March 2, 2000
Dear Mr. Lucas,
For approximately sixteen years, like many other fans of the Star Wars trilogy, I had waited exceptionally patiently, and often without much hope, for some completion of the story put forth in the original Star Wars trilogy. Essentially, the incomplete picture revolved around what turned Anakin Skywalker into the character that I myself have wished I could be for all of those sixteen years - one absolutely brilliant man by the name of Darth Vader. The first of the films slated to tell this rather intriguing story, The Phantom Menace, finally arrived in Australia during the Winter of 1999. This is a time I remember as being one of the last truly enjoyable times in recent memory, and this is mainly because of your film. As a matter of fact, my enjoyment of this film was so great that I went to what many would describe as absurd lengths to make it known. In the period of two and a half months that this film spent in its theatrical run here in Sydney, I quite legitimately claimed to have seen it no less than two dozen times. There was one point where I was watching it five times a week, as a matter of fact. I even went into the theatre to see The Phantom Menace about ten minutes after having a wisdom tooth extracted, and no, I am not making that up. I have since bought so many items relating to the films - posters, LEGO sets, 3/4" and 12" dolls, toy lightsabers, prop lightsabers, lightsaber-shaped remote controls, the Trivial Pursuit board game, and the like, that I have quite a collection sitting in a room that has progressively less and less space for me to actually live in. However, this brings me to the one piece in my collection that is sadly missing: the Star Wars trilogy on DVD.
I acquired a DVD player late in 1999 for all the standard reasons that DVD enthusiasts prefer DVD to VHS. In case you don't remember what they are, allow me to refresh your memory. DVD has more than twice the resolution in the video quality, without the inherent degradation in that quality which is caused by the essential limitations of VHS technology. DVD has digital sound in enough channels to create a truly immersive, and in some cases frightening, audio experience. And that's before we even get into the number of extra features that the DVD format allows the manufacturer to tease enthusiasts with: audio commentaries from key cast and crew members, theatrical trailers, music videos (imagine the video that was put together for The Duel Of The Fates, presented on DVD), and so on and so forth. The advantages of the DVD format are greater than you obviously are capable of imagining. For the first time since the concept of home video was brought to the masses, movies have been collectible in a way that they never were before. In the six months since I have acquired a DVD player, I have bought more DVD Videos (thirty-four of them, to be exact, and I expect that figure to at least double in the next year) than the VHS cassettes I have bought in some previous five years of collecting. Some of the greatest films I remember from my life are now sitting on my shelves in DVD form: Heat, The Thing, Total Recall, and Robocop, just to name the greatest examples. They are there because I know they will stay there without any great degradation in the quality of the media as a direct result of merely being played.
The concept of the VHS cassette has been obsolete since 1984, the year in which the CD-DA format, or CD Audio as we know it today, was introduced. Like the difference between vinyl and CD, the difference between VHS and DVD is enough to draw comparison between ages of human history. The comparison is made even more interesting when one considers that VHS was not the better of the two formats competing for dominance of the home video market during the era in which it was introduced. Although VHS won out due to better support and wider availability, most insiders in the industry still agree that Betamax was the better format. DVD has so many advantages over VHS, however, that no amount of stonewalling against it can save VHS from its much-deserved death. The Star Wars trilogy has seen many re-releases on VHS due to the inherently poor quality of the format. The most recent re-release, the Special Editions, are still sitting in my collection in spite of the fact that less than a dozen plays has been enough to show noticeable degradation in the sound and image quality. So let me reiterate: DVD is the format of the movie-collector future, with ever-growing support that doesn't even need a sales pitch to convert most people. Simply sit back, throw a disc in, freeze-frame Mel Gibson's buttocks and zoom in on them, and you have yourself another convert to the format of the future (yes, this has really happened). VHS is a dying format that carries over all of the massive limitations of the analogue era - background hiss, low-level noise, and a plethora of ridiculous artefacts which Michael has already covered in great detail that simply should not happen on DVD when sufficient care is taken in the mastering process.
The Phantom Menace contains many disappointing features in the story-line that I defended in spite of my dissatisfaction with them, the shallow characterization of Anakin Skywalker and Darth Maul least among them. In many articles that were written around the time the film was entering pre-production, you promised us a "much darker trilogy" about a "fall from grace". So far, you have mostly failed to deliver on this promise, but I have sat and vehemently declared the film to be one of the greatest ever made due to such things as its legendary use of special effects that have made me vow to never use the word "impossible" in a creative context ever again. During one of my many trips to the local theatre in order to see it, one brave soul working as an usher at said theatre asked me why I didn't go and see one of the in-things at the theatre instead, such as the appalling Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me (an absolute stinker I will be writing up in my own time). My responses have consisted of such statements as "Oh, let's see... music by never-washes from the dark days when MTV was gaining its nefarious monopoly, such as the massively untalented Madonna, or proper score music composed by John Williams, quite probably the greatest score composer who ever lived... what a choice". I've even stated my faith in the dramatic performances by asking these people to compare Mike Myers, a man who sorely needs to go back to 1990 and get his funniness back, with Liam Neeson, a man who has blessed Hollywood with some of the greatest performances it will ever know such as that which he turned in during films such as Rob Roy and Michael Collins. I feel that I have demonstrated an unflinching and uncommon loyalty to your creative work that few others would match. Obviously, you do not feel the need to demonstrate such loyalty back to discerning fans such as myself, which leads me to the whole point of this letter. Until The Phantom Menace is brought to the highest-quality medium available today, I will not be buying it. Not once, not ever, not even if it becomes the last film available on any media. Obviously, you already know there are a lot of people petitioning you who feel the same way. I used to believe that you cared about the quality concerns of those who purchased your work on one medium or another, be it in the form of a board game or a home video presentation. However, if this is the case, then why are you refusing to release the film on the only medium available that performs adequately whilst having the greatest shelf-life? This is somewhat akin to only releasing the soundtrack on an eight-track cassette.
In the hope that you will seriously reconsider,
Reviewer and Idiot Fan