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October 12, 2006

Lucasphobia

From e-mail, in the aftermath of yesterday's entry on Star Wars as not-entertainment:

As a science fiction writer, don't you ever worry that badmouthing George Lucas is going to hurt your career?

In a word: no. For one thing, let's have some perspective: George Lucas is the billionaire creator of the single most financially successful movie series in the history of the cinema, and I'm a guy with four science fiction books and a blog. I can't imagine Lucas even knows what I've written about him, and if he does, that he could possibly care. And even if he did care -- if Lucas were up there at Skywalker Ranch, stewing bitterly over my words -- he seems to be the sort not to do much about it. Look, people with far more pull in science fiction and outside it have said things as bad or worse about Star Wars and Lucas' involvement with it, with a far wider distribution, and as far as I know none of them have been stalked down by Lucas' stormtroopers and/or lawyers ("Look at these torts! Only Imperial lawyers are this precise!").

I think it's possible that someone at Lucasfilm might read the slagging of Star Wars; the Lucasfilm folks seem pretty well connected to this whole Intarweeb system of tubes, and I know the essay is getting some play in the SW fandom. But I sort of doubt anyone at Lucasfilm is going to run to Lucas and say "Oh noes, George! Someone's saying something bad about you on the Internets!!!". Because, really, when is someone not saying something bad about George Lucas on the Internet? I mean, hell. Someone is always something bad about me on the Internet, and I've got maybe a millionth of the fame that Lucas has. What is the Internet, if not the world's most efficient way to say something bad about someone -- and post pictures of cats? I think George Lucas would need to worry about me if all of a sudden I started climbing the fence at the ranch; short of that I doubt he gives me a second thought, if indeed I was even given a first thought, which seems highly unlikely (for the record: No plans to attack the ranch. Lucas lawyers, please keep your restraining orders sheathed).

I do think my antipathy for how Lucas has handled the Star Wars movies means that I'm unlikely ever to have anything to do with the Star Wars universe in any official capacity, of course. I can't imagine that I'd ever be asked to write a Star Wars novel, for example, since even the slightest of due diligence from Lucasfilm would discover a rather wide paper- and pixel-trail of reviews and commentary from me slagging Lucas for his apparent disinterest in making his Star Wars films entertaining and/or his apparent lack of competence as a writer and a director. If I were a Lucasfilm exec, I wouldn't hire me, especially if I would then have to have any contact with Lucas at all. Now, to some extent the point is moot, because even if I were asked to write a Star Wars novel (which seems, well, unlikely), I don't imagine I would take the job. I'm not interested in doing media tie-ins, personally, and even if I were, I don't think it would be appropriate for me to do so. The Star Wars universe will have to get along without me. I'm sure it will survive the lack.

And anyway, my disregard for Lucas is pretty much limited to his choices for the Star Wars films, particularly the choice to write and direct the prequel films in the absence of anyone who would really tell him that he was doing a crap job at both. Get me away from talking about Lucas as an unsupervised writer and director, and you'll find I have really an immense amount of admiration for the things he's done. I've long and publicly said that I believe he's unquestionably the most significant filmmaker of the last 30 years and possibly ever, because of what he's done for the technical aspects of filmmaking. Special effects, sound production, computer graphics, film editing, post-production, digital filmmaking -- basically if there's a filmmaking process around, there's a damn fine chance that Lucasfilm or one of its subsidiaries or spinoffs was a pioneer in it or refined the process substantially. We watch film the way we do because of George Lucas, end of story, period. The guy's a genius, or knows how to hire them, which is almost as good. Indeed, the only two aspects of filmmaking where he falls down on the job are writing and directing, which is ironic (and not only because he has two Oscar nominations for screenwriting, and another two for directing). But, you know what? No one's good at everything.

Beyond that, I'm fond of many things Lucas has been involved in. Indiana Jones? I dig two out of three immensely (Temple of Doom? Not so much). LucasArts is a videogame house whose output I admire, particularly Grim Fandango (which I wish would be made into an animated movie one day), Sam & Max and most of the first-person Star Wars shooters, because how can you not like wielding a lightsaber? Lucas produced dreck like Howard the Duck, but also interesting films like Tucker and Powaqqatsi, and was significant in helping Akira Kurosawa complete Kagemusha by convincing 20th Century Fox to help finance the film in exchange for foreign distribution rights. I even sort of like Willow, to my shame, because I know it's not good at all (I find it amusing that Lucas named the bad guy in the film after a film critic, and the dragon in the film for two more). So, you know, as much as I dislike what he did to the Star Wars series, I don't think you could say that I despise the man, or Lucas as an overall filmmaker.

Someone once asked me what I would do if I ever met George Lucas. I suspect I would compliment him on all the things I think he's done well as a filmmaker, which is a not inconsiderable list of things, and then avoid talking about the things that I think he's screwed up. And if those came up anyway, I would simply note that he got to do what he wanted to do with the story, and that's something very few filmmakers get to do. And then I'd probably fake a seizure to get away. Unless, of course, Lucas wanted to talk about why I think what I think about him in relation to the Star Wars films. In which case I'd just tell him. Because if he asks, I think I owe him what I owe anyone who asks me what I really think about something: The truth.

However, this is all fairly theoretical. I suspect Lucas will go along blissfully unaware of who I am, which is fine with me. And if he does know of me and wants to get back at me, I suggest he do what he did to Pauline Kael: use my name for an enemy in a future film, who is ignominously slaughtered at the end. Because you know what? I think that would rock.

Also, the following is pretty damn amusing:

It's hard to dislike Lucas after that.

Posted by john at October 12, 2006 09:26 AM

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Comments

JonathanMoeller | October 12, 2006 11:14 AM

Best. Lightsaber. Duel. Evah.

Equally delightful was the way that episode of the "Tek Jansen" cartoon made fun of the extended landing and docking sequences in the Star Wars movies.

michael | October 12, 2006 11:14 AM

Argh, i can't understand it. How could a guy that appears to have a good sense of humour make those three movies?

Steve Buchheit | October 12, 2006 11:15 AM

I think you meant to say the lawyer should keep those restaining orders sheathed. Unsheathed restraints probably aren't where you want to go in this thread.

John Scalzi | October 12, 2006 11:18 AM

You and your damn piddly copy-editing nitpicks! Curse you! Curse you to heck!

Fixing now.

Steve Buchheit | October 12, 2006 12:04 PM

Sorry, epiphanies and all are a bitch (inside joke about my editing). Plus, I was going to riff on unsheathed restraints, but this is a family show and I went for the gutter pretty quick (post was deleted before being sent).

I doubt that the Lucasfilm Ninjas are using your photo for shurikin practice either. Although I think the armored guard skinks that patrol the air vents in his Evil Fortress of Solitude (formerly known as the Presidio) have been chemically synched to your scent. And I have been having problems connecting to your site today. Hmmm.

George has done a lot for film (although I hate his push for digital projection because I've seen how film should be shown and it's WAY frickin' better than digital ever could be, but I agree it's much better than how most film is shown now). But he should stick to producing and the tech. Let others do the scripts, directing, and editing. Because if anybody else had written Episode III, Darth Vadar would have been sown back together from much smaller pieces (what kind of Jedi Mercy is that to leave your padwan a quadriplegic to be devoured by lava? Although that was the best Ewan McGregor channeling Sir Alec in that scene).

Tim Walker | October 12, 2006 12:24 PM

To: The Rt. Hon. Steve Buchheit
From: An OCD-esque copy-editorial Whatever reader.
Re: "damn piddly copy-editing nitpicks!"

Steve -- It's "shuriken" rather than "shurikin." Best regards. -- TW

CC: John Scalzi, Esq.

:-)

joelfinkle | October 12, 2006 12:26 PM

Aw, c'mon, I enjoyed Howard the Duck. It had its lame moments, but it was reasonably faithful to feel of the comic, and Jeffrey Jones' "She Took My Eggs!" alone is worth the price of a DVD rental.

Jokes for years were that Lucas hadn't gotten around to doing Eps 1-3 because he still had six or seven HtD sequels he needed to get out first.

The problem with Eps 1-3 are sort of an Emperor's New Clothes situation: Who was in position to tell Lucas that his scripts needed work? Kind of like late '80's Steven King: IT featured group sex with 9 year olds?!? And they kept making money, so why change things.

I think it also resembles what you see happening in the brilliant film "Ed Wood": Lucas sees a story in his head beyond what we can see on the screen. Phantom Menace has this beautiful duality of hidden personalities between Sidious/Palpatine and Amidala/(wossname the handmaiden). But if you hadn't seen Return of the Jedi, you might never even figure out that Sidious IS Palpatine.

I'm not a fiction writer (oh sure, I've got a story outline somewhere that will never get anywhere), but I think I could have made a better cut of Phantom Menace. George has enough writing pals such as Kasdan and Darabont that SOMEBODY should have been riding him about a tighter story.

And Mr. Scalzi, the one risk you overlooked is this: Perhaps he was on the verge of optioning Old Man's War.

Steve Buchheit | October 12, 2006 12:33 PM

Tim,

Me head, tis hung in shame. Aye, the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune haft stung me back. Re-sling they editorial knives, take thy beak from my heart and get me to a nunnery (almost said nounery). Ah, what sweet dreams these be of the undiscovered country.

Looks like it's going to be a real Hamlet around these parts. :)

There was a whole thing about a Ghost and "I am your father," but I though that was going overboard today.

Thanks, Tim, I retyped that word several times and just couldn't get it right.

Mitch Wagner | October 12, 2006 12:34 PM

Scalzi: "What is the Internet, if not the world's most efficient way to say something bad about someone -- and post pictures of cats?"

"The Internet is a communication tool used the world over where people can come together to bitch about movies and share pornography with one another." -- Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back

John Scalzi | October 12, 2006 12:36 PM

Joelfinkle:

"Perhaps he was on the verge of optioning Old Man's War."

Heh. I doubt that very much, if for no other reason that my agent would have, you know, told me about it.

A.R.Yngve | October 12, 2006 12:45 PM

Man, I laughed like a child at the Lucas-Colbert lightsaber duel. It's a Mensch who does a fun thing like that, whatever you may think of his "prequel" films.
:)

Actually, I think THX1138 is underrated. It's my favorite George Lucas film. Now, if he made good on his promise to go back to making "small movies"...

Nathan | October 12, 2006 12:48 PM


Admittedly, this is a left turn from the topic, but the mention of Studio oversight (and the lack thereof) in these threads reminded me of this.

In 1988 or so, I got one of my first gigs in NY as a production assistant on a movie called "Atuk". It was going to be a blatant ripoff of Crocodile Dundee, except the main character would be an eskimo, played by Sam Kinison, on the loose in NYC. The only thing I remember about the script is that the climax was going to be some kind of chase scene down Fifth Avenue on dogsleds.

My job the first day of shooting was to babysit the extras in a banquet room at the Plaza Hotel, so my only exposure to the set was what I overheard on the walkie-talkie.

Around lunch time, it dawned on me that I hadn't heard anyone yell, "Rolling" or "Cut" or any of the usual radio traffic you hear on a set.

At about 3:00p.m. the 2nd Asst. Director came to Extras Holding to sign out the extras. He told me that Sam had gotten into an "almost fistfight" with the director, that they had shot one aborted take, exposing all of 53 feet of film, and that the studio executive had announced that call time for the next day would be at the rental houses to unload the trucks.


Although I regretted losing a job after one day, I've always thought that exec. did an amazingly brave thing, putting a halt to a train wreck that had already cost the studio a ton of money in pre-production costs.

Jim Wright | October 12, 2006 12:56 PM

Scalzi,

Long time lurker here. I generally don't comment, but I thought your piece on Lucas and the SW Mythology were spot on, along with most of the comments that followed (definately a good crowd at this party! Must be the host.)

Then strangly enough I saw this:

http://www.webpronews.com/topnews/topnews/wpn-60-20061011BlogsEnterCourtsBeginLosing.html

in the news this morning and wondered what the Whatever crowd thought.//regards//Jim

Jeremy Henty | October 12, 2006 12:57 PM

Colbert should have just sighed, pulled out a gun and shot him. That would have been funny.

Armchair Anarchist | October 12, 2006 01:00 PM

... not-entertainment ...

How about 'untertainment'?

Having just Googled it, I can't claim it as my own neologism, but it seems quite appropriate for discussions such as this...

Chang who lives on Bagels | October 12, 2006 01:01 PM

Wow. Like Lucas is the Kaiser Soze of all science fiction. I've said worse about Star Wars. Then again I am not famous. At all.

I really like how you make the distinctions in the argument, John. All good points. I still say Satyr Warts is entertaining and popular, though.

And dude, Lucas' sabre would have totally cauterized Colbert's wound. He should have jabbed and then cut sideways and slit him in half.

John Scalzi | October 12, 2006 01:06 PM

A.R. Yngve:

"Now, if he made good on his promise to go back to making 'small movies'..."

HIs next project is actually a historical film on the Tuskeegee airmen, which he will direct. In spite of everything, I'm interested in how he'll do with that.

Steve Buchheit | October 12, 2006 01:07 PM

Scene opens, library room at Skywalker Ranch, it's nighttime, only a few lights are on. In one spot light is George LUCAS, dressed as Norm Abram, sitting in a leather backed chair, he's reading a book.

OLDEST Son enters stage left.
OLDEST "Dad, dad. Have I got this book for you. Someone at college told me about it and it's a wild read."
OLDEST hands LUCAS a hardbound book.

LUCAS "Thanks, son. I was looking for a good read. This Hundred Years of Solitude just doesn't seem to be going anywhere."

OLDEST "I'm gonna borrow the cars from Graffitti, Dad. Some guys have the cars from Grease and we wanna see who's the coolest."
OLDEST leaves stage right

LUCAS studies book and begins to read
LUCAS (chuckling) "This would make a great movie" (closes book looks at cover) "Old Man's War. I wonder what the merchandizing market would be for something like that? Might have to change the title and make the Special Forces look like Ewoks instead of green skinned."
LUCAS (picks up phone) "Summon the legal team, I think we can option this for a song."

BOBA FETT (steps from the shadows) and says in the voice of Henry Kissinger "My lord, this Scalzi character, I've tracked him for days. You don't want to do this, he's been bad mouthing you on teh interweebs."

LUCAS "I remember your reports, Boba. We didn't do anything about that then, but I can not be denied my vengeance anymore. Release the hamsters of internet doom!"

Kevin Downing | October 12, 2006 01:25 PM

Funny - as I'm reading this, the "Imperial March" comes on my iPod. Lucas can even control my music selection!!

Stephen G | October 12, 2006 01:37 PM

Scalzi:

"LucasArts is a videogame house whose output I admire, particularly Grim Fandango (which I wish would be made into an animated movie one day)"

Goodness, yes. Back in my employed-by-a-dot-com days I was paid to talk about adventure games a lot. That's the one I always pulled out to show people what you could do with a graphic adventure game. In the company's 1998 Vegas shindig, I got to demo the game on a plasma screen. People would wander by, then stop and stare.

Carol Elaine | October 12, 2006 01:41 PM

I am in love with that clip. And much as I adore Colbert, it was right that Lucas won that fight. He's been playing with lightsabers longer than anyone.

Though getting Colbert in the cajones? Low blow, Lucas.

Harry Connolly | October 12, 2006 02:19 PM

John, thanks for that clip.

Jaquandor | October 12, 2006 04:53 PM

Why are Howard the Duck and Willow always cited as Lucas's movies? He neither wrote nor directed those films. Yes, they're bad movies, but is it fair to call them Lucas's movies?

John Scalzi | October 12, 2006 05:00 PM

Lucas wrote the story to Willow, actually, although someone else wrote the screenplay. As for Howard, he neither wrote or directed, but on the other hand as the producer (i.e., he who put up the money) the film wouldn't have happened if he hadn't had been the impetus. Or to put it another way, if (God forbid) Howard the Duck had won the Academy Award for Best Picture, it would have been Lucas clutching the Oscar for it. So, yeah. It's his.

Bob Smietana | October 12, 2006 05:03 PM

Lucas ought to get credit for at least one great idea--aside from all the filmmaking innovations--in essence, he took stock characters--a princess, a wizard, a black knight, a pirate, a young hero, a big tough guy, and two plucky servants--and tossed them out in outer space and watched something magic appear. Star Wars is Lord of the Rings in Space.

Then he suffered Tom Clancy syndrome. He got so successful that no one could edit him. So when he got the notion to make Darth Vader into Luke's father--and turn an adventure into an epic about broken families and divorced dads--no one could say, George, that's dumb. So we got four so-so movies with enough action scenes to keep audiences coming back. But they are flimsy copies of the first two films.

It's a lot like what happened to David Webber's Honor Harrington series--started out with tightly wound, 300 pages books and ended up with 1,000 page behemoths that work better as doorstops than entertainment

La Gringa | October 12, 2006 05:23 PM

Although as someone who worked with Lucasfilm as a licensee for many many years, I will tell you that they were the absolute coolest - and nicest - bunch of people in the world to work with. I heart George and all the folks at Lucasfilm.

ern | October 12, 2006 05:40 PM

Dang, Grim Fandango. Now that was one amazing game, with great characters and writing. I'll never forget the scene when Manny swings his scythe through the flowers and finds Salvador's skull...

Probably one of the best written video games ever--and better than most animated movies I've seen.

Anne C. | October 12, 2006 06:08 PM

I like how Colbert had the "evil" red lightsaber. (And was doing all the acrobatics.)
:)

Riccardo | October 12, 2006 06:23 PM

Bob

"It's a lot like what happened to David Webber's Honor Harrington series--started out with tightly wound, 300 pages books and ended up with 1,000 page behemoths that work better as doorstops than entertainment"

I always thought that Miles Vorkosigan would run rings around Honor Hornblower-Harrington. She started life as prig, and it's been downhill ever since (and the books keep getting bigger and more ponderous).

But then, they are not really science-fiction, are they?

Patrick | October 12, 2006 06:42 PM

This is always going to be my favorite Lucas-related clip ever.

Anonymous | October 12, 2006 08:30 PM

Well, I really liked Star Wars. I also really liked his previous movie, American Graffiti. Also Willow, which while not the best movie of the year, was still quite good, for fantasy.

However, Howard the Duck is on my worst movies of all time list. I don't care who wrote, directed, or produced it or was in any other way connected with it, it was unmitigated crap, a waste of cellulose.

Then came Indiana Jones, 3 more masterpieces. The casting of Sean Connery as Indy's father was absolute genius, as was the ending of Raiders, where it showed the final resting place of the Ark. So, except for that damned duck, I think he is a very good filmmaker. Your mileage may vary, and obviously does.

I wouldn't want to see a Scalzi novel in the Star Wars universe though. One great thing about you is your originality, and writing with all the constraints of that universe is something I don't think you could do well. Stick with the original ideas.

Mitch Wagner | October 12, 2006 09:06 PM

They're still talking about making Indiana Jones 4, by the way.

Harrison Ford is, today, older than Sean Connery was when Connery played Indy's dad.

I think the title of the 4th movie is going to be, "Indiana Jones and the Quest for Metamucil."

John Scalzi | October 12, 2006 09:17 PM

Yeah, Indy 4 doesn't strike me as a brilliant idea.

Matt Arnold | October 13, 2006 12:34 AM

LucasArts is a videogame house whose output I admire, particularly Grim Fandango (which I wish would be made into an animated movie one day)

What, you too? I wonder, in addition to you, me, "Stephen G", and "ern", how many of us there are. Tim Shafer is a creative genius the likes of which are rarely seen. I want to create a marionnette remake of Grim Fandango.

Jon H | October 13, 2006 12:49 AM

"Intarweeb system of tubes"

There's a cheap steampunk gag that someone needs to use: a low-tech setting, where someone develops a pneumatic information transfer system - a system of tubes - but some crotchety old out-of-touch dude describes it as a "web" of "links", a "network" passing messages "as fast as electricity".

Jackie M. | October 13, 2006 01:31 AM

I kind of liked Willow, too. But that was a decade ago, so who knows if I still do?

Do you think it's possible for somebody to mess up Sam & Max after the fact?

mds | October 13, 2006 08:13 AM

I'm not interested in doing media tie-ins, personally,

Oh, crud.

[Deletes carefully-crafted business plan for Colonial Union lunchboxes]

I too praise Lucas for all the progess he has wrought with movie special effects. Then again, as I see fewer and fewer films that don't rely on virtual trickery, I curse Lucas for all the progress he has wrought with movie special effects. Mark my words, the day that Tron II: World of Warcraft comes out with Errol Flynn in the lead role, and the script and soundtrack composed by a computer, is the day the name of Lucas truly becomes anathema.

b. lynch black | October 13, 2006 05:07 PM

i admit to a sneaking fondness for "Willow"... let us not discuss HTD... as for Indie 4, i could really get my head around it, if i were sure it would be an "age-appropriate" plot. but considering harrison ford's last endeavors, that doesn't look possible.

ajay | October 16, 2006 08:48 AM

"Deletes carefully-crafted business plan for Colonial Union lunchboxes"

I was going for t-shirts with the deathless line "Green skin? Green? For this I left Earth?" from the unlicensed spinoff Old Jewish Guy's War.

Peter | October 18, 2006 07:30 AM

Grim Fandango! There's another one (well, another three, plus John) of us...

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