I've been wondering lately what it must be like to be George Lucas. I've never wished George ill will. To be honest, I try not to wish ill upon anyone. That being said, a lot of people do seem to be taking the success of "The Force Awakens" as a chance to dogpile on ol' George.
And that really gets me thinking. It gets me thinking about art and an artist's duty to his audience, and an audience's duty to the artist, and all kinds of fuzzy, complicated, artsy-fartsy type bullshit.
But back to George Lucas. I have always, even back to the '90s when I first started thinking about such things, believed that George Lucas was someone whose reach exceeded his grasp as a storyteller. As a technician, it's been pointed out by better people than me that George has done more for filmmaking than just about anybody short of Edison. But as a storyteller his skills have always been...limited.
So looking at "Star Wars" (I should probably call it "A New Hope" for clarity's sake, but old habits and all that) I have always seen a story that was not all that great which was redeemed by groundbreaking special effects. Even as a kid I remember always thinking the first hour or so, which consisted of the cybernetic equivalents of Bert and Ernie wandering around a desert and complaining, was incredibly dull. Then the action gradually ramps up and by the time of the breathtaking dogfight finale all is forgiven.
And it's interesting that I use that word: forgiven. A lot of watching "Star Wars" - even the original three films - is about forgiving transgressions. We forgive George the Ewoks. We forgive George the parsec mistake. We forgive Luke being whiny and we forgive the lack of women and we forgive the code-switching and we forgive and forgive and forgive because...
Why exactly? Because we have fond memories of it from childhood? Probably. Because it's ultimately exhilarating? Yeah, a bit of that.
I've always felt that George Lucas was someone who could land on the green with one stroke every time, and then whiffed seven strokes in his short game. You can see it in every single movie he's ever made. He is a genius when it comes to knowing what would make a great, compelling setpiece that people will want to watch, and then he always fucks it up in the minutia with pillow talk about sand.
Every time George has had a co-writer - "The Empire Strikes Back" and "Revenge of the Sith" spring to mind - all those issues seem to just get ironed out. I mean, it's no great issue to admit you have a weakness. George is great at the mythic scope stuff, he's just not so brilliant at the piddling little details of human interaction. I can think of artists with far greater glaring holes in their skillsets.
But I think because of the initial success of "Star Wars" (again, I mean "A New Hope") George never realized or refused to acknowledge his shortcomings. I mean, imagine trying to tell Taylor Swift right now about the weaknesses in her songwriting. She'd probably look at you, pat you on the head and say, "I think I'm doing all right, sweetie."
And perhaps rightly so. But it wouldn't make the weaknesses go away. And in thirty years who knows, maybe Taylor Swift won't be able to coast by on being the powerhouse Taylor Swift anymore. Maybe she'll write a song and realize that the entire music industry has already internalized all of her tricks and she's left sounding like a bland copy of herself.
And I think that's basically what happened to George Lucas. I mean, from 1977-1999 he was George Fucking Lucas. The guy who did "Star Wars." The guy who did "Indiana Jones." And if he said put in a weird, vaguely racist, Jamaican monkey-frog thing, by God you were going to put in a weird, vaguely racist, Jamaican monkey-frog thing.
And when the sequels came all those glaring errors in the original trilogy that we had spent 22 years forgiving, came into focus. "Phantom Menace" wasn't released into a vacuum. Neither was it released in 1984. It was released in 1999, when Hollywood had already grokked all of George's secrets and tips and tricks, and with releases like "The Matrix," had already exceeded it. (Now if you want to get into a story about forgiving shit because of good special effects, I could write a whole other post on "The Matrix." But I digress.)
I've never thought the prequels were all that bad. It's become very haute coutour these days to shit on the prequels. I've even seen videos making the rounds where people are walking out of "The Phantom Menace" for the first time and they are exhilarated and excited and openly joyful about how much they enjoyed it. And these videos are meant to make laughingstocks of those people for enjoying what are now generally reviled films.
But here's the thing: I don't remember anyone shitting on the prequels when they first came out. Everyone enjoyed them, loved them, much the same way we seem to be enjoying and loving "The Force Awakens" right now in the two weeks since it came out. It was only with time that the vitriol against the prequels began to build up, and I think it was partially because we kept hoping that Episode II would redeem Episode I, and finally that Episode III would redeem Episode II and Episode I. I still think Episode III is an objectively good movie, and there are vast swathes of Episode II and even Episode I that I enjoyed. But what was missing?
Forgiveness. Maybe the kids who were ten when they first saw it will grow up to be people who forgive the prequels all their flaws. Probably not, though, because as I mentioned, Episode I wasn't released in a vacuum. In 1977 there was literally nothing else like "Star Wars" and there wouldn't be, couldn't be, even, for many years. Forgiveness was baked into its DNA. If you were a kid in the '70s or '80s, Star Wars stood head and shoulders above anything else available at the time. For a kid of the '90s, Star Wars was just one among many other spectacle movies - some, like "The Lord of the Rings," even eclipsing them.
So, the emperor's (no, not Palpatine, it's a metaphor, meathead) nakedness was laid bare. George Lucas was a SFX pioneer, but as a storyteller, he left a bit to be desired. And his myth had grown so powerful that people wouldn't even challenge him. I maintain to this day that all the elements for a great - not just serviceable, not just good, but truly great - series of movies is all there in the prequel trilogy. With a really solid edit from a really good script doctor, we would probably be talking about how great the prequels were instead of how lousy they were except for a couple of thrilling setpieces. So George was a victim of his own myth in a way.
I don't think it's fair to excoriate him for it. And now that "The Force Awakens" seems to be everything we ever wanted from a new "Star Wars" movie people seem to be practically dancing on George's grave.
I could go on about how it's more than immature, it's unfair, because this is a guy who gave you a lot of joy and really changed a lot of lives. But I think we probably all know that inherently. And I could go on about how it's certainly premature, because I have no idea how time will treat Episode VII. Fifteen years from now will we be comparing it to Episode IV or Episode I? I can see it going either way. Remember those people from the viral video praising Episode I? That'll be us in fifteen years. Perhaps we'll seem prescient, or perhaps we'll seem silly.
And yet, for all its failings, the prequel trilogy was a new story. It didn't lean heavily on the first trilogy. I mean, at all. Say what you will, but George absolutely told a new story. And fans reviled him for it and said, "We wanted more 'Star Wars,' not whatever this new garbage is." So J.J. gave them more "Star Wars," whatever that means, and I can already see the cracks in the seams as people begin to point out how derivative "The Force Awakens" is. So which way was right? George Lucas gave us something new, and we reviled it. J.J. Abrams gave us the same old same old, and we seem to be happy...but how long until the pendulum swings and we start reviling it again? What about ten years from now when we've had a Star Wars movie every year? How derivative and creaky will all this shit seem then? Will we be kicking ourselves, wishing we'd left it up to George who at least had a vision, at least was an auteur, rather than kicking our beloved childhood story up to Disney, who, let's make no bones about it, is a corporation looking to monetize our nostalgia? Are we going to regret letting Disney run "Star Wars" into the ground? Or will we perhaps just be so happy being force-fed what we told Lucas for years we wanted, that we'll just take our medicine and enjoy it?
I don't know. I don't have any answers. And I've barely even touched on what was supposed to be the original topic of this essay: what it must be like for George Lucas to be treated like dogshit and scraped off our collective shoes after giving us "Star Wars" for Christ's sake. I imagine he must be a bit sad, and, yeah, he made buku bucks, but he basically had to sell his baby to do that. But, then again, hadn't he already pimped out his baby? It's hard. It's a Gordian Knot.
But how about that fucking lightsaber fight, huh? Against the guy with the power gauntlet? And the lasers were all like, "pew pew?" Pretty fucking cool, huh?
"Manuscripts don't burn"
- Mikhail Bulgakov
Hi, I'm horror and science fiction author Steve Kozeniewski (pronounced: "causin' ooze key.") Welcome to my blog! You can also find me on Facebook, Twitter, Goodreads, and Amazon. You can e-mail me here, join my mailing list here, or request an e-autograph here. Free on this site you can listen to me recite one of my own short works, "The Thing Under the Bed."
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