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The first movie I ever saw at a theater was 'The Empire Strikes Back.' After months of pleading in the lead-up to the release of 'Empire', my parents -- together -- took my five-year-old self to what would now be considered a very small theater in the suburbs of St. Louis, Mo. That was my first 'Star Wars' movie; a little over 31 years later, this is still one of my favorite memories, and 'The Empire Strikes Back' is still my favorite movie of all time.
With that in mind, I haven't known quite how to react to the outrage over the changes in the 'Star Wars' Blu-ray release. I do get it: the changes are fairly ridiculous. I've been hesitant to weigh in, however, because -- frankly -- I wasn't sure how I felt about it. When I think back to seeing 'Empire' in 1980, it's still just me, happy, with my mom and my dad, long before they would eventually divorce. No matter what changes Lucas makes to the films in 2011, he can't digitally insert my future stepmother into those memories. So, at least for some of us, 'Star Wars' transcends film: It's more about the memories those three original films created. Even though Lucas may try, he can't change those memories. In the end, that's really all that matters. (Yes, I know that sounds sappy.)
Over the last few weeks since the discovery of Darth Vader screaming "No!" at the end of 'Return of the Jedi,' the two major arguments have been (A) that George Lucas is destroying his movies and, at least, the original films should be preserved as they were originally seen, and (B) that these movies belong to Lucas and he can do whatever he wants with them. Both of these arguments are valid but -- in reality -- neither matter.
I'm an only child. Strike that: I'm an only grandchild, actually, which made it difficult to make new friends when my parents would move. (Which they did quite a bit: I went to four different school systems during grade school.) Now, you might not think that something as nerdy as 'Star Wars' could help a socially awkward child (who would grow into a socially awkward adult when not aided by booze), but it did. A lot.
I remember my first day of second grade as the new kid in a small town called Eldon, Mo. I remember being in the lunch room (yes, with my 'Empire' lunch box) sitting close enough to another group of students to not make it look like I was alone -- but I was definitely sitting alone -- just waiting, hoping to hear any subject that I could latch on to. Eventually, a kid named Bryan said the words "E Chuta," to which I quickly responded, "How rude!" We were immediately friends. I was invited to "play Star Wars" at recess with them -- which pretty much consisted of two people running around the playground together in unison, pretending to be the pilot and co-pilot of the Millennium Falcon (which, come to think of it, looked very similar to when we played 'Dukes of Hazzard'). No matter how many times Darth Vader screams "No!" during the Original Trilogy, these memories don't change
Let's talk about all of the changes that have been made since the Special Editions premiered in 1997. Changes that -- for how annoying they are (and, yes, they are) -- have kept 'Star Wars' in the conversation. Most 'Star Wars' fans don't remember this, but, in 1986, Star Wars was dead. I can remember scouring the toy aisle at Kay-Bee looking for a new G.I. Joes or Transformers and seeing stacks and stacks of discounted Power of the Force Star Wars action figures. (Without a new movie to tie to the new line of toys, Kenner rebranded their Star Wars line "Power of the Force" -- nobody purchased these and they are very valuable today.) I would never have guessed that eleven years later I would be in college, at a bar, having an all-night debate about the merits of Greedo shooting at Han Solo first after a group outing to watch the Special Editions. Yes, that change is awful, but, again, that's not the point. I remember every single person I was with that night as we drank pint after pint long into the night. Every single person, which includes my former college roommate who would die in 2001. Lucas can change the order in which people fire blasters at each other, but he can't take away that conversation I had with my late friend Jorge about why that change is stupid. (And even though he's no longer here to say this -- yes, he thought the change was extremely stupid.)
'Star Wars' is very personal to me, but I don't take it personally -- and there's a big difference. Since 1980, it has probably been a larger point of my life than it should have been. From my first action figure, Han Solo in Hoth Outfit; to my first movie, 'The Empire Strikes Back'; to my favorite moment as a professional writer: interviewing 'Empire' director Irvin Kershner last year for Vanity Fair -- which, sadly, would turn out to be his last. Every 'Star Wars' fan has memories like mine: all unique and all important. Yes, the changes made in the Special Editions and now the Blu-rays are ridiculous, but it doesn't change what 'Star Wars' means to me. Or probably to you. The changes may make you angry, but that's kind of the point.
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