Wednesday, August 31, 2011

George Lucas Didn't Rape My Childhood

So, the Star Wars saga comes to Blu-Ray next Tuesday, and the entire internet is atwitter with anticipation. Not the kind of anticipation that met The Phantom Menace, mind you. That kind of anticipation for something hasn't been seen since that Jewish carpenter told everybody he was coming back. No, Jar Jar Binks made sure that Star Wars would never reach that level of universal love ever again. Like most of the world, I was let down by Darth Maul, Gungans, and Jake Lloyd's "acting." But I remember sitting in the theater right before that first screening, nearly bursting at the seams, just like all the other guys my age. Star Wars, as funny as it sounds, was our moon landing. It was more than just a movie. It was a worldwide cultural shift. It sounds crazy to think of a piece of pop entertainment as planet-changing, but it was. Especially to a 5 year-old kid.

My Dad (half) jokes all the time that I was never right in the head after he and Mom took me to see Star Wars for the first time. But it's true. Star Wars changed my life. I sound like such a geek when I say that, but I'm not kidding. Some silly movie about spaceships, robots, and walking carpets profoundly affected me in a way that I still don't fully understand. But I'm not the only one, and we can't all be crazy, right? Whatever it was that George Lucas tapped into in 1977 (marketing, zeitgeist, the Force?), it connected with people in a big way. He created a new mythology for an entire generation. We grew into adulthood as devout disciples, having memorized all the lines and dogma from the Original Trilogy since childhood. It was in our blood now, part of our DNA. And we were nearly overcome with joy when we heard, decades later, Lucas was revisiting that galaxy far, far away and giving us new chapters to memorize. The intergalactic New Testament as it were. Well, Old Testament, actually, since they were Prequels, but George always had a weird way of counting. But regardless, we couldn't wait. With each new image, each new trailer, each new glimpse of the coming film, we lost our fucking minds. We started lining up months before the release. We collected Taco Bell cups. We prepared to have our minds blown. And the culmination of all that pent up anticipation was during that very first screening of The Phantom Menace when the words STAR WARS appeared on screen and John Williams' fanfare exploded in THX. The swell of emotion in that moment was geek nirvana. It was everything we had ever hoped for and more. Star Wars had returned!

Then the movie played. And we all know what happened after that.

When the credits rolled and everyone walked out of the theater, I remember thinking to myself, "I'm pretty sure that movie sucked. No, I take that back. I'm absolutely sure. That was terrible." I remember my dazed stumble through parking lot, looking at all the other dazed faces of the fellow geeks who were trying (and failing) to come to grips with the fact that George had let us down. If the Original Trilogy was our moon landing, the Prequels were our Kennedy assassination. There was a lot of vitriol in the geek community after that. Cries of "George Lucas raped my childhood!" were a common occurrence on message boards and internet sites. I'll be honest, at the time I was a bit upset at the letdown, but I don't think I ever went to that extreme. After all, I wasn't a 5 year-old anymore and a lot of my love for Star Wars is viewed through the very rose-colored goggles of nostalgia. When you think about it, the Star Wars Saga as a whole is a pretty cheesy in a lot of places. I mean, Yoda sounds like Grover, for George's sake. When the wisest character in your movie looks and sounds like a Muppet, you can't take it too seriously. But Star Wars geeks hold tight to their Saga and many still hold a grudge.

That is very evident with impending Blu-Ray release. Lucas has already felt the wrath of the fanboys about his refusal to release the original versions of the Original Trilogy. Back in 1997, Lucas made tweaks to Star Wars, Empire, and Jedi, adding new CGI effects and creatures, calling these improved versions "The Special Editions." Most of the changes were cosmetic, but there was one change in the original film that seemed to draw the ire of the fanboy community like no other: the infamous "Han Shot First" scene. In the orginal film, Han Solo is confronted by the alien Greedo, who has come to collect a debt for Jabba the Hutt. Han calmly sits at a table and listens to Greedo, then shoots him, just like a cowboy in some old western. In the new version, Lucas used CGI to make Greedo shoot first. It makes it appear Han is firing our of self-defense. To the fanboys, this drastically altered Han's character. Again, I know this is a silly thing to get all worked up over, but geeks are nothing if not passionate about nothing. Ever since then, whenever Lucas releases the Original Trilogy in a new format, he makes further tweaks and refinements, much to the chagrin of the fanboys. Just yesterday it was revealed that on the new Blu-Rays, Lucas has added dialogue to the final confrontation between Vader and the Emperor in Return of the Jedi. A clip of this was released on YouTube:

It's a minor change and doesn't affect the outcome of the story, but you'd have thought George put a mustache on the Mona Lisa the way the fanboy community reacted. Cries of "Lucas raped my childhood!" could be heard all throughout cyberspace yet again.

And that's when it hit me. This is not something grown human beings should be worried about in the slightest. Rome is burning, the world is on the brink of economic collapse, but the only thing that can inflame the passions of these apathetic idiots is what Darth Vader does or doesn't say in a movie that has walking teddy bears in it. When are these idiots going to grow the fuck up? Seriously. I love Star Wars, but I'm ashamed at the collective behavior of these cry-baby man-children. It's not global warming, it's a fucking movie. A movie, by the way, that Lucas has the right to tweak, alter, change, edit, erase, fold, spindle, and mutilate all he wants. He paid for it, it's his to do with as he pleases. He's an artist, and artists are rarely satisfied with the finished product. I know in my own small world of artistic expression, I have wanted to completely upend final drafts of projects because they never lived up to my visions for them. For example, I made a silly movie in college called "The Big City" that I shot on VHS and edited tape to tape. It was filled with glitches, bad sound, bad edits, and compromised special effects. But I showed it to people anyway and most of them liked it. Some even told me they loved it. But I can't bear to watch that version. It's not a bad movie, it just didn't live up to my expectations. Years later, I dug all the old footage out of box in my closet, threw it into Final Cut, and re-edited the entire thing. Why? For no other reason that I wasn't satisfied. It was a silly movie made with all my old college friends that no one besides them will ever see. But I don't care. It's my movie and want to see it the way I want to. To me, the only version of "The Big City" that exists is my "Special Edition." So I understand where George is coming from. He's not satisfied and he's going to keep making changes until he gets it right. Not somebody else's "right," but his. So if he wants Greedo to shoot first or make the Ewoks blink or give Lando an afro and bigger 'stache, then have at, George!

The point to all this is that George Lucas changed my life not because lightsabers are cool, or because the Millenium Falcon is the fastest hunk of junk in the galaxy, he changed my life because he made me believe that I could imagine anything I wanted and then, if I was talented and smart (and lucky) enough, I could manifest that idea into reality. Well, movie reality, but it would no longer be just an idea in my mind, it could be something the entire world could witness. George Lucas introduced me to the world of film. Because of my curiosity about how they made X-Wings fly, I discovered how bluescreens work and what motion control is. Lucasfilm developed the very first non-linear edit system, the EditDroid, which ushered in an entirely new way to edit films and was the precursor to Avid and Final Cut. Lucas' development of digital video made it possible to shoot film and TV at a fraction of the cost of film. George Lucas may not be much of a filmmaker nowadays, but I believe he has been responsible for more film makers than any other director before. I once heard that something is art only when the tools to create it are available to everyone. It used to be if you wanted to make a film, you had to raise huge amounts of money, rent specialized and expensive equipment, and have the power of a film studio behind you. Now all you need is a digital camera, an iMac, and a green screen. George Lucas and the technologies his companies pioneered helped make that a reality. Hell, my job as an editor wouldn't be possible without him.

But more importantly, Lucas' silly space movie inspired me to make movies. It gave me a direction to follow in life. It might not be the most stable or lucrative or sane direction to take, but it's the one I chose. I will always have a soft spot in my heart for Star Wars, and I still love it, but with a very healthy dose of whimsy and nostalgic affection. It inspired me, like many other things have since, but it was a big one in my life. And with the help of digital tools George Lucas helped create, I will soon make another film, something that probably wouldn't have been possible without him. So, George Lucas didn't rape my childhood. He actually helped me grow up. He made me want to become a filmmaker. And for that, I am grateful.

I'll never forgive him for changing Boba Fett's voice in The Empire Strikes Back, but I'm grateful nonetheless.


Mike said...

You have written an awesomely worded, well thought out response to this whole mess of reaction that has sprung up in the last few days. Great wrote up with great points. Good job. Thanks.

sgould said...

I see where you're coming from and agree with you. Thanks for putting it in perspective. I can relate. As an architect (and a geeky one at that), I am always wishing I would've tweaked that project a certain way and I'm not creatively happy with it. Hell, even Frank Lloyd Wright (arguably the U.S.'s greatest architect)changed parts of his house- his masterpiece, Taliesin, over 100 times.

Personally, I hate the change that expanded ROTJ to include the musical number in Jabba's palace more than any change to the movies past, present, and future...but I won't get too mad. (I reserve that anger for changes to the established eu cannon that George has given a big middle finger to. i.e. The Clone Wars)

Thanks for the post.