A cautionary tale: Understanding Lucas and his ridiculous tinkering with Star Wars

A friend posted a link on Facebook detailing all the changes that have been made to Star Wars since release. (Here's a playlist with all four change comparison videos for the original trilogy.) I was aware of many of these changes — the additions of Stormtroopers and creatures, additional scenes, and of course, the infamous “Greedo shot first” revision. But there are also countless small adjustments to color and effects that are subtle and I honestly never noticed.

Many, many, many fans have decried these updates and revisions. I agree almost all of these changes are unnecessary and more than a handful are shameful. But as a creative professional, I also completely understand why Lucas wanted to go back and make changes.

I can honestly say that I have never created something that I didn’t want to change the minute I was done with it. As creative people, we strive for perfection. And when we see a finished product that isn’t perfect, I think we instinctively want to improve it. But deadlines, budgets, clients and practicality get in the way of perfection.

George Lucas had the money, resources and control to revise the original trilogy. And so, he did exactly that. Fixing the things that bugged him about the original films. 

(This frustration is not unique to Lucas, either. Check out this article on Joss Whedon, who notes that he was unhappy with the original Avengers movie… Thankfully, we don’t have to worry about Whedon going back and messing with Buffy.)

Some of these changes to Star Wars aren’t bad — changing some coloring and polishing some effects. Others are awful — the whole Greedo/Han thing and pretty much all of the changes to Return of the Jedi.

I think George Lucas is a cautionary tale for designers. We often think we can continuously improve designs. If we just had more time, more budget or more control, we could make something better. But deadlines, budgets and client limitations help focus the design process.

Sometimes, more time, more budget and complete control just makes things more messy.