February 15, 2004

It's All-Out War Over "Star Wars"

IT WOULD APPEAR THAT a considerable number of Americans -- at least 53,371, anyway -- are rather upset with George Lucas.

As we understand it, folks are upset because Mr Lucas, the filmmaker behind the "Star Wars" movies, is releasing the DVD versions of the first three films in their "lame-o special edition" format, as opposed to their "pristine theatrical" format. This means that instead of watching the movies in all their original glory, "Star Wars" fans will instead be forced to watch the not-so-special special effects, editing changes, and other annoyances thrown in when the films were re-released in theatres some time back.

Yet despite this fevered opposition, LucasFilm Ltd. is sticking to its guns:

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"We realize there's a lot of debate out there," says [LucasFilm VP Jim] Ward. "But this is not a democracy. We love our fans, but this is about art and filmmaking. [George] has decided that the sole version he wants available is this one."

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Oh. Well, if it's about art and filmmaking! Perhaps we are just a bit cynical, but when we hear the words art and filmmaking in the same sentence, they are processed in our brain as the word ego.

Now, of course, such a pejorative does not hold if one is paying another a particularly nice compliment; but when it's self-referential -- as it is here -- it strikes us as a bit much. It reminds us of a line C.S. Lewis put in the mouth of one of his diabolical characters: "No man who says I'm as good as you believes it. He would not say it if he did."

For Mr Lucas is not a great artist, nor is he all that good of a film-maker. Let's be plain here: in both cases, he is pretty middling when compared with his peers on the cinematic scene.

Now, this is not meant as critically as it might seem. There is no denying that Mr Lucas is, or at least was at one time, a hell of a great storyteller. It was his mastery of this aspect of the creative arts which propelled him to his success. That, combined with his extraordinary foresight relative to the business side of moviemaking, turned Mr Lucas' efforts into an incredible franchise. Happily for him, Mr Lucas became extremely wealthy in the process.

Sadly for us, though, Mr Lucas' skill set only exhibited itself in the first two films. Why this was, we cannot say, but let's face it: it's been downhill ever since "The Return of the Jedi." And until Mr Lucas "gets back to his roots," we fear that this slide shall continue.

What really surprises us, though, is the business thinking behind Mr Lucas' move. True, as others have already said, Mr Lucas may decide to release the original films at some later date, as a way to sell more product. Still, it would seem Mr Lucas now runs the risk of alienating the "Star Wars" fan base, especially the casual fan base; thus depressing the potential market for sales of his films. Certainly we would not buy the "special edition" movies on DVD, and if people feel strongly enough about the issue, we would point out that nothing prevents them from also not buying them. And just think what would happen if everyone took this to heart!

"THIS IS NOT A DEMOCRACY:" At left, LucasFilm official J.Q. "Fritz" McConnell informs the public of the firm's decision at a January 2004 press conference. But in December 2005, with sales of the "special edition" movies not up to desired results, Mr McConnell is enlisted in the firm's "personal marketing effort" to disaffected "Star Wars" fans. At right, he is shown attempting to cajole Romney Schmidt into buying the movies at Mr Schmidt's Muncie, Ind., residence.

Of course, the above is a joke; a joke made possible through the use of video-captures from "The Obsolete Man," an episode of "The Twilight Zone" which aired back in 1961. For those of you who have not seen it, we can assure you it is remarkable television -- just as one would expect from Rod Serling, who wrote and produced the episode in question.

Now, in a way, Mr Serling was somewhat like Mr Lucas: both were extremely successful in their lines of work, and both weren't pleased with some aspects of that work. In Mr Serling's case, he hated the fact that commercials would chop up his show; in Mr Lucas's case, he apparently wasn't pleased the original "Star Wars" movies were somehow -- in his mind -- limited.

The difference, though, is that Mr Serling did not pick up his football and go home. That to us is both telling and admirable, but we would expect no less from someone whose work we hold in such high esteem; someone whom we believe had more art in his pinky finger than Mr Lucas has in his entire being.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at February 15, 2004 09:09 PM | TrackBack