?May 4th was all about two things for nerds: groaning at the sheer amount of terrible “May the Fourth Be With You!” puns and blog posts, and dissecting the latest news from Skywalker Ranch – the unveiling of the special features to accompany the Star Wars saga’s Blu-Ray debut in September.
Unsurprisingly, many fans had their moment of crying out in terror and being suddenly silenced when — shocker! — the original, theatrical editions were not among the offerings included in the 9-disc box set. More egregious, however, is the laughable quality of the special features. Yes, we know there will be some kick-ass, heretofore unseen deleted scenes – but that bonus disc of documentaries is a mess. The idea that someone, in this economy, paid to film things like a 91-minute documentary about how movies and TV shows have made Star Wars jokes while devoting a tenth of that to the cultural impact of The Empire Strikes Back is inexcusable.
Worse still, in all their vault-scouring, Lucasfilm chose to include only three vintage documentaries. Surely they’ll be great posterity pieces, but this is fucking Star Wars — a series worthy of a box set that will make sci-fi enthusiasts cry tears of joy, not sorrow. With that in mind, Topless Robot sent a team of researchers (read: me, on YouTube, over the weekend) to scour the Lucasfilm archives and offer a few suggestions to what’s missing from the Star Wars set.
8) Star Tours
It’s easy to forget now, since Star Wars has been intensely merchandised for the past 18 years or so, but there was a time when there were no new toys from Kenner and no “expanded universe” options outside of the abysmal Droids and Ewoks cartoons. That made the unveiling of Star Tours, a 1987 motion-simulator/short film attraction at every Disney park around the globe, a momentous occasion: a new Star Wars mini-movie with characters we loved (R2-D2 and C-3PO) and action we craved (a continuity-shattering battle over another Death Star).
Later this month, the ride will reopen with a brand-new storyline and 3-D film, making the Star Wars Blu-Rays the perfect place to anthologize the original Star Speeder flight that kids and adults adored. If a studio like Universal can cater to nerds by releasing footage from motion-simulator rides on DVDs of Back to the Future and The Jetsons: The Movie, there’s no excuse Fox (with help from Disney) shouldn’t follow suit.
7) Empire of Dreams: The Story of the Star Wars Trilogy
Give someone two hours and this documentary — created for the original trilogy’s DVD release in 2004 — and they’ll easily walk away with a greater respect for the bearded wonder and his complex space opera. Directed by Kevin Burns, who later went on to direct another great documentary on this list as well as the stunning Look Up in the Sky! The Amazing Story of Superman, strikes that rare balance between general information and in-depth education that every documentarian should reach for. It also addresses something often overlooked in Star Wars lore: the context of the film in ’70s culture, and how the worldwide scene was unwittingly ready for great escapist fare, which Lucas and company ably provided.
6) Return of the Ewok
In 2011, we all know Warwick Davis is something of a comedic genius, thanks to cheeky turns on Extras and an in-development pilot with Ricky Gervais. But in 1983, when he was an 11-year-old extra who got a big break playing Wicket in the third Star Wars film, who knew what he was capable of? Watching Return of the Ewok, an unreleased mockumentary showing Davis in and out of character during production of RotJ, it’s easy to see that the little guy was destined for big things.
It’s unknown if the short — intended to promote Jedi but never fully completed in post-production — is in the Lucasfilm archives; Davis has shown his personal VHS copy at several of the official Star Wars Celebrations, but higher-quality snippets were included in the hidden blooper reel on the Original Trilogy DVDs. Regardless, it would be worth presenting to the general public, if only to associate the word “Ewok” with something that isn’t intensely annoying.
5) R2-D2: Beneath the Dome
A spiritual sequel to Return of the Ewok, this 2001 short provided viewers with an intriguing, entirely fictional Behind the Music-esque account of everyone’s favorite astromech, To the surprise of nobody, Artoo is kind of a dick. I mean, come on! Not only does he party with buxom babes and endure pregnancy scares, but you can’t understand a damn word he’s saying. Surprisingly, a follow-up C-3PO documentary never materialized. You know there’s plenty of dirt on that guy.
4) Star Wars: Music by John Williams
When listing the factors which made Star Wars a global phenomenon, the Oscar-winning score by composer John Williams is high on the list. This documentary, recorded for the BBC on the eve of the release of The Empire Strikes Back, provides a stunning, all-too-rare look at the creative process of a man who’s been nominated for more Oscars than anyone currently living on the planet.
3) Star Wars: The Legacy Revealed
Star Wars was a gift from the gods of geek-dom for all audiences. Kids loved it because there were awesome spaceships and lightsabers — the kind of dream fuel that’s been passed down through several generations — but one gets a deeper appreciation for Star Wars in adulthood by considering the parallels between the journey of Luke Skywalker and the great epic myths of human history. Enter this 2007 documentary, also directed by Kevin Burns of Empire of Dreams fame, which explores the connection between Star Wars, the research of Joseph Campbell, Greek mythology, the Bible and scores of other classic tales. Including this on the Blu-Ray box set would have provided vindication for thousands of kids mocked for liking Star Wars; The Legacy Revealed is concrete proof that there’s more to these films than a bunch of funny costumes and lasers.
2) From Star Wars to Jedi: The Making of a Saga
No behind-the-scenes discussion of the trilogy is complete without this 1983 documentary, the first serious look at the trilogy as a whole. Researched by Time film critic Richard Schickel and narrated by Mark Hamill, FSWTJ is a collector’s dream, featuring the pre-Special Edition version of Han’s encounter with Jabba in a Mos Eisley hangar and what may have been the most in-depth look at Industrial Light and Magic at the time.
It’s also the source of one of the most infuriating interviews with George Lucas ever — not because he prattles on like an insane person attempting to justify the prequels, but because he gives great film-making advice that he would later fail to follow. “People have a tendency to confuse them as an end to themselves,” Lucas says of special effects. “A special effect without a story is a pretty boring thing.” Granted, he doesn’t cover what to do in case of special effects with an undercooked story involving trade embargoes, so maybe he wasn’t as lucid back then as we’d like to accredit him.
1) The Star Wars Holiday Special
And why the hell not? Of all the bottom-of-the-barrel-scraping maneuvers committed by the Star Wars brain trust, what would be so bad about including an honest-to-God, official version of the most delightfully shitty Star Wars spin-off? I’d certainly have more fun watching coked-up Carrie Fisher singing to a bunch of Wookiees and a thoroughly-pissed-off Harrison Ford than I would watching scientists talk about the technological implications of the film series.
George Lucas is not a man who likes to admit when he’s wrong (three words: “Han shot first”) but I’d gladly take the Holiday Special — Wookiee porn, Art Carney, Jefferson Starship, cartoon Boba Fett and all — as the closest thing to an admission of fallibility. That, or slapping Rick McCallum in the face.