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He Gave us Star Wars! And... Star Wars?

  • Aug 17, 2009
Rating:
+3
Depending on who you talk to... George Lucas is either one of the most brilliant cinematic geniuses of our time or he's an idiot.  And that mostly depends on whether or not you're going to look at his entire body of work, or just those Star Wars movies.  So let's find a bit of balance.  Did Lucas screw up with those prequels to his Star Wars films... well, sure.  But let's not forget that Lucas deserve credit for being a major influence in more than just Star Wars.  Remember, this man did do THX-1138, American Graffiti and was the Producer and man behind Indiana Jones.  In short, George Lucas can actually be divided into two different parts.  His early years and his later years.  In his early years he was revolutionizing cinema.  In his later years, especially as his influence on Special Effects became so mind numbingly huge he just wasn't original with them anymore, something changed with Lucas.  In these later years his films seem to lack a sort of creativity that they once had.  But let's be honest, George Lucas was a visionary man... not so much the most fantastic director.

THX -1138 and American Graffiti show his strengths as a director really well.  Those are grand films which are often overlooked because of his involvement with Star Wars.  THX-1138 in particular is a film almost no one has ever even heard of.  Lucas was changing things in cinema before Star Wars. 

You can't talk George Lucas without talking Star Wars, though.  Because Star Wars is now just about all he owes his credit to (the only other thing is Indiana Jones).  With Star Wars he really changed the movie industry.  By giving us this story of a farm boy who embarks on the Hero's Journey.  It's no secret that Lucas was heavily influenced by Joseph Campbell.  Star Wars probably best shows Lucas's strengths as a visionary and shows some of his faults as a director.  In the sense that while Lucas envisioned something incredible with Star Wars, he seemed a little off put with directing it.  The best decision Lucas ever made with his original trilogy, was to sit back and be a producer.  He did that mostly because of stress.  And indeed that first film stressed him out a lot.  The actors didn't take it seriously and the studio didn't even think it would be that big of a success financially.  When it was, Lucas was given total control for the next two films.  As a result, he decided not to direct.

What of Lucas's weaknesses as a director?  That first Star Wars film shows it in some ways.  Regardless of how people feel about the original trilogy, one thing is for sure, Lucas has never been one to be so heavily considerate of his actors.  In fact, many times he seemed to care more about getting the film done rather than if the actors did a good job.  There's a reason Carrie Fisher and Mark Hamil don't have lucrative acting careers like Harrison Ford.  They're not nearly as good of actors, and Lucas wasn't interested in making them accomplished actors either.  Lucas has a huge history of being a little inconsiderate of his actors.  He neglected to tell Mark Hamill about Darth Vader being his father in The Empire Strikes Back, for instance.  He didn't tell David Prowse that James Earl Jones was going to record over his voice when playing Darth Vader.  The only actor Lucas seemed to take seriously was Harrison Ford, and that was because Ford had already established himself.

Yet he was quite influential with special effects.  Everyone knows about the lightsaber and those awesome battles, but what people don't seem to understand is that Lucas is pretty much the man who runs Industrial Light and Magic.  And it's a visual effects company that almost everyone seems to use a ton.  Because the visual effects are stunning.  They really are.  But as time has gone on, Lucas seems to have gone a little overboard with these visuals effects.  Whenever he can, he uses CGI.  This is where Lucas went wrong with those prequel Star Wars films.  They're incredible to look at, but sometimes CGI isn't all that people want to see.  There's a sense of realism that some of his films lose.  As a guy watching Indiana Jones and The Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, I found it odd that Spielberg and Lucas would use CGI rendered gophers that give comedic flair.  It just looks strange.  I happen to have liked the movie in and of itself, but Lucas doesn't seem to realize when too much CGI becomes too much CGI.

Speaking of Indiana Jones, this is also something that George Lucas pioneered.  Teaming up with his friend Steven Spielberg they created one of the best adventure heroes ever.  The Raiders of the Lost Ark is still the best of the lot, but it's because then Lucas seemed to know what made adventure and excitement work.  As he moved on, he really seems to be unable to emphasize that.  Pretty special effects are one thing, a good story is another.  

This is where we start to really see how Lucas seemed to trap himself.  He became a sort of corporate man after a while.  His entire legacy can be connected to Star Wars and Indiana Jones.  He hardly as anything else under his belt.  He was the executive producer of The Land Before Time, but no one really cares about the fact that he is.  Not when you're the man behind Star Wars and Indiana Jones.  As a result, he seems trapped by his creations.  He makes small television shows (Star Wars Clone Wars and Young Indiana Jones, for example) and has a huge line of action figures and merchandise behind them.  There are several brands of lightsabers made off of Star Wars, Indiana Jones whips and Fedoras.  And behind it all is Lucas's corporation.  It's amusing, but as a result we don't get to see much else of what Lucas is capable of. 

Lucas is also head of Lucas Arts.  These guys make video games.  And they're almost all based off Star Wars or Indiana Jones.  Some of them are very good.  Those Super Star Wars games were incredible.  Those Lego Star Wars games were good.  So was Shadows of the Empire and Knights of the Old Republic.  Yet again, we don't see what else Lucas is capable of.  And even worse is that Lucas can't seem to leave the characters he created behind.  Especially in Star Wars.  Did Lucas create a really huge universe?  Well, in some ways, yes.  But each time we see a Star Wars video game or novel hit the shelves, it has to revolve around Luke, Han and Leia in some way.  Even if they're not the focal characters.  There's an entire galaxy to explore but we don't actually explore it because Lucas is more stuck on the characters he created rather than the world he created.  The only exception is Knights of the Old Republic.  It focuses on the Jedi, but at least the plot isn't driven by what Luke, Han and Leia did or anything like that.  I won't dwell into what's better: Star Wars or Star Trek, but I will say that at least Star Trek is willing to explore outside of its established characters.  Star Wars doesn't really do that.  And part of it is because Lucas won't let it.  

With that we come to how Lucas is currently, in which Star Wars seems to have consumed him entirely.  More so than Indiana Jones.  Almost everything Lucas does revolves around Star Wars.  He's in Robot Chicken specials that focus on Star Wars, makes Star Wars television shows etc.  And this brings up whether or not George Lucas is as fantastic of a writer or not.  We don't actually know.  We hear that he wrote the original trilogy all together, but with throwing in the whole, "Oh, by the way Vader is your father," without actually having it in the script... that's curious.  And along those lines, the prequel trilogy in particular can give those with a good eye the sense that Lucas doesn't remember all of his original trilogy.  You can nitpick at it for a while.  By the time he started the prequel trilogy we recognized that Lucas was a visionary, but not much else.  He's not a bad director, just one that doesn't put all his effort into his work.  That first Star Wars film is fantastic but his prequels (which he directed and didn't produce) show that Lucas is running out of steam in his old age.  For one, he just didn't work well with most of his actors.  Even with good actors like Samuel L. Jackson on board and Natalie Portman, they're performances come off as stilted because Lucas has never been one to work well with his actors.  The fact that he puts them in some much CGI probably adds to it.  It's hard for actors to act when all they're being told is, "You are face to face with a giant monster.  Look scared!"  It's tough.  And most directors are actually able to bring that sort of fear out, even with nothing there.  Lucas can't.  The biggest problem with those prequel films is that a lot of the acting is wooden and stilted because Lucas doesn't try to bring out the emotion in his actors.  Lucas is still a pretty good story teller in and of itself, but once again it's just this idea that Lucas doesn't work well with what he has.  Did he just want to get them done or did he want to do them well?

It's pretty clear that Lucas has been trapped by Star Wars.  More so than Indiana Jones.  Star Wars has its own empire, and at the head of it is George Lucas.  The true tragedy of Lucas isn't that he created the Star Wars Prequels, or got so wrapped up in the usage of CGI.  The real tragedy is that he became trapped by his own creation and we can't see what else he can do.  And this is a man who obviously can rise above and beyond Star Wars and do other things.  It seems like he can't however.  Because no matter what he does, it will always be compared to Star Wars.  And how unfair that seems to Lucas. 

At least we do have other classics like American Graffiti and THX-1138.  And we do have Indiana Jones and a few other things produced by him.  It just seems very unfair that Lucas doesn't allow himself to go beyond Star Wars.

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August 18, 2009
Actually, the reason Fisher and Hamill didn't have a greater career in movies isn't because their acting abilities weren't on a par with Harrison Ford's. Hamill went on to become a celebrated stage actor and does a ton of voice over work. He also writes comics. He became frustrated with Hollywood because he kept getting offers for roles that were too similar to Luke Skywalker and he resented it, so he took another route and decided to try different avenues that would let him embrace acting but without having to sell out. Carrie Fisher, who I agree was not a very strong actor, mainly left acting due to personal problems (alcoholism, drugs, depression, and other typical Hollywood self-destructive issues). As for George, clearly he's a genius, but he's a genius who is rather selfish. You can see that beginning to manifest when Warner Bros. took control of "THX 1138" and edited it without his consent. After that he distrusted the studios and decided to do everything his way. He became stubborn, and mixed with his intelligence, arrogant and selfish. After having had a major success with "Star Wars" he backed out of directing and focused on technical filmmaking and producing. He became greedy. Now, he'd rather make films that would make him money and satisfy his own desires as a filmmaker than please his fans, who made him his money in the first place. As I said, he's a genius, but a selfish one. Other than that, you're summary here is pretty much dead-on. It's funny, but Lucas once said that he wanted to make small, avant-garde films that would be more independent of the studio systems and wouldn't rely on big budgets or special effects. He once said that special effects were nothing without a good story and that no one would want to see a film that was just special effects. He should go back and listen to those old interviews he did and maybe he'll realize he was right then and that he's drifted from his roots.
August 18, 2009
I think voice acting suits Mark Hamill really well, actually.  That to me seems to be his huge talent.  He does a fantastic job with that.  I think Carrie Fisher had a memoir written about all that stuff she went through, but I haven't had the chance to read it.  

I'm one of those guys who believes George Lucas is a creative genius, especially in the 70's and 80's.  The films he produced and directed were really fun.

The selfish bit is pretty big.  I hadn't heard much about THX-1138 and Warner Bros.  I should look that up.  One thing I didn't include in this review, because it slipped my mind, was actually always those changes he is constantly making to his original Star Wars trilogy.  To me that seems to be where a lot of his selfish ambitions really come into play.  According to the internet movie database, the original Star Wars film has at least eight different versions, all with little tweaks in there.  I admit some of it seems like fans who love it a little too much (such as "Who shot first, Han or Greedo..." stuff) but I was actually quite disappointed in the changes he made to the DVDs in 2004 (mostly Return of the Jedi--putting Hayden Christenson in there).  They're his movies and he can do what he wants with them, sure, but I wish that he wouldn't do it just for himself, and perhaps think about his audience a little too.  At some point he did release the original unaltered versions on DVD but only after fans hammered him about it for far too long. 

I still rather like George Lucas, but I appreciate him more from the days when he was younger rather than his present state.

August 18, 2009
Yes, thank you. It's nice to know that I wasn't the only one annoyed by Hayden Christensen's appearance in Episode VI either. Firstly, it makes no sense why he would appear at that age. Not from a spiritual perspective and not from a storytelling on either. if George had put any thought into, he would have realized that that was when Anakin had really turned, so if a spirit were to manifest to show that he had been redeemed, it should either have been Anaking as he would have been had he not turned into Darth Vader, as seen in the original version of the film, or Anakin as a child as seen in Episode I when he was innocent and altruistic. Sometimes I get the feeling that Lucas' quest for perfection is what's ruining his films, you know what I mean. Personally, I'd love to see the films as they were released on video, with only those changes, given a restoration and digital remastering and put on DVD. yet he seems reluctant to do this despite a huge outcry from "Star Wars" fans. You'd think that he would be grateful that people care so much about it to begin with, so why wouldn't he at least attempt to give the fans what they want. I mean, with the latest Indy film, he predicted that people would hate it. He actually said that critics wouldn't like it and fans didn't want it, so why did he make it then except that he knew it would make money? Don't get me wrong, I think Lucas has been responsible for some great films from 1971-1989 or so, and he's given us some of the greatest technical innovations in filmmaking, but he seems to have gone over to the Dark Side and become this egotistical eccentric who does what he wants and the rest of the world be damned if they don't like it. I hope that he sees the light and realizes how much he alienates those who have supported him, but I don't know if he will since he's so reclusive and reluctant to have direct interaction with his fans.
 
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Awesome book and history, Good read.
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Sean A. Rhodes ()
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I'm a more analytical person. I believe that the purpose of the review is not for me to give you my opinion but for me to give you an analysis and help you decide if you want to get it. If you reading … more
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George Walton Lucas, Jr. (born May 14, 1944) is an Academy Award-winning American film producer, screenwriter, director and chairman of Lucasfilm Ltd. He is best known for being the creator of the epic sci-fi franchise Star Wars and the archaeologist-adventurer character Indiana Jones. Today, Lucas is one of the American film industry's most financially successful independent directors/producers, with an estimated net worth of $3.9 billion.
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