Betrayed by George Lucas
One of the reasons for the Special Editions was to raise money so Lucas could finally make the prequel trilogy he had been talking about for well over a decade. I don’t want to speak for all Star Wars fans, so I will just say that my expectations were pretty high. Lucas hadn’t done much of anything in the nineties, so it seemed like he had all the time in the world to fine tune the scripts for the prequels. He had always said he had the entire saga mapped out since the late seventies. So you would think the scripts for the prequels would have been tight.
Instead, Lucas decided to improvise. He compared his storytelling in the prequels to jazz. But I have never heard any jazz music as discordant as Jar Jar Binks.
Few characters is history have inspired as much fanboy rage as Jar Jar Binks. As an aside, I knew someone who went to school with Ahmed Best, the actor who provided the motion capture and voice for the CGI character. For about a year after The Phantom Menace, she liked to brag about that fact. When she finally realized that no one was impressed, she stopped name-dropping Mr. Best.
Like the ewoks before him Jar Jar was clearly intended to appeal to children – and no one else. If you were over the age of ten, there was very little chance you would regard Jar Jar Binks as anything but an unwelcome annoyance. The character came to represent everything that was wrong with the prequels. Which was a bit unfair, because while Jar Jar was the most grating character in the entire saga, there were plenty of problems with the prequels that had nothing to do with him.
Fan reaction to Jar Jar Binks was so overwhelmingly negative that even though Lucas defended the character, his screen time was greatly reduced in the follow-up, Attack of the Clones. If Jar Jar had been the only problem with The Phantom Menace, then the second movie would be an improvement purely by virtue of having less of him in it. And yet somehow, despite the relative scarcity of Mr. Binks, Attack of the Clones managed to be marginally worse than the movie that preceded it.
The sins of the prequels have been well documented over the years. I could and probably will write an article about everything that is wrong with them. But let’s not beat that dead horse here. The point is that many old time Star Wars fans were disappointed with the new trilogy. Some may have even felt betrayed.
In 2005, Lucas brought his prequel trilogy to a close with Revenge of the Sith. This final entry benefits slightly from the fact that it finally addresses the Fall of Anakin Skywalker, aka the story the prequel was supposed to tell. Lucas actually set up a subplot in Attack of the Clones which he intended to pay off in the final chapter. But then he realized he hadn’t left himself enough time. So the mystery of Sifo-Dyas was left unaddressed.
Additionally, Lucas changed his mind after filming regarding the nature of Anakin’s turn to the Dark Side. He went back and did some reshoots and edited the film to fit his new concept of the story he supposedly mapped out in the last 1970’s.
Having completed what he set out to do with Star Wars, Lucas turned his attention to his other claim to fame. After decades of rumors, Lucas, Spielberg and Ford finally reunited for the fourth Indiana Jones movie. Like the Star Wars prequels, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull was a financial success that angered fans.
After delighting children like me in the late seventies and early eighties with imaginative tales of high adventure, Lucas lost the magic touch. So when he came back and revisited his past successes, fans were disappointed. Even angry. Star Wars and Indiana Jones were beloved childhood memories and the man we expected to preserve them was instead changing them in ways that did not appeal to us.
Yes, this was in many ways an act of betrayal. Like Anakin Skywalker, George Lucas was our chosen one. But he became too powerful and his controlling nature got the better of him. What is perhaps Lucas’ saving grace is that he seems aware that is how he is viewed by a lot of fans. And he is okay with that. As a fan, I have had to be okay with that too.
Here’s the thing. No matter what else George Lucas has done, he brought me a lot of joy as a kid. The excitement I felt when I was seven years old watching Star Wars for the first time can never be erased. Lucas can make a version of Star Wars where Han Solo wears a nun’s habit, but I will still have my memories (along with a widescreen copy of the unaltered original trilogy). So while my adult self hasn’t liked anything George Lucas has done since the mid eighties, that little kid still feels indebted to the guy.
Star Wars and Indy are Lucas’ creations. I get the impression, they are still personal to him even if he no longer understands what made them great. I can’t begrudge the guy for trying his best to realize his personal vision for his creations even if that vision sucks.
In the end, George Lucas didn’t betray me. But Disney probably will. 😉