The Internet's 1000th open letter to George Lucas
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Can we talk, George? One of Shadowlocked's resident Star Wars super geeks can take your Darth Lucas schtick no longer...
Dear Mr. Lucas,
Before I begin the unhappy duty of detailing your many recent faults, George, let me try to lessen the ensuing sting a bit by saying that I not only admire you, but envy you as well. A few decades ago, you created one of the most iconic film franchises in history and have subsequently set a marketing standard that the last 30+ years of major releases have all tried, and failed, to match. You have turned a memorable version of the mythological "Hero's Journey" into a branch of the U.S. Mint. Your net worth is currently measured in the billions. If you never again put pencil to a script or sit in a director's chair, you will still be remembered for generations to come as one of the greatest media success stories ever. And those are all pretty incredible things. You are undoubtedly in the elite strata of Hollywood directors and no matter what I say here, that will not change.
So I would assume that things are probably just lovely with you and your inner circle these days, what with the mountains of cash and another generation of young fans to rope in with your new Clone Wars cartoon, your rumored upcoming Star Wars television show, and whatever further projects you've got up your sleeve. And I'm sure that what boils down to a complaint letter from a random fan amongst the unceasing hordes of Star Wars diehards will hardly cause you to lose any sleep. But I wonder... I wonder if you ever lose any sleep for a different, and particular, reason - how you will be remembered. I don't know how much Googling you do on your solid gold computer at Skywalker Ranch, but your fans - you know, those millions of people who bought into your vision for the Star Wars universe and allowed you the prestige and fantastic wealth that you enjoy today - are not too pleased with you right now. And they haven't been for some time.
You see, it's shit like this, Georgie boy. I've read about the PR missteps that you and your legal team have made for years and after a while, it becomes less a pattern of mistakes and gaffes and more a pattern of behavior. And I don't think that anybody is old enough or successful enough that they couldn't do with a little ol' reality check now and then. So as a long-time Star Wars geek, and an almost-as-long-time victim of your artistic quirks, I have finally been prompted to write to you and ask you - do you mean to be this way? On purpose?
"Do you really think that there's a huge demand from us SW geeks to shell out another $15 to watch The Phantom Menace again, when we already know that it...well...sucks?"
The seeming disconnect between your fan-friendly 'Uncle George' persona and the litigation-happy Lucasfilm army genuinely puzzles me. I understand that you don't want other people to make money off of your hard work. I understand that, I respect that, and I am hardly suggesting that you just allow anyone and everyone to steal a piece of your pie. But when some huge fans of yours merely want to show the six Star Wars films consecutively in a small Brooklyn bar, free of charge, as a token of appreciation to you, it doesn't do wonders for your reputation when your team of lawyers sends them a cease-and-desist letter and threatens them with legal action. That wasn't really necessary, was it, George? They made it absolutely clear that they wouldn't be charging admission, so as to not directly profit from your creation. Sure, they would see some ancillary benefits, but were you so worried about the extra three hundred bucks that dinky little bar might see in drink receipts that you had to send in the stormtroopers? Greedo indeed...
But that is only the most recent questionable PR move on your part. It is far from the first and will certainly not be the last. Last September, you participated in a bit of unfortunate bandwagon-jumping when you announced that you would be re-releasing all six Star Wars films in the theater, one a year, and in 3-D no less! It is difficult for me to determine what led you to this decision. Actually, I should rephrase that. I think I know exactly why you did it, but I would be wonderfully pleased if I were wrong. I would like to think that the upcoming re-re-releases are happening because of your love and respect for us - the fans. I would like to think that the impetus behind it all is that you want to be able to give us 30-somethings another chance to experience Star Wars on the big screen, as well as allowing the younger generation their first opportunity, and that the mythology of your creation still excites you. But let's be honest here, George. It's the money, isn't it? The ever-present bottom line. Do you really think that there's a huge demand from us SW geeks to shell out another $15 to watch The Phantom Menace again, when we already know that it...well...sucks?
Oh, but wait, it will be in 3-D! All six of them will be shown in all their newly three-dimensional glory! I suppose that didn't seem like a very bad idea back in September of 2010, but I hate to break it to you - moviegoers are becoming wise to the drawbacks of 3-D film and sales are plummeting. If current trends are any indication, 3-D will hang around for a few more overpriced years and then recede straight back into 'amusing oddity' territory, just as it has time and time again for the past several decades. But maybe that is your whole plan. By the time that the Star Wars films that your fans actually want to see finally start showing up in theaters (which will be sometime in 2015), you might be the only major filmmaker left who is still actively using the technology. A shrewd move to leave yourself open to that possible side effect, but hardly one that fans will be beating down the doors to the cinema to participate in. In fact, there's a chance that you might have inadvertently left yourself open to inhabiting a position that you're hardly accustomed to - being painfully behind the times. Only time will tell.
The real problem with the universe you now reside in, it would appear, is that you seem wholly unable to keep your finger on the pulse of the average Star Wars uber-fan and what he/she really wants. I remember standing in line on a pleasant spring day in 1997 at the Carmike Cinema in Grand Junction, Colorado to watch your 20th anniversary re-release of A New Hope. I sat there all day... playing cards with my friends, arguing over favorite scenes, taking turns running across the street to the nearby McDonald's for lunch, counting down the minutes until I could finally see my favorite movie of all time the way it was meant to be seen - on the big screen. I stood in line for 10 hours to see your retooled 'Special Edition' of Star Wars, a version that you said that you "would have made" back in 1976-77 if the technology had been available to make your pet project the way you imagined it. And that's when so many of your idolaters and worshipers began to realize that all was not quite right in the House of Lucas.
Something happened to you, George, and I know that I'm far from the first person to bring this to your attention. It would be easy to say that your shift in focus happened sometime between 1983's Return of the Jedi and 1999's The Phantom Menace, but I think it happened even earlier than that. All huge fans of yours know how terrible a toll that the making of Star Wars took on you. We know the stories about sandstorms in Tunisia destroying your Tatooine sets, the British crew making fun of you behind your back, the stress, the studio pressure, and on and on. You sacrificed your health and your reputation to make that film and I thank you, as I'm sure millions of other SW fanatics thank you. As Grand Moff Tarkin said, via a smidge of paraphrase, you took an awful risk. And it paid off in unprecedented dividends. After A New Hope, you handed the reins over to Irvin Kershner and helped oversee a phenomenal sequel in The Empire Strikes Back. By doing so, you took yet another risk - a risk that a different director might stumble and stall the franchise. Instead, I think it's safe to say that the majority of those familiar with the films consider Empire to be the series' apex. It was, pardon the pun, a tour de force, widely considered one of the greatest science fiction movies ever made.
You also gave up the director's chair for Return of the Jedi, allowing Richard Marquand to guide the trilogy to its conclusion. But something was different this time. The stories and rumors are legendary about your "involvement" with Jedi. And by involvement, I mean outright interference. In your zeal to wrap up the films according to your vision, poor Marquand was little more than a puppet on your strings. Don't get me wrong - it was your film, your baby, and your prerogative to see your story arc completed in your way. So why didn't you just direct it yourself? What it seems like is that you wanted somebody there to handle the grunt work while you ordered everybody around in your spare time.
"For one so versed in the aforementioned "Hero's Journey" mythology, you seem to have a poor grasp of people's relationships to their heroes."
But that complaint pales in comparison to the real problem with Return of the Jedi - the combination of your propensity to drift away from a properly-realized story and the ensuing comprehension (which began to dawn on you after A New Hope was released) that cutesy-poo and nonsensical characters could make you a veritable truckload of marketing dollars. The majority of people even barely acquainted with Star Wars know what Ewoks are, those cute little teddy bear warriors from the forest moon of Endor that help the Rebellion crush the Empire once and for all. But how do they know, George? The word 'Ewok' is never spoken in Return of the Jedi, or any other SW film for that matter. Not once. They know what Ewoks are because you wrote Jedi with an eye towards making it as toy-centric as possible. They know what Ewoks are because your marketing team accelerated to point 5 past light speed during RotJ and have never let up since. And, man, what is easier to market than some cute, cuddly, teddy bears? So long before us fans puzzled over your SW 'Special Edition' in 1997, where you felt the need to film new and unnecessary shots for the Rebel attack on the Death Star, Greedo shooting first, an atrociously-done scene with Jabba the Hutt, and a more heavily-populated Mos Eisley with sparkly gewgaws and CGI critters that contributed nothing to the story, there was Return of the Jedi. And your Ewok army, who destroyed a crack squad of forest-trained stormtroopers with sticks and rocks so that you could better sell some toys.
I'm sure you're aware of these complaints, George. It just makes me wonder if you care.
For one so versed in the aforementioned "Hero's Journey" mythology, you seem to have a poor grasp of people's relationships to their heroes. When you made Star Wars, Mr. Lucas, you were a hero. You showed the world something they hadn't seen before. Sure, you culled the basic plot points from any number of earlier, like-minded epics, but you made it different. You made it fresh. You made a film so unbelievable that I got lectured by my parents for replaying the Rebel attack on the Death Star so many times that they worried that the VHS tape would literally snap from overuse. For what little that it's worth, my Twitter handle is 'RewindStopPlay', because of that voracious need of mine to replay that scene in that movie over and over. Those old VHS tapes, sitting silently in one of the boxes in my closet, are the last vestiges of the original films that you made, the films that people of my generation grew up on. And if I wanted to go buy that version of the movies, I can't. Because of you.
That would be because the vast majority of the Star Wars movies DVD releases have been the 'Special Edition' versions. The versions of the films that made you richer than God have been harder to find than a needle in a Bantha hide. And in an announcement that you made last year, you made it perfectly clear that the upcoming and extremely-anticipated Blu-Ray releases that are expected to start rolling out around the end of 2011 will only contain the Special Editions. Even when faced with widespread nerd rage from those who loudly prefer the originals, you have merely brushed the complaints aside. Your reason for letting the originals collect dust in the LucasFilm vaults? That the quality of said films "is not very good". "You have to go through and do a whole restoration on it," you said during a New York Times interview. "It's a very expensive process to do it. So when we did the transfer to digital, we only transferred the upgraded version."
I'm sorry - what? You have more money than Montgomery Burns, your bank accounts are larger than GDPs of small African countries, and you won't give the fans what they want because it's too expensive? No, no. That's not it, is it, George? Is it maybe because the awful memories of making the Holy Trilogy, especially A New Hope, has caused you to try to change it into a different movie altogether? I won't pretend to think that armchair psychiatry can help me understand your strange behavior when it comes to your empire, but that seems a lot more likely than "it's too expensive".
Let me be perfectly blunt. I've not seen anyone skate by on such a thin reputation as a creator for as long as you have. You are now, and have been for years, a marketer first and an artist a distant second. During A New Hope, you were a struggling filmmaker with a vision. During Empire, you were exhausted and stepped away to recharge. By RotJ, you were back in the veritable catbird seat and with a new focus - how to turn the franchise into an 80-foot-tall golden goose. The Special Editions, the acres of toys, and the artistically-bankrupt prequels have just built upon the same marketing behemoth that you first created way back when. All this might be something we could overlook if you were a great director and/or a great scriptwriter. Sadly, your reputation in both fields is less than stellar. The actors who have been unlucky enough to 'serve' under you have roundly mocked your notoriously-awkward relationship with cast and crew, your ham-handed over-reliance on CGI is a thing to behold, and one need only watch five minutes of the prequels to be quickly reminded of your tin ear for dialogue. So what has become of you? What happened to that man who revered Coppola and Spielberg and longed to better them? What happened to the brilliance that first reared its head in THX-1138 and American Graffiti?
"It's hard to perceive your recent actions as anything short of you valuing financial gain over artistic integrity."
Sadly, it seems that man is gone, lulled into ambivalence and laziness by unheard-of gobs of cash. You're no longer a director per se. You haven't directed a feature film unrelated to Star Wars in over 30 years. Your casting decisions in the prequels were notoriously bad. Your simplistic writing, which was admittedly cheesy (but fun) in the original trilogy, devolved into childish and cliche-ridden tripe by the time you put pen to paper again 15 years later. Your general awfulness hasn't even confined itself to Star Wars, but has recently infected other beloved franchises as well. Fans in the know are indebted to you for helping create the Indiana Jones films, but it's common knowledge that a handful of the worst scenes from Kingdom of the Crystal Skull were your brainstorms - the most infamous being the 'Shia LeBeouf swinging on vines with the monkeys' scene, a jaw-dropping cataclysm of stupidity if there ever was one.
If it's true what they say about the person at the bottom of the ladder climbing the hardest to reach the top, you may be spending the least effort climbing out of anyone today in Hollywood. You've ridden the same cash cow for a third of a century and, I'm sorry to say this, George, but you apparently decided that the big jackpot was the goal. It's hard to perceive your recent actions as anything short of you valuing financial gain over artistic integrity. Hell, if I were in the same boat, I might easily feel the same way. If I won the lottery tomorrow, I'm sure that it would turn me into a different person in some respects. But I haven't struck it rich and I'm not exactly planning on it happening anytime soon. I'm just a fan who lives paycheck to paycheck and spends some of his free time living vicariously through film, as so many of us poor schlubs do. Films are a way to exercise imagination. They're a way to daydream; an escape. But I guess that you have nothing left to escape from, so it's no longer necessary for you to test your boundaries, to better yourself. What a shame.
Just as intensely as your fans love your work and want to love you, George, your struggle to keep absolute control of every frame of film and SW-branded trinket is as equally intense. Not a good combination. And so it shouldn't come as a surprise to you when your fans alternately try to revere you by playing your films in a neighborhood bar to bring in a packed house, or create brilliantly-hilarious mock-a-thons picking apart the prequels and all their infuriatingly-inferior minutiae. Because we don't know what to think about you. We don't know how to measure 'George the visionary filmmaker' against 'George the merciless marketing guru'. So we try to remember what we want to remember and try to ignore the rest. I mean, isn't there some part of you that yearns to create again, for crap's sake?!?
In childhood, all is magic; then you grow up and are faced with the stressful realities of life. I would like to think that you still have artistic output left in you, and that you remember even just a little bit of that old magic. Until then, we Star Wars fans from Generation X have no choice but to run on the fumes of the childhoods that you helped create. Our adulthoods, unfortunately, have been a different story entirely. So the question that we both have to ask ourselves is clear... Is the Force really still with you, George, or is it as dead as Uncle Owen & Aunt Beru?
A long-suffering Star Wars geek,
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