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Wednesday, May 25, 2005

More Star Wars Thoughts

I had a conversation last night which got me thinking about Star Wars and George Lucas. My review below, I think, is a pretty fair reaction to the latest movie. While of course it's impossible to be completely objective about a movie whose predecessors were a big part of many viewers' formative years, people need to take a step back from the currently vogue "he raped my childhood" attitude and reflect.

So one question to ponder is: what, if any, obligations does Lucas have to his fan base?

On the one hand, Lucas' fans have made him fabulously wealthy, packing theaters repeatedly, and purchasing a plethora of one-more-trip-to-the-well video releases and toy-store gewgaws. So he certainly owes them some gratitude for his material comfort. In this case, one would think he'd be a little more responsive to the more than ample criticism heaped upon his films - starting with Jedi, for being too kid-oriented and repetitive. But instead of responding to this criticism by making a more mature movie with better writing, he made Phantom Menace, which is both kid-oriented and insipid, not to mention boring and loaded with toilet humor. This film was also lambasted (justifiably so) for its moribund pacing and awful dialogue. What did he do? With Clones, it appears he got the memo about lack of action, but skipped the one about awful dialogue. Sith also suffers from this affliction.

On the other hand, Lucas has the right to make whatever movies he feels like. People don't have to pay to see them, and if they are awful (As Menace was all the time and Clones was some of the time), people can just not go, not buy the DVDs, etc.

So why do people feel so betrayed by the subpar prequel series? Shouldn't they just move on to greener pastures like Lord of the Rings?

Lucas is trapped by the terrific success of A New Hope and Empire. Those films, apparently by chance (given subsequent efforts), so captured the zeitgeist and the public imagination, that they inspired a torrent of devotion, money-spending, and fervor. After Empire, the viewing public essentially surrendered, saying "just please show us the next part of the story." The reason people feel so betrayed is that, now that they have surrendered to Lucas as a storyteller, he has begun to suck at telling it, and to take it for granted that he is a genius. It's kind of like signing Jason Giambi to a $150 million contract, only to have him start stinking it up 3 seasons in because he doesn't want to listen to his batting coaches any more.

George Lucas is a human being, and human beings have egos. Any of us, given the right amount of success and accolades, would start to "believe our own press" as it were. Lucas in 1974 had something to prove and no one who would believe in him. Lucas in 1994 was being begged by throngs of fans to please favor them with another slice of his genius.

If we can fault him for anything, it is for not being one of the aloof, detatched Buddhist Jedi from his movies who are immune to inflated egos and reckless hubris. But then, we can't really fault him for not living up to our expectations as an artist. Artists tend to create for ther own motives - it just so happened that Lucas' motive has changed over time, as any person who suddenly became a revered bazillionaire might.

So we just need to heave a sigh, chalk it up to human nature, and try to block out our memories of the prequels while we pop the "good ones" into our DVD players. Lucas can't edit our imaginations, or give our memories a Special Edition of suck. We can thank him for his initial burst of creativity, and cluck our tongues at his very human fall from grace. And he can laugh his way directly to the bank.


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