To say that George Lucas is one of the most polarizing figures in filmmaking history would be a hefty understatement. Yes, the man created Star Wars, but in the end, many claim he effectively tarnished his legacy with the Special Editions, the prequels, and his overall demeanor towards the very people that made him a success. Indeed, few deny Lucas’ current status as a man completely out of touch with reality, sitting on a lonely throne at Skywalker ranch, a modern-day Charles Foster Kane.
I read a very revealing interview of the director back in January, when it was first announced that Lucas would be retiring from blockbuster filmmaking. And just last month, longtime Spielberg producer Kathleen Kennedy joined Lucas as co-chairman of Lucasfilm, apparently in a move to help ease Lucas into retirement and ensure the continued security of his company.
The above interview paints Lucas in a far more sympathetic light than most would, myself included. But what particularly opened my eyes was what Steven Spielberg had to say about his close friend.
Critics have said that Lucas’s personal flourishes are elemental and unsophisticated. But, as Spielberg put it, that is George.
Over the years, people have pondered what exactly happened to Lucas between Star Wars and The Phantom Menace that changed him into a seemingly less thoughtful filmmaker. Reading the above, this simple, clear fact dawned on me: Lucas didn’t change. The world around him did. The world became more cynical, less open to some of the more naïve charms that the prequels do, admittedly, have in some capacity. Nor did Lucas let the explosion of digital technology go to his head; it was how he’d always wanted to work – lazier, less concerned with story and character, and more visually savvy.
But the biggest reason for the shift in quality output was the change in creative teams. For the prequel trilogy, Lucas was no longer surrounded by equally visionary talents to challenge him when his sensibilities weren’t working. Marcia Lucas, his wife and frequent collaborator on the original trilogy, often lent a greater sense of emotion towards Lucas’ more sterile direction (read the excellent “Secret History of Star Wars” by Michael Kaminski for more on that). When the two divorced, that voice of reason was gone, in its place a group of yes men directed to do whatever Lucas wanted, right or wrong.
The world misattributed Star Wars’ breakout success entirely to Lucas. Thus, when the prequels came out, the cynicism only increased tenfold. People thought the magic was lost, when it was really a case of the supposed mastermind behind the entire original trilogy turning out to be just parts of a whole, filled by the fantastic cast and crew behind the three films. The backlash blindsided Lucas; he’d long been championed as one of the greatest American directors, and lived comfortably with that notion for the 16 years following Return of the Jedi. So when I go into the following rant about how much I despise Lucas’ behavior, I still can’t deny my sympathies for the man for those reasons.
The truth remains – Lucas’ actions have been unforgivable, and his demeanor downright disrespectful, acts of a petulant, isolated boy mad at the world. When posed with the question of further Star Wars films in the above article, the director replied, “Why would I make any more, when everybody yells at you all the time and says what a terrible person you are?” Now, I certainly won’t deny that there are fans (fanatics, really) out there who go too far in their criticism of Lucas, but realistically, making the Star Wars prequels does not make George Lucas a terrible person. A bad filmmaker, maybe. A tasteless shadow of his former self, perhaps. But not a terrible person. No, what makes Lucas a terrible person is, again, his outright lies and disregard for the people that made him such a success. His former co-workers, his fans, his entire legacy…all things effectively tarnished by his own hand.
Sure, it can’t be easy to come under the amount of ridicule Lucas receives on an almost daily basis by Internet communities. But at the same time, if he really wanted to change that, if he really wanted to win back the goodwill of his fans…wouldn’t making a few concessions to them, like releasing the original versions of your films, be worth it in the end? Wouldn’t just saying, “Sorry for being a stubborn, lying asshole all these years…here you go.” Be preferable to such a lonely, hated, existence, all for the sake of clinging to a largely pigheaded ideology?
As it reads in the article, Lucas’ ideals dictate that he wants to make his own movies, no interference from the studio, fans, or anyone else. I get that, and I’m not one to bash Lucas for pouring his heart out into his work and expecting to see that same vision in the final product. That’s his prerogative, he’s earned that freedom. But his strict adherence to that mentality has given him tunnel vision. He’s disregarded any and all legitimate criticism, like a child who wants it his way or no way.
It’s contradictory, in a way. Lucas believes that his movies belong to him, end of story. That may be true from a legal standpoint, but movies, as art, are designed to be seen by others. Hell, Communication 101 dictates for the transfer of information, art or otherwise, to even take place, feedback is essential. Point is, film is an interactive experience, and with audience members imprinting themselves into the film and sharing reactions, symbolically, it passes into their hands. Thus, the film truly does belong to the public in that respect, and Lucas got so caught up in the fanboy backlash, that he just completely shut out any and all consideration for the audience. And truthfully, Lucas is greatly dishonoring to both his audience and his co-workers by changing his movies around for the Special Editions, trivializing both the memories of fans and the hard work his co-workers put into those films.
Last September, Lucas was rumored to answer an innocent fan question about not releasing the original films with “grow up”. Grow up? The man who stubbornly refuses to let anyone even watch his films in a proper viewing format is telling fans theyneed to grow up? It’s unbelievable, the depths this selfish, insensitive, jaded prick will sink to.
Regardless, Lucas’ impending retirement poses several new questions for the future of Lucasfilm. Will the company be free to properly restore and release the original versions of the trilogy? Will the National Film Registry finally be granted access to their original negatives, which Lucas has thus far refused to give them? Can we all breath a sigh of relief that talk of a fifth Indiana Jones movie has finally been laid to rest?
What the change in management does mean is that Lucas plans on making smaller, more experimental films on his own terms from now on, mirroring former mentor Francis Ford Coppola’s decision to move towards independent filmmaking. Still, Lucas has been talking about making those kinds of movies for decades with nothing to show for it. Who knows what, or more importantly when, he’ll get around to making them?
And truthfully, Lucas was never a very good director to begin with. Star Wars is more or less his sole directorial achievement, and that film was brought to life more in post-production than anything. But I’m assuming the kinds of films Lucas plans on making from now on will be more in the vein of his first, the mediocre THX 1138. If that’s the case, I’ve already lost interest.
I do think Lucas is doing the right thing by surrendering the company to someone with (hopefully) the foresight to realize that it’s much easier and more profitable to just release the original, unaltered Star Wars films than withhold them for Lucas’ own petty personal reasons. I just hope Lucas doesn’t leave directives for his successor that continue those kinds of ridiculous policies.
Have your new career, Lucas. Nothing you could do or say will make up for what you’ve done, but maybe Kathleen Kennedy and the people at Lucasfilm can bring a modicum of dignity back to your crumbling empire.