Accultured – at long last, George Lucas has decided to get out of the moviemaking business. He’s selling out Lucasfilm, including all of its properties and moneymaking storylines, to the Mouse. This is a good thing. Maybe even a great thing.
Disney is a bloodless corporate behemoth. But at least they will try to hire good people and many of those people care about their craft and love the Star Wars Universe (in spite of some of the things George Lucas did). George Lucas became a big corporate guy who hated everything but editing.
To understand why, we need to back up a bit to understand more about who George Lucas is and who he isn’t. And here’s the first step I’d like you to take before we go any further: banish from your head any assumption that George Lucas even likes Star Wars. Assume, for the sake of argument, that he doesn’t like it at all.
I didn’t really understand George Lucas, despite living on an uninterrupted diet of his films for most of my childhood years, until I read The Making of Empire Strikes Back, a recent book which tracks the process of the best film of the Star Wars saga and includes all sorts of stories from the set about the clashes between Lucas and director Irvin Kershner. Around the time the book came out, Lucas publicly declared that Empire was the worst Star Wars movie, to the shock of many fans.
When you understand how Lucas writes, you understand why the characters in the prequels sound the way they do, reciting dialogue that’s an insult to wood. Harrison Ford infamously complained “you can type this s***, George, but you sure can’t say it”, and Lucas even jokingly called himself “the King of Wooden Dialogue”. But by the time the prequels rolled around, Lucas had become uneditable, all-powerful, impossible to defy. At the time of Empire he was still a nouveou riche member of the rising new Hollywood directorial stars, but not yet the corporate behemoth he would become.
Even the smallest scene in Empire is thought through with more care than anything found in the prequels. In Lucas’s director’s commentary on Episode II: Attack of the Clones, he repeatedly talks in a mildly bored tone about being forced to do multiple expositional scenes to bring along viewers with the oppressively dull plot. Compare that to this, from Kershner:
“The admiral says to one of his officers, ‘We don’t need those bounty hunters. They’re the scum of the galaxy,’” Kershner notes. “Then the admiral, who is standing below them in the control pit, is startled because, hanging over the edge of the bridge area, are 10 toes, huge claws with lizard-like skin–and you wonder, ‘My god, what’s attached to that?’ He looks up and you see a lizard character glaring down at him. But his disgust is not that it’s some alien creature, but that it’s an immoral creature. [laughs] That was not in the script, of course, his reaction to the toes, but that’s what I mean by an interpretation with humor. The imperials are all very pure looking and very clean, they’re all humans. And yet he’s reacting to the bounty hunters’ immoral motive. They work for money. Even the Imperials think they’re doing good for the galaxy. There’s no such thing as people desiring to be evil, they’re evil for a purpose. They want to do good.”
“I’ve retired from directing,” Lucas says [in a memo regarding finding a director for Empire]. “If I directed Empire then I’d have to direct the next one and the next for the rest of my life. I’ve never really liked directing. I became a director because I didn’t like directors telling me how to edit, and I became a writer because I had to write something in order to be able to direct something. So I did everything out of necessity, but what I really like is editing.”
If Lucas had made the decision to bring in the best help he could get from talented directors and writers to work over the films and make them wonderful and realistic and human . . . the use of a revolving door of directors has worked quite well for the Harry Potter films, for example. If Lucas had only been willing to get the input of some other people, he could have worked with better dialogue, better performances, and people to point out huge mistakes before they hit the screen.
Disney has indicated they plan to use a method approximating this, with a new Star Wars film scheduled every two-to-three years. For my own part, I’d wager Disney is smart enough that they’ll likely make wiser choices than Lucas did. With the right directors and the right storylines in place, Disney can easily make back the $4 billion they spent on LucasFilm in short order. There will be missteps, sure–but I also suspect Joss Whedon, Brad Bird, or any of the other potential directors who fell in love with this universe as teenagers are unlikely to try anything as stupid as Lucas’s prequel choices, when there were suddenly “heroes on both sides,” wooden dialogue was interrupted with anti-Republican undertones, and the Force turned out to be nothing more than genetic superiority. These are not the choices of someone who cares about his story all that much–it’s the choices of someone who just wants to power through it all so the process can be over as soon as possible.