By now you’ve undoubtedly heard that Disney is acquiring Lucas Films from George Lucas, including the legendary film franchise, Star Wars, for an estimated $4 billion. My first reaction and for many hours afterwards was one of absolute horror. But I’m not so sure I feel that way any more… Let me address my concerns with you to explore how I currently feel.
First and foremost, Disney has dedicated itself to being a family friendly and some what child-teenager oriented entertainment company. That’s who they are and have been for decades, and, honestly, there’s nothing wrong with that. They make hundreds of millions if not billions of dollars from it every year. My fear, here, is that Disney will continue the process of making the Star Wars franchise more child-teenager oriented, as it began with Lucas himself in the Phantom Menace and currently the Clone Wars “cartoon.” The original film, now known as Star Wars: A New Hope, wasn’t really intended for children, though it wasn’t exclusive of them either. It was just a straightforward film meant to entertain and tell a story. Both of its sequels were the same way. We watched as Luke evolved into a hero, and were in awe of Hollywood’s best anti-hero of the time, Han Solo! Han shot first. Period. There was no doubt about that, ever! Yet, when Mr. Lucas released it to DVD a few years ago, we were appalled to see that he edited the film so that Greedo shot first with Han tilting (badly!) his head to avoid the shot. That’s a revisionist change to the film, making Han look like an innocent victim that retaliated against Greedo. The idea was to make him purely heroic there, but it’s not who Han Solo was; it’s not how Han has been portrayed in the countless comics and books over the years, and that’s why it was so abhorrent to the fans. When we think of Disney’s involvement in Star Wars, the first thing that comes to mind is that kind of change to the universe we’ve grown up with. When the Clone Wars film headed to theaters, I was looking forward to seeing it, and thought it would be amazing, but it turned out to be meant for teenagers at most, and it felt really dumbed down to me. It felt like a Disney movie. Yes, characters died, but that was unavoidable, and is something that is easily tolerated in films and cartoons targeted towards teenagers. But it was lacking the depth and feel of the rest of the franchise; even the prequel trilogy had more depth to them.
But! Perhaps this move will change things… The problem with the Star Wars franchise has been that Mr. Lucas has been in control of it for nearly 40 years. That, in and of itself, isn’t a bad thing, but his tastes, styles, and vision for the franchise has changed over the years. The person he wanted Han Solo to be in 1977 is different from the person he wants Han Solo to be in 2012. His vision changed, but ours did not. I grew up admiring the hell out of those characters, learning who they were and what made them so beautiful to me. When I started reading the Thrawn trilogy in 1991-2, it wasn’t to see the Han that let Greedo shoot first, it was to see what happened to the scoundrel that would shoot in cold blood the person hunting him. I wanted to see the naive but growing Luke Skywalker and his twin sister, the beautiful but forceful Princess Leia Organa. It was to see the far too intelligent if occasionally silly R2-D2, not the apparently brain dead one that was running into walls in Revenge of the Sith. And I sure as hell didn’t want to have my vision of Anakin Skywalker go from the Jedi knight that became Darth Vader to a 10 year old child behind the controls of a fighter doing purely stupid moves.
Lucas’ vision changed, and that’s fine. But the problem is — or rather was — there was no one that could stand up to him and stop him from ruining our vision of who these characters were. I first realized this trend with Star Wars: The Force Unleashed. While Mr. Lucas didn’t have first hand involvement in the game, he did oversee it’s final stages, the story, and what was allowed in the game. There was no one that could simply tell him that the story doesn’t make a whole lot of sense or that the plot problems it creates aren’t logical. Then I thought back to something I read in an interview with Timothy Zahn regarding the original Thrawn trilogy, basically that Joruus C’baoth was originally intended to be a clone of Obiwan Kenobi, but Lucas had other plans for that clone. Mr. Lucas had absolute control over the Star Wars universe and it didn’t matter what anyone else thought or wanted because he always had final say. If he had chosen to do so, he could have edited out a major character from all of the films, simply because he wanted to do so. He did, in fact, edit out the original actor playing Anakin Skywalker from the closing Force-ghost vision of the character at the end of Return of the Jedi, replacing him with Hayden Christensen, a move that sparked a fair amount of controversy as is. Who was there to stop him? Who could have stopped him?
The simple answer is that no one could. You do the work, or he’ll replace you, as he was entitled to do. We fans tend to think of the Star Wars universe as a universal treasure, something that should not be messed with under any circumstances. We don’t look at it as a property owned by one man, one artist, who is entitled to change anything he wants. I noted this in one of my previous posts, Mr. Lucas, Stop Tearing Down That Empire!
What the new arrangement means is that there is now the hope that someone who is more sympathetic to our vision will be managing the franchise. Maybe we’ll see the return of the scoundrels and villainy that we so treasured in the original films, see the focus more on the general audience than being “family friendly” now that it’s no longer the boss’ vision that is the bottom line. Yes, Lucas will still be a creative consultant on the future films, but that in no way means he gets final say. Maybe this is the break we Star Wars fans have been hoping for. Maybe.
For the record, watching this video is what got me to really start changing my mind…