Fandom Is the Path to the Dark Side

The People vs. George Lucas – This 2010 documentary presents different sides in the debate over whether Lucas ruined his legacy, and whether he had the right to do so. Not surprisingly, most of the focus is on the edits to the original trilogy and the lower quality of the prequels. In addition to the usual fan ranting, there were arguments over whether a creator has the right to alter his work. Obviously he does prior to release, but what about after that? There were mentions of how recent technology has shown that some very famous paintings were altered somewhat over time. One example that I’m surprised never came up was J.R.R. Tolkien’s editing of The Hobbit, first published in 1937, to bring it more into line with The Lord of the Rings. If Greedo getting in a shot before being killed by Han Solo was, as is often suspected, meant to soften Han’s character, the changes to The Hobbit did much the same. They not only made Gollum meaner, but also removed any claim Bilbo Baggins really had to the Ring, hence demonstrating the item’s powers of corruption. In a way, I think it’s kind of lazy to change already existing work rather than making sure your new work is in line with the old. On the other hand, I’m sure there are many things that creators wish they could go back and change, and it’s not like these changes are never for the better. The argument against Lucas wasn’t just that he changed things, however, but that he essentially tried to rewrite history by not releasing the original theatrical versions to new video formats. Regarding Han and Greedo, the Wikipedia page on the topic (and can I say how much I love that Wikipedia, so often known for deleting articles because some bigwig thinks they aren’t noteworthy enough, has an entire page on Han shooting first?) quotes Lucas as saying Greedo was always supposed to have shot first, although there’s no indication of this in the script. Lucas claimed that people who insisted Han shot first (and, indeed, was the ONLY one who shot) want the character to be a cold-blooded killer. Never mind that Greedo was holding a gun and threatening to kill Han, so it was really self-defense whether or not Greedo actually fired his weapon. If it were Star Trek I guess Han could have set his blaster to Stun, but I don’t know whether that’s possible in the Star Wars universe.

As for the prequels, I’ve frequently seen the point made that people who saw the original trilogy as kids just aren’t going to have the same experience seeing new films in the series as adults, which is probably accurate but also difficult to test. Apparently Jar Jar Binks was popular enough with the kids, although I haven’t seen any actual statistics on this point. Besides, Episodes II and III downplayed his role and made him largely responsible for the Emperor’s power grab, the latter more or less indicating that the fans were RIGHT to hate him.

The documentary obviously also mentions midichlorians, which I don’t care for not only because a biological component to a spiritual concept doesn’t really work, but also because it essentially means you can only be a Jedi if you have the genetic predisposition to be one. Otherwise, it doesn’t matter how hard you practice, because if you don’t have the midichlorians you don’t get to access the Force. It makes it much more of an elitist thing. Still, even if you hated the prequels, they couldn’t retroactively destroy your childhood. And overall, the film didn’t even seem to be about Lucas or Star Wars as much as it was about the peculiar world of fandom, where the most devoted fans are also often the worst critics. Sure, they might claim that they just hold the work to a higher standard because they thought it was so great in the past, but I’m sure we’ve also all noticed how incredibly mean hardcore fans can be. I forget the quote, but someone in the film said something about how Star Wars fans these days feel they have to hate Star Wars, which is sort of a paradox. I’m certainly not one to put down anyone for feeling passionately about works of fiction, but you also have to remember that said works don’t exist solely for you.

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7 Responses to Fandom Is the Path to the Dark Side

  1. ozaline says:

    Before there were Midicholirians there was still “Force Sensitivity,” as it was called in the expanded Universe. Luke tells Leia in ROTJ that Force flows strongly through his family and some of the comics that have impacted canon the most like Tales of the Jedi have always strongly implied that strong force sensitivity is a family trait. I think Midicholrians were unnecessary but I wasn’t as off put by them as others.

    I don’t think Han’s gun has a stun setting but we do see in the first Star Wars movie that stun settings do exist, the Storm Troopers stun Princess Leia to capture her (it’s funny we only see the “bad guys” use this option).

    Anyway I don’t mind updates, but I would like to see the original work maintained so people can compare them, enjoy the version they grew up with, or use for scholarly purposes.

  2. I’ve met at least two people who saw all six Star Wars movies for the first time as adults. The one, who is one of my best friends and so I can vouch is an intelligent person enough, actually PREFERRED the prequels, so there may be a nostalgic factor at work in the “original is better” stuff after all. The other loved them all equally, when she saw them in “episode” order, and it was fun talking to her, and she joked that when she first saw Luke and Leia (as young adults), she actually thought, “Wow, they managed to cast people who really DO look like the offspring of Hayden Christensen and Natalie Portman!” and it took her a few moments to rethink that.

    I’ve been writing lately about the insanity of fandom myself. I love loving things, but sometimes I just wish I could disassociate myself as much as possible from some of the people who consider themselves fans of the things I love!

  3. I saw Star Wars in 1977 when it first came out. I was twelve. I loved it. I debated with myself whether it had become my favorite movie. (I was big on designating favorites in Everything, a trait I’m sure I would find annoying now.) Still, I was surprised when I heard about the repeat business, the kids who would go again & again. After a few months the movie was still playing – which was unusual, of course – I went back, this time attending a matinee. The first time I saw it with my mother & brother and an enthusiastic audience. The matinee, however, by myself and there were few others filling seats. No cheering. No surprises in the movie – I mean, I’d seen it already. It wasn’t as good the second time through so I decided it wasn’t my Favorite Movie of All Time. But I was still a fan.

    Fast forward to college. A friend and I attended a marathon screening of the three movies then in existence. Thank God for the enthusiastic audience. Because otherwise I don’t think I could have made it all the way thru. That was fun enough, I said as friend and I left the theater, but I don’t think I need ever see those again.

    Dragged to the tarted up version of Star Wars: New Hope. Bored.

    I saw all the prequels in the theater. I didn’t hate Jar Jar because I didn’t blame him for the first movie not being very good. I’ve wondered about watching all six movies back to back. But I have another season of Dexter to watch. And books to read.

  4. Count me in the hardcore fanbase segment. I’ve written a little for the franchise (fiction and non-fiction) and have all the books, comic-books, short-stories, etc., and am probably most known for my Star Wars Expanded Universe Timeline ( I was asked to participate in The People Vs. George Lucas, but declined.

    It’s a good documentary particularly because, as Nathan mentions, it looks as the larger issue of the public’s claim to art once it’s released to them. The issue isn’t Lucas’ tinkering with his films — and I’m one who prefers the Special Editions and thinks they could use even more work — it’s Lucas not allowing the original versions to be released in a modern format, so that fans can choose the version they want, and others can decide for themselves which they prefer.

    This is ironic (or, to put it bluntly, hypocritical) b/c Lucas testified in Congress against the altering of films, arguing that art released to the public is part of our national treasure and belongs to the public. Copyright holders are merely custodians until it goes into public domain, he stated, and any who would alter or destroy these works are “barbarians.” “Our cultural history must not be allowed to be rewritten,” he argues. You can read the full-transcript here:

    So, really Lucas’ own arguments condemn his own actions years later.

    As to the prequels themselves, I think they’re somewhat victim of the hubris of this older filmmaker who bought into his own hype and forgot that Star Wars and The Empire Strikes Back (his most beloved films, as well as American Graffiti) were the end-result of collaboration, namely with Marcia Lucas, Gary Kurtz, Gloria and Bill Huyuk, and others who worked on the script for the first released Star Wars film (Lawrence Kasdan, Leigh Brackett, Irvin Kershner and Marcia Lucas worked on the script for The Empire Strikes Back). Compare that with the fact that he alone wrote The Phantom Menace and Attack of the Clones, and what you have are some great ideas terribly executed because of poor writing and weak directing. Sadly, a younger Lucas recognized and even publically admitted that he’s not a great writer and doesn’t enjoy the process, which is why he gave his basic ideas to writers to flesh out. Flash-forward to the older megalomaniac filmmaker and the result are two films with cartoony characters (Jar Jar, the Gungans, the battle-droids), childish humor, bad dialogue and some poor choices in casting (Lucas needs actors who are more seasoned and less reliant on direction). Revenge of the Sith is for the most part spared of this because the story was already in place, is organically a dark film (something Lucas does well when he puts his mind to it), and, he’d hired an actual director (disguised by the title dialogue coach) to work with the actors (something he dislikes and doesn’t put time into).

    The final result is three arguably great films and three films that could’ve been much better. Perhaps it’s the latter that aggravates fans, but Lucas contributed to his downfall with other bad decisions, e.g., the aforementioned suppression of the original unaltered trilogy, downgrading the quality of the films on DVD and blue-ray to match the poor quality that Episode II: Attack of the Clones was shot in; re-releasing the films on home-video formats countless times with different specials and features to lure fans back in for another dip; pandering to the kiddie demographic with The Phantom Menace and the Clone Wars (though this decision flip-flopped, so that the series is also a bit violent at times); commercializing the franchise to such a degree that it’s characters and storylines are cheapened and degraded; lying about having said various things (e.g., that there would an episode 7, 8 and 9, and 10, 11 and 12) when numerous articles and interviews prove otherwise; obfuscating the role of his collaborators in favor of the myth of Lucas as sole creator; the list goes on.

    I guess it’s like all icons; over time they fall, though in this case, Lucas himself gathered the kindling and put the fuel on the fire. He went from being considered the greatest genre filmmaker of all time to becoming an object of loathing and humiliation.

    What’s great about the documentary, however, is that it sagaciously balances things by also discussing the positives that people often forget when they discover that their hero has feet of clay. I don’t recall if the film mentions these, but Lucas donated half his fortune to education; Lucas started a literary empire that boasts even more titles than the Oz series — which turned a lot of young people who’d never read before onto reading; Lucas made numerous advances to the art of cinema, and not just in special effects (though that’s a significant contribution), for example, notice how older films always have the credits roll at the start of the film; Lucas changed that with Star Wars; Lucas did for a generation what the Oz books (and film) did for their generations — give people a new avenue for the imagination, and make fantasy & science fiction credible again; the list goes on.

    What that leaves is a fascinating, complex, groundbreaking and frustrating filmmaker.

    • Nathan says:

      As far as collaboration goes, someone in the documentary pointed out how people other than writers contributed a lot to the film, and they had no say in what Lucas did with it. For instance, the special effects won awards, and Lucas later replaced some of those effects with CGI. It might have looked more realistic, but it was less technically impressive.

      I remember when watching Attack of the Clones, I was struck by how bad Hayden Christensen was at delivering his lines. Lucas’ refusal to work with the actors might have something to do with this.

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