Tuesday, January 6, 2009

The Turn...


THX-1138 posted that little walk down my childhood's memory lane the other day and happened to mention "The Turn" that I keep talking about. He's right... I have tended to mention it a few times, so I guess it was time I explained it.

Now first off, a little disclaimer. For those of you that think I don't like George Lucas, that I hate on him, that I'm entirely too negative toward him and Star Wars...

You're wrong.

I have the utmost respect for Lucas and for Star Wars. Just as I love Disney and am critical of some things that they do, I do so out of my love for what has been created and those that did the creating. I have been hard on Lucas the last few years, ok... since "The Phantom Menace," but even before that the signs were there. But I am critical, not because I wish any ill will toward GL, but because I see a man that is responsible for a good deal of my childhood making turns that I believe are wrong. Not just for him but Lucasfilm and the fans as well. Now, will he listen to me? Nope, he has no idea I even exist I'm sure. Although he did speak(along with Steven Spielberg) at my commencement at USC some years ago. My best friend met him and Spielberg and totally dissed Lucas without intending to, but that's another story.

It's my firm belief that no matter what George does, good or bad, Star Wars is just too big and has grown so large that he really can't control it anymore. Not like he used to. And it's taken on a life of it's own. Like that "A Long Time Ago" post I did earlier in the year, I feel that there is a future for the Star Wars Universe that doesn't involve Lucas. That too, is another story for another day. But I digress...

As the posters in THX's post showed, George Lucas has had an amazing list of film accomplishments throughout his life, but that collection of posters showed you a powerful group of films that most film makers only dream of coming close to. From his opening film, "THX-1138" to "Body Heat" there was no question about the depth and breath of scope as to what his creative hand touched. He was a golden boy along with the wunderkind that was Spielberg. His contributions to the movie going experience will be forever remembered. His instrumental place in the creation of the Avid, his development of a superior sound system known as THX, even his creation of a little computer division that he eventually sold off during his divorce to Steve Jobs will be part of the tapestry of film for eternity.

And then the first tarnish appeared. When "Return of the Jedi" landed in theaters we got our first sign that the man who could do no wrong, could finally do wrong. It wasn't a horrible film... not at all. There is much in it to like. But the beginnings of what fans would start to see creep into other films and stories appeared here. But it was the first we saw of it and it was minor. After all, look at all that came before? We may have gotten the Ewoks, but there was that great battle between Luke and Vader, right? We may have had to suffer through a horrible dance number, but we saw a much more epic space battle than we did before? Right? We may have had to have the first films story rehashed with another Death Star, but we got to see the Emperor in all his evil splendor, Right?

But then came "Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom" the following year. Sure it also had a great deal of cool stuff in it. The fight in Shanghai at the Club Obi Wan was something. The darker tone was nice, interesting, but Short Round? Ok, I can tolerate him. He was kind of amusing. I'd rather have had more Sallah, but it was ok. But Kate Capshaw? With all respect to Spielberg, she ain't no Karen Allen. I loved that Indy had this connection to a strong woman with a good deal of spunk. She could take care of her own. Capshaw's character was a whinny annoying pain in the rear that I could see no way for Indy to fall in love with. And yet he did. I enjoyed the film, but it wasn't near the beauty that was Raiders. It's darker tone is something that Spielberg had argued against and I understand his reasons. I don't mind the tone, but I believe the tone came from the darker elements that were happening in George Lucas' life at the time. His marriage was falling apart and he was having to build his Skywalker Ranch while working on these films. It was probably a lot. Add to that the weight of all this fame and fortune on a very shy man and somehow it's going to take a toll. Part of that toll showed up in "Return" with the way the characters were. They didn't seem exactly like they were in the first two films. There was a human vulnerability that was missing. It was like they were caricatures of the original characters. They were super-heroes that you knew could not be harmed. The little touches that took place in the first two films seemed to have been brushed aside. And broad attempts at forced humor and plot regurgitation had taken the place of what we had seen before. Lucas seemed to be going into unknown territory with the characters and seemed unsure. The film seemed directionless in search of a finale where everyone was happy and the bad guys were gone.

After these films, we would get others of disappointment as well. The watered down, Lord of the Rings-lite that was Willow. The Nevana animated television shows, "Droids" and "Ewoks." There were others, but nothing was the hit that Star Wars or Indy was. Everything was a letdown. Let's face it... "Howard the Duck?" I didn't know what to think after watching that. It seemed somewhere between 1980 and 1981 it was all down hill. Nothing he made looked like anything he had made before. A pale imitation of what had come before and what we expected from the future...

And yet we waited for a future.

One in which Star Wars was. We waited for that day when a new Star Wars film would come out. Would it be Chapter 7 and the further adventures of Luke? Or would it be the telling of the Republic and how the Empire came to be? Some waited maybe for a continuation of our childhood, others for something to make up for the ending of the last trilogy. I mean, it can't be as bad as Return. Can it? Really, could Lucas create anything as annoying as the Ewoks? I doubt it... or so I did. We all did. And we all were wrong...

The first warning should have been the "Special Editions." He remade classics. They may have had flaws, but they were masterworks. Did we really need to see Jabba running around talking to Han? It seemed to slow the story down to me. I know he didn't have access to this kind of technology back in the 70's, but that was a good thing. It made him be creative. It made him make decisions about what he could choose and what he couldn't. Even creative genius must be restrained sometimes so that it is focused. I remember in an art class one time the teacher talked about a law that was put in place in France. It was to forbid an artist from messing with their work after it was sold to another. This was done because a certain artist would go into the galleries and start painting on works that he had sold because he just didn't feel they were done. We needed a law like this for Lucas... But we didn't have it and the "new, improved" versions of our childhood were created. Only this time they weren't as idealized. They weren't as good. And so we waited for the prequels...

I remember hearing all the negative buzz. But my friends and I were too excited. George couldn't have made a bad film. This Jar Jar couldn't be as bad as the Ewoks, could he? Watching the screen craw come across that screen was truly a mind numbing moment. Then it began and you were seeing a young Obi-Wan. But the moment they ran into Jar Jar, the train wreck began. With each scene. Each embarrassingly awkward, bad scene. Instead of a roaring adventure pulled from the pulp inspired 30's Flash Gordon, like Star Wars was, we got long, boring passages of atrocious dialog that sounded like lessons in metaphysical healing. We saw Anakin Skywalker as a really bad child actor. We got the cute nickname "Anni..." That's what I always wanted to hear right? We got the Force explained to us in the most boring way possible. We saw him violate the original films even. Did he not rewatch them before sitting down with a pencil and notepade? Obi-Wan meet Anakin as a pilot NOT as a boy, Yoda trained Obi-Wan NOT Qui-Gon Jinn, ect. Sometimes less is more. Sometimes you want to be kept in the dark... when it's all revealed it can only turn into a letdown. The X-Files was good at this. You had to know we were never really gonna find the truth. It couldn't measure up. George Lucas forgot this...

Having kids might have changed him as well. Perhaps they're the reason he wanted Anakin to be a small boy? Maybe he saw that when he looked into the eyes of his son? I'm not sure, but his focus on the first film wasn't on the first film. And he wasn't helped by all the Yes Men around him. Lucas had gotten so big by this time he was no longer a film maker, he was an industry. And in this case, the film maker lost out. Where is Gary Kurtz when you need him?

Then the sequel, "Attack of the Clones" came out. It was better than the first. I've told friends that if Lucas would have started with this it would've been easier to forgive him. This one had much more of what the fans expected. But it also had more of what they feared. Those romance scenes between Anakin and Padme have dialog that a greeting card company would fire people over. Again, less would have been more appropriate. All he had to do was show them falling in love. We didn't have to hear all those painfully awkward words. The images would have told the story.

Lastly, "Revenge of the Sith" came out and we finally got the Star Wars film we wanted originally. Was it perfect? Nooooo. But it had what most of the others lacked. True heart. An action story that flowed and didn't get bogged down by clunky, romantic dialogue. Sure, Anakin turns too quickly and Lucas still forced those bad Harlequin Romance card packed scenes between our two doomed lovers, but it mostly worked.

We've suffered through A horrid CG "Clone Wars" film earlier in the year that only added to the pile of disappointment, but the series has actually turned out good for the most part. Some of it quite good actually... But clearly the damage is done. Lucas is in the process of getting out all his ideas that he's talked about filming over the last twenty years. Sort of like cleaning house and getting rid of what you don't want anymore. He says when he's through with all these things in about a year or so he's going to go back to making esoteric films like he did in college. I'll believe it when I see it. He's become more of a businessman than a film maker over the past two decades it seems. More concerned with toys and product lines and running the machine that is Lucasfilm than creating more of the mythic creations he gave us in his youth. When he does go back to these films, when he returns to being a true film maker, I hope he hands Lucasfilm and Star Wars and Indy off to someone with some perspective. Perhaps he will sell it to Fox or Disney or someone else. Perhaps he'll license them. I think he's spent too much time with these characters. It's best that they each go their separate ways and maybe, just maybe they'll find themselves again.

Now that would be a welcomed turn...

15 comments:

Mike M. said...

Wow, all that proof that Lucas is finished and you didn't even mention the LATEST Indiana Jones movie!

THAT horrible movie made Temple of Doom look like a CLASSIC!

Barry said...

Maybe I'm becoming forgetful in my old age, but in my day I was pretty full up with useless Star Wars trivia and I seem to remember

a) Obi-Wan only mentioned in IV that Luke's father was an excellent pilot, and a good friend. Then in VI he told Luke that he took it on himself to train Anakin as well as Yoda could. And failed. No mention in the movies about when Obi and Anakin met.

b) Again, nothing in VI stated specifically that Yoda trained Obi-Wan, at least as an adult - we saw in II that Yoda instructed Younglings, and it's entirely possible he taught Obi as a young child, then when was old enough he became Qui-gon's padawan.

And I never viewed anything in I, II or III as "embarrassingly awful" - indeed, only after reading reviews from other fans did I even think to regard Jar Jar as anything except comic relief, and that only because modern audiences seem to demand that kind of slapstick humor in movies today (witness the success of Jim Carrey and Adam Sandler). I would be willing to bet the average moviegoer that saw The Phantom Menace would have no real opinion one way or another about Jar Jar.

In fact, I was hoping - like others I read about - that Lucas was setting up Jar Jar's innocence and comic foil as a tragic target to Anakin's rage. In that Anakin would eventually kill him as a further turn to the dark side.

In my opinion, people's condemnation of Lucas based on these facts is a bit disingenuous.

Ted Heumann said...

I'm glad that you said the Clone Wars series has turned around. I did not see the feature film, but I have seen every episode and I like it alot. I think that has a lot to do with Lucas not being involved too much.
I especially liked the episode with just the clone troopers that were ambushed on the outpost.

realitysetsin said...

Great insight, Honor. Couldn't agree with you more. Retire, old man. RETIRE.

Done With Lucas said...

Clone Wars has turned around? HA! I just watched it last week. You know we're in trouble when Jar Jar saves the day. Honor, do us favor man, please. Stop writing about George Lucas. Seriously. If I want to read crap about Lucas I just have to surf over to It Ain't Cool News or any of the other Freaks boards to read this crap. People mainly come here because of their love for Disney and all of these Lucas whine articles are becoming too frequent. I was really hoping you would start '09 off on the right foot but in the last 2 weeks I have been constantly reminded about your opinions of George Lucas. Jesus, give it a rest.

Anonymous said...

Hey Done With Lucas, you don't have a brother named Mola Ram do ya'?

Anonymous said...

I personally liked Ep. I II and III a LOT! But, I see what you`re getting at! Go ahead and boo me, but, I like Indy 4 too!

Tiawan Suzie said...

TOOL.

Kari Klein said...

I find it highly ironic that Lucas has become the thing he started out against.

I remember hearing Lucas mention that when he started out, he was opposed to big business and was in favor of the little guy. The conflict between the Empire and the Rebelion reflected that.

And now, just like young Anni, he has slipped into the dark side.

Anonymous said...

Hey Ted! That Outpost episode WAS awesome... Best one so far in my book!

Kari Klein said...

Here's that quote if anyone was wondering:

Of the entertainment empire Lucas built with the "Star Wars" fortune, the director notes a "certain irony" linked to his Darth Vader character: "I've become the very thing that I was trying to avoid -- which is part of what 'Star Wars' is about."

Anonymous said...

TR2N is now called Tron. Not Tron 2, just Tron.

http://www.hollywoodreporter.com/hr/content_display/film/news/e3i4790a46c9905faf37800bb951922ec3f

Just keeping you up to date.

I liked the SW prequels, the new cartoons don't interest me much, I have better things to do.

Spokker said...

So much negativity here.

If you don't like what Lucas is doing with Star Wars now DON'T WATCH IT!!!

Watch the original trilogy over and over again until you slump over for all I care. All you Lucas bashers need to SHUT THE H*LL UP AND STOP BEING SO NEGATIVE. Ban anybody who says anything negative from this blog.

Honor Hunter said...

All right Spokker, but that means we start with you...

Hehe.

I think being critical of Disney isn't bashing so being critical of Lucas would fall under the same definition, wouldn't you?

Spokker said...

George Lucas is a wonderful man and all filmmakers are great under God's plan.

I'm just kidding, obviously, but bash Lucas all you want on this blog yet if you criticize Disney you're a horrible monster that should pray for death.