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We find the defendant…

by The Concordian November 1, 2011
We find the defendant…
“From being a struggling, starving filmmaker to being incredibly successful in a period of a couple of years is quite a powerful experience, and not necessarily a good one.” – George Lucas

Last week saw the DVD release of Swiss filmmaker’s Alexandre Philippe’s documentary, The People vs. George Lucas. The film is a feature-length exploration of the complicated relationship between artist and audience.
And for those of you laughing at my implication that George Lucas is an artist, hear me out.
The movie is an extended conversation between Star Wars fans about the franchise’s creator. Some hate him, some love him, but there’s definitely an awareness of the inherent silliness of spending 90 minutes kvetching about movies. But the fact remains that Philippe has tapped into a rich vein of genuine indignation (one which, I must confess, I share). Emotion makes for good cinema, whether you agree with them or not.
Now, the word “franchise” is the key problematic term behind all of this nerd-rage. Lucas was indeed a struggling filmmaker at one point. The Star Wars films are near and dear to many of us, and marked the lives of millions of people across the planet. But we were also fish in a barrel. Star Wars became a branding opportunity, and we were sheep willingly fleeced. This wasn’t always the case.
Gary Kurtz, producer of Star Wars and The Empire Strikes Back, was a philosophically-minded and creative individual. He had a key moderating influence on Lucas, who by his own admission is not a very good writer or director. Kurtz always fought for a spiritual and emotional core that would resonate with viewers on a deeper level in the movies; Lucas just wanted to remake Flash Gordon.
Budget overruns during the shooting of Empire made Lucas decide to freeze Kurtz out. And the Star Wars franchise hasn’t recovered since.
Look at everything Lucas has done since Kurtz was booted out: Lucas went on to become a toy and game merchant who occasionally took forays into filmmaking; the following film, Return of the Jedi, featured a group of easily-marketable little furballs who had nothing to do with the human characters whose struggles we (used to) care about.
Having made his billions, Lucas went silent on the film front for many years, thankfully.
Then word came out: not only was the trilogy being re-released, we were getting a new trilogy. I can’t share my elation in words. I barely remember them. We are sundered forever from that idyllic time by a series of computer-addled, lifeless films and a marketing blitz that would put Don Draper to shame.
I had my first hint of trouble when, during the re-release of the original flicks, a bunch of painfully obvious and borderline offensive computer-generated changes were thrown into the movies. Cleaning up degraded old film prints is one thing; adding elements that fundamentally alter characters dear to our hearts is something else.
Though Lucas once said, “I didn’t want someone using the name Star Wars on a piece of junk,” I clearly remember walking through Zellers in 1999 and seeing Star Wars plastered on everything from toys to underpants to (shudder) lollipops in the shape of Jar Jar Binks’ tongue. Piece of junk, indeed, Georgie boy. If that weren’t insulting enough, the movies created to support this marketing bonanza were bunk.
Star Wars had a profound impact on popular culture and, dare I say it, on people’s lives. Lucas has consistently ignored the pleas of the fans to see the movies as they were, continuing to muck about with the special effects in order to make a quick buck on yet another re-issue. But who’s really guilty here?
While it’s true Lucas has prostituted his movies, we the audience haven’t exactly been straightforward. The new movies may have been dreadful but they also made a ton of cash. And the tinkered originals recently released on Blu-Ray? Biggest selling Blu-Ray release of all time. So while us nerds may complain a lot, we’re not exactly voting with our feet.
It’s time to shut Lucas out. Remember, Star Wars is ours. It’s our memories. The camaraderie we share with other fans. And that’s something Lucas will never be able to alter with CG.

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