Tuesday, December 31, 2019

George Lucas vs. Star Wars

Now that I've had some time to reflect on Star Wars Episode IX: The Rise of Skywalker (2019) and the entire Disney trilogy, it has me thinking about Star Wars without George Lucas. The spark of inspiration came from this 2012 interview on StarWars.com with head of Lucasfilm Kathleen Kennedy and Lucas, which is very interesting, especially in regards to the following quotes:


At one point, Kennedy says, "The main thing is protecting these characters." Really? Then how does she explain killing them off over the course of the new movies? For me, I think that is the hardest thing to accept - characters that I love and cherish from the Original Trilogy being killed off and in ways that feel cheap. For example, I don’t mind the idea of killing off Han Solo (Harrison Ford) in Episode VII: The Force Awakens (2015), but it is the way in which it was done that rankles me. It rang false and I expected a very heroic end for a character that deserved a proper demise. I was also fine with Luke Skywalker’s (Mark Hamill) death in Episode VIII: The Last Jedi (2016), which was pretty badass but why did the filmmakers feel the need to kill him off? I’ve always felt that in the Lucas-controlled Star Wars movies, when a major character was killed off it meant something, it was significant – the notable exception being Boba Fett, which was silly and did a great disservice to such a cool character.

In the 2012 interview, Lucas sums up his vision of Star Wars brilliantly:

"There are people out there who don't play by the rules and if you're not careful you're going to lose all your freedoms. At the same time, those people that don't play by the rules because they are selfish and greedy, and turn themselves into evil people who don't care about other people."

Maybe I'm reading too much into this, but I don't think he's talking about Star Wars. He's talking about Hollywood and the studios. He's always been wary and suspicious of them going back to THX 1138 (1971) when the studio cut out five minutes of the film against his wishes. Perhaps that's why he sold off Lucasfilm. He was tired of all the bullshit and baggage that comes with dealing with them.

Check out the body language between Kennedy and Lucas in the 2012 interview and it is very telling indeed. One person can clearly state his vision for his cinematic world. The other basically parrots what has been said and some of what she says feels like lip service. Now, before you say it, I don't bear Kennedy any ill will and I don't buy into any of the conspiracy theories in regards to why Lucas sold off his company, but the more I think about Star Wars since he sold it off the more I find it less and less like what he originally envisioned it to be. Say what you will about the Prequel trilogy but at least it was the vision of one person as opposed to the Disney trilogy, which, at times, lacks focus – due in large part to the switch of directors on The Last Jedi and then back again on The Rise of Skywalker.

In some respects, I feel sorry for Lucas, especially in light of the excerpts from Robert Iger's book where he writes about how Kennedy, director J.J. Abrams, et al ignored Lucas' ideas for the new movies and went in a different direction. I understand the notion of striking out in a new direction but they didn't really do that did they? The Force Awakens is basically a rehash of Episode IV: A New Hope (1977) and Lucas wasn’t happy about that as Iger’s book states:

"Things didn't improve when Lucas saw the finished movie. Following a private screening, Iger recalls, Lucas "didn't hide his disappointment. 'There's nothing new,' he said. In each of the films in the original trilogy, it was important to him to present new worlds, new stories, new characters, and new technologies. In this one, he said, 'There weren't enough visual or technical leaps forward.' He wasn't wrong, but he also wasn't appreciating the pressure we were under to give ardent fans a film that felt quintessentially Star Wars.""

There it is in a nutshell the biggest problem with The Force Awakens and The Rise of Skywalker: the filmmakers were more concerned with giving fans what they wanted instead of staying true to Lucas’ artistic vision. I’m willing to give the former a pass as it managed to renew my love for Star Wars, getting rid of the bad taste left by the Prequels, and introducing us to some wonderful new characters. It doesn’t hold up as well to repeated viewings now that the initial glow has faded. Lucas has made it clear that he was never concerned with what the fans wanted. He had a definite story he wanted to tell and knew how he wanted to tell it whether the fans liked it or not. This may explain why Rian Johnson’s installment – The Last Jedi – is so reviled in some corners of Star Wars fandom as he adhered to Lucas’ notion of remaining true to your own artistic vision. He said in an interview:

“I think approaching any creative process with [the purpose of making fandoms happy] would be a mistake that would lead to probably the exact opposite result. Even my experience as a fan, you know, if I’m coming into something, even if it’s something that I think I want, if I see exactly what I think I want on the screen, it’s like, ‘Oh, okay.’ It might make me smile and make me feel neutral about the thing and I won’t really think about it afterwards, but that’s not really going to satisfy me.”

The Abrams-directed movies are attempting to give the fans what they want instead of staying true to an artistic vision, while Johnson's movie refused to pander to the fans and they crucified him for it. Interestingly, it is the only one of the new movies that Lucas has publicly said he liked. As a result, we get Abrams returning to the fold to "right the ship" as it were with The Rise of Skywalker. The more I think about them, the more I find that they are lacking. I love the new characters but was disappointed at how the Original Trilogy characters were treated. I don't mind killing off characters but have it mean something, which I felt wasn’t the case in some respects. Again, why do they need to be killed off in the first place? It can be a cheap, narrative ploy. Why couldn't some of them just ride off into the sunset? Admittedly, these sentiments come from having grown up with these characters and having genuine affection for them. I feel protective of them.

Love or hate the Prequels at least they did tread new ground in terms of technology and refused rehash what came before in terms of plot and story. Lucas took us to new worlds and introduced us to all sorts of new characters. The problems with these movies is that Lucas surrounded himself with Yes-men whereas on A New Hope and Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back (1980) he had people, like his wife Marcia and producer Gary Kurtz, keeping him in check, curbing his worst tendencies. It really started with Episode VI: Return of the Jedi (1983) where Lucas freed himself of anybody who would say a critical word, allowing him to indulge himself. It would only get worse on the Prequel trilogy with the awkward racist stereotypes, ruining the mystique of The Force, and the clumsy direction of young, inexperienced actors.

This is why I find myself enjoying and revisiting the non-Disney trilogy movies/shows, like Rogue One (2016), Solo (2018) and The Mandalorian (2019), more as they are in keeping with the same spirit and tone as Lucas' original vision. Maybe, just maybe, I judged the Prequel movies a little too harshly (well, Episode I: The Phantom Menace is still horrible) and I feel like I need to revisit them in light of now finally seeing the last installment in the Disney trilogy. Maybe my opinion of them will change.


SOURCES

Parker, Ryan. “George Lucas Thinks The Last Jedi Was ‘Beautifully Made’.” The Hollywood Reporter. December 12, 2017.

Parker, Ryan. “Rian Johnson Calls Pandering to Star Wars Fans a ‘Mistake’.” The Hollywood Reporter. December 18, 2019.

2 comments:

  1. Well said. Fan service is always a mistake.

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    Replies
    1. Thanks! Yeah, esp. nowadays - it is downright toxic!

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