When the Star Wars saga finally released on Blu-Ray in 2011, George Lucas continued his tradition of augmenting the films. At the time, the insertion of Hayden Christensen into the Jedi spirits scene at the end of Return of the Jedi created the most negative uproar. The return of Darth Vader’s “Noooo!” from Revenge of the Sith attracted similar attention, but critics were more incredulous than angry. The other big adjustment gave the Ewoks the power to blink their eyelids.
The blinking Ewoks prompted some backlash, but on a more muted level than Christensen’s Anakin and Vader’s scream. There might be two reasons for this, and each betrays some of the inherent bias against Lucas and his vision for Star Wars.
First, Lucas had never before referenced the prequels so overtly in his digital alterations. While Coruscant appeared all the way back in the 1997 Special Edition re-releases, this particular adjustment meant swapping out actual actors. Regardless of prequel opinions, taking exception to the maneuver raises a valid point about the merits of film preservation. Of course, the most vocal opponents to the change typically loathe the prequel trilogy, so it seems a tad disingenuous to suggest that their feelings didn’t factor into the equation.
When Vader reprised his bellowed “Noooo!” as he tossed Palpatine to his demise, the reaction was more of an eye roll but on similar grounds. Lucas had ruined the original trilogy by staining the films with icky prequel references. Critics had mocked the comic absurdity of the scream in 2005 but were almost stunned by its return on the Jedi Blu-Ray version.
Second, while the blinking Ewoks stood out like a sore thumb to Star Wars obsessives who had committed very morsel of the films to memory, the adjustment isn’t nearly as jarring to the casual fan. Star Wars permeates culture to the point that anyone at least somewhat attuned to the series would probably recognize the criticism. But it takes a trip down the rabbit hole of hard-core loyalists of the original trilogy to find gnashing of teeth over the blinking Ewoks on par with the other big adjustments.
These reactions point to a somewhat irrational view of the series and Lucas. Ultimately, few, if any, uninitiated fans could spot most of the changes between the various versions of the Special Editions and the original releases without being told for what to look. There’s an understandable correlation between fanaticism and perception. But each of these changes violates the concept of film preservation. So the varying levels of outrage reveal the anti-prequel bias masquerading as artistic conservation. If you’re not equally as bothered by cleaned up continuity errors as the presence of Christensen, you might be a hypocrite.
Return of the Jedi featured every single one of these adjustments, further demonstrating anger beholden to nostalgia by some of Lucas’ critics. When trying to downplay his contributions to the original trilogy, they argue Jedi as a black sheep. An example of the mediocre result when Lucas asserts control. Here, the film serves as a proto-prequel and a harbinger of the terror to come.
Yet when arguing against the Special Editions, they suddenly lump Jedi in with A New Hope and The Empire Strikes Back as part of the holy original trilogy. It can’t be both. Arguing thusly requires circular logic that undermines the criticism entirely. The folly of selectively adjusting opinions on Lucas’ responsibility and the perception of Jedi reveals these criticisms largely as vehicles for flimsy arguments against the prequels.
Opposing the Special Editions entirely on the grounds that a completed film should remain forever untouched is respectable. But aping this argument to suit an agenda against George Lucas and the prequels isn’t. The big changes certainly distracted fans upon initial viewings. But each of the adjustments creates more cohesion with the prequels. Hayden Christensen didn’t ruin Return of the Jedi. Nor did Vader’s anguished scream or the blinking Ewoks.
If someone comes out and admits that their displeasure is owed solely to the connection to the prequels, I can appreciate the argument. I disagree with it, but I respect their view. But they should never try to intellectualize their emotional reactions. The prequels aren’t inarguably bad, and it’s impossible for each of their critics to passionately champion film conservation.