“The auteur theory of film actually is very true if you know directors, because they are very much like their movies. And in the case of somebody who writes and directs, you know, it is my life. I mean, everything I write is my life, I’m not writing some sort of hypothetical thesis on something, I’m writing a story that I have to get extremely emotionally involved in because it’s going to take two or three years of my life to do it. So I can’t just sort of say, ‘Oh this will be fun,’ and knock it off in a week. This is like a marriage … you have to be in love with this thing for at least four or five years, and probably for the rest of your life” –George Lucas 1
In the run up to The Force Awakens, I couldn’t even begin to count how many times I’ve seen people saying, Oh thank God that George Lucas won’t be involved.
It’s been a popular notion for some time now that Star Wars needed to be saved from George Lucas. It took me a long time to work out how people could seriously think something so nonsensical.
There is no Star Wars without George Lucas. Where do these people think that Star Wars came from?
To get around the conundrum of loving Star Wars but hating George Lucas, fans have created entire alternate realities. The Secret History of Star Wars is a book-length attempt by fan/possible mental patient Michael Kaminski to give credit for everything good about the original three films to somebody, anybody, besides George Lucas. It was Ralph McQuarrie, Gary Kurtz, it was Lawrence Kasdan, Irvin Kersher, Marcia Lucas, it was maybe the craft service guy, but it was most definitely not the guy who wrote, directed, and originated the entire thing. Kaminski makes baroque conspiracy theories about how Lucas has lied about the development of all of the films, based on the fact that Kaminski has “uncovered” that the story did in fact evolve over the different script drafts and didn’t originate fully formed in the version that Lucas has chosen to finally present. The way that fans are able to twist reality to fit their preferred version of events is displayed in fact that he presents these revelations as “secret” when he has no special access of any kind and all of his research is based on information readily made available by Lucas and Lucasfilm themselves.
Almost all those other contributors I mentioned did in fact make important contributions to Star Wars, but to say that their contributions negate Lucas’, or that it mean
Everything about Star Wars- The love of fast cars, the Saturday matinee influences, the Kurosawa influences, the Joseph Campbell influences, the daddy issues, the editing style, all of it- this is George Lucas’ life on screen. Star Wars is what happens when you take his life experiences, things that he absorbed and that inspired him, and throw them in a pot together. The stew that happens is Star Wars.
This is how any work of art happens, really. Film is of course an especially collaborative medium, but in any work of art, even a novel, every person that enters the artist’s life directly or indirectly has an effect on the person that they are and the life experiences they are drawing upon to create their art. This does not mean that the novel doesn’t have an author. Those other people are influences, but the artist is the final arbiter, the lens through which those experiences are combined into a piece of art.
I was 16 when The Phantom Menace came out, at the right age to be a big Star Wars fan and also at a very impressionable age in my own development as an artist, so the critical reception that that movie- and later the next two prequels- received was a subject of continuing fascination for me. Now, seeing the inverse of that extreme emotional reaction applied to The Force Awakens has been fascinating to watch also.
For me, the entire reason that I had a big interest in the prequels was George Lucas. There actually isn’t any comparable situation in film history where one man got to originate a story and, on this scale and with this kind of budget and over 30 years, do it all his way without ceding control at any point. This is the only time ever that a project like this could really be said to have one author creating it. That was what interested me, to see what he would do.
Not all Star Wars fans feel that way, obviously. They’ve even created a feature-length documentary, The People vs. George Lucas, to present their case, without any apparent irony, that Lucas should be held accountable to them, and that he owes it to the fans to make the movies he is told to make. If you’d like to see a long parade of people who have never created anything in their lives talk about how they know more about making movies than the guy who made movies they are obsessed with does, then go ahead and check it out, but I’m not responsible for the headache it could create.s that these films are not Lucas’ creations, simply displays a basic ignorance of how art is created.
Alan Moore said, “If the audience knew what they needed, then they wouldn’t be the audience, they would be the artists.” I go to see a film or a piece of art because I want the artist to show me something new, something I wouldn’t have thought of on my own. Were the prequels the way that I would have made them? Of course not. And it would have been totally boring if they were. If I wanted to see fan fiction, I would have written some fan fiction.
I wanted to see what George Lucas would come up with. Somehow petty, irrational hatred toward the man has become the accepted tone of the conversation online over the last 16 years, and somehow people forgot that Lucas is a genius. THX-1138, American Graffiti, and Star Wars, in the span of a few short years. Not only are these all radically different films and all brilliant, they were also all bolts from the blue that showed entire new directions in which the medium of film could go. There wasn’t anything like any of them, and he did it three times in a row.
2- The White House
“The point is, like if you paint your house white and somebody comes over, ‘Well that should be a green house.’ Well, fine, but I wanted to paint it white. I don’t think there was anything wrong with painting it white. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with me for painting it white. Maybe it should be a green house, but I didn’t want it to be a green house. I wanted it to be a white house” –George Lucas 2
I don’t think I’ve ever seen a negative review of the Star wars prequels that talks about the movies that George Lucas actually made, as opposed to talking about the movies that the reviewer was wishing had been made.
People have a hard time wrapping their heads around how very fucking weird Star Wars was when it was first released, because now we watch it from childhood and internalize it. Not only Star Wars itself, but the thirty years of films since that have copied and emulated it. So, it seems like the most natural thing in the world- this is what adventure movies should be like.
Except that that’s contrary to the entire reason it was a success in the first place, that it did everything different. So, when the prequels came along and they were strange, experimental, not what people expect blockbusters to be, that of course couldn’t be more Star Wars of them. The irony is lost on fans of the first Star Wars that they are deriding the new Star Wars for being what Star Wars has been all along. Lucas didn’t change, they did.
They also have rose tinted nostalgia that comes from loving something uncritically as a child. If you think that the acting and dialog in the first trilogy was across the board realistic and somehow different than it was in the prequels, then you’re operating in a version of reality so altered by your perceptions that I probably can’t help you.
When you judge a piece of art, the criteria you’re supposed to use is how closely the artist achieved their goals. If you don’t like musicals, that’s fine. That doesn’t mean that all musicals are bad. They could be a very well done example of something that you don’t enjoy. There’s a fine line there many people struggle to understand, which is the difference between talking about the piece of art, and talking about yourself and your own tastes and emotions.
George Lucas isn’t interested in traditional story structure. This should be obvious if you’ve seen THX or American Graffiti. In fact, he’s actively interested in subverting traditional story structure, and in completely non-narrative films.
But in spite of that, you get things like the Red Letter Media reviews, which point out that Phantom Menace doesn’t have a clear protagonist and then sit back triumphantly, having just mathematically proven that they’re right and George Lucas doesn’t know how to make movies. This is the type of critique you get from armchair critics who have maybe read a “How to write your screenplay in 30 days!” book for hacks, and now think that if they spot something in a film that doesn’t follow that formula precisely, they have discovered a mistake. The Red Letter Media reviews continually mention things that George Lucas went to great lengths to do and wants you to notice- non-traditional narrative structure, visual synchronicities- and point them out as though they are very clever for noticing them and these things are in the movie simply because Lucas is too stupid and lazy to notice them also. These reviews are feature-length illustrations of the Dunning-Kruger effect- people who understand something so shallowly that they think they are experts. These are reviews written for an audience operating at a level where they can’t process a detailed analysis without periodic jokes about murdering hookers thrown in there to spice it up, and, obviously, many Star Wars fans love them.
The prequels are also of course criticized for their dialog. George Lucas doesn’t care about dialog. He has said this so many times in interviews over the years, I don’t even know where to start pointing to examples. He refers to dialog as a sound effect, and he’s said he prefers the French dubbed version of the films because it’s just a better sound, whether or not you know what the words mean. He’s pointed out with pride that children in foreign countries who don’t speak any English can watch Star Wars and understand it based on the visuals and the music.
When you go to Star Wars and complain that the dialog isn’t realistic, that’s like going to Schindler’s List and complaining that it wasn’t funny enough, you were in the mood for a comedy. It’s just not the movie you went to, and again, you’re talking about yourself and your own taste and comfort levels, not the movie you saw. You’re watching an apple and complaining that it’s not an orange. It’s not a problem with the movie, it’s a problem with how you’re discussing the movie.
What George Lucas cares about is “pure cinema” or what he calls “tone poems”. Again, he has said this over and over in every interview where he has got a chance. What he’s referring to is the ability of cinema to create meaning and emotions with editing and the juxtaposition of different images.
And if you’re able to watch Star Wars that way, which is to say the way that you’re supposed to watch it, then the six episodes George Lucas made really are an extraordinary achievement.