The Incomparable podcast has just wrapped its six-episode series on the Star Wars trilogy. I recommend listening to the whole series (ANH parts one and two, ESB parts one and two, RotJ parts one and two). You’ll probably come away with an enhanced outlook on some stuff even if you’ve seen the movies dozens of times.
Listening to the Jedi episode made me want to talk about the change of the “Ewok Celebration” song at the end of that movie in the special edition. There are in-story reasons why many of the changes in those editions were unwise, such as altering a character (Greedo shooting first) or messing with the tone of a scene (comedy pit droids coming right after Owen and Beru’s deaths). There are cases where the changes just weren’t done with much taste (computer-animated dancers replacing puppetry). But I think even more egregious (aside perhaps from Greedo) is that, for those of us who grew up watching the originals, the changes mess with how and why we (re)experience the films.
We rewatch old movies for I’d say two reasons. One, if they’re good movies, we want to gain a new appreciation of them. And two, for nostalgia. Watching Star Wars, you can’t help but fondly remember being a kid and running around with a Wiffle Ball bat pretending it was a lightsaber. We show them to our own kids because we want to see that same excitement in their eyes and vicariously be a kid again. Music is one of the things that our minds associate most strongly with memories. The song you and your future wife first danced to. A hit that was on the radio a lot the summer you got your driver’s license. So here we are, watching Return of the Jedi, the end of the trilogy that we watched over and over and over as children, and we come to the finale, and the music has changed. Instead of the silly Yub Nub song, there’s some orchestral piece playing. Worse than all the other incidental changes through the films, this is the one that really takes me out of the experience. I’m supposed to be celebrating with the characters, and I’m rewatching the movie to help recapture that childhood joy, and instead the filmmaker is actively reminding me that, no, this isn’t the movie I loved as a kid. It’s changed. I’ve changed. I’m older now, and I can’t go back to that feeling, that excitement, ever again.
Then, to just really drive it home, Hayden Christensen shows up as Anakin.