Thursday, May 19, 2005

I Hate George Lucas

By the time this post has been injected into the blogosphere, many of you will already have plunked down your hard-earned cash in order to witness George Lucas's latest cinematic atrocity. I'm sure that I won't be far behind you. Despite my certainty that this film will once again redefine the maximum possible disparity between resource expenditure and product quality, I know that I will be unable to resist its siren call. Besides which, since it is sure to gross approximately $100 billion over the course of its existence, denying George Lucas my measly 10 bucks wouldn't affect him in the slightest. As much as I would like to hurt this man in some way, my hands are tied.

You see, like the title of this post says, I hate George Lucas. I realize that "hate" is strong language to employ and that it might shock some of you to see it in this context. But, as I search my soul with an open mind and an honest heart, I must admit that it is true. There are few in this world who can draw such emotion from me. I reserve it for the worst of the worst. George -- you win the prize.

Now, I don't hate him for assaulting us with The Phantom Menace and Attack of the Clones. Sure, they didn't endear him to me in any way. In fact, it's fair to say that these films were crushing disappointments. They looked pretty (for the most part) and each provided an exhilarating light saber battle for our amusement. Yet, they lacked plot, meaningful characters, believable dialogue, and -- worst of all -- the slightest hint of excitement. Rather gaping omissions, if you ask me.

But, I don't hate him for it. Lots of people produce great work early in their careers, only to stumble later. Paul McCartney was fantastic as a Beatle, but a chump as a Wing. Stephen King is rightly considered a legend of the horror genre, despite the fact that I quite regularly wipe my ass with the pages from Tommyknockers. Even Francis Ford Coppola, after giving us The Godfather, The Godfather: Part II, and Apocalypse Now, left us with Dracula and The Godfather: Part III. The presence of sin doesn't erase all acts of virtue. I may be disappointed by their fall from grace, but I won't condemn them for it.

No, my distaste with George Lucas is driven by something altogether different.

As most of you know, the recent Star Wars abominations were preceded by a re-release of the original trilogy (identified as the Special Edition). But, this re-release wasn't simply a crisp new print of the original films. Instead, George Lucas decided to produce new edits of the original films. Some of the changes were mere touch ups, erasing flaws introduced by the special effects of the era (no complaints here). Others allowed him to add scenes that had been cut from the original due to certain technical infeasibilities. He also chose to add in a fair amount of background to certain scenes, inserting alien creatures that had been unrenderable without CGI.

Some of these changes were OK, but most of them were not. In fact, most of them were laughable. But, again, I don't hate him for it.

This is why I hate him. There it is a very important scene in the original Star Wars with Han Solo and the bounty hunter Greedo. Apparently, Hans Solo owed money to the intergalactic gangster known as Jaba the Hut and Greedo had been hired to bring him in. During the scene in question, Greedo finally catches up with Han Solo. Because he's a rather unscrupulous character, Greedo makes it clear that he can be bought off. Han Solo pretends to negotiate for a few moments, but once Greedo lets his guard down, Han shoots him dead -- in cold blood.

From this scene we learn a lot about who Han Solo is. He is a ruthless mercenary with a checkered past, willing to kill those who would stand in his way. He is out for himself and no one else. This is important because, at the end of the film, after abandoning Luke and Leia to attack the Death Star alone, he returns at a crucial moment to assist in its destruction. Thus, Han is transformed from selfish rogue to selfless hero. How about that? Actual character development.

Unfortunately, this isn't how the scene plays out in the Special Edition release. I'll let the Star Wars databank speak for itself.
Greedo was an overzealous bounty hunter hired by Jabba the Hutt to collect on Han Solo. Greedo challenged Solo in the Mos Eisley Cantina. At blaster point, the Rodian demanded Solo pay his debt to Jabba. Solo claimed he didn't have the money with him. Greedo had lost his patience, and opened fire. His shot missed; it was the last mistake Greedo would make. Solo opened fire with his powerful blaster pistol, ripping through the cantina table and the Rodian's chest.
That's right. In the Special Edition release of Star Wars, the version that truly represents George Lucas's vision, Greedo shoots first! Suddenly, Han's preemptive murder becomes an act of self-defense. So, while he may be a little rough around the edges, he's basically a nice guy who wouldn't hurt anyone (who wasn't a bloodthirsty killer attempting to vaporize him -- and could you blame him?).

This isn't just cleanup work. This isn't background enhancement. This is a dramatic modification of character that affects the entire rest of the movie. Han's selfish protestations that ensue no longer ring as true. His insistence upon payment for rescuing the princess are out of sync with the character now being drawn. And, worst of all, his act of redemption during the final moments of battle no longer signify an ethical rebirth. Instead, we're left wondering why it took so long.

Moreover, it erases one of the few thematic ambiguities of the entire series: that not everyone is purely good or evil. Some exist in the space in between, to be potentially drawn to one side or the other as they are influenced by those around them. Han didn't start off good -- he became good, won over by the nobility of his peers. That's a message worth learning.

But, George Lucas doesn't care. I have heard that he now believes that Han's cold-blooded murderer of his pursuer is too dark an event to be witnessed by children. Apparently, he was uncomfortable with children idolizing someone so distasteful. Thus, he "cleaned it up." Now, we can all watch the film without these troubling complexities. Wonderful.

So, that's my problem with the man. Sure, he hates actors, dialogue, and plot. He is completely subservient to the cross-marketing aspects of his production. He has completely lost touch with his creative roots. But, I could forgive all that if he could maintain an iota of respect for the characters that he once brought to life. However, those characters are as capriciously mutable as the background scenery, to be pasteurized in service of his arrogant impression of his audience. Star Wars was never Shakespeare, but within it there were moments that lifted it above typical sci-fi schlock. No longer. This mutation (and many others) demonstrate that he is no longer interested in producing anything but bubblegum cinematic drivel. So strong is this drive that he is willing to literally undo the past. That, I cannot forgive.

That's my case. George -- if you're out there -- you suck. You mercilessly eviscerated a great character and spat upon all those who loved him. For that, I grant no quarter. I promise that for as long as I live, I will revile you, body and soul.

Forever. Get used to it.
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