Wednesday, March 19, 2014

The People Vs. George Lucas

If you're a frequent visitor here at Musings Of A Sci-Fi Fanatic you may have noticed there is very little coverage of Star Wars to speak of. In no way do I mean to speak blasphemy going forward nor discount the cultural impact of said franchise on science fiction adventure. It's certainly a bit sacrilegious to speak negatively of Star Wars I know.

Funny enough, it was a recent viewing of The People Vs. George Lucas (2010) on Netflix that essentially sparked this post. I'm not a Netflix fan, but the access is convenient from time to time especially when I don't desire to purchase the product. The documentary is exceptional and recommended for fans of Star Wars and the explosive fan phenomenon that would follow.

I'm essentially a huge fan of the original Star Wars trilogy (1977, 1980, 1983), and like most, the first and second films especially. For a time, I joined the Star Wars craze. I bought the original figures and even some of the new figures during the prequel releases.  And some still hang lovingly in their collectible boxes collecting dust. But to be honest, as the years have passed, I've lost enthusiasm for the Star Wars universe, while my enthusiasm for Star Trek and others has increased exponentially. There just seems to be more meat on the bones of television fare than those brief mythological escapes.  And beyond that, perhaps that universe simply isn't as satisfying as it once seemed as a kid.

In the documentary, directed by Alexandre O. Philippe several fans discuss their love/hate affair for Lucas and it is a fascinating look into fandom. I can completely relate to it. I empathize on a certain level too. The prequels, while still good, are missing substantial heart and depth of character for my tastes. They really felt quite hollow and never really resonated the least bit convincingly particularly when compared to Star Wars: A New Hope. Hayden Christensen was partially to blame as a poor casting choice. The politically heavy scripts were also leaden along with their emphasis on special effects.  And maybe it's me. I'm just not a kid anymore and perhaps I need a little more convincing at this point. But, I like to think, as a kid, I had pretty good taste.  As I see it, everything from the 1970s and 1960s was just perfect. Right.

One of the crucial components discussed for this documentary was the tinkering and altering of the original films by George Lucas infamously known as the Special Editions.  In effect, they were /are a bridge to his new approach to filmmaking that was presented in all its visual effects splendor for those prequel films. Again, they lacked all of the grit, heart and substantive realism of the world created in those original pictures. Those worlds were fantastically convincing. Every nook and cranny of Tatooine felt remarkable from the skeletons to the Sandcrawler droid sale to farming and dinner with Beru and Owen to the cantina of scoundrels.

The People, as it were, have some very valid points regarding Lucas and his endless tinkering. It's maddening to them. This documentary had a funny effect on me because the more I watched the more infuriating it became and the more angry I became. And I'm a casual fan of the series. I don't nearly go to the lengths many of these fans and fan film makers do, but I completely and utterly agree with them concerning the original, untainted original films as national treasures to be protected.  Lucas doesn't seem to see it quite the same way and yet he once sat before Congress to argue for the protection of classic black and white films. He pleaded that colorization of these films was tantamount to a bastardization of the original prints and their respective visions. It doesn't jive. So how does Lucas get away with changing his own films in fairly significant ways? Let's face it, there are changes that go far beyond the pale of the original character intentions of those original films. Let's look at just three examples of those changes.

First, the insertion of Jabba The Hut into Star Wars IV: A New Hope. Han Solo now steps on Jabba's tale and Jabba The Hutt, unlike his very real appearance in Return Of The Jedi, looks about as terrifying as a puppy dog. The scene is effectively ruined or at least it takes us out of the moment. People who had problems with it have every right to be horrified.

Second, in Star Wars V: The Empire Strikes Back, Luke Skywalker falls following the "I am you father" scene. The scene becomes positively hair-raising and not in a good way. To see our battered, brave hero fall and now literally scream like a girl is positively disturbing. And you and I know disturbances in the force are not good. What the hell was Lucas thinking?

Finally, back to Star Wars IV: A New Hope, the crème de la crème of modifications. Han Solo was a scoundrel we always rooted for. He shot Greedo cold. He knew it wasn't going to end well with Greedo and ended him before Greedo shot him.  Now, Han Solo shoots second! Wait. What!? In the Cantina on Tattoine, Greedo shoots first misfiring from two feet away. Han Solo fires back, fortunate to have survived a bad shot from a clearly second-rate, incapable and less-than-worthy bounty hunter, killing Greedo. How lucky. How ridiculous. What happened to that illegal-smuggling, nasty, no-good, but lovable scoundrel of an opportunist? Folks, Han Solo shot first. He always did. He always will. To see that change occur in Star Wars alters an impression of a major character that is absolutely incongruous with his true, established nature. What an abomination. It's a major modification and it's easy to see why the People have a gripe.

And while we're on the subject, look no further than Steven Spielberg's classic E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial (1982), another film that underwent the knife. Rather than government agents in pursuit with guns, now we get government agents pursuing with ... flashlights. The guns are removed and flashlights implemented through editing. We handled the guns fine as children and we can handle the guns today. They were part of the manhunt and it made perfect sense. But at least Spielberg has also retained the original film in tact and made it available. Spielberg never buried it like it was an imperfect abomination.

Lucas is both a capitalist and a committed liberal. Sadly those politics continue to be foisted upon us by a Hollywood that acts like an endless slush fund. It continues to alter our perception of what we should see or how we should see things. In general, there is a constant movement to change history too. Don't think for a minute those efforts aren't well-funded either. Let's erase the twin towers because we don't want to remind people of what happened. Have our sensibilities become so fragile and delicate America can't handle Han Solo shooting first or E.T. pursued by men with weapons? The barometer on our perceptions of what is acceptable and what isn't goes beyond good sense, unless of course the use of an argument, despite hypocrisy, can line the wallets of studios and its stars who profess one political argument yet sell another. Quite frankly it's maddening.

The original films will forever hold a special place for me, but I don't often seek them out. When I do catch them I stop and I love seeing them, but for whatever reason I have moved on significantly from the wonder and imagination of those original Lucas films. Of course, I have them memorized.

I suppose it has to do with change and some sort of personal growth. It's not that I don't appreciate films filled with imagination. I loved Pacific Rim (2013) as you know and it's not a film that's going to change the world. But it does take a bit to impress me today.

Take the ever expanding promise of the Disney-owned universe and the potential for a J.J. Abrams Star Wars film and/or a Star Wars television series. I'm rather indifferent or apathetic about the whole thing.  I'm literally on the side lines with little to no interest. I'm okay with it. I'm happy for those that are really excited but I've just moved on. I mean, I see headlines constantly updating us on these stories on science fiction sites and the enthusiasm fans have for it and I'm generally completely disinterested. I probably shouldn't be, but I'm just not bothered.

Additionally, the comic book movie has taken a similar detour for me.  I have even less interest in superhero movies today. Once upon a time I couldn't wait for a new superhero film, but the loud, crashing thud of The Avengers (2012) has lessened my enthusiasm for them even further. I see the excitement for Spider-Man 2 I'm just not sold on anything that special about it. They keep priming us for The Avengers 2. Yet, it's passable entertainment at best. So even the superhero universe has lost a luster. Guardians Of The Galaxy (2014) is a sci-fi-styled exception. I'm interested in it for originality.

I know you're thinking, 'Oh you poor sod, you've lost the eyes of a child.'  And that's not it at all. I definitely felt that child-like summer enthusiasm for Pacific Rim and I know it will happen again. I'm open to it. But the journey of ideas in science fiction brought to life in pictures like Pacific Rim or Prometheus (2012) are few and far between for me at this point.  Those films thrilled and terrified and touched me in a cerebral or emotional way and at this point it take something to impress me.  Television, whether the classics like Star Trek: The Next Generation or a new series like Game Of Thrones, has an even greater impact on the experience for me based on sheer scope, breadth and depth of material.

But listen, tastes change and times change and thus we are dynamic in this way in our love for pop culture.  I have little doubt my tastes will remain static. Change is a constant with them. And, ultimately, to each his own. Perhaps I've fallen to the dark side.

Ironically, this fan-based documentary film was so much more fascinating to me than the possibility of more Star Wars itself. It made me realize that I had written or expounded or reflected very little on the Star Wars mythology here on this site. What was also notable to me was that my relationship with all things George Lucas has all but evaporated. It has long been replaced by so many others and yet many of those series were certainly influenced by Star Wars.

The People Vs. George Lucas is thorough in its examination of Lucas as indie filmmaker turned capitalist. It examines in fascinating details fan reaction to the dreadful creation of Jar Jar Binks, the deflating reaction to Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace (1999) and most importantly the conundrum that is the love/hate relationship to the almost schizophrenic, divisive or dichotomous creative approach that is George Lucas.

But, let's be clear, the love part of that love/hate relationship for Star Wars and George Lucas runs deep and far outweighs the latter.  I am forever grateful to Lucas and Star Wars for largely reinforcing this inspired love of science fiction that began with Star TrekLost In Space, Thunderbirds and Space:1999. Star Wars took it all to another level. In this, this writer, will forever respect the accomplishments of George Lucas even if Star Wars is quite the antithesis to most of my more thoughtful science fiction tastes today. And who knows, maybe one day I will return to the Star Wars universe here, but for now that interest is in a galaxy, far, far away.

Minor footnote: A neighbor's son was a little under the weather. I brought him one of those Star Wars figures I seem to have much less regard for today in the hopes of lifting his spirit. It did. He lit up. He just sat there looking at the figure. He and his Dad showed me their massive Star Wars collection and the boy even likes Jar Jar Binks. You can't help but forgive that affection from the eyes of a child.

You see, this is where my affection for that series lived. It was indeed in the heart of that little kid. I loved Star Wars to no end once upon a time. Here I was standing before a boy, thirty-seven years Star Wars was launched on an unsuspecting world.  It was clear, like Gene Roddenberry's Star Trek, that Star Wars was alive and well in the hearts of young people today and it wasn't going away. Regardless of all the money behind it and the game of show business aside, it's nice to forget about all that and remember why something like this continues to be special. Just seeing the joy in that boy's face. Star Wars is certainly alive and well.


J.D. Lafrance said...

Well said! You make some interesting points. I have seen this documentary as well and it left me feeling pretty much the way you did. I used to be a really hardcore STAR WARS fans, but the prequel films really drove a lot of good will I had for that universe out of me.

That being said, J.J. Abrams involvement in this new film, along with Lawrence Kasdan, gives me hope that this new film will be good and, I daresay, has gotten me cautiously excited for the future.

I'm surprised that you aren't all that excited for this latest wave of comic book superhero films. Personally, they have reignited my interest in reading comic books again and films like THOR actually made me convert to read some of that title whereas I had little interest in that character. Personally, I think we are currently living in a new golden age of comic book movies with Marvel Comic leading the charm. They rarely make a wrong move, IMO and I have enjoyed pretty much everything they've done from IRON MAN on up to THOR: THE DARK WORLD. They actually have me greatly anticipating the new CAPTAIN AMERICA movie.

The Sci-Fi Fanatic said...

Hi J.D.

I guess you could say you have A New Hope.? : )

I suspect the new film will be good.

You are absolutely right about living in the golden age of comic book films. It is here.

My son really nailed it for me. That new Captain America film does look good by the way, but the original film we enjoyed because it was also a bit of a period film too. We liked that aspect of it a lot.

I like my classic comic books, but the films are never completely true to the source materials and that's fine. They are generally passable entertainment for me.

My son also gets me pretty good.

I was eating a bowl of cereal the other night and with a mouthful of milk and cereal he says, "Did you hear they are coming out with Pacific Rim 2?"

I about spit up and said, "no way!"

He said, "nah just kidding." haha
He got me good.

Pacific Rim 2 would get me excited.

Guardians looks interesting too.

Roman J. Martel said...

I don't know how I missed this blog post. Shame on me!

In a way I'm with you. "Star Wars" was one of my huge loves. I grew up with the series and it was something I found myself returning to in the late 80s and the mid 90s. I loved the characters, the universe, and the music (of course).

The late 90s were a great time to be a Star Wars fan. There were new figures, new books, a wonderfully complex and exciting collectible card game. Hell there was even a new soundtrack for a book "Shadows of the Empire". In a way that was a kind of golden age of being a fan.

Even the special editions were an event - to see these films in the theater again. I got to see a pre-screening of "A New Hope" with a bunch of other fans and it was one of the best experiences I've had with an audience in a theatrical environment. Everyone was so excited, and had a great time, picking up on all the changes as only a huge group of super fans could. After it was over my wife and I talked about the cheesy looking Jabba (who got an improvement in the eventual DVD release) and the Greedo shooting first scene. But all in all, we enjoyed it.

Things were great right up to the release of the "Phantom Menace", and then it all kinda deflated. My joy over the series has spiraled down ever since. The prequels don't click for me, and I end up watching them as fodder for the hilarious commentary by Rifftrax.

I'll pick up the occasional video game of the franchise. "Battlefronts" was a blast. "Force Unleashed" was a bit of fun. But my wife and I still have a great time playing the Lego video games revolving around the movies.

Whenever we revisit the original trilogy, it is usually the untouched versions we grew up with. Not the special editions. So I'm still a fan, just not the hyped fan I used to be. Still, I just reread the old Timothy Zahn trilogy dealing with Grand Admiral Thrawn - and I have to say, those books hold up really well. Felt like a natural extension of the original trilogy, more than Lucas' own prequels do.


Ok this is a long enough comment. I'll end by saying I'm cautious about Abrams taking over. I think Star Wars is a better fit for him over Star trek (but I still really enjoyed his Star Trek films). I'm excited for a new John Williams score. There's a lot of potential there. But at the same time, I get the feeling it might end up hollow, but in a different way. I'm hoping for the best. But if it doesn't pan out, I can always enjoy the older material.

Ok, thats enough babble from me. Great blog post! I enjoyed reading it.

The Sci-Fi Fanatic said...

Awesome comment and I enjoyed reading it just as much!

I remember the excitement of seeing the Special Edition for A New Hope in theatres. And you're right it was a great theatre going experience.

In fact, going to see Phantom Menace was massive great fun - until we saw it!

When it was over everyone was smiling and, well, confused.

It hadn't set in that the movie was generally not very good.

It has settled in for me today and the glory days are behind me for Star Wars.

I too enjoyed the video games you mentioned. Trying to beat Boba Fett in Shadow Of The Empire was a heck of a lot of fun. Battlefront was great and I even liked Republic Commando. But, yeah, it's kind of lost its luster for me now.

But, my son is enjoying those Clone Wars on his ipad before bed apparently.