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Editorial: George Lucas, Inc.

Posted by msunyata on Wednesday, October 31, 2012

When George Lucas handed an early draft of Episode II: Attack of the Clones to his marketing team to vet – itself an interesting note – the response he got back on one specific point is rather telling.  His merchandising masterminds took issue with the character of Dooku, a former Jedi Master who had turned count, being portrayed as the latest member of the so-called Lost 20, the only 20 Jedi to have ever left the Order (typically to pursue such flights of fancy as marriage or childrearing).  They protested that the Expanded Universe of novels, comics, videogames, and even toys had developed a voracious appetite for quitting or rebelling or rampaging Jedi -- they had even coined the blanket term “Dark Jedi” to describe them all – and that Lucas had singlehandedly struck down that entire strain of “continuity” in one fell swoop.

George’s response?  A rather mild variant of “So?”

A compromise was ultimately reached, wherein the Lost 20 would describe only the most recent branch of Jedi history (never mind the fact that Lucas had also changed, in the same screenplay, the Republic’s age to just 1,000 years and established that it had never, in fact, held a military, which was another mainstay of the EU “canon”) and George could tell his story in his universe the way he wanted.  Everyone was happy – presumably even more so once that particular line of exposition was removed entirely from the final cut of the film.

I was reminded quite forcibly of this anecdote when I had heard the absolutely out-of-right-field news that he had sold all three of his companies – Lucasfilm, Industrial Light and Magic, and Skywalker Sound – to Disney for an insane amount of money.  Just like that, once again in one fell swoop, Lucas had remade the entirety of his Star Wars mythos:  after initially claiming that he had four trilogies to tell, then three, then, no really, just two, and he had never said otherwise, let alone written any treatments for a theoretical Episodes VII, VIII, and IX, the sequel trilogy is announced, and George has even provided his magically reconstituted notes on the next three movies to the new executive producer, Kathleen Kennedy (yuck!), to utilize.

Let’s forget the blatant contradictions in his statements; Lucas’s being the walking manifestation of Soviet Revisionism has long been known.  Let’s instead turn to the mentality behind his recent retirement from his “mini-Disney” empire, because it is here that Lucas the artist – and, just possibly, Lucas the businessman – is revealed in stark psychological relief.

When Marvel approached George to do a comic book continuation of his just-getting-started movie series in 1977, he gave his blessing, took his check, and hardly looked twice at their burgeoning mythology.  He didn’t have to; he had his own, cinematic story to tell, and whether it bumped into other voices in the sandbox was completely irrelevant.  He again gave his blessing when his marketing department, almost exactly ten years later, hit up major publishers to “officially” continue the story of the movies in book form, never mind the fact that novels are about as different a medium and tone than one could get from film.  When the publishing venture took off more wildly than anyone could have expected, and when Dark Horse Comics decided to hitch their horse (please excuse the pun) to the new moneymaking carriage, Lucas would poke and prod occasionally, giving blanket commandments such as “Don’t do stories about the Sith,” but still remain strangely aloof from the whole thing.  From the outside, you’d never be able to tell that this was the man who had bleed, sweat, and shat this entire universe in a process that was so personally devastating, it winded him up in the hospital with chest pains back in ’76.

When it came time for Cartoon Network to suggest a mini-cartoon series or LucasArts, the game development studio, to pitch an “official” bridge between the two trilogies in the form of The Force Unleashed, Lucas again gave his blessing, made some tweaks to the proposals laid out before him, and then walked away.  Hell, even when he would take a (slightly) more active role in creative development of the full-fledged Clone Wars series or the live-action, “Godfather-esque” TV show, Lucas would still defer to the creative decisions of others – even when those decisions would give preference to the parallel “continuity” of the Expanded Universe rather than George’s source material itself (yes, the two are mutually exclusive, unfortunately for Star Wars fans).

Being a writer (and occasional producer and editor and director), I’m more than keenly aware of the fierce paternal connection that is struck between the creator and the created.  It’s this lifeforce that kept Joe Michael Straczynski going with Babylon 5 or Joss Whedon with Buffy the Vampire Slayer (or Firefly) or any number of other producers with their bodies of work, big or small.  It’s what makes these properties special, what literally gives them their soul (and what makes, say, JMS take an active, hands-on, supervisory role with his series’s own expanded universe of novels, comics, and short stories [even if the latest chapter in the B5 saga, the DTV release The Lost Tales, horribly mangled that continuity, expanded or otherwise]).  It’s what makes them creatively alive.

SW, for some strange reason, is perpetually, habitually clinically dead, even before Lucas casually sold off his life’s work (and it really is his life’s work, given the miniscule amount of other directorial output he’s accumulated over the decades) to a different company to be helmed by different filmmakers for, literally, the next 35 years.  There is none of this creative passion with Lucas and his baby outside of the strict format of his six films (and their continual, painful tinkering in subsequent theatrical releases and DVD reissues).  We all know that George does, indeed, possess a heart – but is it even beating anymore?  Or did he bleed out in getting the first two films up that gargantuan mountain of impossibility?

I’ve long thought, during my spurts of studying film history, that George Lucas would long be remembered in the industry and by cinema scholars for his technical contributions:  his implementation of stereo (and, later, surround) sound, his creation of ILM and Pixar, etc.  But now, between the so-called Expanded Universe, Special Editions, and his pawning off Star Wars to Disney, I think he’ll be long remembered for one defining phenomenon:  how not to manage a narrative empire, how not to creatively live.

And I can honestly say that I am deeply saddened at the thought.

 

[Marc Kleinhenz is a regular columnist for Coming Attractions. He's covered HBO's Game of Thrones for the past two seasons.]

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