Steamboat Willie Shot First

Turns out that odd, pervasive sound I heard on Halloween didn’t have anything to do with the usual suspects: witches, warlocks, the undead, or monsters of any sort.

No, that strange noise was the collective sound of God knows how many George Lucas-haters sighing in relief, before jumping to their feet, switching on their Ultimate FX Darth Vader Lightsabers in unison, and doing a celebratory dance that looks an awful lot like an Ewok having an epileptic fit . . . only with more body hair.

Disney announced that they had not only bought out Lucasfilm for a paltry $4.08 billion (Memo to Joss from Disney CEO Robert Iger: we really, really, really need Avengers 2 to NOT SUCK, please and thank you), and not only that, will have Episode VII (that’s seven for those of you who can speak fluent Twi’lek but haven’t mastered Roman numerals), reportedly featuring a fortyish Luke Skywalker, ready for a 2015 release.

The short of it is that George Lucas sold Star Wars, although Lucas himself has stated Disney will be making the next trilogy from his ‘notes’, and some sources say Lucas has written formally developed outlines for not only those films, but more beyond that.  The Emperor might now be sporting mouse ears, but George will remain on board as ‘creative consultant’.

I’m not a huge Star Wars fan, and haven’t been for a while — the closest I’ve got to being excited about SW in recent memory was the announcement a short while back that comics god scribe Brian Wood would be writing a new ‘Wars comic for Dark Horse that pretty much ignores everything that happened after Episode IV, and would allow Wood to put his own personalized take on the Star Wars universe.  (If that doesn’t excite you, then you likely haven’t read Channel Zero, DMZ, Demo, or are currently reading The Massive, and, unfortunately, you’re less of a human being for not having done so.  Not to be judgey or anything.)

But being born in 1972, of course the original trilogy had a huge impact on my childhood on an almost daily basis, thanks to Hasbro and their handy miniaturized plastic replicas of the cast.  The first movie I can actually remember going to the theatre to see was The Empire Strikes Back in 1980.  (No clue if I ever saw A New Hope prior to that, or how, being all of five at the time, I did manage to see it.  Wasn’t on Netflix, that I’m sure.)

My Star Wars fandom eventually dwindled off as a teenager — there was Robotech and G.I. Joe and Jem and the Holograms  uh, I mean, the Thundercats and the Transformers, not to mention any number of Marvel and DC icons, that knocked the Skywalker clan down a few pegs.  Who needs the Force when you had Protoculture?  Sure, the Force is great when you need to choke someone from across the room, but Protoculture TRANSFORMS JETS INTO ROBOTS THAT SHOOT MILLIONS OF SWIRLY MISSILES.  Priorities, people!

I recall watching Episode IV on VHS with friends at some point in my early twenties and thinking that it didn’t quite hold me in thrall the way it once did, and that was the same opinion I had when I lined up to see the Special Edition re-releases in the late ’90s.  It was a revered part of growing up and there’s those certain neurons that fire sweet, intoxicating nostalgia, but it just didn’t quite resonate with me as an adult.  My memories of how much I loved it were more fulfilling than the actual viewing experience, and I was okay with that.

That’s certainly why I didn’t feel that George had beaten up my entire childhood, given it a proton wedgie, and taken its lunch money when the ‘new’ trilogy trickled out.  To be honest, I didn’t care for them much — sure, Jar-Jar was annoying, but the cardinal sin to me was giving a Star Trek psuedobabble explanation for how the Force works.  (I never really cared for Star Trek, and still, to this day, don’t.  Too much blah-blah-blah diplomacy and too little pew-pew for my tastes.  Sorry, Gene.  I don’t care if someone shoots first as long as someone shoots, period.)

As far as I were concerned, the original trilogy were just movies I didn’t like all that much, and seriously, Darth Maul and that double-bladed lightsaber was too badass to stay mad for long.  Do I need to bring Samuel L Freakin Jackson into the mix, too?  Unlike some poor, unfortunate padawans, the prequels didn’t retroactively go back and take a Cleveland Steamer on a whole decade-plus of my life.

Sequels, or prequels, often fail to live up to the magic of the original.  Simple fact.  As much as I adore the first (and only) film of the franchise, I have to admit it’s probably a good thing they never did around to making

Besides, as the new millennium got underway, I was WAAAAY more ticked off at the Wachowskis for the second and third Matrix films than I was at George for The Phantom Menace and so forth.  (Which, okay . . . mostly because I didn’t stand in line for four hours to see Attack of the Clones like I did for Matrix Reloaded.)

I’m also sure years of comic book fandom desensitized me to the perils of ugly, destructive cannonballs of uninspired mediocrity fired directly into canon.  Just about every major comics character has gone through that period where the only reason for some fans to keep reading the book is to be able to complain, in excruciating detail, about how horrible it is and why it’s not like more (insert favorite era-slash-volume-slash-creative team here).  And thank you, Internet, for the ability to spew that butthurt vitriol on a global scale and preserving it for all posterity to see, not just limiting it to the earshot of anyone who happens to be browsing in the local comics shop at the time it is spewed forth.

In comics, no matter how bad your favorite character is getting treated, someone will eventually come along and fix it and return him / her/ it to its former glory, perhaps even surpass it.  Often the people who tell the best stories with a certain character aren’t the ones who originally created them, and that’s sort of the fun of comics.

Will that happen to the third Star Wars trilogy?  No idea, but I have to say I do feel a great deal of sympathy for George Lucas, and I have felt that way since I caught the documentary The People Vs. George Lucas a few months back.  To say that film contains some of the absolutely worst examples of foaming-at-the-mouth, smarmy fanboyism and uncouth behavior from a bunch of unshaven cooler-than-thou man-children — the sort of that gives us all of us nerds a bad name by mere association — is an understatement.  It’s the kind of thing that would almost make you want to push the shiny, candy-like Destroy The Internet Forever button, if it were presented to you.

If you’re a creative person, unless you’re the black-beret-wearing, clove-cigarette-smoking hipster sort that revels in being a starving artist because you can’t take the criticism involved in putting your work in a commercial light and earning a living from it, you can only dream of achieving what Lucas did — literally changing pop culture on a global scale.  I don’t know the man, and can’t say that’s what he set out to do, but do you want people to accept and enjoy your work?

Absolutely. The fame and fortune are nice, to be certain, but in the end, it’s just that simple pleasure of knowing someone else liked your stuff and appreciates the effort you put into making it.  (Money, great big Scrooge McDuck money bin piles of it, is also nice.)

Knowing you inspired an entire generation is something most of us will never know.  For the vast majority of us creators, the best we can hope for is that someday, someone will cite us in a list of influences the same way we have our own list of highly revered names of those that set us on the path, and the wheel of karma turns thusly.

Making it a literal not-joking religion is a completely different story, the dark side of the coin.  As is just plain online-fueled hatred and mockery.  The man’s a human being, and while you do have to develop somewhat of a thick skin to do what he does — you can’t put your work out there and not expect a few barbs to prick your skin, thick or not — there’s a point where if you’re an irate fan, you just need to call it a day and walk away.  You ARE allowed to do that.  Fandom doesn’t have to be ’till death do you part, when things get so much to your dislike that you can’t be civil, you can just STFU and find something new to thrill over.  Maybe you strongly believe he DID stomp your Tokyo of a childhood Godzilla-style with Episode I – III, but act like you weren’t raised by a horde of poo-slinging howler monkeys with VCRs, ‘kay?

I know since I’ve seen People Vs. George Lucas, any time I start feeling the fanboy gene kick in, all I have to think is how badly I wanted to reach into the screen and throttle every one of those arrogant idiots, and it generally shuts me down right then and there. I’ve sworn to try my best going forward NOT to ever come across to anyone that way about anything I’m a ‘fan’ of.  (And believe me, the mere existence of Before Watchmen pushed EVERY single fanboy button I had in the past year, many of which ended up in public online forums.)  It hasn’t made me change my opinion of some of the missteps I feel George took with his work, or rekindle my own Star Wars fandom, but I certainly respect the guy a lot more.

George was quoted in talking about the Disney deal that he was “investing in his retirement”, and that’s understandable, he’s 68.  But you’re not going to tell me that the near-constant fanboy hatred didn’t play a part in him selling off his life’s work: the man certainly wasn’t hurting for cash.  He didn’t have to make more Star Wars anything.  Maybe he didn’t feel up to spending a good decade directly involved with another trilogy as a director.  Maybe he was curious to see how other people would interpret his work.

Or maybe he was just tired of all his vocal critic-slash-so-called-fans telling him he did his best work decades ago, that he just plain sucks and has sucked for a good long time, and anything he does going forward is automatically going to be an epic fail so he tried to put some distance between something he clearly loved dearly and fought hard to bring to life.

To be quite honest, if I were George, I think I’d have just shut Star Wars down entirely, and probably would’ve done so a long time ago.  No more movies, no more TV shows, no more comics, no novels, video games, no toys.  I’d have just said the hell with it, if all they’re going to do is complain, let them latch onto something else.

The sad thing is that there really is no redemption — if the new trilogy does well and makes up for whatever perceived sins the prequels committed, people will be quick to acknowledge that, of course, it was Lucas’ more hands-off stance that made success possible — if he had directed it, or written the screenplays himself, they’d have been horrid.  They’ll gloss over the ‘Story By’ credit and other people will get the praise.

If they tank, people will ignore the fact that it might have been the new blood and focus on the fact that Lucas generated the story, so failure was ingrained in the films’ DNA before the first frames were shot.  (I’m willing to bet that in 2015, I’ll see some review somewhere that will say that almost word-for-word: I didn’t spend a couple years getting paid to write videogame reviews for nothin’.)

While it’s unfashionable to not be a raging cynic, I hope Disney does right by the franchise and the new trilogy is good.  If nothing else, it’ll help some of these poor self-entitled douchebags victims reclaim their devastated childhoods.

— mal

Photo by Nicolas Genin. Snark by Michael Allan Leonard.

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2 Comments

  1. I’m excited to see what happens now. Nice to have some fresh minds running the franchise.

    • I think it’ll be interesting, to say the least. Say what you want about the prequels, everything in them did need to mesh up with the existing present / future of the original trilogy, so he was locked into making sure the story followed a specific direction and theme.

      Here, with no goal other than to make three fantastic, inventive films, he’s got a chance to really take the gloves off, creatively, and deliver something that’ll both redeem himself and make people a little sorry they gave him so much crap. And he’ll have some help in the form of new talent that might shore up some of his weak spots.

      Thanks for stopping by!


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