After taking a week to let the Disney purchase of Lucasfilm to digest and roll around how the two greediest corporations in film sort of became one, I can finally write about it, though understand I am angry, cynical and bitter about the whole thing.
Like many of you over forty-five, I sat in awe in a theater as Star Wars (1977) unfolded for the first time, watching the incredible title crawl, and then being mesmerized by the sight of the star destroyer passing at the top of the screen and going on forever. Instantly we were swept into a galaxy far, far away. By the end of the film, John Williams score was etched into my mind forever, and I was cheering along with the rest of the audience who adored the picture. The film was fun, pure movie magic and I saw it nine or ten times that summer, taking my brothers with me several times, but mostly seeing it myself, over and over. The acting was never all that impressive, but the magic of the movie was that it took us places we had never been before. Later that year I championed Steven Spielberg’s Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977) as the years best film (and still do) though Star Wars (1977) won an impressive seven Academy Awards and was already a part of film history and pop culture. The sequel, The Empire Strikes Back (1980) was even better. Darker in tone, the picture contained a secret that in the days before the internet stunned audiences in their seats. To this day I hear the gasps of the audience in my memory when Darth Vader tells Luke, “No, I am your father.” After handing over the directorial duties to his friend and mentor Irvin Kershner, George Lucas struggled with the fact critics liked the second better, so he took a deeper involvement with the third and final in the series, Return of the Jedi (1983) the weakest of the three, which wraps the story up nicely, but seriously, Ewoks?? Tell me without a smile Lucas did not create the Ewoks without merchandising in his mind? How interesting that he did not think to invite back his mentor to handle the third film, speaks volumes I daresay.
The films make up a part of my youth that is long gone, and sadly so are those films because with all his tinkering and tweaking, you cannot see them anymore. Oh, you can see something called Star Wars (1977) that is a great deal like that 1977 film, but nowhere can the old version be found in a decent copy. They no longer exist except in the landscape of my mind. I liked the visual effects of the films, did not need to see computer enhanced visuals, or that silly sequence at the end of Return of the Jedi (1983) where Luke sees his dead friends, including his father, but no longer the actor who portrayed him in the original Jedi film, but Hayden Christiansen, who plays Anakin in the prequels. Think about that logically, not that logic has any place in Star Wars, I know, but Luke never saw his younger father. It was cruel to the actor who played the role, and silly, an unneeded tie to the prequels.
And the prequels.
What to say other than they were consistently disappointing! You could count on them to not be what we had hoped, to not be anything like the first three films, to possess none of the magic or charm. Filing out of the press screening for Star Wars – The Phantom Menace (1999) I knew I had just seen a bad film, and sadly so did the members of the public allowed into the press screening. Still they made money, as did the second and the third. Now the third, Revenge of the Sith (2005) has its moments, and there is something grand in the sweeping power of Anakin becoming Darth Vader (maybe its the music?) until he stands as Darth for the first time and roars “Nooo”, which was easily the dumbest scene in movies for 2005.
So now Disney who routinely rip off their audiences with promises of classic animated films being 3-D, and they are not, who re-release to a new generation constantly, milking a film for all they have has bought out the equally greedy George Lucas. What good can possibly come of this? How rich does George Lucas have to be? He has achieved the freedom from the studios that he so craved, God, he achieved that after Star Wars (1980)!! And while he is better known as a pioneer than a director, he is still the man who directed American Graffiti (1973), his finest film, and the original Star Wars (1977). Yet he also gave us those terrible prequels, and an array of other films he executive produced such as Howard the Duck (1986) and Radioland Murders (1988).
What confounds me about Lucas is his greed. Releasing and re-releasing the Star Wars saga on video, then widescreen video, then enhanced versions, then back into theaters, then DVD, then enhanced DVD, back into theaters again as 3-D (uh-huh) then together and on and on and on, until finally all six films are available in one Blu Ray collection. What is not available is the original Star Wars (1977) I saw in 1977 in a packed theater, all of us forever bonded by experiencing history happening, and we did not even know it.
I expect greed from Disney, they built the foundations of their studio upon it. But I always hoped there was some of that early filmmaker left in Lucas, the one who wanted to make small films about people, or near experimental films that defied everything about Hollywood. That artist is dead, replaced by a soulless man with contempt for his own success, his own actors (hence cutting the older Anakin), and the business itself.
The internet has burned with stories about the next Star Wars films and what they could be. Who cares, seriously?? Lucas did nothing to help his case with the previous three did he? There was not a single character to care about, whereas the first three we cared about them all, even Vader, because we knew there was good in him. I used to think that of Lucas, that there was still a director, an artist in there somewhere. No more. The greedy sold to the greedier, and the result will be the bastardization of the Star Wars legacy.
With so many talented writers out there, why, why, why will Hollywood not give smaller films, character and story driven films a chance? After the John Carter fiasco this year does Disney really want to risk making a Star Wars film? Beyond it being bad they risk ruining the legacy of the previous films and I cannot believe Lucas did not know or think of that before he sold his beloved Lucasfilm. Or maybe he does not care and has not cared for a long, long time. Perhaps his attitude really is, slap a Star Wars logo on it and the suckers will buy it. Sadly he might be right. Never forget the empty box Star Wars characters that were sold in stores or the Star Wars Christmas special. Money, it’s all about money. With Disney will Han and Leia’s children land on a planet of talking mice that look exactly like a famous Disney mouse? Don’t count it out….