Pop the original “Star Wars” into the DVD player, and a couple of things might strike you: the special effects, groundbreaking in 1977, don’t quite measure up to today’s digital standards. And Darth Vader, then the cinematic epitome of evil, doesn’t look all than imposing (even if his voice alone is enough to give chills).
But none of that matters much: the galactic battles are as thrilling as ever and Vader still packs a force as a fearsome villain in the classic film, which remains the best in the series (Sorry “Return of the Jedi” and "The Empire Strikes Back" fans).
Don’t get us wrong – no matter what some rabid fans believe, the “Star Wars” flicks belong to Lucas, not them. He can do whatever he wants to his celluloid children.
But that doesn’t mean we have to like it.
The old 2-D films – at least the first three to hit theaters – gave us new worlds to get lost in. Even if the landscapes now seem somewhat limited given today’s technology, the movies play large in the mind and hold up quite well in repeat viewings.
Fans already are split over Lucas’ plan, raising issues reminiscent of the debate in the 1980s over the colorization of classic films. We come down on the side of if it ain't broke, don't fix it. The likes of “Casablanca” and “Citizen Kane” don’t wield the same power in color because they were intended to be seen in black-and-white – the cinematography was integral to the art.
Tim Burton’s “Alice in Wonderland,” which was converted to 3-D after it was shot, didn’t quite spring to surreal life with the added dimension. “Avatar,” on the other hand, worked brilliantly because James Cameron, aided by innovations in performance capture technology, used 3-D to realize his vision of the enveloping blue land of Pandora.
Which brings us to Lucas’ motivation – he clearly was inspired by the success of “Avatar,” by some measures the biggest moneymaker in Hollywood history.
Rereleasing the six “Star Wars” films in 3-D likely will bring in the bucks, but Lucas doesn’t need the money – or the aggravation. He’s already taken a drubbing – from fans and even from “South Park” – for using digital technology to alter his work in previous rereleases. He absorbed plenty of flak over the three prequels, particularly for springing the grating Jar Jar Binks on us.
Perhaps Lucas believes that he’s assuring the legacy of “Star Wars” by introducing the films to a new generation in a form that young moviegoers are coming to expect. (Lucas, it should be noted, spoke out against colorization, saying he wanted the films he watched when he was young "preserved, so that my children can see them.")
He would be wise to remember that the success of “Avatar” was only partly due to 3-D. The blue juggernaut was fueled by a mix of compelling story and characters that transported us far, far away – just like the best of the “Star Wars” movies.
If Lucas wants to explore the possibilities of 3-D, we humbly suggest that he create a new movie – another “Star Wars” flick or whatever else he fancies – and try to wow us. Otherwise, he risks turning the force into a farce.
Hester is founding director of the award-winning, multi-media NYCity News Service at the City University of New York Graduate School of Journalism. He is the former City Editor of the New York Daily News, where he started as a reporter in 1992. Follow him on Twitter.