I was maybe halfway through my high school years in Bolivia when the most extraordinary thing happened: The heavens opened and George Lucas revealed he was re-releasing the StarWars trilogy with updated special effects not involving potatoes and hopefully less incest, for the 20th Anniversary of the original film’s release. The world went nuts. Since I was 6 I’d loved everything Lucas had to offer. The movies, the toys, the bedsheets, my friends had had it all. I got something vaguely resembling the Millennium Falcon out of 2 plastic dinner plates with a toilet roll taped on the side because Mum said you make your own fun. She added I could only play with it outside and to unglue those dinner rolls from my sister’s ears because she couldn’t hear anything and might get hit by a car or something. After the new versions of the movies were released and the dust settled, there was a huge backlash from the nerd community because George had changed a property he completely and solely owned without first asking their whiney permission. But the build up beforehand was huge and exciting and at the time I remember being surprised at just how ecstatic the Bolivians were. It was like Oprah was in town and everyone had free minivans under their seats. Movies do OK in Bolivia but I don’t think we’ll be seeing any red carpet premieres down there anytime soon. Tom Cruise would avoid that place like the plague, because of the plague. As foreigners, movies were good for us, since by and large the majority weren’t translated into spanish and just had subtitles. Dubbing took too long in most cases, so we got the benefit of hearing how the movies were meant to sound. The Bolivians, sadly, missed out on most of the in-jokes and quirks you just can’t fit into Arial Bold on the bottom of the screen. That may explain why all they went to see was action movies featuring Arnie, requiring no dialogue other than “Get down!” and minimal intrusions from any sort of tenable plot. Let’s be honest, none of us who spoke English had a clue what he was saying either. Marketing for films was also notoriously bad. After seeing multiple TV ads for Ace Ventura 2, upon arrival at our fave Ciné Avaroa we discovered it was not at all showing in any sense of the word and got stuck watching Powder instead. Fun Times. If I wanted to watch a pale naked skinny kid get mocked incessantly while hiding an underlying brilliance, I could have just sat at home with my shirt off, crying, while by brother threw forks at my head. I think the first movie I ever saw in Bolivia was Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, which as we all know, would have been more appropriately titled Indiana Jones and His Last Movie Because Any Sequels They Make After This One Will Suck. Hard. But despite the impending suckage the series would endure two decades later, the Last Crusade was a great movie for a 12 year-old. Except for that guy at the end that melted after drinking the grail. That kinda freaked me out. It may explain why have a strange aversion to drinking wine out of any of our giant, bejeweled goblets my wife keeps in the top cupboard. Anyway, as usual I’ve gone off on some bizarre tangent. Back to the story…
So, the Bolivians were PUMPED for Starwars. I think it was the fullest I’d ever seen the Cinema and to make the most of it they ran like 184 minutes of ads before the feature film. Vendors would come by selling peanuts and gum. It was like an indoor baseball game without the obvious downside of actually being a baseball game. FINALLY, after about 4 hours of trying to balance the smallest amount of buttock on the edge of my seat lest the stickiness take hold of me forever, the StarWars logo flew into view. People started cheering and lighting fireworks inside the cinema. An activity that the prudish amongst us might argue could possibly cause some kind of minor health hazard. Like a blazing, fiery death. On fire. Involving flames. The famous crawl text appeared at the bottom of the screen and we sank into our chairs in awe of the glory of Starwars…
In Spanish. StarWars was in Spanish. I suddenly understood why half of Bolivia had decided to sit in our row. Like so many other blunders in recent memory, Lucasfilm had translated the whole thing into another language, which is a way worse mistake than hiring that Hayden Christensen kid. All the famous lines, like:
Luke, I am Your Father.
These aren’t the droids you’re looking for.
You will never find a more wretched hive of scum and villainy.
Dude, you TOTALLY made out with your sister in the last movie!*
All ruined. Totally ruined. Of course, I could still understand it, but it just wasn’t the same. Dejected and dismayed, I left the cinema once the credits hit, slinking through hordes of screaming locals, some tiny flame of hope still glowing inside, knowing that Episode I was only a few years away. That tiny flame of hope was just a smoldering firecracker lodged in the back of my head. I probably don’t need to mention Episode I again, other than standing in the line at the urinal for 30 minutes before the movie started, only to find I got stage-fright once I got there. I had to tie my legs in knots just to get through the whole thing without exploding highly concentrated urine all over poor Benny sitting next to me. I’m not really sure if there’s a bigger injustice out there than changing your favourite childhood movie entirely, for some pithy excuse like the region you’re watching it in, but I HOPE and PRAY that Indiana Jones and The Crystal Skull was in Spanish when it came out there too. So they could experience every little bit of suckage it had to offer.
*Much to the chagrin of the nerds, removed from the Special Edition of the film.