamperings involve many things: "upgrading" the original analog F/X with digital technology, adding scenes, redubbing voices. The most notorious, in the first "Star Wars," involves a confrontation between Han Solo and a bounty hunter named Greedo. In the original 1977 release, Han shoots Greedo without being provoked. In 1997 — to the fury of many fans — Lucas "redeemed" Han's character by having Greedo fire the first shot. Soon after, "Han Shot First" protest buttons and bumper stickers began turning up at fan conventions.

"I think this is a personal thing for Lucas," says Smith, who believes the re-dos are simply the director's attempt to get on the screen what he always had in his mind — but couldn't achieve 30 years ago. "It's not just a matter of greed."

The real question is whether Lucas, as creator and owner of these films, has the right to do what he wants with them — or whether the fans, who made them the success they are, should also have a say.

Legally, it's an academic question. "They are his movies," says Alan Gordon, president of Comic Images in Montvale, which manufactures Lucas-licensed "Star Wars" merchandise.

"People vote with their eyeballs. See the movie, or don't."

Still, you could argue that once a film is released, it belongs to the audience as well as to the creator. And some fans do argue it — passionately.

"I would agree he has the right to do whatever he wants," Smith says. "But at a certain point it would behoove him to listen to the fans, and for him to understand that there is a quite large segment of fans that doesn't like what he's doing with these movies."

Email: beckerman@northjersey.com

Area Screenings of Episode I
"Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace," newly upgraded in 3-D, will explode into some theaters this weekend with the biggest bang since the Death Star blew to smithereens. Two area theaters, the AMC Garden State 16 in Paramus and AMC Empire 25 in Times Square, New York, will feature special events and give-aways on Saturday between 11 a.m. and 6 p.m., including Darth Maul glasses and a Hasbro "Star Wars" fighter pod (both while supplies last). Also starting at 11 a.m., there will be in-theater features, including a Lego area and Darth Maul face painting.