The Criterion Collection, a continuing series of important classic and contemporary films presents The War of the Stars: A New Hope Grindhoused.
A poor orphan working on his uncle’s moisture farm on the remote desert planet Tatooine, Luke Skywalker dreams of becoming a starship pilot like his friend Biggs Darklighter, but when Luke discovers a hidden message for an old hermit, he becomes embroiled in a quest of galactic scale. Trained in the arcane ways of a lost order of knights by the reclusive Obi-Wan Kenobi, Luke, with the help of a robotic duo and a pair of greedy space pirates, must save a princess from the clutches of the maniacal Darth Vader and destroy an evil Empire’s planet-sized weapon, the Death Star. The War of the Stars: A New Hope Grindhoused roughs up George Lucas’ sci-fi classic, using an original 16mm print, unused footage, fearsome digital effects, and other surprising additions to recast it in the spirit of 1970s exploitation cinema.
- High-definition digital master, with DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack on the Blu-ray edition
- Interactive lexicon cataloging incorporated material
- Interview with George Lucas
- Audio commentary by faneditor The Man Behind the Mask
- Roundtable discussion with Robot Chicken co-founder Seth Green, Robot Chicken: Star Wars co–writer Breckin Meyer, actor and faneditor Topher Grace, Slash Film writer Peter Sciretta, and Fanboys director Kyle Newman
- Fanmixed, a new interview with legal scholar Lawrence Lessig on fanediting, copyright, and piracy
Like JAWS: The Sharksploitation Edit, The Man Behind the Mask’s use of a grindhouse aesthetic allows The War of the Stars: A New Hope Grindhoused license to deviate from the original film’s narrative and take novel chances with its mix, however the effect of the fanedit is decidedly different. While JAWS trashes up the original film but preserves its basic position as a horror movie, The War of the Stars makes some overtly transgressive alterations to its source, changing it from a family friendly sci-fi film ready for kid-oriented merchandising to an exploitation flick with grainy footage, bloody blasterfights, and unhinged villains.
The War of the Stars really demonstrates TMBTM’s skill with digital effects. Inserted textural changes, like dirt, specks, and sound pops, allow deleted scenes and other footage, like Kevin Rubio’s short fanfilm Troops (1997) or Neil Young’s Rust Never Sleeps (1979), to be more easily integrated into the fanedit. The French faneditor digitally creates bloody laserwounds and portrays Darth Vader’s use of the Force by blurring the frame edges and glowing his eyes red. Various audio tricks are also demonstrated. Vader’s dialogue is frequently replaced with audio taken from other James Earl Jones films (put through the Dark Lord’s vocal filter) with intimidating, lecherous, and random effects, and a brief, curse-laden aside by Obi-Wan is a true high point of the fanedit.
One sequence is particularly deserving of discussion – the Mos Eisley cantina scenes. In the original film, the cantina is filled with lively alien ragtime music competing with the din of a multitude of strange alien races mixing and carousing. In The War of the Stars, the cantina sequence is presented in over-exposed black and white, erasing the vibrant colors of the clientele and making it an altogether bleaker environment. The uptempo music is replaced with a live performance of “Twilight” by Neil Young. It’s slow and evocative, with the music and Young’s vocals seeming to originate from a far off source, crossing galaxies to reach the bar and leaving it and its patrons feeling even more isolated and alone. The setting is decidedly quieter and the room seems to mix sadness and desperation into a dour atmosphere. As a result, the cantina seems to move in slow motion and the secretive exchanges between Han Solo and Obi-Wan feel heavier with meaning. Even seeing Han cozied up with a woman in his booth is startling, depicting him as a rogue in a sense never explored in the original film. More than any other part of The War of the Stars, the sequence at Chalmun’s Cantina is legitimately amended, rewritten into something that is not a gag or a wink, but is a true recasting that allows us to see settings and performances with new eyes.
There are far too many changes to The War of the Stars to enumerate, let alone unpack in this space. There are too many edits made, pop songs inserted, and deleted scenes utilized to account. It is fair to say that The War of the Stars is a consistently fun film. From R2-D2’s subtitled dialogue to Carrie Fisher’s “Happy Life Day” song, from Luke’s beer-powered strike on the Death Star to the film’s surprise casualty and ending (not quite the deus ex machina of JAWS), TMBTM’s fanedit remains freewheeling and full of potential. Its utilization of unused material lets hardcore fans enjoy seeing that content in context (the expanded role of Biggs is no doubt is an intriguing, if not controversial, restoration/amendment to A New Hope‘s narrative), while its gags and effects provide the more casual viewer with something akin to a rifftrack within the narrative itself. Purists be damned, The War of the Stars is for those looking to have a good time.
Star Wars certainly appears to be the favoured subject matter of faneditors. Many of their desires to “correct” the ever-farther straying of the franchise from its perceived original intent emboldens fans to redraft their beloved stories. The ongoing generations of amendments to the films by George Lucas, successively suppressing earlier versions, no doubt adds to the perceived license of fans to tinker themselves. The conflict between diehard fans and an author prepared to revise his work at his own discretion raises tensions over authorship, ownership, and whether the work is meant to serve the vision of the art’s creator or the consumers of the product. Whether tolerated or not, The War of the Stars assumes its own place within the Star Wars universe, likely at its fringes, but this Fanedit.org 2010 Fanedit of the Year winner is an expertly constructed work of amateur filmmaking in the present day and a brilliant expression of fandom within a globally embraced pop culture phenomenon, and that makes it worthy of admission into the Collection.
Credits: The significance of George Lucas’ interview, the interactive lexicon, and the audio commentary were all discussed in the previous post. The roundtable was intended to be a fun discussion of each film by fans themselves, thereby allowing the culture that circulates these fanedits an opportunity to comment on it themselves. Seth Green and Breckin Meyer were selected for their involvement with Robot Chicken and the Robot Chicken Star Wars Trilogy, particularly given that their devoted and earnest intentions enabled them to achieve open sanction/endorsement from Lucasfilm and George. Topher Grace was selected for his love of Star Wars and his own experience as a faneditor, having cut the entire prequel trilogy into his own single 85-minute version. Slash Film‘s Peter Sciretta and Kyle Newman, the director of Fanboys (2009), were chosen for being huge Star Wars fans as well and for being two of the few attendees at Grace’s screening of his prequel cut. All these guys know each other and getting them in a room to nerd out to pastiche versions of these films seems highly entertaining and a sensible way to build goodwill with the original creators. Finally, having some discussion about ownership, piracy, and the sometimes hazy line that separates them seems like a good idea, particularly on the Star Wars focused disc, so who better to do that than Harvard Law School professor and copyright expert Lawrence Lessig. Granted, Lessig is a big advocate for restrained IP protections, but he knows his stuff, would discuss it responsibly, and has particular interest in remix culture.