Analysis: The ‘Noooooo’ heard around the world is still a win for Lucasfilm

Nooo!

So last week, it was leaked, and then substantiated that the Blu-ray edition of Return of the Jedi would contain a change that set the fan world into a buzz: As Palpatine zaps Luke Skywalker, Darth Vader would now say “Nooooooooooooo!” as he decides to shaft the Emperor.

Many fans were taken aback by this change by George Lucas – not only does it feed into one of the most laughed-at lines from Revenge of the Sith, it changes the tone of the scene, from Vader as the silent man of action, to him giving voice to his emotional turmoil. Some fans bemoaned the general state of constant changes with each re-release of the movies, while others felt that it is fine for the creator to update his work to help tie the saga all together. Celebrity fan Simon Pegg called it a “clueless revision” – but was it really clueless?

Consider this: Most of the Blu-ray sneak peeks we had been getting in the weeks prior were carefully executed media releases, primarily centering on the technical aspects and special features, and getting covered by the Blu-ray home theater and Star Wars fan sites. Then with about 2 weeks to go to the Blu-ray release date, rumors of some of the changes get released — and what was just a niche news item now gets national coverage. The confirmation of the changes doesn’t get announced on a video aficionado site, but the New York Times. News of Darth Vader’s changes become one of the top articles on Yahoo! front page. Websites that have little to do with home video or sci-fi are now covering the news, adding their own two cents on the change, and many metropolitan newspapers have their own pop culture bloggers and editorials commenting on the subject.

In short, it’s a ton of free publicity that reminds people: “Hey, Star Wars is coming out on Blu-ray.” While many fans are riled up, chances are, they were already going to buy it (and many are likely to have already pre-ordered it), or they don’t have Blu-ray players and weren’t going to buy it. As for the general public, is a change like this really going to deter them from purchase? Nope. It’s Star Wars, and small changes are going to slide past them. In ten years, most casual viewers won’t remember that Ewoks used to not blink, just like we’re used to the shock ring around Alderaan’s explosion from the special editions.

Like the changes when the DVD versions were released that had Hayden Christensen replace Sebastian Shaw as the ghost of Anakin Skywalker after the Battle of Endor, this change gets the fan community riled up, but it also creates a lot of marketing buzz for the movies. Consider that most Star Wars fans fall into two groups:

  • A: Will buy every Star Wars release just to have it because it is Star Wars – or for the giant pile of special features that are new to this release
  • B: Ultra-purist OT fans, who won’t buy it because it’s not the theatrical version of the films

Both these groups already have their minds more or less set. Changing the tone of Vader’s character through this one scene is not going to significantly change either group’s mind. The enthusiastic and cost-conscious A’s will have already pre-ordered it anyway.

The real market here is not just the serious fan, but the entire home video watching public. And since the regular public doesn’t stay abreast of Star Wars news, Lucasfilm needs to publicize the Blu-ray release to them – and what is more effective at creating overall buzz than introducing controversy that gets covered by the major media. Bad news travels faster and farther than a ho-hum reminder.

So in the end, a few fans riled up, but a lot of people aware of the product. And that’s a win for sales. By the holiday season, when the younglings wants Star Wars for Life Day, are the parents going to care (or even remember) that there was some change to the film again? Nah, but they’ll know it’s out there again, this time on Blu-ray.

How’s this a win for Star Wars fandom? More fans now and another generation of fans knowing and sharing their love of things that happened a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away.

11 thoughts on “Analysis: The ‘Noooooo’ heard around the world is still a win for Lucasfilm

  1. Andrew

    While I consider myself a purist, as far as these films go, I had been really looking forward to the additional bonus features of the Blu-Ray release. Like you had said, most folks will either not notice or not care much about the latest alterations to the films. I just wish that as they add more new things to these movies, that they’d go through and fix visual/audio mistakes and inconsistencies that continue to be overlooked. By and large the recent additions are not my cup of tea, so I’ll just stick to the lower-quality unaltered DVD release I bought on ’06. Would I buy a restored, unmolested & original version of the films in Blu-Ray? Absolutely, in a heartbeat! But I’ve made peace with the fact that that day will never come.

  2. comanderbly

    I do not think the blu-rays needed anymore marketing – ads ran on spike during the marathon – engadget and gizmodo followed its release,etc. I would be shocked if the buzz from the Noooo, had a measurable impact.

    For me this is one those dividing lines that really hurts the fandom. For so many it ends with people throwing Lucas quotes and proclaiming anyone saying something negative about Lucas wrong. Others pour out pure hatred towards any change. In the end its just going to lead to moderators banning users and angry tweets. Its something I tend to avoid talking about with fans because at some point in the discussion someone takes it too far. In fact the only discussions I tend to get into anymore are when its all speculation and we don’t know what is going to take place.

    I have two wishes. One wish is that Lucas embrace all the versions – why not have all of them available? If its about marketing what sells more will be what appeals to a wider audience. I read somewhere that if all this about symmetry – why not remove Nooo from RotS? Let the fans embrace what they want – its all star wars in my book. The other is that the man stop hiding and actually engage the fans – let us in George let us know what you are doing! I don’t think any of this would be so big if we knew the original ending would be available as downloadable content or in another release.

    I am excited about the blu-rays and when I show it to my son some time I’ll mute the no, I love it all I just prefer it the way it was.

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  4. Doyle

    I was going to write this whole big thing about this, but I’ll just cut to the chase: The whole thing makes me feel kind of sad. Just old and discarded and sad. Because I know that (unless I invest in a climate controlled case for my VHS tapes and a VCR) when my hypothetical future children first see Star Wars it will not be the Star Wars that so inspired me as a child.

  5. jawajames Post author

    while the content of your climate-controlled tapes would be the same (and i’m assuming from this that you first watched star wars on those VHS tapes, and not in a movie theater), the context would be very different – it would be watching a movie with 30+ year old effects and pacing on a crummy medium when their Leappad will probably have higher quality effects work. in short, it won’t inspire them the same way it inspired you. it might inspire them in the same way that watching a 1950s film that your parents loved might have inspired you.

  6. Doyle

    Well, that’s a matter of quality versus content, isn’t it? I don’t object to cleaning up a print for the purposes of audio-visual clarity on a new viewing format. I adore, for example, the BluRay transfer of Casablanca. My issue stems from the idea that when Warner Brothers does a new release of Casablanca, THEY DO NOT CHANGE THE CONTENT. They do not add sound effects to make character motivations transparent and they do not replace Ferrari’s bird with a digital version that is more lively. I don’t really give a crap about how the version of Star Wars that I would show my children looks (though I would prefer that it look as crisp and wonderful as it possibly can), but I do care that the content, the beats and the moments and the narrative and the lessons, remain intact. Because there are films in this world that do transcend their time and resonate with us and change the way that we watch and make film, and I firmly believe that the original Star Wars slots neatly into that category. In this capacity they turn into comfort food, loved–even as they become dated–because we can comprehend their importance no matter our era and use them to communicate cross-generationally. And I really do understand that instituting these changes over time does not reduce the ability for these films to be enjoyed and even embraced by future generations, but the changes really do remove something from our ability to create a common language through these films. My children may well love Star Wars or they may well hate it, but when the day comes that I, or any parent in my generation or any other, finally have the opportunity to talk about Star Wars with our children we will NOT be talking about the same Star Wars. And I find that utterly tragic.

  7. Carla Lute

    Personally, James, a lot of my favorite films as a kid were from the 30s and 40s. Good story can be quite inspirational, and the current pacing trends in film doesn’t change basic human psychology. Do I expect my nephew will grow up impressed by original Star Wars special effects? No, probably not, unless he has some interest in film history. Do I think he’ll have fun watching them and develope some investment in the characters? Yes. He’s already in love with (OT) Yoda just from seeing my birthday card this year. (we’re waiting a few years before showing him the films) I’m still annoyed by the ring around Alderaan, but I’d be less bothered if Lucas could restrain himself to updating Special effects…what makes the film less, cheapens them are all the unnecessary changes to music and story telling. Having Vader shout “NOOO!” is just bad story telling. … Lucas isn’t the only culprit in the unnecessary change department though. I’m still very annoyed at Henson company for cutting the best song from The Muppet Christmas Carol in the DVD release (thank goodness I still have my VHS player….)

  8. jawajames

    i’m not saying that one can’t enjoy older films or be inspired by them or drawn in by their story or characters, i’m just saying that it won’t happen in the same way as for people who saw them when they were originally released.

    There is watching a film on a tv, knowing that it is popular and considered a classic, and there is watching a film that no one knows much about in a large dark theater and no one knows what to expect. There is watching a film that is cutting edge and there is watching a film that was cutting edge several decades ago. There is watching a film that everyone on the schoolyard is going to be talking about and playing for the next few years, and there’s watching a film that your parents want you to watch because they liked it as kids. It’s the context.

    I think that’s the point I was trying to make to Doyle. You can be inspired by it, but back in the beginning, people didn’t drag their kids to Star Wars to inspire them.

    and Carla: I do think the changes in pacing that exist now in media do have an impact on psychology. Someone accustomed to today’s TV and film and games is more likely to view more scenes from SW as slow and boring and thus not enjoy them as much.

  9. Bardan Jussik

    Considering it purely from a marketing point of view its genius. You rarely get this kind of extra coverage for free, and though I’m sure the marketing budget for the star wars saga on blu-ray will be fairly decent, if this was intentional it’s a pretty good advertising trick.

    That being said I’m still disappointed by it as a fan. I like some of the changes but I think he should stop now. It certainly won’t ruin the entire saga but that is a very poignant scene from the film and it has been changed forever.

  10. Adam

    I’m just going to keep this short and sweet. I’ve been a Star Wars fan pretty much all my life. I’ve had the collection on VHS and ran out and got the DVD’s ASAP. Some changes to enhance the sound or picture aren’t a big deal making Ewoks blink isn’t a bad thing, more of a neat little change, but adding dialog that wasn’t there previously or changing a scene like Han not shooting first changes the story arcs of the characters. The big changes that will come out with the Blu-Ray version tell us that we have to completely forget about what made us endear ourselves to the chracters, and the story. We love Han because we was kind of a bad guy only looking out for his butt. With Greedo Shooting first and Han “defending” himself takes away from the bigger picture of his story from New Hope to Jedi. It takes away from his redemption. Now, with Vader screaming no, it takes away from the intensity of the scene. Even though Vader is in a mask we can see, and better yet “feel” the him being torn about what to do. It give strength to the character, the story, and it says a lot about the cinematography. It was emotional, and Lucas feels that it now needs to be spelled out. I’ve owned multiple copies of Star Wars through the years, and I disagree that fans will automatically buy it or not. Yes ,there are some who will, but I know for myself and a handful of others, will not be buying the Blu-Rays. We’ve been burned too many times by the changes. I was hoping that Lucas would look at some of the reaction of his fans, and maybe retract some of the things that he’s done in the past, but it seems that’s not the case. I’m taking a stand with some other people and not buying this version of Star Wars. There are more of us than people realize. He’ll make his money, and Lucas loyalists will buy the Blu-Ray edition. But I think this time there’s a larger population that he’s burned one too many times.

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