A little under 2000 people attended the screening I went to (6:00 pm showing). Another 1300 people attended the 9:00 pm showing. It wasn't dominated by fanboys or longtime hardcore fans. Sure, there were a lot of us there - but with our kids, families, friends, etc. There were a lot of general fans, casual fans, and a ton of children seeing Star Wars for the first time.
Regardless of any HDTV and surround sound system you may have at home - there is nothing like watching it on the big screen with a packed theater. This was very much like watching a live performance or a sports event. The audience applauded every time an iconic character made their first appearance. Han Solo received the loudest and longest applause by the way.
The first thing I noticed was the awe and shock from the younger members of the audience. You could hear a lot of whispers and comments such as "how are they real?" and "those are real robots!" when C3PO and R2D2 made their first appearance. All of the audience (especially the kids) laughed at all the banter between C3PO and R2D2. All of Han Solo's wise cracks were well received. Yet you could hear crickets when the CGI Jawa falls off the CGI Ronto. Not even the young children laughed. Yet there were ooh's and awe's every time a Jawa or a cantina alien appeared for the first time. Hammerhead really seemed to impress the crowd.
A lot has been said about George Lucas' storytelling abilities. Some say he is a great storyteller but a horrible writer. Some say he is a good writer but a horrible director. We all have our different opinions. I will say this though, he did something extremely right as you could hear an audible "YES!" when Luke shoots his proton torpedoes into the exhaust. I thought it was pretty cool seeing all these kids raising their arms and cheering when Lukes' torpedoes enter the exhaust and the Death Star is destroyed. To me, that is good storytelling.
I was impressed with how well all the hardcore fans behaved during the movie. The only time any purists tried to stand out was just after the Han/Greedo scene in the Cantina. There was a very loud Han Shoots First! chant after the scene. I think we can all agree with that one though. If you think the scene looks bad with Greedo shooting first on the small screen, well it looks even worse on the big screen. Also, the Jabba scene just doesn't work. To be fair, this was version 1.0 and not the updated version from the last DVD release. Still, to me, Jabba will always be that puppet on the dais in ROTJ, not some CGI character slithering around (that goes for his appearance in TPM as well).
CGI does work in the space scenes though. Again, a lot of ooh's and awe's as fleet of X-Wings and Y-Wings approach the Death Star. The new CGI scenes are awesome. My only complaint is the editing and blending of the scenes with old footage. A lot of the old models and special effects just don't blend in with the new CGI stuff. I say lose all the CGI Sandtroopers, Dewbacks, and Rontos but add more CGI dog fights and explosions.
I know the special editions have been talked about to death already. That really wasn't the purpose of my post. I walked away surprised at how astute all of the children were to the difference between costumes and puppets versus CGI. They believed all of the costumed characters and puppets were real. The CGI just came off like another cartoon or 3D movie character (meaning fake). I can only imagine how much more impressive AOTC could have been with more costumes and less CGI characters - especially during the Geonosis scenes when all the Separatists are meeting at the round table. The audience cared about characters they saw as real. Nobody cared about CGI rats scurrying away from a CGI landspeeder outside of Mos Eisley. Everyone was impressed when Obi Wan sliced off Ponda Baba's arm though. Sure, even the kids knew Ponda Baba probably didn't really exist, but compared to CGI or 3D characters, he seemed real enough!
Anyway, if you are so inclined, would you please consider signing the following petition. I am hoping the local film festival could book ESB next year. That would tie into the 30th anniversary of ESB and also continue the tradition started this year with ANH.
ESB PCFF 2010 Petition