Monday, November 23, 2015

A Reel Opinion: The Legacy of George Lucas

In the rich and vast history of cinema, no other person’s legacy and reputation is as reviled and revered than that of STAR WARS creator George Lucas.

In a recent interview with CBS News, Lucas explains his separation from the massive empire of STAR WARS, the series that he had created in 1977. When Lucasfilm was sold to Disney in 2012 with Lucas’ ideas for a new trilogy of films in hand, it turned out that Disney had a different direction in mind than what the creator wanted to do. Lucas was asked to leave.

George Lucas leaving the STAR WARS universe was a notion that would have been unheard of during the era of the first three films. Starting in 1977, STAR WARS (later sub-titled A NEW HOPE), and it’s two sequels, THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK (1980) and RETURN OF THE JEDI (1983), were three films which not only captured the imaginations of legions of young fans, but also launched thousands of film careers and literally changed the way movies were made and marketed; a lot of the industry today owes a lot to the castle that George built.

But the cracks in the castle began to show in 1997, when Lucas re-released the original trilogy in theatres with each film receiving edits and alterations to scenes and characters. The new films, titled SPECIAL EDITION, were met with excitement at the theatres, but many fans furiously objected to the edits that were made.

Things did not improve going into the new millennium, when Lucas delivered his long promised Prequel Trilogy, which told the story of all that happened in that beloved galaxy prior to A NEW HOPE. The films were met with good-to-mixed-to-bad reviews, and with even more anger from a fanbase that objected to decisions made with characters and plot, and were flat-out disappointed in the overall quality of the films. And just like that, Lucas’ once-worshipped name became a launching-pad for a million vile insults from fans, and the empire became a case of following a religion and cursing the creator.

The new CBS interview is the most revealing look we’ve had at the 2012 Disney acquisition of the STAR WARS franchise, and expanded upon what was reported in the June 2015 issue of Vanity Fair. The Vanity Fair feature reported that Lucas’ original treatments for the new trilogy had a strong focus on younger characters, which for Disney executives flew a little too close to Lucas’ own Prequels. The head in-charge of Lucasfilm, Kathleen Kennedy, insisted that the development process was the same as any other film, and Lucas was politely asked to relinquish control of the property that he had created and lived with for nearly 40 years.

With Lucas out of the STAR WARS picture, the question of where his legacy stands is a grand debatable topic. His contributions to the film industry are remarkable; STAR WARS ushered in a new era and led the industry down its current path of marketing, CGI, digital cinema, surround sound, and high-definition. Lucas also had a part in the making of classic films such as APOCALYPSE NOW (1979), the INDIANA JONES franchise, THE GODFATHER PART I and II…along with Jim Henson’s LABYRINTH (1986), Ron Howard’s WILLOW (1988), Francis Ford Coppola’s TUCKER: THE MAN AND HIS DREAM (1988), and THE LAND BEFORE TIME (1988). His contributions to society outside of film are also notable, with innovative programs in education, art, and various charities. But still, it is difficult to ignore the vitriol his name flares up among STAR WARS fans, and his decisions in some of his films are very questionable. Lucas’ name is unfortunately similar to the fates of names like Nixon and Paterno; men who did a lot of good but will always have that but then tagged along. Much like his very own Anakin Skywalker, George Lucas is perhaps a fallen hero; loved and hated…and tragically inspiring.


The full interview with George Lucas will air on CBS in December. The 7th Episode in the STAR WARS series arrives on December 18th.

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