Last night at the Star Wars: The Force Awakens premiere, Star Wars creator George Lucas (pictured above left) got a standing ovation for a film he had precisely nothing to do with. And, oddly, that’s just the way many fans would have it.
George Lucas had just two features under his belt, THX 1138 and American Graffiti, when he unleashed Star Wars onto the world in 1977. Five more films followed, including the staggeringly misjudged prequel trilogy, and there was endless tinkering with the flawed-but-glorious originals in between.
First there were the special editions, which amended the sorts of things no one but Lucas cared about, then further changes for a 2004 DVD release, again on the 2006 DVD release, and even more for the 2011 BluRay edition.
All in all, Lucas seemed hell-bent on undoing his masterpiece, not to mention fleecing the imperially loyal fanbase who bought any new versions of the films they could. Interestingly, one of the most sought-after versions of the original trilogy is a fan-made take called The Despecialised Edition featuring the original theatrical cuts of the films in never-officially released in HD.
When Lucas sold LucasFilm, and the rights to make more Star Wars, in 2012, he sold it to Disney. No angels, sure, but they do know how to make an entertaining film, and in choosing JJ Abrams (pictured above right), director of Lost, Super 8, Cloverfield and the rebooted Star Trek movies, they have a director that looks like the natural successor Steven Spielberg, the king of the blockbuster and the man Lucas asked to direct his Indiana Jones franchise.
Technically, George Lucas was a visionary, founding the peerless Industrial Light And Magic effects division to bring his ideas to life, and helping create THX sound, the benchmark in cinema audio visuals. Directorially, he’s far less impressive, unable to draw the best from his cast. He somehow turned seasoned award-winners Ewan McGregor and Natalie Portman into dreadfully directed cardboard cutouts spouting hammy dialogue, and could only get a passable performance out of Alec Guinness, one of the very best actors we’ve ever seen. It’s no coincidence the official greatest Star Wars film, The Empire Strikes Back, was directed and scripted by other people.
“You can type this shit, George, but you sure can’t say it,” was what Harrison Ford said during filming A New Hope. Lawrence Kasdan, who has written the stories for the forthcoming Star Wars films, made a name for himself rewriting Empire and Return Of The Jedi, and was reportedly frequently heard saying: “This is a terrible scene, I can’t believe George wrote it,” while working.
Lucas was aware of his shortcomings, and in a 1999 interview with Empire magazine after the release of The Phantom Menace, admitted: “I’d be the first person to say I can’t write dialogue. My dialogue is very utilitarian and is designed to move things forward. I’m not Shakespeare. It’s not designed to be poetic. It’s not designed to have a clever turn of phrase.”
If that’s not bizarre on its own – a director saying dialogue is only designed to be expositional – a recent interview with CBS was even more revealing. Lucas said after initial meetings with Disney, they weren’t interested in his story outline for The Force Awakens, so he walked away.
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“They wanted to make something for the fans,” he said. “All I wanted to do was tell the story of what happened.”
For all these reasons, his absence from The Force Awakens can only be a very good thing. He’s 71, hardly needs the money – he’s worth around $5bn – and deserves a retirement. His place among Star Wars fans is secure, and he can finally enjoy the film franchise as much as everyone else does.
“I never got that experience that everyone else got to have,” he told the Washington Post. “I never got to see ‘Star Wars’. So this time I’m going to.”