Why a Boycott of ‘Star Wars’ Won’t Work14 Sep, 2011 By: John Latchem
The latest uproar among ‘Star Wars’ fans over changes to the films has led some to call for a boycott of the new Blu-ray edition of the saga that hits Sept. 16. The thinking is that poor sales of these edited versions will somehow convince George Lucas to release the unaltered original versions on Blu-ray.
It’s a fine sentiment that I think is just a bit misguided since it doesn’t take into account the bigger picture. There are several reasons I believe such a boycott will never have the desired effect:
1) “Star Wars” as a brand has grown beyond the original trilogy. I think at this point Lucas could stick all versions of the original trilogy in a drawer somewhere and never release them again and still rake in millions from “Star Wars.” Beyond the merchandising, the “Clone Wars”-era movies and shows have become a hugely popular aspect of the franchise with the younger generation, who actually consider the original trilogy to be weak, too slow and devoid of enough action to satisfy them. This highlights the generational gap that is driving calls for a boycott, and as the documentary The People vs. George Lucas points out, a lot of these older fans have simply not been able to “grow up” since first seeing Star Wars, and thus their protest is a way of demonstrating their love for the franchise beyond the newer crop of fans.
2) Lucas doesn’t believe the original versions represent his vision of the films. This point really comes down to the dichotomy of Lucas the businessman versus Lucas the artist. As an artist, Lucas has previously stated, during the debate over colorizing old films, that he doesn’t believe works of art should be altered. But his later actions indicate it’s OK if the changes are done by the artists themselves. Obviously, the fans think this is hogwash and make the claim, as “South Park” did, that once released, films and other works of art belong to the culture. Lucas is toeing a tricky line here because he has spent the better part of 30 years redefining what “Star Wars” means, and then acting as if the redefinition was the way it has always been. He says a film is never finished, simply abandoned, and that he always wanted to go back and correct things he wasn’t able to do before. So whatever the latest version of “Star Wars” is represents his true vision of the films. This means, ironically, that the original versions cheapen his current version in a way, and dilute his true vision, which may be why he’s so opposed to really putting them out there despite the fact there is high demand for them and they would probably make money. He is, in essence, taking a stand as an artist against corporate greed, which may be his own personal protest against the notion that his vast media empire has become the very kind of big business he used to complain about as a naïve young filmmaker. This is probably also the main reason he refuses to officially release The Star Wars Holiday Special. Whether or not his own artistic sensibilities have diluted over the years is a matter of debate. Further complicating the issue is that he has held onto the rights to distribute the films, something a lot of other creators don’t really have. So it’s not like the original versions don’t still exist. Those just aren’t the versions Lucas wants the public to see.
3) The original versions were already released. Lucasfilm put the original versions on the 2006 individual versions of the original trilogy, with one disc as the special edition and the other the theatrical version as a bonus feature. Now, this re-release reportedly didn’t sell according to expectations, so if one were to interpret this from a capitalist perspective, one could make the claim that if the versions with the theatrical cut didn’t sell that would be an argument AGAINST releasing these in the future. This of course ignores the fatigue fans must have been feeling about seeing a new VHS/DVD “Star Wars” release every two years, and the fact that the versions of the DVD were non-anamorphic transfers used for the 1993 laserdisc. But that doesn’t negate the fact that they’re out there. Fans want to harp about their omission from the Blu-ray, but they don’t complain that nearly all the previous bonus material ever released is also absent from the Blu-ray, meaning to keep it all they’d have to hold onto their old copies anyway. As an aside, I find it a bit amusing that a lot of fans in badmouthing the Blu-ray version have expressed their contentment with simply holding onto those old laserdiscs, even though that DVD version has got to be a lot more convenient.
4) Lucas is about more than “Star Wars.” While Lucas will always and forever be linked to the franchise he created, it is not the only thing driving him creatively. It’s always seemed to me that Lucas has had a love-hate relationship with “Star Wars.” I think he loves his creation and is happy it has been so successful, but I think he regrets how that success in some ways prevented him from making the smaller, more personal films he always dreamed of making. So even if no one bought any more “Star Wars” products ever again starting now, I think Lucas would see that as the franchise running its course, and he’d count that as a blessing that it’s time to move on. He still has “Indiana Jones” to milk, and though he never wanted the corporate power he now has, he has managed to extend his hands into a lot of ancillary businesses. Lucasfilm even licenses the term “Droid” to Motorola. Are the boycotters going to suggest people stop buying cell phones? Even if Lucas is deprived of incoming cash from a massive "Star Wars" boycott and needs funds for other projects, he shouldn't have any trouble teaming with any number of studios or sponsors. After all, he's George Lucas.
5) Why should Lucas care? I’ve always gotten a sense that Lucas is a bit passive-aggressive about “Star Wars.” He’s happy to reap in the millions of dollars it brings him, but he wouldn’t mind if it went away and he could focus on other things. Or he could just retire completely and sit on the piles of money he already has. So maybe the belligerence over the original versions is fueled by this apathy. We know he has a sense of humor about it, since he’s worn “Han Shot First” shirts in public. He knows the fans hate some of the changes. Maybe he’s thinking if he pushes these fans enough, they’ll go away. Which isn’t to say Lucas hates the fans, since he has always been supportive of the fan community (which a cynical person would say is just a way to keep them buying stuff). But he’s made it this far re-releasing the films without considering the fans, so why stop now? He’s been altering these films since they first came out in 1977. He probably sees the more vocal haters as a small fringe and doesn’t care what they think. And if just the fans of the original trilogy go away, he still has “The Clone Wars.” So he’s really, kind of brilliantly, hedged his bets here. There’s nothing more dangerous than a man who doesn’t really care.
My point is not that fans shouldn’t complain or take action. If that gives them a sense of purpose (however illusory it may be), then more power to them. Just don’t be surprised if the result is not what was intended.