Friday, May 30, 2003

Here we go again. More ranting about fickle Star Wars fans ahead. Those bored by such things, abandon ship now!

All right. The basic meme I see in all the complaining by Star Wars fans, all over the Net is very simply phrased. Here it is:

George Lucas hates the fans and treats them with contempt and disdain.

So all the anger at Lucas for The Phantom Menace and Attack of the Clones boils down to a sense of entitlement unfulfilled, of fandom unrequited. As such, it's creepy enough to begin with. I feel a bit like Bart Simpson, admonishing Comic Book Guy: "Itchy and Scratchy have given you hundreds of hours of entertainment over the years! Since when do they owe you anything?" Of course, Comic Book Guy considers this for all of 1.3 seconds before rejecting it.

I'm no mindreader. I have no idea if George Lucas hates the fans or not. Certainly, he's never been comfortable with fandom. That shines through in a lot of his interviews, when you can almost see in the corner of his eyes the thought, "I can't believe they like it this much…I can't believe they take it this seriously." Lucas is, by all accounts, a very private man, so if he's uncomfortable with fannish attention, I don't blame him. But hatred? Where on earth does this idea come from?

It seems to me that the only answer is, "Lucas didn't make the movie that I wanted him to make. Ergo, he hates me as a fan."

The other answers don't work: "He's too focused on his merchanidising." Well, why wouldn't he try to make a ton of toys, given the amount of money fans have spent on them in the past? He licensed some products, which became hugely collectible, so like any businessman who perceives a market, he makes more of that product, and then the fans get mad at him for it. I'm still trying to figure this all out, especially since these complaints all demand the same response: "Then don't buy the toys." (I did find the business with the AOTC soundtrack CD a bit annoying, more because it was really confusing to try and figure out where to get the version with extra music as opposed to the version with the screen-saver. But this was done worse by the LOTR people with the Two Towers score CD, and there's a franchise that's doing quite a bit of merchandising without Peter Jackson being called an evil moneygrubber. So again, it boils down to people liking his movies while disliking Lucas's. Which isn't the same thing at all.)

I remember when the TPM video first came out, on VHS only. Fans screamed bloody murder, because there was no DVD at the time. Lucas was a moneygrubber, making us all by VHS tapes which we'd then have to replace when he got around to DVDs. They were unswayed by the answer from Lucas himself: he'd do the DVD when he had time to do it right, i.e., with all the extra bells-and-whistles that fans wanted. Other studios have issued bare-bones DVDs of films, with little or no supplemental material, only to reissue the same films later on with all manner of extras, thus requiring people who bought the first DVD to also get the second one if they want the goodies, and yet nobody complains about this. I have a feeling that if Lucas had issued a film-only DVD of TPM back in 2000 with promises of a two-disc, extras-laden set to come later, the same fans who'd screamed "No DVD! You moneygrubber!" would have then screamed, "Two DVDs! You moneygrubber!"

George Lucas, I think, is almost guilty before he ever does anything at all. Not that he's perfect, mind you. I never said that he was. Some of the changes he made to the original trilogy for the Special Editions - some of them, not all - are questionable, and one - Greedo - is downright bad. But the vilification of George Lucas does not, in any way, truly reflect anything he has actually done.

Reading those AICN articles again, I'm amazed at the anger toward this guy. He lies. He drives people away from him. He's running the treasured franchise into the ground. People are jumping ship just to get the hell away from him. And, once again, he hates his fans.

Well, let's step into his shoes for a minute. You're George Lucas. You've just spent however many years of your life, and however many dollars of your personal fortune, telling a single story. And now your "fans" are constantly griping that you're not telling it right. That you've sold out. That you're a liar. That you're greedy. And that you were never any good at all, and every one of your early successes is attributable not to anything you've done, but by other people around you who you just weren't smart enough to bring back.

That last is what amazes me. Time and again I see it in discussion forums and Usenet groups and blogs and places like AICN:

"The only way Episode III won't suck is if Lawrence Kasdan writes it."

"And maybe if Irvin Kershner had directed TPM or AOTC they wouldn't have sucked."

"Gary Kurtz leaves Lucasfilm, and everything since has sucked."

And in the AICN articles, it goes beyond Star Wars: "The only way the fourth Indiana Jones movie won't suck is if George Lucas lets Spielberg and Frank Darabont do their thing." This one is truly mystifying. It's basically saying, "Lucas should do the same thing on Indy IV that he did on the first three, which everybody loves".

So, if you're George Lucas, and this is what you hear from your "fans" for years, how do you think you'll typically respond to fans in the future?

And Moriarty, in the AICN articles, starts to get it right but then stops. When someone mentions Kasdan, he rightly points out that Kasdan's not perfect, either, having just directed Dreamcatcher, a movie that I haven't seen but was panned by just about every critic whose review of the film I've read. Kasdan's oeuvre really isn't that impressive: he co-wrote The Empire Strikes Back and Raiders of the Lost Ark, which everyone admits are great films. Silverado and Grand Canyon, which he wrote and directed, are held in pretty high regard. (I greatly admire the latter, and find the former decent if slow.) But he also did Wyatt Earp, a bloated dud of a Western; he wrote The Bodyguard, which was a hit but didn't do well with critics (I enjoyed it, but I still don't think it's particularly outstanding or anything special); and interestingly the "Let Kasdan save Star Wars!" crowd always seems to conveniently overlook his co-screenplay credit on Return of the Jedi. Funny how fans are often quick to cite ROTJ as the beginning, when George Lucas began to suck, and they never mention the role Kasdan or Richard Marquand (that film's director) played. (Of course, I think ROTJ is a good movie. I didn't always think so, but luckily I came to my senses.)

(BTW, can anybody prove to me that Lando was originally slated to die in ROTJ? Moriarty haughtily crows, "We have the draft!" But is it a real draft, or is it just something somebody cooked up like the "Episode III" story treatment by "John Flynn" that used to circulate the Net way back in the early and mid 1990s? And anyway, can anyone show me an example of George Lucas lying that's not easily explained as a guy changing his mind about something over the course of between twenty or thirty years? Ronald Reagan was once a Democrat, if you take my meaning, here.)

Moriarty also defends Lucas against people who bring up bad films he produced, like Howard the Duck and The Radioland Murders, none of which he wrote or directed. But too often I see Irvin Kershner mentioned as another possible savior, and I'm wondering: Yeah, he directed The Empire Strikes Back and did so brilliantly. But he also directed Robocop II, less than brilliantly. If Kershner is such a genius, then where is his body of great work? Where is Gary Kurtz's? Don't tell me Lucas had them blacklisted. Lucas has never been part of the Hollywood constellation.

Let me be absolutely clear, then. "When Star Wars sucks it's because of George Lucas and when it's good it's in spite of George Lucas" is not a tenable position.

So, with Lucas, fans aren't content to simply say, "We don't like what you're doing now." Their claim is: "We hate what you're doing now, we hate you for just about everything you've ever done, and we don't even think you should get much credit for the things you did which we love." If George Lucas has indeed said, "Piss on the fans, I'm just going to make the story as I see it," then my reaction is, "I don't blame you. More power to ya."

If you genuinely believe that George Lucas has ruined Star Wars, that his efforts now are unsatisfactory, then find something new with which to occupy your time. That's what I've done with regard to Rick Berman and current incarnations of Star Trek. Move along to something a little more constructive than wishful, annoying, and in a lot of cases, ludicrous thinking. You'll be happier, Lucas will be happier, and people like me who are still on board will be happier.

(Anybody who's actually read this far, give yourself a gumdrop. It's out of my system, I think. At least when this crap pops up in the future, I'll be able to say "I refer the right honorable gentleman or gentlewoman to the reply I gave some moments ago.")