|Scene from Star Wars|
Welcome to a weekly column called Theory Thursdays, which will be released every Thursday and discuss my "controversial opinion" related to something relative to the week of release. Sometimes it will be birthdays while others is current events or a new film release. Whatever the case may be, this is a personal defense for why I disagree with the general opinion and hope to convince you of the same. While I don't expect you to be on my side, I do hope for a rational argument. After all, film is a subjective medium and this is merely just a theory that can be proven either way.
Subject: Star Wars: The Force Awakens opens in theaters.
Theory: Star Wars fans ruined George Lucas's career.
|Scene from Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back|
With the opening of director J.J. Abrams' Star Wars: The Force Awakens, there's a lot of emotion in the air. There's those die hard fans who will see anything that the juggernaut franchise will ever put out. However, there's a certain outcry that is possibly more annoying: those who choose to argue over how inferior the prequels are. For those who don't know, the creator of Star Wars, George Lucas, returned to making films in the series in 1999. Over the next few years, the three films that came from it sought to fill in the gaps to the story of the main villain: Darth Vader, who ended up being the protagonist, Luke Skywalker's, father. To many, it is the low point in all of the six (as of tomorrow, seven) films. I get it. A bad movie is never fun. However, I think that the next step has been egregiously responsible for why I cannot ever watch Star Wars and see A New Hope or The Empire Strikes Back as their achievements. It isn't because Lucas would re-edit them, course correcting all six films by adding new content to the decades-old movies. It is because of the fans.
I get why you'd like Star Wars, especially if you're into fantasy stories involving a guy with daddy issues. The films are silly and stylish in the ways that old serials and Errol Flynn movies were. There's something cutting edge about what the original did in 1977, especially with the original being a flagrantly independent movie in comparison to the later installments. It was a straightforward story that captured excitement and energy. The sequel, The Empire Strikes Back, arguably is among the best sequels in franchise film history. There's a lot of weight that these two films have that many would argue has been missing in everything else that has been done since. Many would argue that Revenge of the Jedi is the former low point prior to 1999's The Phantom Menace, especially since it seemed equally geared towards cathartic endings as well as merchandising; largely thanks to cute, Gremlins-esque creatures called Ewoks. Still, it can be forgiven, largely thanks to the emotional crux that concludes the film in the moments where Luke finally confronts Vader. It's harrowing for a children's movie, and I get why it attracted audiences.
Before I get into my defense of Lucas, I might as well get the elephant in the room out of the way first. I acknowledge that a reason that I don't like the film is tastes. I am very much a "sit around and talk" drama kind of guy. I'm more influenced by the roofer scene in Clerks than by a single frame of the films it references. It has been difficult to be an outside during the rise of nerd culture largely because I don't have that emotional attachment. I have not cared one bit about The Force Awakens. I also recognize that part of it is the ridiculous merchandising that can easily be blamed on Lucas. I even agree that choosing to edit old, beloved films is criminal - and even Steven Spielberg is suspect of this with the notorious E.T.: The Extra Terrestrial cut. However, the one thing that I feel it has unfortunately done is infantilize pop culture. The results aren't immediate, but considering that most "big movies" today are blockbusters or kids movies, you have to place the blame on Lucas a bit. He did formulate a model that did ruin the appeal of an adult drama being profitable. So, in a sense, I do kind of dislike him for this.
In an odd bout of things, I was in the demographic in 1999. I was 10-years-old. I did see the films and had no problem with them. I bought into the merchandising side (I even had a Watto cup lid from Taco Bell). It seemed exciting. Of course, with few exceptions (Men in Black comes to mind), I never cared about fantastical films. Still, I saw the films. They were fine at the time, even if I chose never to watch them again. However, I grew up and began to mingle with nerds, of whom had the cliche opinions. Star Wars is great. The Phantom Menace is awful. Frankly, I see all movies and subject and while there's plenty that I dislike, I don't go out of my way to constantly brag about them. Yet for my friends, and by an extension the internet and pop culture, it was one of the main argument points that I soon couldn't go a month of my life without hearing about. Even comedians I respect, notably Patton Oswalt and Brian Posehn, wrote entire bits about how George Lucas "raped" their childhoods.
Well, here's where I turn a corner. While I think that the hyperbolic use of "rape" has never been appropriate, I do think it reflects what is generally wrong with Star Wars culture to the point that I am embarrassed to watch the old movies, and even more annoyed to ever admit that John Williams' original score is good. Star Wars is a family movie, of which is meant to be enjoyed. I am annoyed by those who nitpick every last detail, dress up at conventions, and pretty much display it like the world is now their gay pride parade. I unabashedly love Men in Black, but I never felt the need to be so flagrant about it. To be mad about the film's flaws, beyond a dissection of craft, is to not accept one thing: you're taking the fun out of a film geared directly at children. It's silly to distract yourself with this problem, and frankly it looks foolish. For instance, would you go out of your way to complain about every last flaw in Minions? No. You'd look silly. Same could go for the sequels. They're just movies. If you enjoy them, that's fine. If you don't, you've experienced the other side of subjectivity. Move on with your life.
To a large extent, I sympathize with Lucas because of how he got pigeonholed as "The Star Wars director" who both created and destroyed the series. It's a fair enough point, but the animosity is Mean Girls level catty and obnoxious. I feel to some extent the success of the film ruined his momentum to be this creative force. Beforehand, he was having fun with films such as THX-1138 and American Graffiti. What's interesting is how the latter has withstood the test of time as a fun teenager movie. While he would produce other work with his influence, including the rather fun Indiana Jones movies, I do wish that maybe the pressure of that first film didn't deflate his career chances to be something else. He could've been like an alternative Spielberg by this point - considering that both frequently collaborate. However, Star Wars forever made him the guy who made a silly fantasy movie and wasn't allowed by the public to prove himself in any other way. To some extent, I feel he tinkered with the films later for his own satisfaction, to feel like he was still able to do something valuable to the film's fan base.
I am not excusing Lucas from messing up his own legacy. I just think that the film itself, by existing, ruined his legacy. The pressure meant that he had to feed a fan base instead of finding new creative outlets. Even when he did, he was still the guy behind Star Wars. Considering that Spielberg was able to me more than the Jaws guy, I do wonder what a film directed by Lucas would've looked like in the early 90's, when he had that clout. Would there ever be another drama in him like American Graffiti? I do think that there's likely something that is repressed in him and is essentially destroyed every time he is approached by fans who love the films, but hate what he did to them. There's even documentaries on the subject. He returned to directing with a covert job in Red Tails a few years back. Francis Ford Coppola even claims that Lucas is wanting to do smaller movies. Unlike people who are still "ugh-ing" over The Phantom Menace and beyond, I want to see if the man who had a promising career 40 years ago can have a latter day achievement.
But the fans won't allow that. In the year leading up to Star Wars, Lucas was met with the familiar complaints of fans. How would The Force Awakens compare to the prequels? Would they be as awful? Considering that there was even a comedy highlighting the inane fans called Fanboys, the culture has embraced those kid films as a punching bag for all things awful. I'm not defending them, but a lot of people have made bad movies before and have lived to have fruitful careers. Spielberg famously had 1941 and later Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. Still, he is revered for his work where Lucas is simply stuck to forever live in the shadow of what he created. Considering that he sold the rights to Disney, who now plan to release a film of year until the world blows up, there's been some turnaround on his image, though not enough to keep people from always wondering "Is the new one going to be as bad as the ones that Lucas directed?"
It's the general notion that I dread. It's a catch 22 of sorts that means that if it's good, fans will be talking about it nonstop. If it's bad, fans will complain about it nonstop. There's no getting around that people will pointlessly be talking about the films 20 years later. That's my issue. It's fine to talk about how much you like the good movies (though even that needs moderation), but please stop wasting your time complaining about the bad ones. Stop rewatching them and then making an argument of "They're not that bad, but they're not too good." It's reductive and keeps you from experiencing more interesting movies. Also, to complain that a film is too bad is to ignore that you're essentially complaining about a children's movie - of which is meant solely to entertain. The formulas work on the originals, but I don't need to know all of the small things you hate about it. Just enjoy the films. And let Lucas be able to be an artist: full of flaws and capable of making something he is passionate about beyond fantasy films. In closing, I think that Peter Jackson's The Hobbit films aren't as good as The Lord of the Rings, but I don't think of him any less for "ruining" the magic of the original trilogy. It's just a mistake. He'll make something else and that will be that. The same should go for Lucas.