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.