Friday, January 6, 2012

Star (The Deleted Scenes) Wars: Episode I

A long year ago, on an Internet not too far away –

It was a dark time for Star Wars fans. GRAND MOFF LUCAS, ruler of the Lucasfilm Republic, announced last January that he would once again tweak the original Star Wars trilogy as it came to Blu-Ray. Sound effects that had been added would now be taken away again. Lightsabers would be re-colorized. Ewoks would blink. And when Ben Kenobi made the sound of a Kryat Dragon, it would sound…like an actual Kryat dragon. Because we all know what they sound like, right?

A year later, and the Blu-Rays have been released…the fervor (or was it a fever?) has died down, and Star Wars fans (well, some of them, at least) are gearing up for the release of The Phantom Menace in 3D in theaters. And now we can sit back without all of that fuss, with the HD experts commenting on/complaining about the technical aspects of the films and the changes, so we can focus on the part of this HD release that is so crucial (enough for classic fans to acquiesce and buy the six-film, nine-disc collection): the bonus disc with documentaries and deleted scenes.

This review won’t focus on the former, but it will focus on the latter, and in three installments, one for each of the classic trilogy films. Deleted scenes and behind the scenes for all three classic films can be found on bonus disc two. The “planet by planet” conceit of the menu navigation is fun, allowing you to navigate to scenes and featurettes based around “Tattooine,” “The Death Star,” and “Yavin,” but you can also skip ahead to the “play all” feature, and let the deleted scenes roll…

Episode IV: A New Hope (aka  “Star Wars”):

The first deleted scene, “Tosche Station” (yes, home of the infamous power converters that Luke whines about in a later scene to Uncle Owen), is presented here in its glory. These are the scenes of Luke in the desert as he “moisture farms,” and then sees the battle between the Star Destroyer and Rebel Blockade runner through his electobinoculars. That scene is followed by Luke barging into a gathering of his friends Fixer, Camie, and Biggs, to tell them about the battle. The scenes were famously featured in the original Marvel Comics adaptation of the film, as well as the film’s novelization; photos have appeared in trading cards and other places for decades, so they feel familiar to us. Legend has it that Lucas added these scenes to humanize the story with “real people” after getting criticism from peers who felt lost in  a world of droids and Jawas, and an “American Graffiti” vibe does permeate the dialogue, but ultimately (and perhaps rightfully) the scenes were dropped to progress the flow of the story.

We also see Luke in a different light than we do in the film itself; he’s whiny (well, whiner than usual) and gets teased a bit. Mark Hamill as Luke has a nice scene with Garrick Hagon as Biggs, but there are times he overdoes the earnestness and Luke comes off as less convincing than in the final film. The scene of Luke “farming,” then telling his droid helper to “get it in gear” before the droid (a dead ringer for Short Circuit’s “Number  Five” ) breaks down is humorous, but it’s the sort of humor that would unfortunately come to permeate the prequels (with broken down pit droids, etc).

The same could be said for the “Old Woman on Tatooine” scene, which depicts a woman almost getting run over by Luke and his speeder (they don’t call them landspeeders for nothing). The scene reads better in the comic, and doesn’t lend any real character humor; it’s a cheap laugh – plus it also lacks the special effects, which is why it was probably dropped.

Speaking of gratuitous shots, there’s actually an entire extended scene of Aunt Beru pouring blue milk into a container. There are probably dozens of scenes like this that were trimmed down that are far more interesting, but someone at Lucasfilm obviously felt that the blue milk has such a cult following, it deserved to be preserved on, um, Blu-ray.

“The Search for R2 D2” sounds like it might be cool—it’s shots of Luke and Threepio talking in the landspeeder as they chase after R2. Unfortunately, while it’s interesting to see a close up of the characters in the vehicle, their actions are not very realistic and the whole thing is horribly marred by shoddy back projection of sand dunes flying by—the kind of bad back projection one might find in a 1970s sitcom. The long shot and voiceover that ultimately replaced this was definitely the way to go, thus proving that sometimes less is more.

The cantina rough cut is an interesting curiosity. It’s the original version of the cantina scene that Lucas was unhappy with; eventually he and his ILM wizards conjured up more interesting monster masks and went back to reshoot the scene. The “new version” is the one that exists in the film, although this was altered with some CGI creatures in the 1997 special edition. Many of the minor cantina creatures that you only get a glimpse of in the film appear here for far longer, including some oversized rodents, Snaggletooth, and what appears to be a giant paper-mache cricket (which apparently ended up with its own action figure—not bad for a guy from a deleted scene). Mark Hamill once remarked in an interview about how everything in the first shoot  looked like it was out of the Nutcracker Suite, and he’s not far off. The scene would still be impressive to a 1977 audience, but less so than the final result. Lucas' instinct to reshoot was the correct one.

Most interesting about this scene is that when Han makes his first appearance, he’s accompanied by a tall brunette girl named Jenny. He tells her to beat it when Chewie brings Kenobi and Luke to the table…shades of James Bind or a prototype Indiana Jones (who was originally envisioned as a playboy).  The scene is neat for showing another side to Han, and for also featuring a girl other than Aunt Beru, Princess Leia or Mon Mothma.

The final Tatooine scene is “Stormtrooper Search,” which features some extended shots of troopers in the streets of Mos Esiley as they search for our heroes. One of the shots features a tall alien with stilt legs, with a dwarf alien who runs under him in a visual sight gag of the Prequel kind. The scene was actually used to great effect in the “Star Wars Holiday Special,” where it became (famously) one of that program’s few truly funny moments. It’s all about context and editing, people.

A trip via the menu to the "Death Star" brings us to “Darth Vader Widens the Search.” Here we see Vader interacting with one of his commanders as they stride down the Death Star corridor amidst troopers and droids. Some cool visuals here, but very little new that adds to the plot (although this scene was used and dubbed over  in the “Star Wars Holiday Special,” when Vader no longer seems obsessed with finding his son, but rather in finding “The Rebel Wookiee”).

Last but not least as we head to “Yavin,” we have an alternate Biggs and Luke reunion at the rebel base shortly before Luke and the other pilots take off against the Death Star. Parts of this scene were edited back into the special edition (thus asserting the canonicity of Biggs as a boyhood friend  of Luke, despite his earlier cut scenes), but here the scene goes further to have a pilot comment about flying with Luke’s father. Mention of such history in the film itself adds to the original concept of the series as “The Adventures of Luke Skywalker” which is what the series was conceived as. This, along with the initial Biggs scenes on Tattooine, round out Luke’s character and his character arc – his start and his destiny.  Hamill starts to slip here again with the over-earnestness, but we can forgive him. I mean, you probably act goofy when you're with your childhood friends too, right?

Cutting the bookended Biggs scenes didn’t hurt the picture, but having them gives added depth to Luke’s story. It would have been interesting if the rebel pilot who knew Luke's father appeared in the prequels (he didn’t) or even in “The Clone Wars” cartoon (he won’t), but it really does bring the series full circle into the concept of a family saga set in a galaxy far, far away. Which makes the deleted scenes in the next film, The Empire Strikes Back, all the more interesting…

So what’s missing?

There is footage from several scenes that has seen the light of day in other documentaries, including an extension of Luke and Kenobi’s exchange in Kenobi’s hut when he says “You must do what you feel is right” (Luke’s timid reply, “Right now I don’t feel so good”). The footage of Han confronting Jabba in the docking bay appeared in the special edition of the actual film, so it's not replicated here with the Irish-sounding actor standing in for Jabba (although this does turn up on one of the documentaries). Apart from some extended shots of explosions aboard the Death Star and some alternate takes of Tarkin confronting Leia (and her accompanying English accent), there doesn’t seem to be a lot left out…but one never knows….

Stay Tuned!