It’s been a month since Star Wars: The Force Awakens was released in theaters, and for me, it’s been a great time. The last month has been filled with enthusiasm for the series again. I’ve had a ton of great talks about the movie and Star Wars in general with friends and family, almost always in a positive manner.
For a personal note, last night we had a going away party for my nephew. During the party I had a talk about TFA with my older brother and my older cousin. This talk eventually meant a great deal to me. These two men were my biggest influences growing up. My brother got me into films, and my cousin got me into comics. So here we are, now I’m an “adult”, and we’re all talking about Star Wars with excitement and it really hits me that I can finally speak to them like an equal. This series influences many generations and it’s impressive that the films will still have a hold on you, no matter how old you are. That’s the power that Star Wars has.
….so it’s understandable as to why I started thinking about George Lucas.
Now, before we continue, allow me to direct you this great essay by Devin Faraci on the site BIRTHMOVIESDEATH. Read that first and then come right back here for a follow up discussion. Don’t worry I’ll wait. I’ll be right here.
Hi! Welcome back! What I liked about Faraci’s essay was reminding me the great thing about the first Star Wars. Visually (design wise, cinematography, and editing) it was unlike any other film yet the story was simple, clear and understandable. To quote Devin’s post “it was blazingly original in 1977.” and we kinda take that for granted about Star Wars. We live a world that everyone has least HEARD of Star Wars, to the point that some folks feel ashamed if they haven’t watched it yet. Yet, once separated from that stigma, as it’s own Star Wars is a real successful film as both populist cinema and as art. Faraci’s piece is a reminder that the first Star Wars film was the work of an artist who had something to say and was excited to say it.
This brings me to the prequels. Yes, the prequels, the big scars of the Star Wars series that are still there and that for many…they still sting. Now I’m not here to defend the movies (or defend the numerous changes that Lucas did to the original trilogy) but I have a theory.
In Faraci’s piece he brings up the fact that Lucas (in a way) became trapped in a Star Wars prison. The only other franchise he came up and was allowed to flourish and be ALMOST as defining as Star Wars was the Indiana Jones films as most of his other film concepts never took off as well as that. No matter what how many projects he would produce based on his ideas, he always be known first as the man who created Star Wars. Now, that’s not to disregard the technical side of filmmaking that Lucas helped pioneered. From visual effects (ILM) to sound mixing (Skywalker Sound) his impact on film has reached far from just coming up with stories…but maybe that should be the first hint at something.
What if Lucas’s drive to tell stories himself ended at Star Wars?
Since the first Star Wars film, Lucas never went back behind the camera until he made The Phantom Menace. Now, I don’t know EXACTLY why he never did. I’m sure setting up ILM, Skywalker Sound, producing a TON of movies and TV, he got busy…but I’m also sure that if Lucas HAD another movie idea he wanted to make, he could have easily found the time (and the money) to do it.
See, it’s clear that George Lucas loved the mechanics of filmmaking. He loves pulling the pieces apart and putting them together. It’s the engineer in him. He was a car fan first, and saw filmmaking as another form of art that explores the engineer side of yet also expresses the imagery he loved in films.
But I don’t know if he has the drive to tell a ton of stories himself. He clearly likes coming up with concepts, but he never felt the need to tell them himself.
It all started to come into focus for me when director Ron Howard, in promotion to his film In the Heart of the Sea, revealed an interesting fact. While on the podcast , HappySadConfused, Howard said that Lucas asked him to direct Episode I. He goes on to say….
“He didn’t necessarily want to direct them, and he told me that he had talked to [Robert] Zemeckis, he talked to me, he talked to Steven Spielberg. I was the third one he spoke to. They had all said the same thing, ‘George, you should just do it!’”
Now, it makes sense why Spielberg, Zemeckis and Howard all told him he should do it. 1.) They felt they shouldn’t because it was Lucas series 2.) They probably felt it was time for their friend to jump back behind the camera since it’s been over twenty years.
But this also makes one thing clear….Lucas didn’t have the interest in telling the story himself.
With this in mind it gives me an interesting perspective on the prequels.
The first Star Wars film was made by a young man who had a vision and wanted to get it out there. The prequels were not stories George wanted to tell….these were movies he felt obligated to tell.
There is huge difference between making a film because you want to make it, and making a film because you feel like you HAVE to make it. For me, I can see that now when I look at the prequels.
Perhaps he saw making the prequels as a way to play with the new visual effects technology hence all the CGI which at the time were advanced, but that’s why the story suffered so much. Unlike the first Star Wars movie where the story was simpler, the prequel films required a more complex narrative, a narrative that he wasn’t paying attention to, nor did he have the skill set to deliver.
Faraci’s essay brings up the fact that George Lucas’s first three films we’re all experiments in visual storytelling, but the two films that connected the most with audiences were the movies with the simplest narrative and the most engaging characters (American Graffiti and Star Wars). Lucas’s was still trying to be experimental with the prequels, but his attention went straight with the technological side of filmmaking not the story itself…a story that he was trying to find someone else to tell.
One can argue this thought process is the reason why George Lucas kept tinkering with the original trilogy. He saw those like classic cars, but even classic cars need a tune up, need replacement parts, and some parts even need to be thrown out to be upgraded to something brand new. And since the films were already made, he felt the free reign to experiment on those films, unlike the prequels where he had to make a new concept from the ground up…yet use some of the parts from the original films.
Listen…..I’m just guessing here, but as I get older and as I try to learn the process of filmmaking myself since I am an aspiring director, I tend to be more sympathetic to filmmakers. I know that no one intentionally makes a bad movie (unless you’re the folks who make the Sharknado flicks) but I found myself wanting to sympathize with George Lucas. It doesn’t make the prequels better films, it doesn’t forgive the changes that were done to the original films….but when I finally got to think about it, I feel l I could see where he was coming from.
For years George Lucas has said he wanted to go back to his experimental filmmaking. Now that Star Wars is no longer his obligation, I truly do hope he does. Maybe deep down….he’s got a few good movies left in him. Without the burden of Star Wars on his shoulder maybe he’s finally free to tell those stories or be as experimental as he wants to be. If he ever does, I’ll be excited to see it.