Modifying Star Wars: So What?

Doug Mataconis offers a side-by-side comparison of the original theatrical release of the climactic scene in Return of the Jedi when Darth Vader turns away from the dark side, fulfills his destiny as a Sith Lord and kills his own master, and morally redeems himself by saving his son from the clutches of a horrific death at the hands of the Emperor. The geniuses at Lucasfilm — read: George Lucas himself — decided to tinker with the film by adding in dialogue for Darth Vader, saying “No.  Noooooo!” before he makes that critical moral decision. In the original theatrical release, Vader is silent as he turns his cloak away from evil.

Because this sort of thing is intensely important to some people, it’s worthy of commentary. I have three reactions to it:

  1. The original vision — Vader acting in silence — is the superior of the two.
  2. The modified version is not really so bad. It sort of works, in its own way.
  3. The right thing for Lucasfilm to do is to release a DVD or Blu-Ray with options to play the “original theatrical release” or the “enhanced director’s cut,” as the viewer chooses. But that’s a marketing decision and not an artistic one.

Watch both versions and decide for yourself. One thing I’ve always wondered is, did they use slightly different versions of Vader’s helmet, to widen or narrow the eyes, to convey Vader’s shifting emotions, or is that just my imagination?

Burt Likko

Pseudonymous Portlander. Homebrewer. Atheist. Recovering litigator. Recovering Republican. Recovering Catholic. Recovering divorcé. Recovering Former Editor-in-Chief of Ordinary Times. House Likko's Words: Scite Verum. Colite Iusticia. Vivere Con Gaudium.


  1. Are mythologies allowed to change over time?

    Can we go back and make Jason (Captain of the Argo) a fundamentally decent guy who was good to his wife and kids?

    Can we go back and make Hercules a little more feminist?

    Can we go back and have Perseus decide to stay home?

    Sure. It’s as easy as writing a few paragraphs.

    Jason opened the door and called out “Honey! I’m home!”

    “Daddy!”, three tow-headed children called out and ran to him. He kneeled and hugged them all. “Ab-bab!” a toddler yelled from the next room and waddled in on his fat little legs. Jason swooped him up and buried his nose in the toddler’s neck while making rude noises. Medea stood in the doorframe with a wry smile as she held her hand over her swelling belly. “Ab-bab, Jason.”

    Jason put the toddler down and walked over and put his hand on his yet unborn child. “Good day?”, he asked.

    “Good day”, she answered.

    No murder. No infidelity. No hard feelings. Just many, many beautiful children who have two parents who love each other.

    How difficult was that?

    • Jaybird: Despite the sarcasm, mythological stories *are* allowed to change over time, and do, and have done, and will continue to do for as long as human beings tell stories. That is, in fact, the only real way for them to stay relevant to changing audiences. Keep them as they are, stale and archaic, and they will be of interest only to academics, thereby losing their function as movers of the human soul.

      Here’s a question: How would you define King Arthur? Got an answer? Sure about that? Because that’s just one example of a character whose personality, dramatic function, life story, etc. varies widely depending on the story and the author. The minor changes that Lucas makes to his films amount to nowhere near the differences between “Le Morte d’Arthur” and “The Once and Future King,” let alone films like “Excalibur” and “The Sword in the Stone.” And they certainly amount to nowhere near the difference between Euripides’ “Medea” and your satirical “excerpt.”

      Almost every change made to the “Star Wars” movies up until now has been subtle and/or cosmetic. None of them fundamentally change any of the characters or seem wildly out of place to me. The only change that bothered me was the addition of the Emperor’s death scream to Luke’s fall at the climax of TESB in the 1997 SE. Lucas was wise enough to remove that for the 2004 DVDs.

      As for Vader’s “NO!” I think Kevin Smith put it best when he said that all Lucas did was to add “a sound effect” to the scene, and even went so far as to say that he could understand the reasoning and that maybe the scene actually did lack a certain emotional component at that moment. Maybe having Vader vocalize his emotions makes the scene more dramatic and fits in better with Anakin’s character.

      • I was not being sarcastic.

        Perhaps ironic, but not sarcastic.

        There is something that resonates in the old stories. Something that the stories reflect rather than create. My little fanfic failed to reflect what the story of Jason and Medea reflects… even though it tells a story that I prefer to the other Jason and Medea story.

        By fundamentally changing the story as I did, I screwed something up. Instead of reflecting something, I merely *SAID* something.

        Now, when it comes to Lucas, what made the first two and a half movies work is that they were reflecting something rather than saying something.

        His constant twiddling seems to demonstrate that he would rather say things than reflect them. Failing to reflect things is no great sin, of course. Many (most?) artists do that. It’s when he twiddles with some of the things that reflected and changes them to merely say something that it strikes me as absurd as my little fanfic. Even if, on one level or another, it’s preferable to the other version.

    • Very. When there are children who are part of the equation, same-sex marriages are lucky to last a year–and for good reason–it’s all about DNA. The chances of a child being successfully raised in such a home with TWO husbands or wives, is very, very dismal.–The statistics in the Netherlands amply prove this out—males are considerably more licentious and promiscuous and average almost 12 different sex partners a year–is this the healthy environment you think children should be raised in? If two males want to get married, great–just don’t drag kids into such a dysfunctional household that has almost zero chance of succeeding. The simple fact of the matter is, a child needs BOTH a father and mother. That’s final. It can be proven over, and over and over again that the most healthy environment for a child to be raised in is to have a mother and father of the opposite sex—same-sex marriage is to deny a child this most basic, God-given right. That’s second to most basic of all rights–the right to exist.

        • Why in the hell would you use Jason and Medea as a starting point in an argument *AGAINST* gay marriage?

          That’s not even stupid.

          • You’ve been here long enough, you should know that whenever Heidegger gets banned he thinks that he can “stealth comment” by posting in threads other than the one he’s replying to.

          • It’s worse than that, Duck.

            I think that he read my Jason/Medea story and it actually inspired him to talk about why heterosexual marriage is innately superior to homosexual marriage.

            Truly, *YOU* have been here long enough to know that he’s that… easily inspired.

          • Well Jaybird, (as a certain, former president would say), there you go again.

            Are you seriously saying that heterosexual marriage is not innately superior to homosexual marriage? You’re saying this for real? Not one of your comic cracks? You really need help fella, big time and the quicker the better. This is just damned silly. I would bet my life that even the gays would agree, opposite-sex marriage is vastly superior on every measurable level and category. Same sex marriage is always inferior–second place for eternity. Child rearing should not be some kind of social science experiment. Unfortunately, the Dutch have had to learn this the hard way as the institution of marriage is crumbling and disintegrating before their very eyes. Only 1 out 12 couples now marry–it’s pretty much a shrug of the shoulders and, why bother. Marriage has lost its meaning, purpose, and significance since the sanctioning of gay marriage. I could stat you to death on this subject, the injurious effect on children living in homosexual homes is probably the most pernicious and destructive. If you are honestly trying to tell me a marriage with two fathers and no mother or two mothers and no father is equal to or even better than traditional marriage with a mother AND father then you’re just living in Ostrichville, pal. Let’s get something straight right now–to legally attempt to deny a child a right to a mother and father, which is exactly what same-sex marriage will do–is despicable, dangerously destructive and should never under any circumstances be made legal. Bad news–it never will be legal–there is a 5,000 year old reason for this–it’s not good to fool Mother Nature. And that pregnant bearded lady doesn’t really help your cause too much, either. If you want to turn this into some kind of freak carnival show, go right ahead. Those jock strap dancers and public masturbatory hard hatters go over real well in Middle

            By the way, who is more usesless in rearing a child–the mother of the father? It has to be one of them–we are talking same-sex marriage after all.

          • I’m saying that a lifetime commitment between two gay people who adopt and then raise their kids with loving parents is innately superior to a couple of heterosexuals who get divorced and then the mother kills the children.

        • This is BREAKING NEWS! It was “monied eastern elites.” Once again, as Hitler prophesied, it’s the money-grubbing Semitic tribes stealing from the Aryans. Pure-blooded Aryans, I might add. And they steal and corrupt die Kultur at every opportunity–you know, the usual drinking of pigs blood. And nothing can quite beat an after dinner toast without

          a nice fresh cup of a Christian baby’s blood!

          Just read The Elders of Zion and The Masters of Discourse. Lots of zingers there.

          So the Jews caused the Civil War.

          Here is a day in the life of a Palestinian child attending “school”. It ain’t Mr. Rogers.

          Here’s a 3-year old taught that Jews are pigs and vipers

          • Okay, Heidegger. This is a first warning, which is the first step on a three-strikes-and-you’re-out on the road to bannination. Please stay on topic on this sub-blog in the future.

  2. I am sick enough of these re-edits that I’m not sure I’ll intentionally watch this latest one ever. But I have to disagree that #3 is a marketing decision and not an artistic one. If Lucas is the one making that decision, then it’s an artistic decision, possibly one influenced by marketing, to be sure.

    If he thought about that new version of the scene, ‘I kinda like it this way, but viewers can choose the one they prefer’, then he could choose to release the version giving the option as the work is OK with him either way. In choosing to release the edited scene and not allow you to watch whichever you prefer, he’s saying ‘this is the way it was supposed to happen, the old way was not the work I want you to see’. That is, ultimately, an artistic decision.

  3. George Lucas has besmirched his 1985 stance AGAINST the wanton destruction by dictatorial directors of their classic movies.

    George Lucas is a disgusting hypocrite and a true channel for the Dark Side of the Force.

    Go to hell, George Lucas, Go to effing goddamn hell.

      • You can’t complain that they changed Casablanca and the Nazis shoot Laszlo before he gets on the plane, after which Renault charges up with the Free French unit he’s been working with all along and saves Rick and Ilsa (who kiss passionately and then board the airplane as the credits roll.) It’s just a movie.

        You can’t complain that they changed 1984 and Winston Smith escapes from Room 101 by breaking O’Brien’s neck and then stealing a guard’s machine gun, then finally shoots Julia in the head before charging into the Party’s Central Headquarters and killing Big Brother hand-to-hand. It’s just a story.

        You can’t complain that they changed the focus of “Crime and Punishment” to the CSI team that was tracking down Raskolnikov the whole time, and added scenes of them using primitive Steampunk-inspired forensic tools and methods, and finished it off with a dramatic boat chase in the River Volga. It’s just a story.

        • O’Brien laid on the floor. He was gasping like a fish.

          “Do you know what your problem is, O’Brien?”, Winston asked.

          O’Brien’s eyes widened slightly as Winston took a squirming rat by the tail and lowered it over O’Brien’s gasping mouth.

          “Your problem is that you trust people far too easily.”

          The rat bit into O’Brien’s bottom lip and started flailing.

          • “Julia, do you remember when they said that two plus two was five?”

            “oh god please Winston don’t please god oh god i’m sorry WINSTON–”

            “I think it sounds better if we say that you plus me equals zero.” (BANG)

  4. I honestly will never understand why these films matter so much to people. We almost all agree that half of them are crap and a non-trivial amount of the other half is crap. In particular, that whole scene is so fishing stupid:

    while (true)
    “Come to the dark side, Luke!”

    it’s hard to picture anything making it worse.

    The only thing I feel at all strongly about in regards to RotJ is that Lucas should have damned well credited H. Beam Piper.

    • Gentlemen, I believe you’re all overlooking something very important: the Mafia. What happens when the greasy, necklace-wearing, ring-wearing on their pinkie finger, Mafia thugs want a piece of the lemonade action? Ah-ha, I bet you didn’t of that one, did you?

      The goons shake down the little kids for a percentage of the profits, and when they’re not profitable enough for Fatty Genaro, it’s bustin’ kneecaps time. This is no joke–I’ve seen it happen–many times. Not the best example of successful capitalism, think I

    • dude, get over it. You didn’t even know what Little Fuzzies were until John Ringo told you.

    • Did you just compare the Ewoks to the Fuzzies?

      Mike, I think we’re temporarily sworn enemies.

  5. I am with Mike, especially about this particular movie. Here are a short list of things I would think you should be pissed off more about more than Darth Vader saying “No!” or not in Jedi:

    1. Ewoks
    2. Why doesn’t R2-D2 fly around in the forest? How the hell can he roll through the brush?
    3. So, his wife dying, his slaughtering of children, destroying whole planets, every other freaking thing he has seen or done, and he’s been OK with being Dark… but when his kid gets shocked with lightning he decides to switch sides? How is that not a cop out ending?
    4. Oft repeated “creatures burping” gag on Tatooine gets old fast
    5. The “sister reveal” makes the kiss from the first movie feel suddenly creepy
    6. Ewoks
    7. The thing that eats Bobba Fett. What the hell does it eat normally? It’s in the middle of fishing nowhere.
    8. JarJar Binks*
    9. In Jabba’s lair, evil robots torture good robots by shocking the bottoms of their little robot feet. Seriously? Where do I even begin with this…
    10. The engineers who designed the little bird-like Imperial walkers were able to make them impervious to cannon fire, blasters, large explosions… but they somehow have yet to tackle the thornier issue of logs?

    *Yeah, yeah, technically he’s not in this movie, but he’s so annoying he makes all the other movies worse by some kind of JarJar osmosis.

    • I think you’re right to list Ewoks twice. First time for their mere existence, and second time for that song they sing at the end of the movie. And a third time for worshipping C3P0 as a god. And a fourth time becasue we’re supposed to think their worshipping C3P0 as a god is cute. And a fifth time for the scene when after they’ve been fishing slaughtering the Imperials left and right, one of them takes a blaster shot and his buddy comes over in the middle of the battle to mourn his friend’s death with a pathetic guttural vocalization. I fishing hated those damn Ewoks even when I saw the movie as a kid.

      I should also add the scene where Han tells Leia that he knows about her and Luke and he’ll stay out of the way, and Leia gets all flustered becasue she can’t come to terms with the magnitude of realizing that Luke is really her brother (no doubt recalling the time she kind of stuck her tongue in his mouth in the first movie, although that’s been edited out now, too) and Carrie Fisher delivers what has to be the worst reading in cinematic history. She has one word to say, one syllable in the whole line, in fact, it’s one fishing letter. “I….” Seriously, Star Wars fans, I defy you to find a worse-botched line in cinematic history.

      • “I don’t like sand. It’s coarse and rough and irritating and it gets everywhere. Not like here. Here everything is soft and smooth.”

          • I still believe that the stilted akwardness of those lines was intentional, both in writing and in delivery. Remember how you acted when you were seventeen? Now imagine that A: you have magic powers; B: you get to hang out a guy who, though he might not be the top badass in the galaxy, is definitely in the top three; and C: you’ve been told that you alone are the prophesied savior of all the Jedi Knights everywhere.

            Wouldn’t you be just a bit pompous?

      • And sixth (seventh? I lost track) because the Ewoks are lifted without an attribution from H Beam Piper’s Fuzzies.

      • Did you ever read Alan Dean Foster’s “Splinter of the Mind’s Eye”, which came out after Star Wars but before Empire Strikes Back? Mostly written during Star Wars preproduction.

        It was right in the wheelhouse where George didn’t realize how tightly he may want to hold onto the character rights and whatnot and he slipped up and let someone else write a story about his Universe.

        The Yuzzem are what the Ewoks *should* have been.

  6. Don’t have time to read the comments right now, so maybe someone has already beat me to these, but:

    1) My biggest problem with the “No!” is that it doesn’t even sound like Vader. Not that it needs to be James Earl Jones re-hired for a single line, but something’s off.

    2) Watching those reminded me just how shocking it was when I first saw this scene and, in its aftermath, DARTH VADER (!) was revealed to be no more than a weak, shriveled old man. Bereft of his evil, he was barely even a shell.

    • I was good with Vader being a shriveled husk of a man underneath the suit. Used up and sucked dry by the Dark Side and the Emperor. Kind of chubby-faced, too, like his organic body had never did any real work or got any real exercise since he got dumped in the lava.

      You also notice his robotic life support equipment began failing as soon as he gave Palpatine the ol’ heave-ho? IIRC, there was no particular reason for that to happen; he took some hits from Luke in their duel, and got some Force Lightning on him, but he’d clearly been through just as bad earlier in his career. I presume that he was dying not because of the suit failing but because it was the power of the Dark Side that was helping keep him alive, not just the suit. He’d have died a long time before that were it not for the Dark Side. Having forsaken that, the machinery was powerless — and so exposing his organic body as a weak shell underlines that.

  7. “I presume that he was dying not because of the suit failing but because it was the power of the Dark Side that was helping keep him alive, not just the suit. He’d have died a long time before that were it not for the Dark Side. Having forsaken that, the machinery was powerless — and so exposing his organic body as a weak shell underlines that.”

    I once asked David Prowse why Vader died, and even he didn’t have an answer. Though your explanation sounds plausible, I think Lucas just developed a bad habit of having characters die when it was convenient.

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