The Question of George Lucas: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Star Wars: The Force Awakens [Part IV]

From the previous blog in the series:
Solo is Lucas [in “The Force Awakens”]. Here is a man who’s run out of tricks and the galaxy has no use for anymore. He has come back to the life he knew but those who worked with him consider him a disappointment. (“When have I ever let you down?” he asks Kanjiklub. The answer is not good.) Solo is trying to stay relevant and, though some admire him for his past, the present has no more use for him.

I’ve written about artistic heroes before. It’s never easy.

My reflection on Jim Morrison and what he’s meant to me through my life was just such an exercise. So I’m going into some deeply honest territory, and my initial question as I started writing this was whether it really has a place in a series about coming to love The Force Awakens.

It does. This is about more than just my long relationship with Lucas’ artistry. It’s about his artistry in relation to the sequels being created in his absence.

What I won’t be getting into is the ongoing argument about Lucas’ “earlier works” versus prequels, or Crystal Skulls or any of that. Argue on your own time. I’ve made my feelings known more than once, on multiple outlets.

The George Lucas Lecture Series

George Lucas is one of the most significant artistic influences on my life. I’d think that’s obvious to anyone who knows me or has read this blog.

I’ve watched things he created, wrote, directed, and produced. I’ve watched and read things listed as his major influences. I did this so I could understand his own artistic formation better, and hence look for additonal layers in his own work.

The point of all that is that I love George Lucas’ work. I’m one of those who’s spent a lot of time “at his knee,” as it were, learning what he thought made a good story.

Goodness knows he came to enjoy talking about it. He enjoyed talking about it so much that we all grew accustomed to Professor Lucas explaining everything imaginable about what he did (“Georgesplaining”?). During a lot of those discussions, Lucas stressed that the series operated like a Tone Poem, where things repeat in iterations.

I’ve noted before that they function like Norse Myth, whether specifically named or not. In them, names and places repeat in an often-obvious way to the audience but with the characters unaware. This turns things into an exercise in dramatic irony, and the characters are often susceptible to the traps of repetition. For more on this idea, I recommend reading The Poetic Edda at your local library.

Do You See?

It became an adventure to examine insert shots and creatures added in post-production. Each Star Wars film has subsequently been picked apart like the Zapruder film. This is, I think, what came to turn off a lot of fans about him and his work.

Tangentially, I love doing that. It’s why I love being on a show like Stage Nine. Heck, I love looking for hidden cues and revelations in an artist’s work. It’s like living through Shakespeare and wondering if they were aware that works rife with sex jokes and poop references were going to reshape entertainment forever?

Unfortunately, he spent the years of the prequels bludgeoning fans with the thought that every decision, no matter how minor, was potentially vital to the understanding of series symbolism. A Rodian added to the background of a Coruscant shot might have meaning!

And so the Mythos Building gained momentum over time. Star Wars is by its nature about Big Important Things, but it’s also about having fun. Paraphrasing something he said regarding updated dewback effects in the Star Wars Special Edition, sometimes whimsy motivates decisions. Surely it motivated the humor of Jar Jar as well.

If I’m honest, the Big Important Things sometimes clouded over the fun. It could feel like an obligation to watch for every addition to “canon,” especially as The Clone Wars progressed. Indeed, the purpose of The Clone Wars TV series was to “fill in the picture” between Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith. Setting aside the tacit acknowlegement that some story would have been better served within the prequel films themselves, the existence of the series speaks to a desire to offer a study guide for them. I get why it turned off some fans.

None of this diminishes the passion or skill he has. It does not diminish my love for his work.

I am merely saying that the swashbuckling fun within the Star Wars universe came to be dulled a bit by the Seriousness of It All after a certain point. We were conditioned to have a connossieur’s palate for this entertainment, and constantly reminded that hamburger wasn’t chopped ham – it was chopped steak.

The Aftershock

This is what was initially disorienting about The Force Awakens for a fan like me. Abrams wasn’t giving us a layered, pointed historical lesson or sociopolitical metaphor. He wanted to entertain with a Big Accessible Story by creating what Lucas in 1977 would have called “a good, wholesome adventure.”

It played for laughs! It was in constant motion! It introduced our third Death Star in seven films. [Which, again, is something I think presents an elegant “viewing order” answer that TFA should be viewed after RotS if you’re viewing by series.]

I took issue with these things. I had a great big chip on my shoulder about them. Things weren’t helped by the fact that the marketing of the film majorly emphasized how much Lucas didn’t have to do with it. It felt disrespectful to a fan who loved it all.

Lucas’ statements about the film were also just passive-aggressive enough to change my mood as I walked into it. It made it seem like Disney had done him something of a disservice by “not making things the way he would have.” Nevermind that, if it was that important to him, he should have gone ahead and made the movie himself, and not sold it all to Disney in the first place.

The ironic thing is that everything Lucas had pointed out, from the Tone Poem structure to the old movie serials influences, helped shine a bright new light on The Force Awakens which allowed me for find my way to enjoying it. Which brings me, finally, to my new review.

Of course that’s the blog for next time: My Revised Review.

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