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Is George Lucas THE PHANTOM MENACE? EPISODE I

You Won’t Have George Lucas To Kick Around Anymore

George Lucas has been kicked around for the facial he gave us with the Star Wars prequels. While he’s taken a new drubbing in the media (Mostly as to why he’s not directing new Star Wars films/not asked to), it all adds to the hype for the upcoming Episode VII, but take a look:

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2015/01/13/george-lucas-star-wars-episode-vii_n_6462960.html

http://www.hollywoodreporter.com/heat-vision/why-george-lucas-wont-direct-841972

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2015/01/13/george-lucas-star-wars-episode-vii_n_6462960.html

http://www.digitalspy.com/movies/star-wars/news/a442537/george-lucas-i-wont-have-much-involvement-in-star-wars-7/

Before I go into the Cynema aspect of Lucasfilm, I want to ask all of the film fan experts how are YOUR movies are doing? You know the ones you don’t write? Don’t direct? Don’t produce? Let me be more specific: the ones in your heads, on your hard drives or in the reams of your unpublished fan fiction? Right.

“Fans” have done more to ruin the enjoyment of the Star Wars franchise than George Lucas. Their rabid love for fantasy product has taken what was once a fun, cinematic experience and turned it into an embarrassment for one to even admit they like Star Wars, Tolkien, Star Trek or comic book movies.

Fan

I was never a Star Wars “fan.” The word means “fanatic” which consequently implies mental instability. I enjoyed the films, drew inspiration from them as a dreaming future filmmaker, but did I dress up as Obi Wan, Han, Luke or Chewie for the opening of Empire or Jedi? No. I had some of the toys, I read the Starlog articles and I saw the films several times in theaters and glad I did. They were movies, they were not my life. The Internet has given a voice to many who should not be heard. Don’t believe me? Just read YouTube comments sections under any of the Star Wars trailers for starters. Then go on to your average news article and read THOSE comments. It’s stupidity porn.

Super Fans suck the fun out movies. They are Sith: One is the theater seat critic, the other the jock armchair quarterback.

Triumph The Insult Dog nailed everything that is wrong with super fans in this video:

Freaking out over a movie (Keaton as Batman, Han Shot First, Glenn’s Walking Dead Fate, Blonde or Black James Bond, The Jar Jar Binks Affair) is no different than sports fans who tear down stadiums, harm each other and trash property in the wake of victory or defeat. Seeing a four year old strapped in a car seat, crying hysterically online because a football team didn’t make it to the Superbowl  or a player was traded, is nothing short of child abuse. No four year old loves sports that much. They don’t know how to talk, let alone embrace fandom. They love it because it’s instilled in them by their parent. No child is born a “fan” any more than a child is born into a religious or political ideology.

Katie Nolan offers some common sense here:

Over The Top Fanaticism

Fantasy football is the armchair athlete’s Dungeons and Dragons.

So before Cynema examines what happened with Star Wars (The Special Editions are not discussed here) I put it to all of you out there who have wrecked it for the rest of us…you are as much to blame for the very things you troll, rail and pontificate against. Lucas deserves some shit, that’s for sure, but the “super fans” asked for it.

There once was a guy named Gene Roddenberry. He had a vision for a universe populated with exciting characters, high concept adventures and lots of space ships and battles. His vision was for a “wagon train to the stars” and he called it Star Trek. Gene created iconic characters and influenced a generation of TV viewers and filmgoers.

Later on, some kid named George Lucas had a space dream too. After shopping his story all over Hollywood, he got it to the screen. He waited for it to fail, but instead it became the highest grossing motion picture to date and held the record for years.

George and Gene loved their universes. Maybe a little too much. Roddenbery’s universe became a metaphor for The Cold War, while Lucas’s world echoed the Nazi Third Reich. When success expanded the scope of their space, both men found themselves moved to different positions. The irony is that Star Wars opened the door for Star Trek The Motion Picture. While the Star Trek TV series was cancelled after three seasons, fans demanded its return. Star Trek found new life on the convention circuit. Star Trek fans lined up for autographs, comic books and toys. Star Wars would follow suit. A new Star Trek series was put into development until Star Wars blew away records and the belief that science fiction films were dead.

However Roddenberry would eventually be seen as a dinosaur. His recycled plots and the failure for the 1979 motion picture to smash records and excite audiences allowed Paramount Pictures to squeeze Gene out. Harve Bennett would step in and  Roddenberry was “kicked upstairs” and took a more executive role.He still fought to have his story ideas put to screen. He subverted the scripts that became The Wrath of Khan, the film considered the best of the series (Ironically, manhandled by future Force Awakens director JJ Abrams with Into Darkness) and believed Wrath Khan to be a poor sequel to the 1979 Motion Picture.

Read Roddenbery’s story here: http://uproxx.com/gammasquad/2015/09/star-trek-gene-roddenberry-falling-out/

Similarly, George Lucas would later call The Empire Strikes Back, the sequel to his original 1977 Star Wars, the worst film in the series.  http://www.slashfilm.com/geroge-lucas-says-empire-strikes-back-was-the-worst-star-wars-movie/

The film is generally considered by many to be the best of all of the Star Wars films, and while Lucas’s criticism is inaccurate to say the least, it is also very telling. It explains a lot.

When George says “the worst” I don’t think he means the production value of the film. While Lucas’s contempt for actors has been widely circulated, the film also boasts the best performances of all the present films. So what exactly does Lucas mean by the worst?

“George, you can type this shit, but you sure as hell can’t say it.”

— Harrison Ford to Lucas on the script dialogue for A New Hope.

It’s the story. It wasn’t his. He had his own idea of what the stories would be, but duties to other films, possible personal issues with a pending divorce, took him away from the control he enjoyed with A New Hope. Notice that I am giving him the benefit of doubt here. The sad irony is, like Roddenberry, when the creator was removed from his creations, the better off they were.

Writing has never been something I have enjoyed, and so, ultimately, on the second film I hired Leigh Brackett. Unfortunately, it didn’t work out; she turned in the first draft, and then she passed away. I didn’t like the first script, but I gave Leigh credit because I liked her a lot. She was sick at the time she wrote the script, and she really tried her best. During the story conferences I had with Leigh, my thoughts weren’t fully formed and I felt that her script went in a completely different direction.  — George Lucas on The Empire Strikes Back

A New Hope

Go back and watch A New Hope. Not as a “fan” but as a regular movie watcher. The dialogue is indeed flat. The direction is basic, and the now classic sabre battle between Obi Wan and Vader looks more like two badly choreographed men waving light sticks than a good vs. evil confrontation. Yet, when we first saw it we were enchanted because the overall effect of the film was this: we never saw stuff like this before. The opening shot of the Star Destroyer cruising above us for so long…endlessly…we knew we were in for something cool.

Lucas had a sweet back door deal on the first film. The studio would get the biggest slices of the boxoffice pie however Lucas retained merchandising rights. It wasn’t boxoffice that built Lucasfilm…it was toys. Christmas 1977 saw such a demand for Star Wars toys, empty boxes were shipped with the promise of the order later being filled. Lucas was a billionaire. And he earned it.

Lucas retreated to Hawaii to plan Raiders of the Lost Ark with his pal Steven Spielberg. He waited for Star Wars to fail. When it hit, Raiders went into production and Lucas was unable to direct or actively produce the sequel to his box office monster. He hired on a director with Hollywood knowledge without being Hollywood. Leigh Brackett and Lawrence Kasdan took the writing chores. While Lucas popped onset here and there, overall The Empire Strikes Back went forward without his direct influence.

The Good One

Star Wars provided the foundation, but Empire…well,  Empire layered on the flesh, muscle tone and the real meat of the story. Vader elevated into something beyond evil and Han became a martyr. While many point out the usual lines: “I love you. I know, I am your father, There is no try,” for me, all the series stands for is played out when Han is lowered into the Carbonite.

As a boy I sat in The Sherman Theater for the first of eventually five theatrical showings of The Empire Strikes Back. The scene where Han Solo is dipped into Carbonite threw chills up my neck, wet my eyes with tears and it was done with virtually no dialogue. John Williams’s operatic score (The best of all the films and one of the best of his entire career) conveyed the agony of evil’s triumph. Chewie throws his head back in a mournful wail as his friend is lowered. Leia loses the man she’s just discovered she truly loves. Vader stands by as a black monolith of moral corruption. There is no greater scene in any of the films. There is no scene that comes close to so many emotions, excitement, despair and…hope. It is truly powerful.

Watch it here, from 1:28 on…

NONE of the other films (We will see what Abrams gives us) has what these few minutes have. It was the moment that I realized, at 14 years of age, that maybe Lucas wasn’t a god after all. Maybe he was just a guy who made movies. But there were other guys who made movies too. I pierced the veil.

Yet for Lucas, this was not the way he wanted things to go. He had more influence over Return of the Jedi, with some saying he picked director Richard Marquand because he would be a malleable director and bend more to Lucas’s visions. It’s with Jedi that we get our real, first “uh oh” moment. And it came in the form of Ewoks, because Lucas figured, aside from Chewie, he didn’t have any plushy, cute toys.

Return of the Jedi is akin to Richard Lester’s Superman II. Slapstick and bad humor peppered the film, giving it a far different tone than Empire’s dark foreboding. It was a 180 turn and Lucas was driving the speeder. It’s here where Boba Fett is totally rendered useless. Jabba plays comic book relief and while the ending confrontation between Luke and The Emperor was rousing, in hindsight, thirty years later, it was a clear pathway to the Dark Side of the prequels. We were being set up and we had 20 years to prepare for it.

If you doubt me and if Harrison Ford’s very apparent boredom isn’t enough to convince you that the story was in trouble, remember, Chewie swings from a vine with Ewoks on his back belting out the Tarzan yell. This is the equivalent of young Darth Vader yelling “yippee!” in Episode One.

Lucas onset of Jedi with director, Richard Marquand

Mine

Lucas was back, and while not in the director’s seat, he was back as a script writer. Behind the scenes stories tell of him allegedly bullying Marquand into following his directives. Others said Marquand was inexperienced despite a solid track record in previous thrillers and critically acclaimed films. Lucas went from young, eager film padawan to The Emperor himself. He controlled the system and was the ultimate power in the Star Wars universe.

So it’s here where I say that Lucas deserves some shit.

Like Roddenberry, did he feel that because he created these worlds, his authority was to be unchallenged? Lucas was looking out for his toy empire, and he wanted his films to be more “kid friendly” as The Empire was deemed too dark.

“George came and he never left; Richard couldn’t grasp it and George was concerned, so he never left.”– Robert Watts, Producer, Return of the Jedi

“George was on his shoulder the whole time.” — Kit West, Special Effects, Return of the Jedi

“George knew it wasn’t going to be good even before the first cut was screened…We didn’t get it right for George” — Sean Barton, Editor Return of the Jedi

“Richard had interpreted George incorrectly or his instincts were moving in a different direction.”– Steve Starkey, Producer, Return of the Jedi

Super Fans packed movie houses to get a glimpse at the new trailer for the first Star Wars movie in 20 years: The Phantom Menace. Countdowns started. Star Wars fever was back. Lucas was directing but there were disturbances in The Force. I remember going to see this new film with my brother. The lights went down, the 20th Century Fox anthem played, Lucasfilm showed up all shiny and then the famous words…A Long Time Ago… and that’s when my brother looked at me and said, “Hope this doesn’t suck.”

Lucas got to tell HIS story, and Jedi positioned us for it. Only that was a long time ago and we had forgotten or we didn’t see the signs: Ewoks, bad dialogue, slapstick comedy…

Lucas’s was more of UNTELLING a story and it was here that I realized the problem: Lucas had no one telling him “No.” No one had the balls to tell the Emperor about his clothes.

There’s Jar Jar, Midi-chlorians, plasma ball battles, little Greedos playing with “Ani”, C3PO built by Darth Vader; who thought this was a good idea? Obi Wan works with R2D2 but in A New Hope he said he never remembered owning a droid…for a non fan, I sure felt I knew my shit and Lucas was full of it.

There wasn’t anyone on Lucas’s staff who read his script and said, “George, this is bad. Seriously, bring someone in. What’s Kasdan doing? At least have Kasdan take a swipe at it.” Lucas allegedly financed Episode One with his own money, thus consolidating his power.

Well, it’s not a religious event. I hate to tell people that. It’s a movie, just a movie. The controversy over who shot first, Greedo or Han Solo, in Episode IV, what I did was try to clean up the confusion, but obviously it upset people because they wanted Solo [who seemed to be the one who shot first in the original] to be a cold-blooded killer, but he actually isn’t. It had been done in all close-ups and it was confusing about who did what to whom. I put a little wider shot in there that made it clear that Greedo is the one who shot first, but everyone wanted to think that Han shot first, because they wanted to think that he actually just gunned him down. — Lucas on fans

Part II of this topic will focus on “Just Say No.”

 

EPISODE II: JUST SAY NO

Listen to my Cynema podcast found on iTunes, YouTube, Stitcher, Spotify and iHeart Radio.

 

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