You know what, I love George Lucas. I'm grateful to him for giving me something that I've loved since I was a five year old boy. I played with the toys, read the books and comic books, slept with my head on a pillow that had a light side and a dark side instead of a cool side, and I've owned his movies on many varied platforms. George has now left Star Wars, and even though his reasons for going break my heart, I'm not terribly sorry to see him go. Here's why...
I will usually try to give Talk Star Wars the weekends off, unless massive news breaks and it cant be avoided, but today I wanted to share a somewhat personal editorial about The Maker. It follows the interview in Vanity Fair where the legendary writer/director commented on why he won't be making Star Wars films any more. You can head over and watch the (very difficult to embed video) here, but here is a quote:
It makes me sad that someone that's given so much to, not only fans of Star Wars, but to the film industry itself not to mention the countless people who have benefitted from his unrivalled philanthropic work, would feel like this about what has amounted to his life work. The fact is, Star Wars hasn't belonged to George Lucas for a long time and I'm not referring to the sale to Disney.
But lets start there.
Why is it still a surprise that George Lucas has left Star Wars behind? He sold to Disney in 2012, that's three years ago now, and Disney didn't drag their heels at the time either. The house of mouse came out the gate with a strong plan to release enumerated, saga entries every other year which would be punctuated by a standalone (soon to be referred to as Anthology and finally Star Wars Stories) films. Thats a Star Wars film ever year. Indefinitely. George didn't feature in any of those plans, so why is his departure still news three years on? Are people just starting to realise that its true?
There could be something to that you know. The Force Awakens is about to drop and its becoming more apparent that George isn't anywhere near it. He has stated that he doesn't know what the film is about:
He didn't see the trailer when it dropped nearly a year ago, and its no secret that Disney chose to move away from his original outline which would have followed some teenage characters on new adventures. I hate to say it, but all of these things are good news for Star Wars fans.
George Is Jar Jar
Watch the video and you'll hear George say, if he could be any Star Wars character he'd be Jar Jar Binks. Jar Jar is the most loathed Star Wars character, which kind of makes him the underdog, and George has always championed the underdog. He was the underdog in the 70's, fighting to get films made and then losing control and final cut. His career has been an exercise in going back with newly acquired power and putting those things right. See his cut of American Graffiti, his special edition of THX-1138 and revisions to Star Wars and Indiana Jones movie. George has been his own champion for years, but there in lay the rub. George's best work was done when he was forced to compromise and collaborate. His best work isn't his original vision at all.
Star Wars (1977) was an exercise in just getting the thing finished. It put the guy in hospital for Christ's sake. He released the film and it went on to change the world. Merchandising became the cornerstone of Lucasfilm and allowed George to assert himself and an independent film maker, not only in spirit but in practise. Skywalker Ranch became a safe place for other film makers to escape the studio system, which were, by now, owned by corporations that had little or no experience and/or interest in film making, but everybody had an opinion. George IS Jar Jar Binks.
Whilst George was away building Skywalker Ranch and establishing his decentralised version of Hollywood, he would hand over the Star Wars sequel to director Irvin Kershner. George would offer out the scripting duties to Leigh Bracket, and then following her death would bring in Lawrence Kasdan. The result was arguably the best of the six Star Wars movies, and the least tampered with in later releases.
Ultimately George would move onto Revenge Of The Jedi as producer, with British director Richard Marquand in the big seat. Many would suggest that Lucas, who was a constant presence on the set, ghost directed through Marquand. Choices made for Jedi included the Ewoks (designed to sell teddy bears?) and not killing Han Solo. Harrison Ford had suggested leaving a few hats on the ground to "add a little weight" to the film and killing Solo would close the character's story and make the audience wonder who could go next. Lucas decided not to kill Solo, with some suggesting that its hard to sell Dead Han toys and that was George's motivation for the shiny happy ending. Ultimately these choices lead to producer Gary Kurtz leaving Lucasfilm, a loss that would have a profound impact on the prequels.
The Ballad Of Anakin Skywalker
When George decided to return to Star Wars it was because of what had been achieved on Jurassic Park and tested on the Special Edition versions of the original trilogy. It's no secret that George used the prequels to further his agenda for digital cinematography, non linear editing systems (like edit droid) and CGI. "Jar Jar is the key to all this" would become George's unfortunate turn of phrase that would predict the fate of Episode I.
The prequels were a massive disappointment for most (but not all) Star Wars fans and I think I have figured out why: George Lucas is best when his options are limited. Consider this for a second. When George had all the money, all the time and all the CGI freedom he needed we got The Phantom Menace. When a clock was ticking and money was running low, we got Star Wars (1977). When George only had himself to answer to we got Attack Of The Clones, when Irvin Kershner was running the show we got The Empire Strikes Back. Which leads us to...
The Revenge Of The Jedi
When George got to (once Revenge and later Return of the ) Jedi he had an opportunity to put right some of the things he had to compromise on in the Star Wars (1977). Its no secret that George was less than happy with the Cantina. He was always disappointed with the masks and he never really felt like it matched his visioning the same went for the Death Star assault, it wasn't the 1000 ship strong space battle he had envisioned. So when we get to Jedi we get Jabba's Palace in place of the Cantina and, the assault on the Death Star II was just the climax to the first movie done the way George wanted. Fans now explain these things away with Ring Theories, but its really just George trying to do things 100% in line with his vision.
Look at the Special Editions. The changes made rub most fans ups the wrong way. We don't want CGI Jawa's and dinosaurs everywhere. Silly robots slapping slight smaller sillier robots. It lacked the dignity of the original. The prequels were these things writ large. Episode I was pretty much just a Star Wars (1977) retread. We got the creatures (hello Gungans) and we got the space battle around a giant spherical space station (Trade Federation not Death Star) we get Jedi's battle done bigger and better, with Gungans where the Ewoks used to be, and we had complicated laser sword duels that made 1977's emotional Obi-Wan Vs Vader duel look like and elderly guy fighting and guy who couldn't see through his cumbersome costume, and we didn't want it. We wanted more of the same. More of what we loved.
Star Wars didn't belong to George anymore, it belong to us. Whether it was what he wanted for us, or not. It didn't matter. That's why I'm not too worried that George has nothing to do with the new films. These new movies are being crafted by the fans of the original Star Wars. They are building on the framework of the original movies: locations, real sets, practical effects. A director who views his actors as assistant story tellers, not necessary evils.
When George says: "You go to make a movie and all you do is get criticised, and it’s not much fun. You can’t experiment." He is right, you cant experiment with Star Wars. Its too important now. Its no longer George's story, its ours. We don't want Star Wars to be a testing ground for new technology. We don't want Star Wars to be a directors attempt to finally get things right. We want Star Wars to be good old fashioned squash buckling story telling, with clearly delineated good and evil.
You know what, I love George Lucas. I'm grateful to him for giving me something that I've loved since I was a five year old boy, but I'm afraid that he is not the film maker to deliver these things. The new writers, producers and directors of these new films are the students of George Lucas, and they are equipped with the required skills to get this right, because unlike George, they've acknowledged what went wrong...
Thank you for reading,