When I was playing EA’s Battlefront, I made a quip to my friend how funny it was that not a single pixel was dedicated to the prequels. It was as if they didn’t exist. I wondered how George Lucas would feel about the latest Star Wars game completely ignoring everything he made over the last 30 years. We had a chuckle over it while shooting storm troopers.
Afterwards, when doing some reading on the net, I got to thinking about Lucas’ legacy and how to make sense of it. On the one hand, he revolutionized movie making industry. He created an entirely new genre of film, the first blockbuster, and a cultural phenomenon that has persisted to the present day. Star Wars has influenced the entire world. Literally everyone on the planet has heard of it.
I also think that Star Wars is such an institution that the prequels only got the attention they did because of his films from the 1980s. A parallel can be seen in Michael Jackson. During the later years of his life, he made headlines because he was Michael Jackson the institution, not because he was a relevant cutting edge musical artist. The guy who gave us Thriller and Billy Jean, went on to become a sad plastic man who lived at Neverland with a bunch of kids.
Lucas gave us a Darth Vader torturing Han for fun in The Empire Strikes Back, and then some whiny kid talking about sand in the prequels. That kind of crap was only relevant and in the public’s eye because it was a Star Wars movie.
I think it’s fair to look at Lucas as a guy who got it half right, a half genius, or a flash in the pan genius kind of man. History is full of half geniuses, or artists who did not attain the highest of heights and dropped off in their later years. There are few Dostoyevsky’s who raised the bar with every book. There are many more examples of a Milton writing a book like Paradise Regained. It’s sad when great work is followed by mediocrity or even insanity.
Putting Lucas into the same sentence as a Dostoyevsky might be giving him too much credit. However, credit is due him. He changed the world just as much as great artists from the past. Films are one of the easiest art forms to access, and in our modern media age, a good movie can be seen by most of the world. I respect what George created. It’s hard to pull off something truly great, and he did that. However, I think it’s fair to say George shit the bed when he got old.
The sad part is he seems to currently lack either taste or the ability to objectively self evaluate. In a recent interview with Vanity Fair he said, “You go to make a movie and all you do is get criticized. And it’s not much fun. You can’t experiment.”
I see how THX 1138 could be seen as an experimental movie, but The Phantom Menace? Really? Lucas even doubles down saying the character from Star Wars he’d most like to be is “Jar Jar Binks.”
The Force Awakens will be hitting theatres soon and George Lucas had no input during it’s creation.The torch has been clearly passed, and Lucas’ recent statements equated it to a “divorce.” A difficult process to go though, but ultimately necessary for him.
Yet, George Lucas still has a lot to say regarding Star Wars, and in doing so, we get insights into the man he has become. For instance, he hopes, “the Force doesn’t get muddled into a bunch of gobbledygook.” I agree with him. The title of The Force Awakens has me very nervous. It sounds as nonsensical as The Phantom Menace. Is the force now some sentient entity that can “awake?” I hope not. Still, I can’t see the new movie making the force any more silly than midichlorians have. By the way, where was your “gobbledygook” detector on that one George?
In another interview with CBS, Lucas talked about why he had zero input in the new film.
“The issue was ultimately, they looked at the stories and they said, ‘We want to make something for the fans,'” Lucas said. “People don’t actually realize it’s actually a soap opera and it’s all about family problems – it’s not about spaceships. So they decided they didn’t want to use those stories, they decided they were going to do their own thing so I decided, ‘fine…. I’ll go my way and I let them go their way.'”
I think his “soap opera” approach is seen in the prequels. If it’s just a soap opera, you can drag out C-3P0 and R2-D2 yet again. Soaps are notorious for poor plot and pedantic drama. Yup, it’s all starting to make sense. Sprinkle in some family problems with the Fetts, a dramatic “I don’t know you anymore, you’re breaking my heart” and voila, you get… well, you get something.
That same spirit doesn’t seem to be in his earlier Star Wars films. Although there is a family story arc with Luke and Vader, it’s more akin to a Greek tragedy than a prequel soap opera or gimmicky re-hash.
In a 2014 interview with Charlie Rose, Lucas said the original films were based on “psychological motives that are in mythology.” When writing Star Wars he asked himself, “What makes a hero? What’s friendship? What’s the idea of sacrificing yourself for something larger?”
That kind of thought process seems very insightful and deep. In time, something changed in George Lucas, and without knowing the man, who can say what it was. This change manifested so strongly that he went back and re-wrote previous work, with the “Greedo Shot First” scene gaining infamy.
In an article with the Washington Post Lucas said, “Han Solo was going to marry Leia, and you look back and say, ‘Should he be a cold-blooded killer?’ ” Lucas asks. “Because I was thinking mythologically — should he be a cowboy, should he be John Wayne? And I said, ‘Yeah, he should be John Wayne.’ And when you’re John Wayne, you don’t shoot people [first] — you let them have the first shot. It’s a mythological reality that we hope our society pays attention to.”
Having thoughts like that is not new to artists. Tolstoy in his later years did not like Anna Karenina. The difference is, he left it alone. Tolstoy understood it was a view for a time in his life, from which he felt he evolved. The difference between a great Tolstoy and middling Lucas is that Tolstoy would create something new and profound, whereas Lucas couldn’t and didn’t. To make matters worse, Lucas had the strange need to change older work to suit his new state of mind. If Leonardo Da Vinci wanted to paint over the Mona Lisa 30 years later, should people have let him? Wouldn’t his energy have been better spent on a new masterpiece?
Before The Phantom Menace hit, we all had a different feeling and understanding of what Star Wars was. After that movie everything changed, an era ended and a new one was born.
The same thing will happen in a few weeks time. We will get our first taste of Star Wars without George Lucas. Looking back at his last films in the franchise and his latest remarks, I’m glad he’s not involved anymore. That’s not to say the new film will be any good. Personally, I think it will be an average action movie without the heart of the original films – if the new Star Trek remakes are anything to go by.
I don’t want to end on a negative note with George Lucas. He created a world phenomenon, made film history and changed the sci-fi genre forever. I’m grateful for Star Wars thank him for all the fun it’s given me. I think history will be kind to him and gloss over his poorer films, much like everyone remembers Milton not for his bad stuff, but for Paradise Lost.