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Rants and Raves: ‘Star Wars’

Revisiting an Ever Changing Classic

Above: Jamie Benning's fan doc "STar Wars Begins."

Today, George Lucas' wildly popular "Star Wars Saga" hits BluRay for the first time but once again Lucas has tweaked the original films that fans loved so well. Here's an option for "Star Wars" geeks: a fan-made doc that's free on the Internet.

"Star Wars" fans have an odd love-hate relationship with George Lucas. We love him for giving us "A New Hope," a film that ignited our imaginations. But as Lucas has gained wealth and power in Hollywood, he was able to revisit his past films and tweak them -- adding CGI effects to clean up the original films, changing the storylines (most famously making Greedo shoot first), and basically pissing off his most loyal fans. This relationship is beautifully examined in the documentary "The People Vs. George Lucas."

For me the problem is that Lucas no longer allows fans access to the original films as they were when first released (unless you held on to your VHS copies). I have no problem with Lucas tweaking his films. He has every right and he has the money to do it. More power to him if that's what the artist or the businessman in him wants to do. But let those of us who love the films as we first saw them to have those films.

Jamie Benning is one fan who decided to fight back and reclaim his beloved film. He has made a series of fan documentaries about the original trilogy. He gathered existing material as well as material submitted by other fans, and created what he hopes is the most complete and comprehensive version of the films for fans to enjoy. The result is brilliant and fascinating. Where else can you see Harrison Ford taking a smoke break on the Millennium Falcon?

Benning's love for the films is apparent and that's what's so appealing to a "Star Wars" geek like myself. Benning's films remind us of why we fell in love with "Star Wars" and that's what's so appealing about his films.

Here's the trailer for his most recently completed "Star Wars" doc "Star Wars Begins."

The films are all available online at YouTube (see below) and so far Lucas (who is actually quite tolerant of fan-made films) is letting them exist since Benning is not making any money or profit from the films.

Here's a short interview I did with Benning after we appeared together on a podcast for Mike and Ike (thanks to Mike for alerting me to these docs!). He is currently working on a fan doc about "Raiders of the Lost Ark." I will post a link to that interview as soon as it becomes available.

How long did these docs take to make?

JB: I started "Building Empire" in 2006, it took eight months to complete. "Returning to Jedi" took a year or so. "Star Wars Begins" to me four year to finish. But at that point, I had kids and a busy career to contend with. When you are doing these essentially as a hobby, everything else has to come first.

What inspired you to take this on?

JB: I wanted to make the ultimate audio and visual commentary, push the envelope. I had always been a little disappointed with the official documentaries and thought there was enough material out there to tell a different story in a different way.

What about "Star Wars" do you think captured your imagination?

It was the first time I saw something some all encompassing. It was a universe I could happily live in. I adore the design, the characters and the locations. I was then inspired to work in a creative job. I now work in television as an editor. So it's had a huge effect on my life.

Do you have a favorite piece of found footage?

JB: For "Star Wars Begins" it was a real coup to find the last piece of the original human Jabba scene. It's presented in it's entirety for the first time anywhere. It's not even on the BluRay box set!

What kinds of things have fans sent you to use?

JB: The "Star Wars" fan community is a very giving one. People have been so kind in sending me interviews they have recorded from TV and radio as well as rare documentaries only shown in European regions. There is so much material out there, its just a matter of finding the time and motivation to put it together.

Here are the three documentaries:

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Avatar for user 'The0ne'

The0ne | September 17, 2011 at 6:35 p.m. ― 5 years, 6 months ago

There are fan made restoration of the originals as well and some are very very well done. Unfortunately, the only way to get these versions are through pirating. I have not seen any of them except for the screen comparisons but am tempted to find and download them if I want to enjoy the originals. I am not a fan of the enhancements Lucas has bestowed on the films. Some changes doesn't make sense to me at all but then again it's not my universe to begin with.

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Avatar for user 'Beth Accomando'

Beth Accomando, KPBS Staff | September 18, 2011 at 1:01 p.m. ― 5 years, 6 months ago

Yes, a lot of fan work out there. There was also the famous Phantom Edit that recut The Phantom Menace into a better film. And it's too bad Lucas just doesn't make the original films in their original form available to fans that want them.

Thanks for the comment.

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Avatar for user 'Missionaccomplished'

Missionaccomplished | September 19, 2011 at 11:52 a.m. ― 5 years, 6 months ago

In other words, what we saw back in 1977 was a rough cut.

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Avatar for user 'Beth Accomando'

Beth Accomando, KPBS Staff | September 19, 2011 at 1:11 p.m. ― 5 years, 6 months ago

Ha! Well that would be Lucas' opinion. Some of us were quite happy with the films just as we saw them.

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Avatar for user 'alain_j_perez'

alain_j_perez | September 20, 2011 at 1:01 p.m. ― 5 years, 6 months ago

My opinion is simply why the big fuzz? (please don't hate me) I have to admit, I saw these films when I was very young. I was no more than nine years old...and I absolutely love them!! The newer films (episodes one, two and three) were pretty good too. Maybe they weren't as great as the originals but then again we were all about 15 to 20 years older. Ofcourse we won't see them in the same way.

Think of the original films as a work of art, luckly for Mr. Lucas and his already fat wallet, is an art he can go back and edit his prior work. Remember, it is his master piece, and he should be allow to go back and paint it all over again if he wants to. I'm pretty sure all the great artist have wish they could go back and edit their work at some point.

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Avatar for user 'Beth Accomando'

Beth Accomando, KPBS Staff | September 20, 2011 at 2:57 p.m. ― 5 years, 6 months ago

As I said in my post, I have no problem with Lucas going back and changing his films but I do have an issue with him making the originals unavailable. Richard Kelly changed Donnine Darko but both versions are readily available to fans, and sometimes I feel like watching the original and sometimes I feel like watching the Director's Cut.

And while many -- but not all -- artists may wish to revisit their works of art that doesn't mean it's a good thing.

Thanks for the comment.

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