Curious George: George Lucas and the Star Wars films

Glenn Criddle

glenn criddle | cynical celluloid | feb. 2016

The phenomenally successful new episode of the Star Wars film series has certainly filled me with a sense of relief. After the largely disappointing prequel trilogy The Force Awakens actually feels like a Star Wars film rather than a vaguely Star Wars related offshoot like the prequels did.

George Lucas hasn't been happy about it though. After being paid an obscene amount of money for the rights, he's been miffed at losing artistic control and in a series of interviews has bemoaned the way this new series of films is going. Branding Disney as “White Slavers,” a curious comment to say the least, he then criticised the film further for its “Retro” approach and as much as he's back peddled on certain comments it seems very clear that he's been in a desperate personal struggle to step away from the project he started way back in 1977. Here's the thing, I don't hate Lucas, he's brought us so much throughout his career, he seems like a genuinely nice and decent guy and it's understandable that he feels so attached to the series, but one thing that became very clear with the prequel series was that it was not going to have the same impact that the original trilogy had. The signs were always there though with Lucas constantly tinkering with the original trilogy, and as asinine as the “Han shot first” complaint may seem, it strikes at the very heart of why fans were having a problem with Lucas.

For me I'd have to say The Return of the Jedi was the moment I began to realise things weren't going in a good direction. As beloved as the Ewoks were in some camps, it was a sign of things to come where the Star Wars universe was being made more kid friendly and less of an adventure with familiar friends and enemies. With what is now known as Episode 4 (one of the early “tweaks” to the series) there were some genuinely traumatic moments, plenty of humour and some epic, though very much-borrowed scenes. The Empire Strikes Back went even further with some near operatic drama and very dark moments though it never felt like a downer, it was also the first film I remember as being obviously part of an ongoing series. Return of the Jedi, however, started to slip towards being a kids' film (Ewoks anyone?) though thankfully still managed to feel like a sequel. I would still watch any of the original trilogy with a happy heart though I'd prefer to stick to the less than “special” editions that don't include the window dressing Lucas deemed so important. The remastering is one thing, but why oh why did we have to have the new scenes and extra CG plastered over the film?

Well, in later editions it was to fit things in with the prequel trilogy. I could hardly believe my eyes and ears looking at the post prequel editions of the original Star Wars trilogy and seeing in the closing moments Hayden Christensen digitally inserted over the original actor while an insipid alternate music score played, that, more than any other moment, seemed like a betrayal of the films I grew up with.

Unfortunately things were far worse in the prequels themselves. George Lucas has what seems like a fetish for CGI and the prequels really suffered because of that. They look like CGI, they feel like CGI and almost everything that is real in that film suffers because they're clearly not interacting with a physical environment. Call me old fashioned if you will but I don't think that postproduction is where you should be making your film, in fact, the “fix it all in post” approach has long been considered a bad practice. Coupling this with Lucas's tin ear for dialogue and penchant for exposition, something the prequels are very dense with, and it's all just a bit too awful. I can hardly blame the performers for delivering lines badly when the lines themselves that are written are so truly terrible. For what it's worth, I reckon you could salvage a bloody good three hour film out of the prequels if you edited them all together carefully but as it is there's just too much self indulgence on show and obviously no one was willing or able to force Lucas to be economical. It was a prime example of too much directorial and financial freedom, much like what happened with the Matrix sequels, leading to bloated and unjustifiably self-satisfied films.

[Spoilers ahead] It was a good thing that someone else finally got the chance to further the series. J.J. Abrams hasn't produced a perfect Star Wars film, it borrows a bit too much to call it that, but it is an exciting continuation of the story and it does manage to play to a wide audience of young and old, fans and new comers. The characters are well realised from the script to the performance, it all feels like consequences can happen and when a significant character dies, it's important. Contrast that with the death of Qui-Gon Jinn in The Phantom Menace, which despite his death in one of the prequels, truly brilliant scenes really didn't have any impact beyond the moment. Lucas can make those moments work, he did it in A New Hope, but in the prequels, well they were emotionally sterile, at least for me. For those who are petitioning for Lucas to be brought back to direct the next episode I'd say this. Let it go. Lucas only directed one good Star Wars film, the original, and that is held up rightly so as a classic. Since then he hasn't been able to repeat that glory and all he has done is tinker with the classic trilogy to the point of vandalism. I for one am glad to see new talent take the story forward.

He's British so forgive the extra U's and the use of the letter S instead of Z. If there's one thing that typifies Glenn's writing it's the 'Video Nasties,' a long list of movies that offended all and sunder during the 1980s in the UK. It's those seemingly offensive fringes of cinema that informed his writing on cinema and the more political area of censorship with a more sympathetic approach to those films that push the limits of taste. But don't worry, he does talk about normal stuff too and isn't likely to go off on a horror movie fuelled rampage.

For more of Glenn's work, visit his Youtube channel under the name lampyman101.

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