Dances With Mermaids was recently bitten by the Star Wars bug, and she’s seen all the movies now. Nothing I’ve seen has made me re-evaluate my opinion of the series: The Empire Strikes Back remains not just the best of the bunch, but the only one worth differentiating. I mean, who cares if Attack of the Clones is slightly worse than Return of the Jedi, or slighter better than The Phantom Menace? That’s why God invented fanboys — to engage in those kind of arguments.
But I still have enough fanboy DNA in my personality to take note when Lance Mannion, hearing George Lucas interviewed ad infinitum on the bonus disc of Star Wars ephemera, hits on what may be the reason most of the flicks are so lame:
I don’t think the mild-manneredness or the modesty are phony. But humilty is not incompatible with a large ego. In fact, that’s why humility is a virtue. You have practice it and the bigger your ego the more virtue there is in your humility. Lucas knows he didn’t do it all on his own and he’s happy to give credit where he believes credit is due.
I just think that he gives people the wrong kind of credit.
I noticed this when he was telling the interviewer about how the great illustrator Ralph McQuarrie’s concept art helped him sell his, Lucas’s, vision of Star Wars to the suits at 20th Century Fox. Lucas was grateful to McQuarrie, but he didn’t seem to realize that McQuarrie had done the actual work of creating the look of the Star Wars world. He seemed to think of McQuarrie as the artistic equivalent of a stenographer and what McQuarrie produced as the equivalent of taking dictation. It didn’t occur to him that along with influencing the studio execs’ images of what the movie would look like, McQuarrie was influencing Lucas’s own.
In other words Lucas appreciates everybody who works for him as extensions of himself. He doesn’t really see them as artists in their own rights and especially doesn’t see that in many cases they are far better artists than he is.
So he doesn’t learn from them.
I don’t think he knows how much of the first two Star Wars movies he owes to not just the artists, model builders, costume designers, set designer, cinematographer, and special effects technicians but to Alec Guinness, Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher, Mark Hamill, Frank Oz, and (yes, Trish Wilson) Peter Cushing.
I think Lucas’ inability to learn from the people he works with explains why as Lucas has asserted more and more control over every aspect of the movies. each movie since Empire Strikes Back has been sillier than the one before. Not being able to learn from his actors has especially hurt him. In the new movies he has assembled a much more talented collection of actors: Liam Neeson, Ewan McGregor, Natalie Portman, Samuel L. Jackson, Christopher Lee, Ian McDiarmid, Jimmy Smits. I even think Hayden Christensen’s doing a good job. And he’s wasted them. Every one of them. Worse, he’s made Natalie Portman look bad.
I have enough geek cells in my bloodstream to have a copy of the two-disc Empire DVD that includes the original version of the film, before Lucas started dicking around with the special effects and dubbing in new dialogue. I decided that if I ever watched the film again, it would be the version without the awful girl-man screech inflicted on Luke as he let himself fall down the Cloud City ventilation shaft. That’s the version Dances With Mermaids has seen, I’m happy to say.
I wonder how many Geeks Of A Certain Age have insisted on showing their kids the movies in the order of release, rather than the canonical order cooked up by Lucas? Wil there be two schools of thought, going forward, on which is the better way?