There are always those willing to take shots at those have been successful, and often it is hard to separate the chaff of sour grapes from the wheat of genuine criticism. But, this interview seems to me to be pretty spot on, and it confirms my observations of the Star Wars movies and their artistic curve.
“Star Wars” was born a long time ago, but not all that far, far away. In 1972, filmmakers George Lucas and Gary Kurtz were toiling on “American Graffiti” in their San Rafael office when they began daydreaming about a throwback sci-fi adventure that channeled the old “Flash Gordon” serials as opposed to the bleak “message” movies that had taken over the genre.
“We had no idea what we were starting,” said Kurtz, who was the producer of the first two “Star Wars” films and also a second-unit director. “That simple concept changed Hollywood in a way….”
There was a bittersweet tinge to Kurtz’s voice, and it’s no surprise. This year is the 30th anniversary of “The Empire Strikes Back,” the “Star Wars” sequel that many fans consider the pinnacle moment in a franchise that has pulled in $16 billion in box office and merchandising. But 1980 was also the year that Kurtz and Lucas realized the Jedi universe wasn’t big enough for the both of them.
“I could see where things were headed,” Kurtz said. “The toy business began to drive the [Lucasfilm] empire. It’s a shame. They make three times as much on toys as they do on films. It’s natural to make decisions that protect the toy business, but that’s not the best thing for making quality films.”
He added: “The first film and ‘Empire’ were about story and character, but I could see that George’s priorities were changing.”
I have always considered Empire Strikes Back to be the best of the films, but I won’t pretend that I haven’t enjoyed all of the movies. I did cringe through the love scenes with Anakin and Padme (“Your skin is smooth like silk…not like sand, which is rough” haha) but there was always enough action and sword fights and sweeping alien vistas to make me feel like my admission cost was well spent. I even loved the Ewok movies as a child.
But what is apparent is that, whatever Lucas may claim, the series was not planned out meticulously from the start. Like a politically driven education curriculum, there has been a great deal of revisionism and forcing things to fit into one narrative. Unlike many movie makers who often have to ignore or gloss over unfortunate omissions and mistakes or inconveniently incompatible plot points when making a sequel or prequel, Lucas can afford to go back and digitally edit out the things that give a lie to his claims of consitency. In fact he is slowly eliminating the need for actors! From digitally enhanced acting in the movies, to his moves to animated and CGI series, the moment he can convincingly generate a human voice there will be a lot of people out of work!
As for the claims that merchandising influenced the plot, may I introduce Exhibit A: Jar Jar Binks? What other purpose did that character serve than to give children something to laugh at, well other than to drive adults mad with frustration? It’s harsh but when he got his tongue stuck in the pod turbine I was so hoping it would get turned on and he would be shot out in a ball of green slime. Exhibit B would be the Ewoks, after all it was originally meant to be the Wookies in Return of the Jedi but they aren’t quite as marketable.
Saying all that, you can’t diminish the success or the entertainment value of the Star Wars franchise, it has brought a lot of joy to a lot of people. My problem with Lucas is his claims that it is something it is not (oh an the truly horrendous and evil philosophy underpinning the mythos…but that is a post for another day, when I will attempt to prove the real villain is Yoda).