Fandom can be a wonderful thing, but, particularly now in the Twitter-lynch-mob age, it can be easy to rile fans up and get them to turn on those whom they used to love. Witness the outcry after the "Lost" finale -- barely a day goes by without co-creator Damon Lindelof getting shit from someone about it. And few fan-bases are more vociferous than the "Star Wars" lot. George Lucas' series turned the children of the 1970s, and so many since, on to cinema and science-fiction in a big way, and the prequels were perhaps the most anticipated films ever. Of course, they turned out to be a pale shadow of their predecessors, and ever since, Lucas' stock has shrunk steadily with those who once worshipped him.
Any delight that the complete set of films were coming out on Blu-Ray was swiftly tempered by the revelation -- if revelation is the right word for something that was probably inevitable all along -- that Lucas has made further changes to the films, to follow the major changes that came with the Special Editions in 1997, and the smaller alterations that came with the DVD release that followed. The most controversial was an ADR call back to "Revenge of the Sith" at the end of the "Return of the Jedi," along with a new CGI Yoda in "The Phantom Menace" and many others; as a result, fans began to call for a boycott, furious at the continuing changes to the films they originally fell in love with. Had Lucas finally gone too far?
Apparently not. The Hollywood Reporter has revealed that the Blu-Ray set, priced at a hefty $140, has become the highest-selling release in the format to date since it hit stores last Friday, selling 515,000 units in the U.S. alone, and taking in $84 million worldwide. Given that Blu-Ray has never really broken through as a mass-market format, and the not inconsiderable pricetag, we've got to assume that the vast majority of those sales come from the thirty/fortysomething geeks who grew up with the series, and quite a few who had brayed loudly and publicly about their displeasure with Lucas' tinkering.
And this is the thing. Lucas knows he can make these changes because he knows that for the most part, the threats that people won't buy them are empty ones. The completists, the hardcore fans, are always going to buy the thing, because they want to see the films in the best possible format, and because they're loaded up with deleted scenes and other curios. Even if he alienates some fans, all he has to do is release the "original" films untouched down the line (as he did on DVD in 2008, though fans are still crying for the theatrical versions) and they'll line up around the block for it.
So here's the rub; Lucas is going to keep making these changes (here's a sobering list of what he's done so far), and keep trying to wring every penny out of his creation (is it any surprise Lucas is bringing all six films back to theaters in 3D?). This urge to revisit may partly be an understandable thing for a filmmaker to want to do -- as someone once said, films aren't finished, they're abandoned, and every director is haunted by what could have been. But it's also partly that fucking around with "Star Wars" is all that Lucas knows how to do any more; he's somehow unable to move on. Not unlike his fanbase, strangely enough...