In Defense of George Lucas [Warning: Rant]

In Defense of George Lucas [Warning: Rant]

I never thought in a million years I’d be writing this. The reason why is that even though I’m not a hardcore Star Wars fan and enjoyed the prequels for what they were (visual eye candy), I understand why there’s been so much animosity towards George Lucas by fanboys.

You see, there was more to the outrage than “Basement-Dwelling-Comic-Book-Guys-Whose-Childhoods-Got-Raped.” Although the outrage did start out that way, it was Lucas who fanned the flames and turned what started out as a minor fire into a raging inferno. No, scratch that–he didn’t just fan the flames. He poured gasoline all over the damned thing and threw in a few grenades for good measure.

The first mistake he made was using the prequels as an excuse to show off his technical proficiency as a special effects wizard. What resulted was an amazing visual spectacle that raised the bar in terms of CGI and paved the way for the likes of Avatar, Lord of the Rings, King Kong and so many other CGI-fests. Unfortunately, they didn’t give the fans of the trilogy the prequels they deserved. The rise and fall of Darth Vader, one of the most iconic movie villains of all time, was treated like an absolute joke.

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The characters were little more than one dimensional cartoon characters whose purpose was to fall and bounce around in special effects scenes. (Literally. There’s actually a scene in Attack of the Clones that straight out of a Looney Tunes-type short, where Princess Amidala has to negotiate her way through a conveyor belt at a factory.)

Lucas was so cavalier about the original trilogy that the prequels were nothing short of contemptuous of their legacy and the Star Wars fan base. There were a lot of sins he committed but I think the most egregious one of all was to reduce The Force–a mysterious, spiritual Tao-like entity–into a biological marker. Seriously, it really doesn’t get more contemptuous than that. So given all that, fans of the original trilogy were justifiably upset with him.

The beef between Lucas and Star Wars fans would’ve all been settled in a heart beat had the rabid original trilogy fanboys done the thing that John Lennon snarkily told former Beatles fans that one time–go back to watching the trilogy that they loved so much. The problem was that they couldn’t. Like a crazed toddler who’s just broken into a box of finger paints and now sees the entire living room as his canvas, Lucas went back and started “digitally enhancing” the classic Star Wars films. So not only were fanboys stuck with the prequels, they couldn’t even get their hands on an old untouched copy of the trilogy.

To make matters worse, the edits that Lucas made not only weakened the emotional and dramatic impact of several iconic scenes but came across as petty cheap shots at fanboys and an arrogant, petulant reminder that since he had come up with Star Wars, he had the right to do anything he wanted with it, legacy and everyone’s feelings be damned. Basically Lucas started trolling his fan base out of spite. He trolled them so much that he may as well have started pasting troll faces all over his movies.

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Lucas’ dogged determination to “fix” his classic movies in the face of public outcry reached such notorious levels that it spawned a huge debate in creative circles about whether creators had the right to alter their own works, even after those works had become embraced as classics. His edits were also slammed as nothing short of cultural vandalism, akin to drawing a mustache on the Mona Lisa.

After Lucas toyed with fans for many years and fans themselves were written off and ridiculed as nothing but fat, virginal pimply-faced Comic Book Guys with no lives, things finally came to such a head that the prequels were eventually torn apart piece by piece by Red Letter Media–and deservedly so. The reviews did such a thorough job of exposing just how bad the prequels were that I’m pretty sure that they were instrumental in Lucas selling off the franchise.

Now here’s the part of my entry where I not only stick up for Lucas but give the new generation of mouth breathing detractors the sound drubbing they deserve.

Make no mistake that there’s a lot to be criticized about George Lucas. However, there’s something obscene about the way a younger generation have chosen to vilify him. It’s not enough for them to call him out as a bad writer, a lazy director or a megalomaniac who surrounds himself with yes men. According to them now, he not only had nothing to do with Star Wars, he doesn’t have one creative bone in his body. All he ever was was some money grubbing jackass counting shekels while telling his underlings what to do.

Garbage. 100% garbage.

Let’s be perfectly who George Lucas is. Is he a bad writer? Yes. Even Harrison Ford told him to his face that he was as he was writing Star Wars. Has Lucas acted like a petulant man-child and cruelly alienated the very fans who made his trilogy the international phenomenon that it is? Yes. Did he fail to grasp the nuance of Star Wars as fleshed out by far more talented writers? Hell, yes. Did the franchise need to be put in other hands? Yes, yes, a thousand times yes.

Now let’s make perfectly clear what Lucas is not. He is not a bean counter, a guy who just sat there, scribbled some doodles on a napkin and tossed them off to his subordinates. No matter what legitimate flaws he has, George Lucas was and is one of the biggest movie pioneers of the last half of the 20th century. He revolutionized special effects and founded one of the most influential companies in film history, Industrial Light and Magic. Literally, special effects would not be where they are today were it not for Lucas and ILM.

Literally.

Let me repeat that one last time, in case you didn’t hear me–

Special effects would not be where they are today were it not for Lucas and ILM.

Literally.

I’m saying this from the experience of someone who’s old enough to remember the type of impact George Lucas, Star Wars and ILM had on film making as it was unfolding. I was just a kid when the original trilogy came out but I can remember vividly the level of jaw-dropping awe that everyone had when those movies came out. Yes, we had had amazing special effects before in film (King Kong, The Ten Commandments, The Fantastic Voyage, 2001: A Space Odyssey and The Poseidon Adventure). However, it was the Star Wars trilogy that brought special effects to a whole other level. When those films came out, special effects were never, ever the same again.

If you want to see what special effects looked like before Lucas, all you have to do is look at the work of Ray Harryhausen, whose techniques were still very much in use in the 1970s and even into the early 1980s:

Keep in mind that this isn’t to mock or denigrate Harryhausen. He was an undisputed master and pioneer of special effects. The problem is that though his techniques may have been quaint for their time, they were never quite convincing no matter how well made they were. Lucas was the first person to finally make fantasy-based and sci-fi creatures and scenes look and feel convincing. Had he not pioneered the special effects that we saw in Star Wars, there is no doubt that he would’ve relied on the old-school, herky jerky, unconvincing special techniques of Harryhausen, just as the filmmakers of Clash of the Titans (1981) did in 1981:

Besides being a special effects pioneer, George Lucas was also a visionary. There’s never been any time in movie history when one person was able to create a totally original, completely fictional and believable sci-fi world with this level of scope. Think of the large number of alien types, the different worlds, their environments, the history and the geopolitics. That all started with one person’s vision.

I know some people are going to chime in and say that Lucas had tons of help with all of this and that these helpers are more responsible for the greatness that was Star Wars than Lucas himself. Well, =of course he had help. But it was Lucas’s vision that gave all of these creative people the fertile ground to work with. No amount of trying to attribute all the success of Star Wars to the set designers, the special effects people, Frank Oz, Lawrence Kasdan and everyone else is going to change that.

And if you don’t believe me, be perfectly honest in answering this question: had you gotten all the behind-the-scenes people from Star Wars, thrown them into a room and told them, “Here–create this entire universe from scratch, complete with character names, backstories, geopolitics, planet names and environments and two dozen types of alien species and robot models,” would they have come up with Star Wars? Of course not. They needed someone–a visionary–to lay down the foundation of this universe to begin with. That person was Lucas.

It’s bad enough that people are now trashing Lucas’ legacy as a special effects pioneer and visionary. But even more obscene about this is who’s doing it. Don’t get me wrong–crybaby “Lucas-raped-my-childhood” Gen Xers are partially responsible for the tarnishing of Lucas’ reputation. But the worst thing they ever did was just attack him as a sellout, crap all over the prequels and make fun of his neck fat. It’s kids today–whose tired shtick now is to tear down any icon from the past, no matter how legendary or influential–who are launching a full out assault on his legacy.

Well, here’s my take on all of that. If a generation is going to have the balls to take down a pioneer and a visionary of a the magnitude of Lucas, they should at least have something to show for their arrogance. Don’t get me wrong–even if members of their own wound up producing work that was just as good if not better than Star Wars, they’d still be arrogant little brats for calling Lucas a no talent hack. But at least they’d have some ground to stand on.

But these kids who keep trashing Lucas’ legacy have had absolutely nothing to show for their arrogance. In fact, they just might be the least talented generation ever in the history of film and TV.  While previous generations produced the likes of Billy Wilder, Stanley Kubrick, Orson Welles, John Ford, Martin Scorsese, Quentin Tarantino, Kevin Smith and so many others, the best this generation has been able to produce is PewDiePie, Leafy is Here and Keemstar. Literally. That’s their talent pool.

Just to underscore just how completely untalented today’s generation is, they couldn’t have it better in terms of film making today. It used to be a really big struggle to be a filmmaker in the past. There were so many hurdles to overcome. If the studios didn’t want to work with you, you had to raise the money yourself and shoot on a shoestring budget. If you were lucky enough to break into Hollywood, you were at the mercy of the studio bosses and suits. You had to do whatever they wanted, even at the expense of your creativity.

Today, there is absolutely nothing standing in the way of today’s generation from creating The Next Best Thing. They can raise money via crowd sourcing and make a movie that looks and sounds 1000 times better than the budget of a B movie 30-40 years ago and at a fraction of the cost. In terms of distribution, the world is their oyster. They can distribute their work on digital media, on DVD, YouTube and online streaming.

And yet, in spite of having practically none of the obstacles that have faced directors for decades, they haven’t been able to produce one thing worth a damn. Not. One. Stinking. Thing. At all.

Like I said when I started this rant, it’s ironic that I’m posting it because I completely sympathized with the anger that so many people had towards Lucas. I also must have watched Red Letter Media’s savage take down of the prequels more times than I can count and even nodded with approval when I heard that Disney had taken over the Star Wars franchise. And yes, I actually loved Star Wars: A Force Awakens.

But this other stuff I’ve been seeing is now completely beyond the pale. As someone who loves and appreciates cinema and is old enough to have remembered what it was like to experience watershed moments in film making as they happened, I felt I had to speak up. People can bash Lucas for the prequels all they want, call him a sellout, a bad writer, a lazy director, make fun of Howard the Duck and gloat in the failure that was Red Tails.

But this whole new line of attack on Lucas’ legacy is completely off base, has no basis in reality whatsoever and is coming from a demographic that has no right to tear anyone down, no matter how legitimately flawed he is. When this new generation can produce something as groundbreaking as Star Wars or create a company of the importance of ILM, then and only then can it talk. Until then, it should stick to what it knows best, and that’s watching the latest drama, prank and roast videos on YouTube.

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