Friday, February 9, 2018

For Better or Worse, George Lucas Didn't Have to Answer to Anyone

*Notes: I refer to George Lucas basically creating the first six Star Wars films entirely by himself. Of course, this isn't true as hundreds of people, including other directors and writers, created the films. My main point is that he had total creative control over the series and could change anything he wanted. 
Also, while I posit that it might be better if Lucas had not sold to Disney, overall, I am still optimistic about the future of Star Wars because, as a true fan, I think that more Star Wars is ultimately better than no Star Wars...for now.

“I think the fans are going to love it. It’s very much the kind of movie they’ve been looking for.” This was George Lucas’s response to The Force Awakens, and after seeing both that film and The Last Jedi, two things have occurred to me in regards to that quote. One, the new Star Wars films are essentially fan films, made by fans attempting to give the fans what they want. And two, I wish Lucas had never sold Star Wars to Disney.

That quote explains exactly why I have issues with the new movies. They were made in an effort to give the fans what they want. The problem is what fans want isn’t necessarily good for the film, not to mention that Star Wars fans are notoriously divided about what they like in the series. Most of all, fans are meant to wait for new material, not dictate it. This is why George Lucas should have held onto Star Wars. Like it or not, what he made was Star Wars. He told the stories he wanted to tell how he wanted to tell them, and he did not seem to care about fan feedback. Lucas didn’t create perfect films (he obviously agrees with this since he had a habit of going back and altering the original films), but he made the films he wanted to make.

It feels like Disney is just placating fans, and plenty of people seem fine with it. But I’m disappointed. My biggest problem (which is likely never to be fixed) is that these new films do not feel like Star Wars films. Sure, they look and sound like Star Wars movies, but something is missing. I cannot point to anything specific aside from the fact that Lucas is not involved. Without Lucas, these are fan films, and fan films, while at times impressive, are never as good as the real thing. That’s not likely to change, and I’ll have to accept that. But part of me wishes Lucas had never sold to Disney. Part of me wishes the series stopped for good after the prequels. I can’t believe I even partially feel that way, but The Last Jedi has really left me disappointed with this series. Star Wars was still sacred to me before the new films, and now it’s quickly turning into just another bloated franchise.

As I pointed out in my previous articles, I did not think that The Last Jedi took Star Wars in a new direction. I wish it had, but I saw far too many similarities to Empire and Return of the Jedi to consider it a very original entry in the series. I don’t blame writer/director Rian Johnson completely for this. It seems to me that he was also disappointed with The Force Awakens, which is why he dismissed so much of it while also speeding through the inevitable retreads of Empire and Return of the Jedi. For doing this, Disney is giving him his own trilogy, which I look forward to since he won’t be beholden to anyone but himself. This situation is exactly what’s wrong with Disney’s approach to the series.

Lucas had total control over the series. Of course, total control leads to a few issues. Lucas obviously didn’t do everything by himself, but he was the final decision-maker, and he did not have to answer to anyone. That led to Jar Jar Binks and some truly abysmal romantic dialogue, but it also led to some amazing lightsaber action and a totally fulfilling character arc for Obi-Wan Kenobi, among other things. It led to a singular vision for the series. Disney threw that out the window when they decided to hire different directors for each film, but there is hope.

Disney saw something in Rian Johnson, but it seems like they also realized that he messed with the direction of the core films. How else do you explain giving Johnson his own trilogy while also handing Episode IX back to J. J. Abrams? It’s possible that they regret not having Abrams write and direct the entire trilogy. At this point, I wish they had. Sure, it’s likely that Abrams would have continued on the rehash path he started, but at least it would have been consistent. Now that he’s back in charge, we might see the mysteries and plots abandoned by Johnson revisited. If that’s the case, then this is going to end up being a sloppy trilogy. (And that’s how I will refer to it: there’s the original trilogy, the prequel trilogy, and the sloppy trilogy.)

This is something you never had to worry about with Lucas’s films. If a mystery was set up in the original trilogy, it was explained. And everything you still had questions about was explained in the prequels. The Lucas films may have their inconsistencies, but at least he never set up a bunch of mysteries, and then handed off the next film to someone else.

Perhaps the biggest problem is that the story wranglers at Disney obviously did not come up with a master plan for all these writer/directors-for-hire. Lucas took six films to tell the complete story of Darth Vader. Where do you go from there? How do these new films fit into that aside from his children and his grandchild still being around? And if we are moving on from Star Wars being about Skywalkers primarily, then what is the overall story arc for the new trilogy? Does anyone even know?

My biggest concern is Disney. Lucas may have been all about toys and allowing people to create new Star Wars books, games, cartoons, etc. But it was all separate from the core movies. In other words, you could ignore all the side stuff if you wanted, or you could take a deep dive in the expanded universe for more Star Wars. How long before Disney makes it seem like a requirement to play the games, read the books, and watch the cartoons? This already happened on a minor scale with C-3P0’s stupid red arm in Force Awakens. He mentions the arm, but it’s dismissed and never explained...unless you read a comic book that explains it. It’s fine if there are books and whatnot that fill in the blanks between Jedi and Force Awakens, but to point out some stupid little detail in a movie in the hopes of selling a few comic books is distracting, stupid, and troubling. It starts with a red arm, but it might lead to an entire character’s fate being left to some other media you have to buy. Lucas would create extra characters just to make toys of them, sure, but it wasn’t as obvious and/or distracting as the red arm.

The Last Jedi didn’t introduce any red arm nonsense, but by abandoning so many mysteries, it did leave the door open for major story details to be hashed out in other places. Is there going to be a Snoke comic book origin? Will the Knights of Ren be explained in a video game? If so, then fuck Disney. Also, fuck me for being stupid enough to read that comic book and play that videogame. Lucas allowed you to dork out if you wanted to; Disney might be making it a requirement.

Finally, Lucas being a one man show meant something else: there were only so many movies he could make. Since he was unwilling to let other people completely take over new films, he only made one at a time. And he took his time. Each release was special and exciting. Now, we’re looking at a yearly Star Wars movie forever. How long before this turns into Marvel fatigue? Sure, Marvel is chugging along just fine, but personally, I haven’t felt that need to watch the last four or five Marvel movies in the theater because it’s all getting too familiar or convoluted. Can I watch Thor: Ragnarok if I haven’t watched Doctor Strange? It feels like homework. Is this going to happen to Star Wars? I sincerely hope not. But one thing’s for sure, if George Lucas was still in charge, this isn’t something I would have to worry about. There probably would never have been another Star Wars movie if that was the case, but right now that seems better. Too much of a good thing is can be bad. Too much of a mediocre thing is much worse.