The George Lucas Conundrum

People find it really easy to hate George Lucas. And it all started because he went back and tinkered with the original Star Wars Trilogy – adding new special effects, altering existing scenes, and making Greedo shoot first. Fans of the trilogy didn’t like the changes and lambasting, rather than praising, Lucas became a cottage industry overnight. What did he do wrong? Essentially Lucas’ changes were the equivalent of an author’s second edition of a text, something that usually doesn’t offend many. The problem, I think, is that the films aren’t technically Lucas’ anymore: they’re ours.

The first Star Wars film came out in 1977. On the twentieth anniversary, the “special editions” of the trilogy were released, complete with Lucas’ revisions that purists loathed. Another poor choice was that fans could only buy the special editions on DVD – the original versions that fans had been watching for two decades were simply stuck on VHS. Fans had no choice but to watch the “refreshed” versions of their favourite films. And it pleased no one.

What I find interesting about this situation is that it raises the question “When does an artist’s work no longer belong to the artist?” Star Wars is the creation of George Lucas. He should be able to revise the story as much and as often as he wants because this universe is from his imagination. However, he didn’t revise them for twenty years, and somewhere in that time period, the author’s authority was stripped away from his work. Lucas’ changes might have been accepted had they occurred shortly after the original’s release. But two decades later, revising the canon was cinematic blasphemy for religious Star Wars fans.

Somewhere in the twenty-year time frame between the original release and the “special edition” re-release, George Lucas had changed from a demi-god to a defiler of a masterpiece. That it was his vision wasn’t the issue. Fans had lovingly cultivated the mythos of Star Wars for twenty years when the rug was pulled out from underneath them. They loved the movie even if it had some flaws. In fact, that probably made it all the more endearing. And the new version undermined all of those feelings – the message seemed to be this: sure the old version of Star Wars was fine, but this one is what was truly envisioned. It was insulting.

George Lucas’ gave Star Wars to the world in 1977. It was just a child then, and he wasn’t sure if it was going to be able to stand on its own two legs. But it did, and for twenty years the audience looked after it and nurtured it without any interference from Father Lucas. Taking it back – without any warning – seems to be an injustice.

I think that the leeway period for an author of a piece of art today would be about five years. During those five years after the film’s release, revisions, director’s cuts, and extended editions are all fair game. But after that time, an author needs to let go and let the film stand on its own, flaws and all. Don’t worry – we’ll take care of the rest from there.

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3 Responses to The George Lucas Conundrum

  1. Julia Turnbull says:

    Wow, when are you going to write a book??? Your writing style is awesome!!

  2. Great read!

    I once saw an interview with Peter Jackson and he was asked what changes, if any, he would like to make to Lord of the Rings (this was several years after Return of the King). I don’t remember his exact reply, but it was something like, ‘I look back at my films and can see flaws – things I’d like to change. But I’ll never do that. Each one of my films represents the time and context in which it was made. That should be preserved.’

    It’s too bad that Lucas doesn’t share a similar line of thinking.

    • Modest Movie says:

      Thanks for the read Jamie!

      That’s really interesting that Peter Jackson wouldn’t go back and change the LOTR movies – he probably learned from Lucas’ mistakes.

      It’s definitely pretty interesting how quickly the fan base can turn on the author of a work though – Lucas just wanted to improve his movies and now pretty much everyone hates him – almost forgetting the fact that he’s the reason the Star Wars films exist in the first place.

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