Blast it George, why did you!?

Posted: August 31, 2012 in Uncategorized
Tags: , , , ,

George, you’re playing with my mind!

When I set out to write this post, I realised that my recollection of the film Star Wars, had become corrupted. Like Orwell’s Winston Smith in 1984, I was a victim of the “He who controls the past controls the future. He who controls the present controls the past.” scenario. However, a little bit of memory is a dangerous thing.

“Blast it Biggs, where are you?!” was originally, “Blast it Wedge, where are you?!” and even as I type the latter, it feels more like a memory implant than my own memory, now returned to me. You can see why I’m confused. The following was written before I went to one of the many alterations pages available on the Internet:
For years, this line from Star Wars, expressed by Luke as he flies about the Death Star in his X-wing fighter, seemed out of place. It was only years later, with a (updated cut), that, with the introduction of additional text, the relationship between Biggs and Luke was made clear(er) in the exchanges prior to their departure on the mission. This went some way to explaining why Luke would be sounding off at “Biggs”, who had been unseen and heard of thus far. I had coped with the original position but felt it thoughtful that someone (George?) had seen fit to help clarify the oversight.
Wrong, wrong, wrong!
Now, having decided to type in a few more search phrases and click on a few more links, I’ve realised the behemoth that I’ve come across. The aim of my blog was not to add to the vast range of fan sites dedicated to haranguing Lucas over his “upgrades”. There are many of them, including Nicolas Pell’s George Lucas’ 8 Most Irritating Changes To The ‘Star Wars’ Films and they do an excellent job in their own right.
For me, I had no intrinsic issue with some relatively “cosmetic” improvements. Things such as making sure that you could see the fleet of x-wings as they blasted off into the twilit sky, or “fixing up” the pink glow of their engines when viewed from behind. I understand that the film print can become worn and might need a bit of a facelift.
But, it was only sometime later, as I watched the film with my son, that I came across all manner of additions. Silly creatures having to get out of the way of the landspeeder containing Luke and Obi-Wan as they approached Mos Isley, was niggling; making the film feel more like Sesame Street than Star Wars. Then, at that time, the big surprise as a “new” scene showing Han Solo negotiating with what can only be described as a svelte Jabba the Hutt was revealed. That it was obvious that this was original footage blended with new CGI effects only added to the sense of annoyance. Why would you want to “improve” Star Wars? Having grown up seeing it at the cinema, followed by numerous viewings on VHS tape, recorded from the TV, one comes to create a personal perspective about a text.

You might have guessed that the paragraph above was another “draft 1.0” version of my post. But I thought it worth keeping. So now to the larger idea which, thankfully, remains intact.
I recall coming across Roland Barthes’s article on The Death of the Author when I was at Uni. At the time, I found the idea that a text could become ‘alive’ with the experiences that the reader brought to the text when reading it, invigorating. The end result saw texts with almost limitless possibilities for interpretation, based on time, locale and perspective.
It has only been recently that I have come to value Mr Barthes afresh. For the following, think of the old “author” equals “composer”, in the sense that this applies to any “text” you might conceive, including film.

“The Author is thought to nourish the book, which is to say that he exists before it, thinks, suffers, lives for it, is in the same relation of antecedence to his work as a father to his child. In complete contrast, the modern scriptor is born simultaneously with the text, is in no way equipped with a being preceding or exceeding the writing, is not the subject with the book as predicate; there is no other time than that of the enunciation and every text is eternally written here and now.”
Where is George Lucas in all this? Is he afraid of his own relative mortality with Star Wars, that he would lose control? Texts may show that “writing is the destruction of every voice, of every point of origin” but the possibilities from that one definitive act of creation can lead to countless possibilities in the millions of “readings” that individuals bring to a text. Why not create fresh representations of a text if it is deemed worthy of consideration, whether this be through a re-make of the original (for instance, the two versions of Ocean’s Eleven, decades apart) or a re-presentation of the original idea (as in the film Seven Samurai, which became the western The Magnificent Seven, the space film Battle Beyond the Stars, and later again, A Bug’s Life)?

I recall an art teacher telling me that a skill for an artist (or a school student) was when to know that the picture was “done” – in other words, when adding anything more would lead to the decay of the artwork, through overwork. Why would it be any different for any other text type?

I wonder whether George Lucas should acknowledge that “Having buried the Author, the modern scriptor can thus no longer… indefinitely ‘polish’ his form… we know that to give writing its future, it is necessary to overthrow the myth: the birth of the reader must be at the cost of the death of the Author”.

Barthes wrote this in 1967, a decade before Lucas released the first Star Wars film. We aim to teach students when, after the necessary re-drafting, to leave a work alone – perhaps it is time for George to put down the brush and do the same with Star Wars.

  1. Peter says:

    Interesting – will Lucas ever stop?

    • cgparkin says:

      Short answer is probably ‘no’ – I think artistic control and the need for attention are probably compelling factors. Thanks for stopping by Peter. Cheers, Clive

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