The King is Dead

Thursday, November 1, 2012

On Star Wars and Disney

I was born in 1973, so I’ve grown up with Star Wars pretty constantly in my life.  I remember being introduced to bad-ass Boba Fett during that weird-ass holiday special (in which he really was bad-ass; it’s the real -- though subconscious -- reason he has legions of fans).  I remember being surprised as all hell that Darth Vader was Luke’s dad (and being kind of traumatized by “The Empire Strikes back” in general).  I remember dressing up as black-clad bad-ass Luke for Halloween in 1983 (and my brother doing a flip on his dirt bike in an Ewok costume).

And, as I’ve mentioned, West End Games’ d6 Star Wars RPG is the first RPG I played after giving up on AD&D 2nd Edition (and the first I home-brewed and hacked).

So I’ve got a lot of reason to be astounded by the news that George Lucas sold Lucasfilm to Disney.  I should probably be amongst the hordes of fans wailing in fear and gnashing their teeth in rage, but I’m not.  Except for the fact that Dark Horse Comics will probably get screwed out of one of their top franchises, I think this sale is a good thing.

George Lucas has never loved Star Wars the way its fans do, and the idea that Star Wars might wind up in the hands of people who love it is exciting.

I’m not saying George Lucas is the villain I thought he was as I watched that midnight opening-night showing of “The Phantom Menace” with growing horror.  One of the lessons learned from becoming a fan of the actor who used to play Wesley Crusher is that everyone – everyone! – are just normal people with their own loves and hates, triumphs and tragedies.  The prequel trilogy is not much of a crime against humanity in the larger scale of things (and a smaller crime against a fandom than Joss Whedon’s “Serenity”).

The truth of the matter, though, is that the Star Wars phenomenon is just something George Lucas stumbled into when he couldn’t get the rights to make a Flash Gordon movie.  Despite the myth he deliberately spreads these days, he has never had a master plan.  The Star Wars saga is not like Tolkien’s Middle-Earth; it is not one man’s labor of love, it is one man’s great opportunity.

I do not own and have not read the full text of The Secret History of Star Wars, but the articles and excerpts available on the website present nigh-irrefutable documentary evidence that George Lucas has been making it all up as he goes along.  That’s fine with me – that’s what I do with almost any campaign I run – and the only anger I still have toward him is that he works so hard to replace the truth with the myth.  In fact, learning the truth about the creative process behind Star Wars is what enabled me to forgive him for Jar-Jar Binks.

Something I picked up from Michael Kaminski’s work is that Lucas always writes himself into the main character of any films he makes (I think “Willow” might be the exception).  That means that George Lucas saw himself in Anakin Skywalker’s descent into the dark side in the prequel trilogy.  A wunderkind hot-rodder meets a more mature, worldly-wise woman but they’re driven apart when he discovers a secret to immense personal power?  That’s the story of George and Marcia Lucas just as much as Anakin and Padme.  I’m not saying I think the prequels are good, but I am saying that’s there a genuine, personal story buried in them.

Unfortunately for George Lucas, I (and many, many other Star Wars fans) would rather have good movies than personal ones.  Lucas’ best work (the original “Star Wars” and “The Empire Strikes Back,” the Indiana Jones films, “American Graffiti”) is demonstrably his most collaborative.  “Empire,” after all, features many on-set improvisations and script revisions by Irvin Kershner and the actors.  I could easily argue that Star Wars has always been best when George Lucas has added the least.

What are the most beloved iterations of Star Wars after the original trilogy?  The Thrawn novels by Timothy Zahn, “Dark Empire,” the role-playing games, “Star Wars: The Clone Wars” – all works that have had minimal direct influence from George Lucas.  George Lucas hasn’t been the primary vision behind what people like about Star Wars in quite some time, so we should all relax, take comfort in the fact that Disney bought all of Lucasfilm, and trust that Star Wars is in good hands.

After all, “Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest” was an awesome remake of “The Empire Strikes Back.”  

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