I have been doing some thinking about what George Lucas has been doing to the Star Wars trilogy. And I say 'Trilogy' because I do not care one bit what he does to Episodes I-III. For a good discussion of this travishamockery, check out Episode 59 of The Talk Show in which Dan and John have a good cry about it (start at minute 97:00 to hear the Star Wars bit).
Ok, let's step back from Star Wars for a sec. In 1971 a young George Lucas turned his film school project into a feature-length film, THX-1138. It's a good film. Kind of a cult film in that not a whole lot of people have seen it. The theatrical cut of that movie is eighty-one minutes long and can be a little confusing to follow at times. This is partly because he had a very small budget ($777,777.77 according to Wikipedia) and couldn't pull off any serious special effects. In 2004, Lucas released a 'Director's Cut' of the film on DVD which runs 88 minutes and has many improvements/additions a la Star Wars. Here is what was changed in the 2004 edition (Many spoilers there if you haven't seen the film).
I won't go into all of the changes, but I will say that I don't 'disagree' with any of them. Often the changes make the story easier to follow or make it more obvious what a character is doing in a particular scene. A lot of backgrounds have been cleaned up or enhanced. The description of one of the changes gives a good idea of how effective they were:
SEN gets lost in the crowd, which looks more believable in the DVD version.
Things look more believable. But the essence and the feel and the mood of the film are essentially unaltered. You don't watch an updated scene and think, 'Hey, wait! That doesn't make sense now.'
In contrast, the changes made to Episodes IV-VI often make me scratch my head and wonder what the point was. John Gruber points out in The Talk Show episode that making Mos Eisley look like a bustling city ruins that feel of an outpost way out in the desert. Why would all those (supposedly cold-blooded?) reptiles be just hanging out in the hot-ass streets? And all those new droids running all over the place? Who in the shit-hole of Mos Eisley can afford them? They aren't even allowed in the Cantina!
The thing about the changes to Star Wars, versus the changes to THX-1138 is that they, with few exceptions (cleaning up the matte lines on the TIE fighters is something we can all agree on) do not improve the films. In fact, they make them worse for those of us who know what it is supposed to be like. Obi-Wan's yell in Ep IV is supposed to be the call of a Krayt dragon, not the wail of a man who accidentally stepped on a Lego. Darth Vader does not yell, 'NO!' at the end of Jedi. Ewoks do not blink.
Why isn't anyone up in arms about the changes to THX-1138 like this? Because no one grew up with THX as an important piece of their childhood like Star Wars. No one dressed up as THX or SEN for Halloween. Star Wars (at least Star Wars as it was) is culturally important. We care about these films.
As Gruber said in the podcast—if someone screwed with Star Wars against the wishes of George Lucas, we would literally be up in arms. When it's Lucas himself, we are all saddened.
Please stop, George. Or at least admit that there is a significant number of us who want to see the movies as you made them thirty years ago. Release those movies on Blu-Ray and I will pay you whatever you ask. Until then, not another dime.
Somebody find me a working VCR.