George Lucas: Do As I Say, Not As I Do

Did you think that George Lucas would simply fade off into obscurity after selling his Lucasfilm dynasty to Disney and handing the reigns of the ‘Star Wars’ franchise to J.J. Abrams? These days, the former mogul can be found lecturing film students against doing the very things he built his entire career and multi-billion-dollar empire doing. Does this make him a hypocrite, or just one of the least self-aware people in the world?

“Don’t forget the basics. Don’t get enamored with new technology, because it’s not new. Just the medium we’re working in is new, but that doesn’t change anything. The art of what we do is exactly the same. It’s beyond technology. It’s the art of movies.”

So says the man who made the technology-driven, story-lacking ‘Star Wars’ prequels, and who repeatedly defaced his older, more beloved movies to update them with the latest in whizbang CG gimmicks while tossing the original, historically significant versions in a trash can. Few filmmakers in the history of cinema have been so enamored with new technology as George Lucas.

This statement was made last week at Lucas’ alma mater, the USC School of Cinematic Arts. Last year at the same location, he and pal Steven Spielberg – pioneers of the mega-budget blockbuster – gave a speech warning Hollywood against making mega-budget blockbusters.

Ever since threatening to retire a couple of years ago, Lucas has claimed that he wants to devote the rest of his life to making “small, personal films” of greater artistic significance. The first of those, the cheesy $58 million action CG-fest ‘Red Tails‘, opened in the summer of 2012 to terrible reviews and tanked at the box office.

To give him some credit, the new speech was delivered on the occasion of George Lucas making a sizable endowment to the school. Upon closing the Lucasfilm sale to Disney, he also donated $4 billion to education. It’s kind of hard to hate a guy who would do something like that, even if he insists on desecrating the cultural legacy of the art he created.

[Source: Variety via Indiewire.]

43 comments

  1. NJScorpio

    Who better to know the repercussions of such actions than Lucas? Perhaps he is very self aware of his mistakes, but isn’t coming straight out and saying “I shouldn’t have screwed around with Star Wars; I should have just created a new property with that time and energy.”

    I get that someone famous will eventually (out of necessity) tune out the negative things the public says. But, I never read or hear about someone saying the revisions to the original trilogy was a good idea. Just the fact that Jabba had to be redone after the first CG attempt should have made Lucas see that CG (like plastic surgery) is dated to what is both appealing and capable at the time. Good practical effects don’t age nearly as badly.

    A great non-Star Wars example of this is the Aliens franchise. Fantastic practicle effects in the first two. In the third, Fincher (to his credit) used CG Aliens to make them more mobile. Looking back, that film looks more dated.

  2. Yawn….more narrow-minded, misguided and uninformed internet-based jealousy and hatred directed at the greatest artist of our time, and the (continued) author of the greatest saga of all silver screen time. Episodes I-III have all the passion and basics of great cinematic storytelling. Yes, it has the smoke and mirrors of the special effects of the latest technology in computer animation, but it also has Q-Tips as audience members for the pod race, spilling salt in a miniature set to create a waterfall on Naboo, actual lava from Mount Etna shot on location, and rubber masks to portray aliens as well as pixels. The bottom line, and the point of his quote, is to not get ahead of yourself when learning the art of filmmaking. He is simply telling students of today’s filmmaking to understand that the art of cinema hasn’t changed, only the tools to achieve it. and the craft of a shot, of editing, and of sound, are the basics that serve the story you want to tell. That’s what you need to learn first. It’s a shame that most people our age didn’t see that the prequels were brilliant stories that made the original trilogy even more brilliant in the new context of a broader saga.

    • Josh Zyber
      Author

      We didn’t see that the prequels were brilliant stories that made the original trilogy even more brilliant, because that simply isn’t true on any level.

        • NJScorpio

          At a certain point, when such a large percentage of people develop (interdependently) the same opinion regarding the quality of something, then some weight needs to be given to their point of view.

          Like Amazon reviews. If a product gets 1 or 2 stars from everyone else, but you give it a 5 star, people will start to think that you have the subjective view, while the others have the objective view.

          • Nic

            1. Didn’t you mean “independently?” To say they developed their opinions interdependently is to say they relied on each other in forming their opinions. That they were mutually dependent on each other.

            2. I actually think that for some people you used the right word. Many people’s intense feelings about the films didn’t develop in a vaccuum. It happened within a cultural context, one that in some circle very quickly resolved that hating new Star Wars films is the cool thing. For at least some people that had to play some role.

            3. Is there really such a thing as “the objective view” when it comes to the appreciation of art? I know many, myself included, who would be inclined to say no.

            4. But even if it turns out there is, it’s not clear that the objective view correlates to the majority view? That is, why is it that majority rule dictates (or reveals) what should be appreciated?

            5. I’m certainly inclined to think that art is not like consumer goods in the way you equate them. A vacuum cleaner, for example, has an objective purpose, and the extent to which it serves that purpose can be objectively measure. What would be the objective purpose of art (like the Prequels) and how could one objectively measure the extent to which it serves that purpose? It’s not clear to me at all that liking a movie that other people dislike is the same as liking a vacuum cleaner that doesn’t clean carpets very well.

            6. Even if art has an objective purpose that can be objectively measured like a vacuum cleaner, and that it is the majority who decides/reveals how well a work of art serves that purpose, there’s still the matter of the adequacy of the polling sample. If the sample isn’t sufficiently representative of the actual population, the results are inconclusive. Just because some people on the internet feel a certain way (say, about the Prequels), that doesn’t mean they are representative of the entire population (say, everyone who has seen the Prequels).

            So yeah, I like the Prequels, I think the author is being unfair to George Lucas, and I hope you all have a great day.

    • If anything, the prequels are more overrated than they should be just because of the Star Wars brand. If The Phantom Menace actually WERE the first film released, there never would have been a Chapter II.

    • Adam, have you SEEN the prequels? George Lucas succeeded in making Samuel L. Jackson, Liam Neeson, Ewan McGregor, Ian McDiarmid, and Natalie Portman – most of whom are multiple cinematic award winners – seem like utterly dull, wooden, b-movie actors. George Lucas had nothing but yes-men kissing his butt during the entire production of the Prequels, and no one willing to challenge his artistic/writing/directing choices to make a better movie. No, I don’t think they’re the worst movies ever, and they do have redeeming qualities, but it felt like Ol’ Georgie just sat back and whispered his way through production, not trying too hard to do his best, because he’s George Lucas, Dammit, and he craps money and fame.

      George Lucas is well aware of the fact that when he started out, he was making movies in ways that didn’t rely on big studios and big money, that he despised the corporate control that the industry had to live with; yet, with his success, he became the very thing he despised. And with the Prequels, he used his clout and money and technology to churn out low-level popcorn entertainment that has no long-term value, unlike the great originals that will live on in cinematic history. The Original Star Wars Trilogy will forever be revered by most. The Prequels will forever be scorned by most.

      Beauty part about having an opinion, is that I can also believe my opinion on the Prequels is more correct than yours. And Josh was completely right in his assessment.

    • PaulB

      I like that somehow “internet-based” is meant as a belittling reference as if there is some other way that we communicate today.. Would it be more impressive to you if it were Fax-based? All the film makers and critics that have issues with what he has done also “internet-based”?

      Haven’t seen too many Lucas apologists internet-based or otherwise but I’m sure he is glad you exist.
      For the rest of us, we will see a person who did a few great movies and more impactfully, created some important technology copies. But one that has forgotten that the art of making movies includes a collaborative effort and his Star Wars would have looked nothing like the final version if Luke Starkiller and the rest of what he wanted wasn’t modified due to in an collaboration with the studios and others. We will also see a hypocrite who got up in front congress and called for preservation of historic movies and that alteration of them was a crime yet he modified core elements of his while giving various version of bald face lies about why the original versions couldn’t be released.

      If you really want to know what the real world feels, go watch some clips from Simon Pegg or Patton Oswalt in regards to the post 80’s Lucas. Probably a episode of South Park regarding Indiana Jones you should watch as well..

    • Josh Zyber
      Author

      How familiar are you with Camille Paglia? Her career is based on saying crazy things to be provocative. Her audio commentary on Basic Instinct, which she calls the greatest feminist work of the cinematic age and repeatedly praises for its “wet tumescent sexual attraction,” is a riot.

      I enjoyed this article. I don’t agree with much of it, but I enjoyed reading it.

      • I am familiar with Paglia making provocative statements with regard to art. With this article, she is dead on accurate. Lucas’ legacy should be remembered in this light, not in the ugly Internet backlash against him.

  3. John

    Ok, well look I take issue with the “Red Tails” comment: it may’ve been cheesy, but it was entertaining. It’s a skilled filmmaker making a movie about a topic that nobody else really cared about. I have not spoken with anybody that didn’t enjoy that film. Anyway, not really the point just a comment. Lucas’s comments go along with what he and Spielberg said a year or two ago about the film industry changing and people paying Broadway prices to see a film in a more luxury environment/special occassion, and seeing most films at home. I am enjoying his comments and thanks for pointing out his efforts with Education. He created a legacy, and a set of characters that will be around, and relevent now for generations. Kids will grow up loving Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader just like they still love Mickey and Donald, and those Disney characters. He’s left an indelible mark on cinema….with a few missteps along the way for sure. I cannot think of any great director or actor or playwright or writer, for that matter, that doesn’t have this kind of dual story about them.

  4. Chris B

    An ENTIRE TRILOGY of horribly botched movies is more than a few missteps along the way. The fact that he didn’t stop after the The Phantom Menace and reevaluate things is a testatment to how out of touch with reality the guy is…

  5. … if you think the prequels didn’t had a story you obviously wasn’t paying attention. I could write pages about the story developed over the three films and its significance to the whole saga. It’s one thing to say you didn’t liked such story, but to say it’s nonexistent it’s presenting a personal opinion as a fact. About the updates to the original trilogy, I don’t see one single change that ruins the experience, because the story is still there, Darth Vader is wawesome as always, Luke and Lei still swing across the chasm, the rebels still lost in Hoth and the Ewoks still defeated the Empire. But of course I don’t expect ANYONE to accept my personal opinion on this, and I really don’t give a crap, the films are there for me to enjoy whenever I want, but I expect more from people doing articles for respectable sites, than just an overlong rant usually found in the comments section

  6. Chris B

    The updates are needless and only take away from the original trilogy, they knock it down in terms of quality.

    The most infuriating of these was the alteration made to the climactic scene near the end of “Jedi”, when Vader tosses the emperor down that huge shaft on the death star. The original version had so much understated emotional power, Vader rejecting the the dark side to save his only son, and prove he hadn’t become all bad after all. It encapsulated familiar themes of good vs. evil, a father’s love, rebellion against tyranny etc. It was probably the single most powerful and moving scene in the entire franchise and in all of cinema…until Lucas had Vader let out an over the top wail of: “NOOOOOOOO!!!” as he grabbed the Emperor. That cheapened the scene and ruined the immersion, it turned something of pure magic into a corny, dumbed-down version of itself….I was so dissapointed with it.

  7. Chris B

    Quick edit: above should read “ONE OF the most moving scenes” as opposed to “THE most moving scene…” I mean hell I love Star Wars but I love a lot of movies…who knows what the greatest scene of all time is…..haha

  8. Someone (who knows George, but I can’t remember whom) once described Lucas as that crazy neighbor next door who is always working on his car…he knows a lot about cars, but he’s never finished tinkering with the thing.

    I think that perfectly describes Lucas’ history with Star Wars. He built something fantastic, but then kept fooling around with it until it was no longer special anymore.

  9. Timcharger

    Josh, you only needed to take out the “story-lacking ‘Star Wars’ prequels” part,
    and your argument is sound. Obviously, Lucas has tinkered and retinkered,
    updating his films with the latest technology. Lucas is Tony Stark, tinkering with
    his 23rd version of the Iron Man suit. Maybe Lucas is suffering from trauma
    from the Battle of New York?

    Lucas’ comments about not getting enamored with new technology is jaw-dropping.

    But If you want to complain about the prequels, that’s a different topic for a
    different blog.

    However, when your twins boys grow up and watch the 6 films (maybe 7, 8, 9 by
    then). You will learn how much magic, there are in the prequels.

    I’m not saying they will like Jar Jar Binks. But as kid, I thought C3PO was a waste of
    time, too. And no one should like the acting in the courtship of Anakin and Padme,
    but no amount of technology tinkering can change that.

      • Timcharger

        And that’s a battle you’re gonna lose, Josh. How can you keep
        Star Wars out of their lives?

        Don’t fight it. Let them and you’ll learn that despite how
        ridiculous Lucas is about his tinkering. It’s also petty of us to
        shout high treason against him. The marvel, the joy, the
        entertainment your twins will experience is something you
        want to see.

        Maybe when they are much, much older, then you may want
        to show them the original version to make your point. Let
        them experience a many years of Santas before they learn
        about the SPOILER ALERT: fake beard and red suit.

          • Timcharger

            Daddy, no we don’t wanna watch that giant worm movie again.
            You promised us. There better be lightsabers in this film!

            All our friends got to visit Tomorrowland when going to Disneyland.
            I don’t believe you, that whole section of Disneyland was closed
            when we went.

            Mommy! Daddy is making us watch Dune again…
            🙂

          • Josh Zyber
            Author

            We’ve got 50 years of Star Trek for them to go through before they need to worry about Star Wars. I think I’ll start them with TOS and tackle it all chronologically. They’ll be 20 before they ever hear George Lucas’ name. 🙂

      • Josh, what you want are the Harmy Despecialized editions. Closest thing you will get to an official restored OT. While not exactly legal, who among us has not bought the originals multiple times on multiple formats. If they released it I would pay for it yet again, until they do these will due. It would not surprise me if Lucas made NEVER releasing the originals a stipulation of selling Lucasfilm. E-Mail me and I can point you in the right direction.

        • Josh Zyber
          Author

          Aren’t those the ones that try to “fix” perceived errors in the films while undoing some of Lucas’s “fixes.” Or is that Adywan? I get them mixed up.

  10. Trond Michelsen

    Completely unrelated to the article, but I can’t be arsed to find out where to send site bug reports.

    The “Recent Comments” column shows the wrong dates. It’ll always show the date of the article you’re viewing. I.e., all comments are dated “March 20” on this article, but if you visit an older article, like this: http://www.highdefdigest.com/blog/videogames-xbox-one-launch/ all comments are dated “November 22”.

    • Josh Zyber
      Author

      The “Feedback” section of the site forum is the best place to report bugs. I will pass this one along. The site redesign still has some glitches that are being worked on little by little.

      • Trond Michelsen

        Thanks. I created a thread there as well now. While I was at it, I noticed that the dates are off in the footer as well 🙂

      • Josh Zyber
        Author

        There could be a bug that affects different browsers differently. I recommend that items like this be reported in the Feedback section of the site forum. Be sure to include info on what browser (including version number) you’re using. Thanks.

      • Trond Michelsen

        Not on the comments themselves, but in the “Recent Comments” column (or “widget”), on the top right corner of the page.

  11. Dan

    I would’ve been ok with the tinkering if it was done with the same taste as original series Star Trek. Make SOME improvements sparingly. For example, I thought the re-done Death Star explosion was better than the original ball of sparks. Having a little bit more activity in the airspace of Mos Eisley makes sense, etc. That kind of thing. Only make small, mild cosmetic improvements. Definitely don’t mess with the story or characters or dialog. Unfortunately, Lucas just went way, way too far with it. He didn’t have enough self discipline to restrain himself.

    • Josh Zyber
      Author

      The addition of the Praxis ring kills the Death Star explosion. The original scene is still better. There is not one single change Lucas made to the Star Wars films that I think was an improvement. Every one of them makes the movie worse. The “updated” effects are already more dated than the originals.

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