May the Fourth Be With You: Star Wars and Nostalgia

My day started with a group message from my mother to me and my siblings. It was a white board drawing in her office that she does every year. Under the banner of “May the Fourth Be With You,” she’d drawn a giant R2-D2. Other years it had been Yoda or Darth Vader, and I’m not even sure why she got so motivated to do it the first time. It’s habit now.

She’s definitely a casual fan of Star Wars. She’s a consistent moviegoer, but I couldn’t speak to her familiarity with the most-recent trilogy to conclude the Skywalker saga. I’m quite certain she hasn’t engaged in any of the Disney+ Star Wars content like Mandalorian or Book of Boba Fett.

No, I think her love of the franchise is frozen in amber around the time I started to fall in love with the films. I saw the films after my dad had rented them for me at a local movie rental store. Then I got the trilogy for a Christmas present, a boxed VHS set.

It didn’t become some special thing the family did together. I didn’t become a fanatic steeped in the minutiae of the background and lore of the world. But I was thrilled when the prequels were announced, and while I don’t remember who took me to see Episode I, I’m sure the chances were good that it was her.

Of course, she wasn’t the only to take notice that yesterday was May 4th; none other than the House of Mouse, our Disney overlords, not only noticed but decided to do a little thematic marketing around the day.

We were treated to the newest trailer to the upcoming series Obi-Wan Kenobi, in which we catch our first glimpse of Hayden Christensen as Darth Vader. As much as I’m excited for the show, the trailer made me nostalgic for old times. Not the old times of Ewan McGregor and Christensen from the prequel trilogy, but for where it all began: 1977’s Star Wars: A New Hope and Alec Guinness as Ben Kenobi. So I fired it up, to honor the Force on the fourth.

My nostalgia ran into the reality of the fact that this franchise is big business; it always was, but it’s even more central to Disney’s ongoing strategy of cultural dominance. And the newest shows, like Mandalorian, Book of Boba Fett, and Obi-Wan Kenobi, don’t mark the beginning of the trend.

That same classic Star Wars that was 10 years old when I was born turned 20 in 1997, when creator George Lucas brought it back to theaters for a special edition re-release with new digital effects inserted. I remember excitedly going to see this version, without any clue or conception for what it would usher in.

It’s no secret that Lucas’s edits were not beloved; they’re widely panned by diehard fans as a desecration of the originals. But what got me feeling a bit sad as I watched the version of A New Hope that was available on Disney+ were the scenes which I knew weren’t there in that VHS box set I got for Christmas as a 9-year-old.

Those added scenes in 1997 opened the door for more edits in 2004, and now those versions are the ones encoded onto the physical media of our times: DVDs and Blu-rays. I searched the internet for versions of the original 1977 version but on DVD or Blu-ray, but I wasn’t able to find one.

There’s something obvious and crassly commercial about Disney’s refusal to let the IP content farm that is the Star Wars universe rest, but it’s at least understandable. There’s a rabid fanbase for it; there’s millions and millions, if not billions and billions, of dollars to be made by keeping the content coming.

But it remains an unsolvable mystery that George Lucas, after two decades of seeing Star was as a certified global phenomena, so beholden to self-doubt and second-guessing that he would willingly change his masterpiece and erase the public’s ability to get its hands on the original. It’s like he willingly doubled-down on his bad idea in hopes of convincing us it wasn’t a bad idea because he most definitely meant to do it.

I’m not militant about it, and I’m not militant about any of the Star Wars storytelling decisions. I like some way more than others, but that’s to be expected. But I did feel a twinge of recognition of what was lost, and it kind of stung as it wrestled with my fond memories of discovering that original version that isn’t easily accessible anymore.