Welcome

Welcome to the blog.

Work on Rogue Genius is nearing completion, and the book will be available in early September 2016.  Are you unfamiliar with the book?  Let me give you a brief synopsis:

Rogue Genius looks at George Lucas’ early career and influences, his famous work on Star Wars and Indiana Jones, and his further endeavors as a businessman and innovator.  It assesses his legacy and then investigates the harshest criticisms levied against him.

I grew up during the era of the Star Wars Special Editions and prequels and have always been a bit of a George Lucas apologist.  I wanted a writing project that would allow me to formulate my thoughts on Lucas and his work while challenging me to maintain impartiality.

My hope is that this blog will serve as a companion of sorts to the book while establishing a forum to share my thoughts and opinions on all matters related to Lucas and Star Wars.

I compiled hordes of notes in research for this book, and in the process of editing and condensing, I removed portions that might have been too tangential or redundant. Not every idea was a winner, but many worthy thoughts were left on the cutting-room floor in the name of concision.  Think of this blog as the special features of Rogue Genius.

I hope you’ll visit often and check out Rogue Genius when it releases next month.

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Too Many Lightsabers?

One of the more laughable criticisms leveled at George Lucas in the Red Letter Media reviews of the prequels is the alleged over-abundance of lightsabers in the films.  Plinkett clearly spawned this argument from the notion that Lucas ruined the mythical aspects of the original trilogy.  Neither claim holds water.

The prequels had a job to do in providing the Skywalker backstory.  The less-is-more approach to the original films had more to do with technical limitations and storytelling context than any magic Star Wars formula.  The idea that the prequels suffered from too many lightsabers is a canard designed to repackage disappointment with Lucas’ vision.

Though Palpatine and Yoda do not wield lightsabers in the original trilogy, the weapon clearly holds importance to Force users.  Obi-Wan describes it as such in A New Hope, and if the prequels showcased the Jedi at the tail-end of their peak it stands to reason that lightsabers would feature prominently.  Arguing against their prevalence is simply finding another way to say ‘I don’t like Lucas’ vision for the prequels.’

That’s like saying there were too many robes or cloaks in the prequels (though Plinkett takes issue with the Jedi wardrobe choices, but that’s another issue entirely).  Ultimately, the underlying disappointment is with a storyline that features hordes of Jedi where before there were but a handful.  This is letting nostalgia cloud judgment.

The original trilogy didn’t establish precedent of the Jedi as few in number.  There’s clearly a genetic component to Force sensitivity.  Because the original films don’t describe the Skywalker family as having a near-exclusive relationship with the Force, it’s safe to assume that there are more attuned beings across the galaxy.  But since the Jedi had been eradicated, the number of trained Force users is sparse.  However, if the prequels show the Jedi before their fall, it stands to reason that they would number heavily.

So, if the Jedi favor lightsabers and the backstory features numerous Jedi, it stands to reason that there would be no shortage of the weapon.  If you think Lucas totally bungled the backstory to the original trilogy, at least come out and say it.  But finding new ways to regurgitate the same complaint does not enhance your argument.

Jekyll and Hyde Prequel Criticism

The single most frustrating aspect of prequel criticism is the perpetuation of two competing stereotypes that form the foundation for many complaints.  Often in the same breath, critics will deride the prequels for making Star Wars a political bore while also complaining that the films embarrassed the original trilogy with silly, childish content.  If it isn’t one or the other, it’s probably neither.

The poster child for the supposed immaturity is, of course, Jar Jar Binks, the most reviled character in the series.  To have his detractors describe him, he resulted from market research designed to maximize action-figure sales.  But this argument presupposes both a lack of precedent for such a character in the original trilogy and an inarguable perception that Jar Jar embodies the juvenile prequels.  Neither is true, at least not to an unimpeachable extent.

George Lucas dismissed criticism of the character as a retread of the flak he received for C-3PO, the template for the annoying tagalong.  There are also shades of Binks in Wicket and the Ewoks, though ironically Return of the Jedi has been victimized by contradictory critical reception as well.  While arguing the merits of Jar Jar, it’s easy to lose sight that the prequels aren’t “kiddy.”  Lucas geared the films to children, just as he did with the original trilogy, but they appeal to adults as well.  Comparing the decidedly lighter The Phantom Menace to The Empire Strikes Back is a bit of a false equivalency because any prequel implications derived are undermined by the fact that Revenge of the Sith is, to this point, the darkest film in the entire series.

It’s laughable that a film featuring a person halved by a lightsaber mere moments after stabbing someone through the chest could be deemed childish.  The same could be said for the slaughtering of an entire village in Attack of the Clones and murdering legions of Jedi, including innocent children, in Revenge of the Sith.  (Incidentally, I always cringed at referring to the young Jedi as “younglings” until it was pointed out that Lucas probably didn’t want to inundate audiences without explicitly saying “murdered kids.”)

Refuting the notion that the prequels are childish does not preclude the possibility that they are boring.  This is a bit more subjective, but not impossible to argue against.  At times, the films appeal to the policy wonks among the audience, but they rarely feel like a galactic C-SPAN as often argued.

The flaws in this critical argumentation are numerous, but the most fatal stems from projecting an exaggerated criticism across the entire prequel trilogy.  Like Jar Jar, the trade dispute primarily featured in The Phantom Menace.  Yet critics have lumped all of the prequels together in order to complain that Lucas created a series of films about ‘boring space taxes.’  God forbid a film series that would ultimately reveal how a grand republic would become a ruthless empire broach the issue of politics.

The biggest subplot of the entire trilogy is how a force-sensitive political rogue gamed the system to accrue authority while grooming a powerful Jedi to help him execute his ultimate power grab.  In such a story, sometimes political dialogue is necessary, especially since the same critics who exaggeratedly bemoaned the scripts’ wonkiness would likely mock attempts to provide procedural exposition during action sequences.  The prequels didn’t violate the spirit of Star Wars with politics because no one consciously kept them out of the original trilogy, they just were not necessary.  In fact, allusions to the senate and empire validate expounding upon those ideas in the backstory.

If the prequels offend your adult sensibilities, fine.  Seems a bit heavy-handed but you’re entitled to your opinion.  But if you cry immaturity and then switch gears to bemoan the bore of their political content, it becomes hypocritical.  Nuance would greatly help these criticisms, but the hyperbole forbids it.  I could agree to disagree with someone who dislikes portions of the films as too childish or boring.  But blanket, contradictory statements deserve a sharp rebuke.

Proving My Impartial Bona Fides with “Jedi Rocks”

Though I largely consider myself an apologist for George Lucas against his most ardent critics, I find myself simpatico with one of their major points of contention:  “Jedi Rocks.”

As always, the caveat, of course, is that while I agree with the spirit of their criticism, or at least can acknowledge their argumentation if not endorse it, I can’t go to their hyperbolic lengths.  In this instance, I’m closer than ever before.  But no amount of cringe can sully my cherished memories of Return of the Jedi after the fact.

For those unfamiliar, of which I’m sure there are few, one of the biggest revisions in the Special Editions led to an overhaul of the musical number featured in Jabba the Hutt’s palace.  The adjustment came at the best of Lucas who (rightfully) felt that the puppet work in the original film did not measure up to the effects standards of the trilogy.  Unfortunately, they took a charmingly bizarre song entitled “Lapti Nek” and replaced it with the lengthy and distracting “Jedi Rocks.”

If everything stayed the same save replacing the puppets with CGI, it’s not as if the segment would be perfect.  Lucas rationalized the original scene by finding humor in the idea of a musical number in Star Wars.  The biggest saving grace of “Lapti Nek” was that it could be explained away as an elaborate inside joke.  At best, it was lovably cheesy.

So while “Jedi Rocks” provides the only instance in the entire saga in which I had to pause the film to forewarn my fiancée during her first viewing of the films, it replaced a scene that was plenty flawed in its own right.  But neither song ruined Return of the Jedi.  If Lucas wanted yet another crack at revising the song prior to selling Lucasfilm to Disney, I would not blame him.  But while “Jedi Rocks” might make me cringe, I can’t align myself with those who claim it bastardized their childhood.

“Noooo!,” Blinking Ewoks

When the Star Wars saga finally released on Blu-Ray in 2011, George Lucas continued his tradition of augmenting the films.  At the time, the insertion of Hayden Christensen into the Jedi spirits scene at the end of Return of the Jedi created the most negative uproar.  The return of Darth Vader’s “Noooo!” from Revenge of the Sith attracted similar attention, but critics were more incredulous than angry.  The other big adjustment gave the Ewoks the power to blink their eyelids.

The blinking Ewoks prompted some backlash, but on a more muted level than Christensen’s Anakin and Vader’s scream.  There might be two reasons for this, and each betrays some of the inherent bias against Lucas and his vision for Star Wars.

First, Lucas had never before referenced the prequels so overtly in his digital alterations.  While Coruscant appeared all the way back in the 1997 Special Edition re-releases, this particular adjustment meant swapping out actual actors.  Regardless of prequel opinions, taking exception to the maneuver raises a valid point about the merits of film preservation.  Of course, the most vocal opponents to the change typically loathe the prequel trilogy, so it seems a tad disingenuous to suggest that their feelings didn’t factor into the equation.

When Vader reprised his bellowed “Noooo!” as he tossed Palpatine to his demise, the reaction was more of an eye roll but on similar grounds.  Lucas had ruined the original trilogy by staining the films with icky prequel references.  Critics had mocked the comic absurdity of the scream in 2005 but were almost stunned by its return on the Jedi Blu-Ray version.

Second, while the blinking Ewoks stood out like a sore thumb to Star Wars obsessives who had committed very morsel of the films to memory, the adjustment isn’t nearly as jarring to the casual fan.  Star Wars permeates culture to the point that anyone at least somewhat attuned to the series would probably recognize the criticism.  But it takes a trip down the rabbit hole of hard-core loyalists of the original trilogy to find gnashing of teeth over the blinking Ewoks on par with the other big adjustments.

These reactions point to a somewhat irrational view of the series and Lucas.  Ultimately, few, if any, uninitiated fans could spot most of the changes between the various versions of the Special Editions and the original releases without being told for what to look.  There’s an understandable correlation between fanaticism and perception.  But each of these changes violates the concept of film preservation.  So the varying levels of outrage reveal the anti-prequel bias masquerading as artistic conservation.  If you’re not equally as bothered by cleaned up continuity errors as the presence of Christensen, you might be a hypocrite.

Return of the Jedi featured every single one of these adjustments, further demonstrating anger beholden to nostalgia by some of Lucas’ critics.  When trying to downplay his contributions to the original trilogy, they argue Jedi as a black sheep.  An example of the mediocre result when Lucas asserts control.  Here, the film serves as a proto-prequel and a harbinger of the terror to come.

Yet when arguing against the Special Editions, they suddenly lump Jedi in with A New Hope and The Empire Strikes Back as part of the holy original trilogy.  It can’t be both.  Arguing thusly requires circular logic that undermines the criticism entirely.  The folly of selectively adjusting opinions on Lucas’ responsibility and the perception of Jedi reveals these criticisms largely as vehicles for flimsy arguments against the prequels.

Opposing the Special Editions entirely on the grounds that a completed film should remain forever untouched is respectable.  But aping this argument to suit an agenda against George Lucas and the prequels isn’t.  The big changes certainly distracted fans upon initial viewings.  But each of the adjustments creates more cohesion with the prequels.  Hayden Christensen didn’t ruin Return of the Jedi.  Nor did Vader’s anguished scream or the blinking Ewoks.

If someone comes out and admits that their displeasure is owed solely to the connection to the prequels, I can appreciate the argument.  I disagree with it, but I respect their view.  But they should never try to intellectualize their emotional reactions.  The prequels aren’t inarguably bad, and it’s impossible for each of their critics to passionately champion film conservation.

The Serendipitous Prequels

Unlikely coincidences provide George Lucas’ critics with their most justifiable complaint about the prequels.  They don’t like to give him much of a break and call it over-the-top fan service.  But determining appropriate references to the original trilogy would be incredibly tricky.

If the prequels were devoid of fan service, many of these critics would probably bemoan the lack of components from the original films.  So while they raise valid points when criticizing the serendipity, there’s a degree of disingenuousness at play.  It’s ridiculous that Anakin created C-3PO, but wouldn’t a realistic approach minimize his role and that of R2-D2 in the prequel trilogy?  Hypothetically, that likely would incur the wrath of such fans.

That isn’t to say that they are wrong because fundamentally they aren’t.  For example, as a bounty hunter whose defining characteristic was looking cool, Boba Fett has no reason to factor into the clone subplot at all.  Sure, Jango Fett looked almost as cool and the original concept for Boba portrayed him as a sort of super stormtrooper, but Lucas forced an unconvincing link between the character and the Empire’s minions.

Now, does this ruin the films?  No.  Does it undermine the saga?  No.  These critiques serve as a nitpick of Lucas’ vision, not a wholesale indictment.

While a background shot of the Millennium Falcon at Coruscant more convincingly links the trilogies together than, say, Yoda’s bromance with Chewbacca, serendipity didn’t ruin the prequels.  It didn’t even differentiate the films from the original trilogy all that much.  After all, those movies turned a farmer’s boy, a princess, and a homicidal cyborg into a family.

The original trilogy established precedent for unlikely coincidences, so the prequels’ happy accidents didn’t mar the series.  Since all six of Lucas’ films tell the Skywalker story, familiar faces and chance encounters of destiny were requisite for the prequels.  Maybe Lucas went overboard, maybe he leaned too heavily on nostalgia, but he successfully conveyed his vision.

I’m inclined to side with the merits of the critics’ argument on this issue, but their proclivity to lash out with hyperbolic anger undermines an otherwise legitimate complaint.

The Prequels Didn’t Over-Do CGI

George Lucas oversaturated the prequels with computer-generated images and the dated, artificial visuals contributed to their mediocrity.  This argument gets passed around often, to the point that many fans toss it out matter-of-factly.  But it’s incredibly flawed and misleading.

The biggest rebuttal to the criticism is the fact that each prequel commissioned more miniature models than the entire original trilogy combined.  A testament to the talent of modelers and the animators, miniatures of Coruscant, Geonosis, Mustafar, and other locales blend seamlessly with their digital counterparts.  Yet critics foolishly decry slick visuals that defy realism, almost certainly presuming numerous practical shots to be CGI.

While the confusion redeems the films against claims of primitive-looking visuals, the sterile, polished look of the prequels plays into another superficial attack.  Fans rightfully praise the original trilogy for its gritty, lived-in atmosphere.  The clean, shiny prequels strike some as inauthentic by comparison.  But there’s a perfectly good explanation beyond indistinguishable miniatures and CGI.

Lucas promised to show the Republic on the tail-end of its prime.  Of course the galactic capital should showcase posh regality, as should Naboo considering the films’ focus on its royalty.  The prequels feature plenty of grit, including a more fleshed-out Tattooine and dingy areas such as Geonosis and Mustafar.  Furthermore, the original trilogy had plenty of polished environments including Bespin and the interior of Empire ships.

Ultimately, these fans rely on false equivalencies built upon faulty assumptions.  Considering that the original trilogy featured a galaxy under the rule of a selfish emperor and focused on an underdog rebellion, of course, most action would take place in grungier environments.  But when the story called for it, the films offered slick visuals.  The same goes for the prequels, but a larger concentration of those movies took place in cleaner environments.

The look of the prequels served the story well.  Copping the aesthetics of the original trilogy would only cater to a stubborn, opinionated sliver of the fan base.  Granted, CGI gave the films a different look, but it has no bearing on their authenticity or essence.  If the technology existed in the 1970s, the original trilogy would have utilized it.

In their haste to demonize Lucas and the prequels, these critics fail to appreciate their monumental achievement.  With the original trilogy, Lucas revolutionized the special effects industry.  He somehow pulled it off again with the prequels.  Yet many fans want to stereotype the films as an exercise in mindless CGI and make Lucas answer for the sins of those who have since squandered the digital tools he helped develop.  Try as they might conflate the two, Lucas isn’t Michael Bay and the prequels aren’t a computer-generated mess.