Wednesday, November 23, 2011

The People vs George Lucas Reaction

"The People vs George Lucas" is a tell-all documentary telling basically the entire story of the Star Wars fandom and their reaction to Star Wars' self-declared "owner"*, George Lucas.  The movie tells the long saga, from the glorious happy reactions to the Original Trilogy, to fan nitpicking over the Special Edition changes, to very bitter and very unhappy times that were the Prequels.  This movie covers it all, from Jar Jar to fan films to the "Star Wars Holiday Special".  Through a long line of talking heads that include film scholars, nerds, directors, producers, pretentious French dudes, Neil Gaiman, Japanese cosplayers, and just about everybody who cares enough about Star Wars to talk about it and tell their story.  Over 400 hours of footage were compiled together into a collage of hatred - and a lot of love - for George Lucas and the numerous issues around Star Wars.

I'm not going to review "The People vs George Lucas", its not really my thing.  I like to comment on stories, how they're developed, why they work, and how effectively the creators can create a new world for you to enjoy.  "The People vs George Lucas" is a non-fiction film, there is a narrative created by the chorus of voices, but its not a story**.  I recommend watching it if you're a Star Wars fan, or just somebody with a passing curiosity who wants to understand the arguments on both side.  So instead of actually reviewing this movie, I'm putting together a response, basically my own thoughts on where Star Wars stands today.  Watching the Phantom's recuts "The Phantom Edit" and "Attack of the Phantom" brought up a lot of emotions for me, and I still have a lot to say about Star Wars.

A lot of people during the course of "The People vs George Lucas" gave their testimonies on what Star Wars means to them.  Obviously I had nothing at all to do with the making of this movie, I sent nothing in, but I would have liked to.  If I had known that this movie was being made (I only found out thanks to a Half in the Bag episode), I definitely would have tried to send in something.  So maybe this is a rant, we'll see where this goes.  I might delete the whole thing once I'm done, but I think I actually have something to add to this discussion.

I am a member of the second generation of Star Wars, the 90s kids who first experienced Star Wars on a VHS and a television set.  And those tapes got a long run in my VCR, I have no idea how many times I've seen those movies  The only time I ever saw Star Wars in a theatre was thanks to the Special Edition rerelease.  Still, I'm old enough to know that "A New Hope" is a completely artificial retcon title, the 1977 Star Wars movie is really called "Star Wars".  I've seen the Prequels, I've seen "The Clone Wars" movie, I've seen the "Star Wars Holiday Special", and even "Turkish Star Wars".  I don't collect five hundred toys, I'm not an editor on Wookiepedia, I haven't read many of the books, I just love the movies.  But for whatever reason, Star Wars is such a fascinating subject to me, and here we are.

Star Wars has it all, I think.  To a guy like me, it perfectly runs the gambit from every category of cinema that I enjoy.  We got the Original Trilogy which are timeless classics, work of masters.  They're beloved pieces of my psyche, probably the foundation of my entire moral understanding of the universe.  But there's also the Prequels, which are fascinating failures.  Everything the Originals do right, they do wrong, and I've spent years of my life wondering why.  I love bad movies, they're all interesting unique studies in how not to make a story work.  Then you get even worse, with amazing bootleg crap like the "Star Wars Holiday Special".  The Christmas Special is a work of beauty, the worst goddamn thing you'll ever find.  I recommend watching it, because its awesome.  I'd watch "A Star Wars Christmas" back-to-back with "Turkish Star Wars" twice before watching "The Clone Wars" movie again.

The recurring issue I keep hearing over and over again is this concept "George Lucas raped my childhood".  I'm a lot younger than a lot of talking heads from the documentary, so I guess I have a better case for a raped childhood than them.  I had to have the Prequel movies in my childhood, and their existence is definitely a rape of some kind or another.  But even if I were forty years old, I wouldn't say that the Prequels have ruined the Originals, or poisoned my enjoyment of them.  Its easy enough to deal with Star Wars:  just watch the first three, and throw out your Prequel DVDs.  Pretend they don't exist, its easy.  I completely blocked-out all memory of "The Clone Wars" movie before I started this post, and I'm going to bury those memories again once I'm done.  Its the only way I can function in daily life without crying constantly.  The Prequels suck, the Originals are still great, its fine.

There are so many franchises where you have to do this.  I can watch "Batman Returns" and focus on the fantastic dark weirdness of that movie while ignoring the pure campy insanity that was "Batman Forever" and "Batman and Robin".  "Saw" is not made into a bad movie because of "Saw 3D".  In fact, the entire horror genre has been gang raped continuously and hatefully over the last decade, but the existence of all those awful awful awful awful awful awful awful awful awful remakes does not ruin the original films.  What I'm saying is this:  Jar Jar doesn't ruin the comic personalities of C-3PO and R2-D2, Anakin's acting doesn't kill Han Solo's natural roguish attitude, the over-use of CGI doesn't ruin the Death Star attack, and Yoda jumping around like a goddamn ninja doesn't destroy his original wisdom.

There is a better argument to be made about the Special Editions "raping" childhoods, but I'll get into that in a bit.

What the Prequels do actually make happen is the ruination of George Lucas's legacy and his reputation as a serious director.   For years he's maintained this sense that Star Wars is a grand Saga***, his grand contribution to Western Literature.  This explains his huge over-protectiveness of the franchise, and why he'd put in so much work to the Special Editions to make sure his vision was exactly as he wanted it.  But all this is straight out the window watching the Prequels.  They're obviously lazy works, their failures are simply too apparent.  You can argue all you want about how "good" the Prequels are, but only a severely deluded person would think these movies are equals to the Originals.  If this was supposed to be your ultimate literary masterpiece, why Jar Jar?  WHY JAR JAR?  Personally, I don't think George Lucas really cares half as much as he claims, and the evidence is right there in the Prequels.  For all the CG effects and attempts at being the biggest movies ever made, they fail so fundamentally in story, character, and plain old acting/directing departments, that George Lucas either has to be insane or bored to let it all go into theatres like that.

Of course, I've never met George Lucas, I probably never will meet the man, but as a kid, he was a Wizard to me.  I would see his interviews with film critics at the start of the VHS, see under his name the title of "creator of Star Wars" and listen to every word he said.  This was a kindly old Sage, a genius who created this universe for me and my friends to enjoy.  Now I see a man more than little bored to still have to be putting up with this silly space movie thirty years later.  I still have a bit of that adoration for Lucas, despite how negative my statements might come off every so often.  In "the People vs George Lucas" one fan mentions how they can't decide if they want to hug Lucas or punch him in the face, showing the huge division within the fandom over just about everything.  I'd like to answer that question:  I'd give George Lucas a hug.  He needs it.  Watch the Prequels again and you'll see - the man needs a hug.

My real issue with George Lucas is his insane militancy over refusing to give in one foot in any direction on any issue.  When Jar Jar Binks helped sink "Episode I", he never apologized like he shouldn't have, but he kept that character in both of the other Prequels.  Plenty of characters in "Episode I" do not return for sequels:  the pilot guy, the first Black bodyguard, the bearded old man, Newt Gunray's husband, BRIAN BLESSED, Sebulba, and they all survived.  Yet Jar Jar returns, if only out of stupid childish stubbornness to show the fans who is boss.  "I want Jar Jar, and I don't care how much he sucks!  And now Jar Jar is going to found the Empire, suck it."  Childish does not begin to describe it.

Why does it have to be "The People VERSUS George Lucas"?  This viewpoint seems to originate with George Lucas himself, who has made seemingly no concessions on any level for his fans.  With the Han "who shot first" business, every rerelease of the Star Wars movies have seen small changes, yet Han will never actually shoot first.  Its an issue so small and so tiny that fighting over it is downright stupid (the scene is too fast for me to actually make much sense out of), yet George Lucas wants to fight about it.  Why not just have Han shoot first?  Because that's giving up creative control, even if you're so clearly wrong.  Gredo shooting first makes no sense on any level, so fixing it actually makes your movie better... but George Lucas can't admit that.  He can't collaborate with the fans, he has to fight against them.

And what are the newest changes to the BluRay release but yet another salvo against the fans?  At this point, it is a deliberate attack, offensive to a ridiculous degree.  These changes could have been made in 1997, why are they being made now?  Having Darth Vader scream "NOOO!!!" in "Return of the Jedi" doesn't make a better movie, it just reminds people of how much the ending to "Revenge of the Sith" sucked.  Here's the thought behind this:  "yeah, you think 'NOOOO!!' is funny and awful?  Well I thought it was the best way to end the Saga, and I'm George Lucas so you all can suck my penis.  Here, I'm going to make it happen again.  You'll all know who the master is then."  Well, I sure learned a lesson - don't buy the BluRays.  Keep my old VHS copies and the DVDs.  And that George Lucas seriously needs a hug, like desperately.

You know, I'm not even a guy who hates the Special Editions all that much.  There are some fans who are bitter and furious over every change, you can see this in the Documentary.  There are some fans who bitch because they feel like they have to buy every Star Wars toy, chew on that.  I was six when these Special Editions came around, and I liked the changes, what the heck did I know?  Of course, every change made was immediately apparent to me, yet most of them seemed superior.  But one of these days, I do want to see the Original Trilogy completely unaltered again.  I think we deserve the option to see either version.  The original versions meant so much to so many millions, even if they are patently inferior (which is untrue), so people should be allowed to experience them again as they were.  Taking that away from people is a true molestation of a cihldhood.  But George Lucas refuses on that score, instead the best you can find are inferior scans on the Internet and pile of letterboxed DVDs.  Why not release the original versions in completely remastered forms?  Because that's surrendering to fan demand, the same fans who complained when the Special Editions came out.  Again, another front in a stupid war that shouldn't be happening at all.

Then there's the repeated claims that Star Wars is "for children".  This is insulting on dozens of levels, I've never heard something so stupid in my life.  For one, if you think that because these movies are for kids that that means they don't warrant the same level of scrutiny and criticism that all other movies get, then that means you just hate kids.  Period.  If you think "Episode I" is good enough for kids, you don't like kids.  You're as bad as the people behind "the Smurfs".   Secondly, there's no reason you can't make a movie that people of all ages cannot enjoy.  Star Wars can be approached and enjoyed from any place in life, at least that's how it should be.  But the Prequels are generally only loved by kids - small kids who don't know any better.  George Lucas could have made amazing movies like Pixar and Studio Ghibli make every year - works of genius that everybody can love.  But he didn't.  He barely even tried.  The Prequels are a string of action with a bare skeleton of a plot around them, and they are awful for it.

And its only getting worse:  "The Clone Wars" movie, remember?

Honestly, I can only pray that George Lucas retires happily and finds some kind of peace outside of Star Wars before he makes that Sequel Trilogy.  You know its coming.  What are these 3D rereleases over the course of the next decade leading up to if not another three movies?  And if George Lucas makes these movies the same way he made the Prequels, we better run and hide.  He has said on a number of occasions that the six movies now are his "final version" but that's almost certainly a load of bullshit.  Hopefully when the Sequel Trilogy rolls around, George Lucas will be wise enough to outsource the directing, writing, and production, give it to people who still care.

Maybe its time for the fans to take over this Saga.  George Lucas obviously has lasted too long as lord of Star Wars, and the last few decades of his reign have been disastrous.  By now, most major works of fiction in the 20th century have seen their old creators graciously move out of the way to let in new voices and new talent.  Star Wars is the glaring exception.  Just look at how amazing "Attack of the Phantom" turned out when just a single fan was able to come in and give a small contribution to the editing.  I can't say George Lucas even understands what Star Wars is supposed to mean anymore, and there are thousands, millions of people who do.  They are the future of the franchise, George Lucas is the past.

Here, George Lucas, I'm sending you a cyber-hug now.  With a cyber-kiss on the cheek.  Chill out, let it go.  You made this thing, and we love you for it.  But that doesn't mean you own it, you physically cannot own it.  Star Wars will out-live us all.  In a few decades, George Lucas will pass away, and then Star Wars will move on.  But do we need to wait to pry it out of his cold dead hands?  That's awful.  I'd rather it not end that way.

And I'm still waiting for a call about remaking the Prequels.  Come on!

* There are a lot of issues involved in George Lucas just declaring that he "owns" Star Wars.  This of course comes from the immediate assumption that he is solely responsible for the creation of all six movies, as if no other person has any sort of intellectual place in their creation.  This is madness, and few men involved in any film production have been as possessive of movies they made than George Lucas.  Do you hear James Cameron ranting about how he owns "Terminator", or "Avatar"?  No.  Legally of course, George Lucas does own all the copyright and intellectual rights, which is unfortunate because of well... yeah.  This is why a lot of fans are hoping George Lucas will either retire or pass away, so that finally these movies can be free of the restrictive nature of an over controlling man who shouts endlessly that Star Wars is his.  Not anybody else's, George Lucas's.  His is the only opinion that matters - this is ludicrous and childish.

He created "Star Wars".  But that doesn't mean George Lucas is the singular artistic vision behind these movies.  He only personally directed four of the movies, but of course the voices of Irvin Kershner (director of "Empire Strikes Back") and Richard Marquand (director of "Return of the Jedi", don't seem to matter, do they?  Because those men are dead now.  The screenplay credits are not solely to George Lucas, the producers have shifted all around.  George Lucas did none of the art design, he composed no songs, he acted none of the parts, he edited exactly zero of the movies, etc. etc. etc.  Thousands of people collaborated on these films, all of them giving their creative input.  For George Lucas to declare that Star Wars is his - and only his - is the greatest of disrespect for the many talented people who made these movies great.

** I don't like the review comedies either, for a similar reason.  The plot and characters are devices that make jokes, not to make a dramatic impact.

*** Hey, check it out!  George Lucas knows that actual definition of that word, a thing Stephanie Meyer is too stupid to grasp.  By the way, "Twilight 4" review is coming later this week.


  1. Unlike many other fans, I've been very supportive of George Lucas. His original trilogy was a masterpiece. The special editions, I had no problems with. All in all, I mostly felt that the people complaining were just nitpicking, especially in regards to who shot first. I could care less who shot first. All I cared about was that Han shot someon and then nonchalantly walked out of there like a badass. The prequel trilogy, I'm more forgiving then most. Are there problems with it, yes. Does it have a grand story like the originals, no, but it's not a total killer of enjoyment to me as to others. Do they compare to the originals, NO WAY IN HELL! But where I draw the line is these Blu-ray releases. When I first heard about the Noooooo! being added to Return of the Jedi, at first I thought it was a joke. Then I saw videos of it on youtube and just thought that it was people making fun of George Lucas and his changes and had just edited it in themselves. But when I saw official videos declaring it to be true, I died inside. Regradless of how well it works/doesn't work in Revenge of the Sith, it just completely ruins the scene in Return of the Jedi, perhaps the most powerful scene in the entire Star Wars saga. I still love George Lucas, and I've forgiven him where many others haven't, but man has he lost a lot of respect from me.

  2. I often wonder if people would still complain if the changes were the other way around. Like, for example, Han shot second in the original release, and then in the revised versions they changed it to him shooting first.

    Imagine: In another universe, Vader's second NOOOO in Jedi was in the theatrical release, but then in the bluray they drop it, and then everybody's up in arms saying that it ruins the emotional climax of the entire series. RUINED FOREVER!!!
    That'd be pretty funny, I think

  3. @Tequila: That imagining a far more campy and ridiculous original trilogy. I sometimes wonder similar things myself, like what if the Ewoks were added as part of the Special Edition. How up in arms would people be about them then?

    But what I really like to imagine is what if George Lucas actually made changes to the Prequels. Imagine reshooting the "NOOO!" scene into something that isn't stupid and fits the character? Imagine recasting Jar Jar's actor and replacing almost all of his lines and removing his most embarrassing scenes? Imagine Episode III actually giving Darth Vader a reason to slaughter children?

  4. We have dvd versions of the original trilogy that have the original versions on disc (or is it disk? Disc, disk - FUCK IT!) 2, the special features. GET THEM!