This is the 12th post in a daily series. Read about it here and see the list of previous posts here. A new post about “Star Wars” will be posted every day for 40 days leading up to the franchise’s 40th birthday on May 25th.
When Madonna’s “The Immaculate Collection” was released in the US in November 1990, the album contained 15 previously released hits and two new songs, “Rescue Me” and “Justify My Love.” The hits spanned the first seven years of her career, but not all of the songs appeared as they had on previous releases. The version of “Express Yourself” did not have the horns it had on the “Like a Prayer” album, and “Into The Groove” had a piano interlude in place of the “Now I know you’re mine” part.
Another reason the songs sounded different was because “The Immaculate Collection” was the first album to use Q Sound, which Billboard described as “a technology used to create an effect where the music would surround the listener.” As co-producer Shep Pettibone recalled:
Some of the songs we changed up a bit, but most of the songs we kept in their original form. Like “Holiday,” “Lucky Star,” et cetera, et cetera, those were all the original productions. The remix was just really to create the Q Sound, and make the song kind of envelop you when you listened to it in a certain sweet spot in front of the speakers.
And though fans and reviewers reacted favorably to “The Immaculate Collection,” they definitely noticed the differences. In a review, Stephen Thomas Erlewine noted:
The songs that are included are frequently altered. Everything on the collection is remastered in Q-sound, which gives an exaggerated sense of stereo separation that often distorts the original intent of the recordings. Furthermore, several songs are faster than their original versions and some are faded out earlier than either their single or album versions, while others are segued together. In other words, while all the hits are present, they’re simply not in their correct versions. Nevertheless, “The Immaculate Collection” remains a necessary purchase, because it captures everything Madonna is about and it proves that she was one of the finest singles artists of the ’80s. Until the original single versions are compiled on another album, “The Immaculate Collection” is the closest thing to a definitive retrospective.
When Madonna released her third greatest hits compilation, 2009’s “Celebration,” she included more songs, as she had new material since “The Immaculate Collection” and her 2001 greatest hits compilation, “GHV2.” Some of the songs on “Celebration” were different from how they appeared on “The Immaculate Collection.” “Into The Groove,” for example, had its classic “Now I know you’re mine” part that had been missing on “The Immaculate Collection.”
What Madonna’s greatest hits albums showed was that she had no problem re-editing and re-packaging her previous material. And when she did edit and remix the material, she did not seem beholden to the whims of the fans, or else she’d never have messed with “Into The Groove.”
In this regard, it’s easy to see the parallels between Madonna and George Lucas. To be sure, Madonna’s greatest hits compilations are not the same things as the releases of the original “Star Wars” trilogy. One is a collection of songs, and the other is a series of movies. But both cases deal with an artist whose work is fiercely beloved by fan bases who grew up with the work. And while they both are OK making changes, Lucas and Madonna took an ultimately different approach: Madonna released new versions of her work, whereas Lucas wanted to replace his previous work with new versions.
In the 20 years since Lucasfilm re-released special editions of “Star Wars” movies in 1997, fans have found it hard to get unedited versions that resembled the movies as they were originally released. The un-altered theatrical prints of each movie from the original trilogy was released on DVD in a boxed set in 2006, but otherwise, each time the movies have been released in the last two decades, fans have had to get whatever version Lucas was considering the “right” version at that point in time.
Many of the changes in the over time have been aesthetic. As the possibilities for visual effects have grown exponentially since Lucas first made the films in the late ’70s and early ’80s, George Lucas has polished certain scenes, restored deleted scenes, and inserted new scenery. He’s added CGI characters, including a digital Jabba the Hutt in a scene that had been cut from the original “Star Wars.” In the restored scene, we saw Jabba the Hutt, who looked slicker, greener, and smaller than he had in “Return of the Jedi.” From a technical perspective, it was neat to see how the original film could be edited to include digital effects. But from a storytelling perspective, it was not necessary. And from a fan’s perspective, it was damn near apocryphal.
Lucas, though, has not seemed to care. These “special editions” were meant to reflect Lucas’s true vision for the films should have been, and to him, the previous movies might as well not exist. As he told Today:
The special edition, that’s the one I wanted out there. The other movie, it’s on VHS, if anybody wants it. … I’m not going to spend the, we’re talking millions of dollars here, the money and the time to refurbish that, because to me, it doesn’t really exist anymore. It’s like this is the movie I wanted it to be, and I’m sorry 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. I’m the one who has to take responsibility for it. I’m the one who has to have everybody throw rocks at me all the time, so at least if they’re going to throw rocks at me, they’re going to throw rocks at me for something I love rather than something I think is not very good, or at least something I think is not finished…
…The thing about science-fiction fans and “Star Wars” fans is they’re very independent-thinking people. They all think outside the box, but they all have very strong ideas about what should happen, and they think it should be their way. Which is fine, except I’m making the movies, so I should have it my way.
So whenever the original trilogy has been released on a new platform, it has reflected the myriad changes Lucas has made, including the oft-derided change to the showdown between Han Solo and bounty hunter Greedo. And he has done this, knowing full well that even though die-hard fans will complain and whine, they will still buy the movies. They’d rather have some version of the movie than hold out for a version they know they will never get.
This is Lucas’s prerogative, of course, and he has every right to edit the movie to make it the way he wants it to be. But there could be a compromise, based on something we’ve seen in the music industry: Lucasfilm could release alternate versions, or the movie equivalent of a remix.
Or, using Madonna as an analogy: just as there are versions of “Into The Groove” with the “Now I know you’re mine” part and there versions without, there could be versions of “Star Wars” where Han shot first, versions where Greedo shot first, and versions where they shot at the same time. They could all be available digitally, just as the various versions of Madonna’s songs are available digitally. “Star Wars” fans could have the freedom to buy the versions of the movies they wanted, just as Madonna’s fans have the ability to buy the previous versions of her songs.
But, as Lucas’s previous comments indicate, he has no interest in multiple versions, because he admittedly doesn’t pay much attention to fan reaction. Lucas is not trying to give the current fans what they want based on the version they loved as kids. Instead, he’s interested in shaping the way the movies are viewed in the future, and that means letting the original versions fade out of existence. In an interview with American Society of Cinematographers magazine, Lucas said:
…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.
This is a reverse from what Lucas said in the 1980s when speaking before Congress. At the time, he was part of a group of people trying to get Congress to pass laws preventing the altering of classic movies. During that testimony, Lucas said:
People who alter or destroy works of art and our cultural heritage for profit or as an exercise of power are barbarians, and if the laws of the United States continue to condone this behavior, history will surely classify us as a barbaric society…
…In the future it will become even easier for old negatives to become lost and be “replaced” by new altered negatives. This would be a great loss to our society. Our cultural history must not be allowed to be rewritten.
I mean, that’s quite a change, eh?
But for whatever reason, Lucas changed his mind. He is now playing the long game, thinking about his legacy. He knows these movies will outlive him and anything else he does, so he’s done what he can to make them be something with which he’d want to be associated. One can appreciate that, particularly because the same anal retentiveness that he’s applied to his special editions is the same attention to detail he had when making the original trilogy.
But as a fan, it’s hard to think of what the legacy of “Star Wars” could be or should be 100 years from now. And it’s not simply because I will have passed on by that point, though that does make it hard for me to get too up in arms. The real reason is that being a “Star Wars” fan has as much to do with the past as is does the future. We look forward to new “Star Wars” movies because of the nostalgia we have for the movies. Any time we see a new “Star Wars” movie or rewatch one of the previous films, we get to revisit who we were when we first got into the franchise. Each time Lucas changes his original movies, we get further and further away from the movies we first saw. He’s not only revising something he made, but he’s tinkering with our memories of our childhood.
Luckily, Madonna hasn’t tried to do that. Only recently have I been able to accept that we’ll probably never again be able to buy a version of “Star Wars” where Han shoots first. I can’t imagine how long it would take me to accept never being able to buy a version of “Into The Groove” without the “Now I now you’re mine” part.