The Thursday Blog: Hello, George Edition

Last night Lena and I watched The People vs. George Lucas. I found it fascinating, inflammatory, and touching by turns. Lena fell asleep.

Mostly what I was left with was a question, what would I say to George Lucas if I had the chance? While I agree his prequel trilogy was not up to the standards of the originals, and the forth Indy film was pretty much an embarrassment, and the changes made to the first three movies were both unnecessary and ill-advised… I gotta say the “George Lucas raped my childhood” camp is pretty much missing the point. These folks are only upset because they were so delighted and entertained before. Despite their opinions today, Lucas did not travel back in time and ruin the fun they were having as kids. They still loved everything Star Wars, regardless of what came afterward.

Now I do believe that it is kinda shitty to take an experience that people had in their lives that they love and cherish, and then forcibly deny them that experience ever again. (Such as the changes made to the original trilogy.) However, there are two mitigating factors here. One, and most obviously, it really is George’s playhouse to do with as he wishes. Now almost any artist will tell you that there comes a time (generally just before you show your work to the public for the first time) when it is time to put down the paintbrush and walk away. After this magic tipping point anything else you do will just fuck it up anyway, and if your don’t like it you’re much better off starting again on another project. George hasn’t done this, and he’s certainly fucking it up, but really, it’s his work to fuck. Not ours.

The second mitigating factor is that despite all assertions to the contrary, Lucas has finally released the original theatrical versions of the first three films as bonus features in the most recent giant mega super director’s chrome ass immortal final ultra-cut boxed set. (Retailing at just under four thousand dollars.) You want your original childhood experience? Bang., there it is. While I balked at paying for all the stuff in that boxed set I didn’t want just to get the stuff I did, a buddy of mine lent it to me to watch. (I might have copied them by accident. I’m trying to figure out how to delete them now… you know, as soon as I have the time.) But the point is that it is now possible for everybody to be happy. The originals are in the public, so the old fans can be happy, and the revised editions are out there too, so George can be happy.

What I mean to say, is that mostly everyone can be happy. There is still the matter of the prequels. For me, this is sort of a non-issue. I am happier ignoring them, so I do. Now to me, George’s handling of the prequel trilogy would be relatively akin to letting Peter Jackson do LotR and The Hobbit, and then giving The Silmarillion to Eddie Murphy, a-la The Adventures of Pluto Nash. I attribute this to George being in a completely different head space during the making of these movies, indeed Lucas himself says that when he made the first Star Wars movie he was young, independent-minded, and idealistically tilted against corporate domination and its lowest-common-denominator philosophies. According to George, after Star Wars hit, he almost immediately became that thing he had most despised, a corporate hack. He likens it to Anakin’s journey through the movies, where the youthful idealist ultimately becomes the soulless machine he has always fought against. Looked at this way, you could say that A New Hope was made by a young Luke Skywalker, (striving not to become the beast) and the prequels were made by Darth Vader, having given in to the lure of the green side.

But all this brings me back to my original question. If George stopped me on the street and asked me what I thought… what would I tell him? (Actually my fantasy has him buying me a coffee in some trendy but low-key coffeehouse just outside the city, but that’s neither here nor there.) I think I would have to tell him thanks for all the fun I had with his movies as a kid, and how much the story of a person standing true to their ideals even in the face of destruction meant to me. I might say that the newer films weren’t really for me, but I understand that the kids really like ’em, so I guess they were a success. Lastly, as I patted him on the shoulder on my way out the door, I’d say sorry George, that everyone’s given you so much crap about all this.

May the Force be with you.

36 Responses to The Thursday Blog: Hello, George Edition

  1. Having been born roughly around the time “Return of the Jedi” came out, I actually discovered Star Wars as a kid in my … geography book where a photo of the AT-ATs illustrated the advances of special effects in movies. I thought they looked really cool and noted the film they were from. I saw them all on TV later that year and was hooked, lined and sinkered from that moment on.

    Around the tender age of 12, I had started reading the “expanded universe” books, loved the Timothy Zahn ones and around 16 had even GMed a couple Star Wars campaign.

    When I saw Episode 1 for the first time, an imported screener I had paid a fortune for (I live in Switzerland), I was hit by a sack of brick in the face. Mostly everything related to the prequels were just further punishment.

    At the same time came out the “New Jedi Order” line of books which were … godawfulmonstruouslystupidbad, with a couple exceptions. Even the expanded universe had betrayed me…

    My appreciation of the Star Wars universe wasn’t between a hammer and an anvil but more like between two speeding trucks filled with explosives, acid and radioactive waste set on collision course. What can survive that ?

    I am surprised that George Lucas admitted he became a corporate hack. Personnaly I wouldn’t pat him on the back, he made consciously the decisions that turned the SW universe in a childish cash cow and he could have stopped the train wreck if he really wanted. If I am wrong and the decisions were taken out of his hand, then I am sorry his creation got this treatment but at least he had his many many millions to soothe him ; )

      • I think one of my problems is that, as a (former) StarWars game master, I “had to” know the universe in order to do my job properly and acknowledge the facts of the prequel trilogy.

        In addition to that, the entire SW RPG was sold off to another company (WotC I believe ?) which transformed it into a D20 system and gave the prequels a greater focus.

        I could have done without this added dose of salt upon the wounds… ; )

          • One of my best friends from my school days went to a church where the lovely people that attended liked to pull pages from the bible they didn’t like. I never got that, though I have learned to accept hypocrisy as a large part of most religions. I just thought it was funny how much what you said reminded me of that. Especially since I’ve seen pseudo-religions based on the Force pop up now and again. Ah, people. They never cease to amuse me.

            • Truth is different for everyone. If their religious beliefs entail ripping pages they don’t like out of the bible, that doesn’t make them hypocrites unless they claim to be be non-page-ripping Christians. Maybe they think god is whispering in their ear telling them to rip and they’re doing his work.

              None of this makes them any less delusional though. 🙂

  2. You exaggerate just a tad on the retail price of the “giant mega super director’s chrome ass immortal final ultra-cut boxed set”. I would not have bought it if it was too expensive. And just for the record, I don’t think the set I lent you is in print anymore – it was released about 5 years ago if I recall correctly.

    But, yes, the original theatrical releases are out there – George can’t take that back.

    I, too, tend to just ignore the prequels (and 99% of the expanded universe). I have enjoyed The Clone Wars animated show, however, even though I have to keep reminding myself it’s for kids (some of the dialogue is just painful).

    As for what I might say to George if given the opportunity?

    “Stop. Please, George. Just stop.”

  3. The prequels (ok the second 2 prequels) weren’t that bad, and if the original trilogy had never existed and this was the first Star Wars experience people had (which for many it was), they would be pretty good blockbusters in themselves.

    The problem is that Star Wars itself was a gamechanger and EVERY science fiction since has had to be compared to it. Somehow ESB managed to equal or surpass it’s predecessor, and ROTJ wasn’t a bad movie either, so I think it was just a case of exacerbated expectations. I’m not sure it’s possible to make a film better than Star Wars/ESB now.

  4. Chances are one of two things are happening in his fishbowl: Either he is surrounded by yes-men, fan-worship and brown-nose types or he is like most people with far too much money and just ignores things he doesn’t want to hear. (Quite likely both.) Because of this I wouldn’t bother telling him much unless he showed sincere interest in my analysis.
    If he was interested: I would tell him he should really look into doing original properties because nobody in Hollywood is doing anything interesting these days. I’d tell him to learn to delegate things he’s not so good at like writing, directing, conceptual development, casting and everything except being rich to people who have fresher talent and artistic inspiration than him. I’d tell him that anybody who is a yes-man, ass-kisser or hero-worshiper of his needs to be fired, and his enterprises checked for and cleaned of such people regularly. I would also say that he isn’t enough of a corporate hack.
    If he was interested in me clarifying that I’d tell him that attempting to censor his old work is asking for trouble both as a businessman and an artist. I would reference that Tchaikovsky hated his Nutcracker Suite even though it’s probably his most popular work both during and after his lifetime. Given that example of how even an undeniably gifted creator can greatly misjudge the value of their legacy there has to be a compelling business case for trying to overrule popular opinion since he can’t judge his legacy; the people who can haven’t even been born yet probably.
    Further, the fact that he wasn’t too busy with new projects to pull that revisionism shit proves he didn’t have the creative drive to be a proper creator many years ago. It’s common knowledge that once one project is done a creator must already be working on the next without looking back or else their creative spark dies. The reason for that is that no creator of a creative work ever fully understands what’s compelling about their work to other people because they don’t know every other person in the world perfectly. All they can do is create things, bring them to a reasonable level of polish and start on the next one because otherwise they’re wasting time: Ars longa, vita brevis. An artist doesn’t have time for reworking things that are done and they prefer to communicate by making new works anyway.
    (If he really wanted to revisit the morality of Han Solo’s shoot out with Greedo he should have made a new and different movie, possibly a spaghetti western or a modern piracy pic set in Somalia or something.)
    Just stop beating the dead Star Wars horse already.

      • (*Weird Metaphor Warning*) Star Wars for me, is a bit like a piroshki. (is that spelled right?) It’s a “sandwich” I love, but nearly always contains (nearly) raw onion (hush up you piroshki-purists), which I can’t stand. By their nature, you can’t just have one “no onions” without quite a bit of hassle. So, it’s a food I love, made difficult to enjoy simply by being what it “is”, and yet, I’m still finding *something* in it to keep me coming back.

        Also; Whatever ones opinions on what he’s done with it, we’ve got more Star Wars now, than we did in ’76. So, if one is so inclined, at least there *is* some Star Wars to complain about…

  5. So funny listening to this argument. I loved the very first home release of Star Wars trilogy. Alas I was not of an age (or an existence?) to watch the films on theatre. When the Special Edition came out with the few extra scenes I was all for it. To me the more movie we get to see, because of previous production cuts made to the first, the better.

    I love the original relases, and think the first episodes 1-3 were ok, more of a filler for my entertainment.

    See instead of getting into conventions or books I went after the PC Game experience. Go play SW Dark Forces all the way through Jedi Academy, SW Rebel Assault, Tie Fighter, if you can find Rogue Squadron on Nintendo 64 do play that. This is where all my outside the movie fun happened. Granted there are a thousand and 1 shit PC games to do with star wars to stay away from, but the core games are epic.

    • My own favourites by far are X-Wing Alliance (I have incredibly fond memories of this game) and of course the Knights of the Old Republic 1 and 2 (as unfinished as the second one was).

  6. We played Star Wars RPG last weekend. The WotC version, it’s the only one I have. I always base it in the Knights of the Old Republic era, since I loved those games so much and it totally allows for many and more Jedi and Sith running around. My opinion of Star Wars is I just love it, even the new trilogy, which admittedly kinda sucked. But fuck it it’s Star Wars. I even like the Clone Wars computer animated show. To a point. They can’t stop fucking things up, just watch the one where they go to Mandalore to see what I mean. Ugh. But it’s still entertaining.

    • Which episode? I think there’s more than one that involves Mandalore, the pacifist utopia.

      Two things bother me about that show: 1) The dialogue. It actually makes me cringe sometimes, it’s so bad. 2) Nobody fights from behind FRAKKING COVER! Every time there’s a major battle scene, clone troopers are shown leaping out from behind their cover and running towards the battle droid army across flat, open terrain. Drives me nuts every time I see it.

      As for the RPG, I’ve never even tried the d20 version – d6 is the only Star Wars RPG to me.

      • The pacifist utopia. That sums it up. It’s fucking Mandalore, home of the fucking Mandalorians, a group (not species) known as one of the most dangerous forces in the galaxy for millenia. Ugh. And yes, the running out and shooting while standing in the open thing is retarded. And yes, the dialogue makes me cringe. And yet… I can’t help but watch it anyway. Well, I did when I had tv. I need to get my hands on D6 Star Wars. I got d20 cause at the time it was what there was. But I remember eyeballing the older version a long time ago and wanting to play it. I’ve heard nothing but good things about it and they had a book all about being a bounty hunter that totally caught my eye when I was in high school, and that’s right up my alley. Yep, you’ve convinced me Ron. I have to find it and buy it.

        • If you can’t find it, you can always try d6 Space. D6 Space is pretty much the D6 Star Wars rules but without all the trademarks – West End Games lost the Star Wars license, but kept their rules set. There are some differences between the two in their core rules, but the crunch of the system is there. Last time I ran Star Wars, I used a little bit from both books and some house rules. Oh, and I think d6 Space is available as a free download, so you can’t beat that.

          The only downside to the d6 system is that it was written when the original trilogy was all they had for reference. As such, beginning Jedi characters are really gimpy compared to their on-screen counterparts. If you want to run a Jedi-heavy campaign, you will probably need to house-rule a few things.

          Which reminds me – I need to start working on getting my Star Wars game back up and running soon.

  7. I think this whole re-make business should never have been. Ok, maybe he didn’t have the money or the technology to fulfill his “vision” and do it all the way he wanted, but the way it did turn out was great. Not great, as in “couldn’t possibly be better in any way”- but great as in “everything works just the way it came out”. A lot of the fond memories of it was the imagining what you didn’t get to see. Before the prequels, it was every Star Wars nerd’s favorite fantasy daydreaming about what the “Clone Wars” was all about.
    It’s like Metallica trying to re-capture thier “garage band days”, except for the fact that they have decades of experience, primo equipment, and are rich as fuck. So they crank out crap that has this fake-ass sound to it that was purposely engineered to sound like crap, and they wonder why people don’t go nuts over it. I guess the lesson is, don’t try to re-write history- just keep moving it forward.
    I’d ask Lucas, “Why haven’t you done any post-return of the Jedi movies?”

    • I asked a geek who would know about the plot after the original Star Wars movies. Apparently it’s all some varying combination of fan-worship of the original series’ characters, searching for a bigger apocalypse to up the drama ante, George’s bad ethnic stereotypes in space, and some guy named Vice Admiral Thrawn that was fleshed out in such a way that supposedly they are the exception that proves the rule that every single character in Star Wars is at least one of flat, uninteresting, badly written and an obvious plot device.

      This person is enough of a geek that I don’t trust his judgment that Thrawn redeems that tangled nest of pulp schlock and fan-wankery.

      • The so-called “Thrawn Trilogy” isn’t bad. It’s not great mind you, but I liked it enough to read it twice, and buy the sourcebooks for the RPG.

  8. It’s weird how they take the original versions of stuff off the market. Apparently lots of classic TV reels have been burned because the studios don’t even want to pay to store them. I just feel sorry for Lucas. He’s got classic contactee syndrome: The cool aliens take u up for a spin in their ship, show u all kinds of cool crap, fuck you, and they never call u again. Then u spend the rest of your life telling everyone how awesome it was that one time, as u slowly become old and boring.
    PS Lucas agonized for weeks over whether Chewy should wear pants
    PPS Chewy is a Bigfoot

    • If they take the original off the market, it makes it easier to sell you the overpriced super-deluxe mega gold director’s cut special edition box set.

  9. You are correct that Star Wars is the intellectual property of Lucas and he can do anything he wants with it, even allowing the killing off of one of the more popular characters in the movies. My complaint is with his assumption that we’re all morons with poor memory. I remember reading an interview just a bit before Return of the Jedi opened and he clearly stated that he chose to make the second trilogy first because the story would sell better than the first trilogy. When it came time to release Episode I (Remember he swore he wouldn’t ever make the first trilogy, then they threw billions of dollars at him until he gave in?) he told the public that he did the second trilogy first because they didn’t have the special effects to do the first one justice. And I’m in total agreement with you about he shouldn’t have altered the original movies. I haven’t had a discussion with anyone regarding the movies who didn’t dislike the changes such as replacing the Anakin ghost with Hayden Christensen. If he wanted continuity then technically they should have put in the guy who played Vader when Luke removed his helmet since both Yoda and Kenobi kept the appearance they had at the time they died. The soapbox is feeling kind of shaky so I’d best jump off now.