December 31, 2015

George Lucas still can’t let Star Wars go. (Creator woes)

The Force Awakens movie poster - Poe Dameron
Here, have a little Poe Dameron.
When it was announced that Disney was buying Lucasfilm (and the Star Wars and Indiana Jones franchises), I wondered how Lucas was going to handle it. This is, after all, the man who was so incapable of letting go of his creations that he continued to tweak them with every re-release.

George Lucas gave an interview that essentially said The Force Awakens wasn’t the direction he would have gone, that they based it on the original trilogy which “had issues.” That he tried to make each movie cover new territory (though it seemed more like he meant this literally, not just figuratively). He admitted that Disney wasn’t interested in working with him on the movie, they wanted to do their own thing. That it’s a bit like a breakup and selling his characters to white slavers (read: human trafficking, rather than what most Americans think of as slavers).

Update: George Lucas issued a statement that the interview was recorded prior to the release of the movie. I’m including it at the bottom of this post.

That’s his opinion. And while there are plenty of other creators who’ve been dissatisfied at adaptations of their works – the difference here is that Lucas sold this to Disney. He gave them permission to use his Universe without his input, and then complained that they went in a different direction than he would have picked.
Part of the issue in my mind is that the prequels made it clear that his idea of what made Star Wars great isn’t what fans felt made it great. Fans were attracted to the characters, to their growth, to their loss and triumphs. When given more tech and a bigger budget, he created more elaborate worlds and bigger spectacles – at the expense of his characters.

The reason the original trilogy succeeded was because better writers and directors took over for him. Without anyone to reign him in, the prequels took skilled actors and turned nearly all of them into scenery. Ewan MacGregor and Samuel L Jackson were two notable exceptions – but they seem to be the acting equivalent of Teflon. They seem to transcend the silliest of premises. Hayden Christensen suffered the most (he’s good in other movies, I promise – see Shattered Glass or the one with Kevin Kline), but even Academy Award nominated Natalie Portman came off as wooden.

It didn’t matter how elaborate the lightsaber duels were, or how interesting the planets were. People walked away from the prequels with the take-away that the Force wasn’t mystical but tied to genetics, Anakin was whiney, Padme went from being a firecracker to a woman who gave up instead of fighting back. Or that the prequels contradicted key parts of the original trilogy (like an infant Leia somehow remembering her mother, which was an important part of the original trilogy- as it’s the only discussion Luke and Leia have about their mother).

I say this as someone who saw a lot of potential in the prequels, and who will still re-watch them. Lucas just needed someone to tell him when to pull back.

Is he entitled to have his own opinion about the trilogy? Yes. But his words come off as being dismissive towards fans, as though they simply don’t understand what Star Wars is about. I think that he could have crafted a press release that made it clear they went in a different direction than he would have, but done it in a way that didn’t make him seem like- stealing his own analogy here- a bitter ex after a bad break-up. He said that he knew he needed to step away. Perhaps he should work on that in private.

Your thoughts? Should Lucas have spoken out about The Force Awakens?

Update: George Lucas issued a statement, that said this:

“I want to clarify my interview on the Charlie Rose Show. It was for the Kennedy Center Honors and conducted prior to the premiere of the film. I misspoke and used a very inappropriate analogy and for that I apologize.

I have been working with Disney for 40 years and chose them as the custodians of Star Wars because of my great respect for the company and Bob Iger’s leadership. Disney is doing an incredible job of taking care of and expanding the franchise. I rarely go out with statements to clarify my feelings but I feel it is important to make it clear that I am thrilled that Disney has the franchise and is moving it in such exciting directions in film, television and the parks. Most of all I’m blown away with the record breaking blockbuster success of the new movie and am very proud of JJ and Kathy.”

So if he’d released it having seen the movie, but without any public response? I can see how he’d be worried about its reception, since it wasn’t where he’d envisioned it going. And his comments about giving it to Disney, certainly seem more like they belong in context of a creator knowing he gave it to the right people, but knowing that he is having a very hard time letting go.

So I’m going to place the blame on CNN for not making that clear. -W

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