How I Learned to Forgive George Lucas… And You Can Too!

March 11, 2011

By Maggie Kruger

The Prequels

George LucasIf, like me, you spent your childhood pretending to be Luke, Leia or Han, then Summer 1999 would have been a very dark time for you.

Yeah, you know what I’m talking about.

The teaser poster was so cool – tiny little Jake Lloyd casting Darth Vader’s scary big shadow:  I got goose bumps on the back of my neck the first time I saw it.  The early pictures of Darth Maul: a genuinely scary looking villain – perfect.  I ventured off to the York Odeon with my geeky pals, expectantly waiting to be transported to a galaxy far, far away and relive a rush that I hadn’t felt since seeing Return of the Jedi almost 20 years before.

So it really was a little remiss of George Lucas to serve up to his audiences such a dream-shattering, memory-violating, burning-brown-bag-on-the-porch, just-plain-awful movie as Star Wars Episode 1: The Phantom Menace.  Seriously, George, how could you honestly think that such a terrible pile of toilet was in any way acceptable as a Star Wars movie?

There is nothing good about that movie.  Not a single thing.  The news that it’s going to be out next year in 3-D is only going to throw into even sharper relief how terrible it really is.  But I digress…

In 2002, one idle Sunday afternoon, I cast aside my doubts and ventured to the Peckham Cineworld.  What was the second one called, the Clone something?  That’s how much of an impression it made on me – I can’t remember the title, only that it was rubbish and nonsensical.  Mercifully George had got rid of the dreadful double act of Jake Lloyd and Jar Jar, but look at what he gave us instead: the dubious acting talents of Haydn Christenson, and Christopher Lee’s phoned-in portrayal of Count Dooku, arguably one of the least threatening movie villains ever to grace the silver screen.

The final insult came in 2004 when a friend begged me to go and see Episode 3 with him.  I should have known better, but I hated to disappoint, and if I’m honest, I remember making my way to the Brixton Ritzy, thinking “How bad could it really be?”I think we all know the answer to that question.

Don’t Judge a George By His Jar Jar

But to borrow  a line from William Shakespeare, “I come to praise George Lucas, not bury him.”  I’m as angry as the next Wookiee at him for Episodes 1-3, and A New Hope aside, it’s no secret that he is a shockingly awful director (apologies to any American Graffiti fans out there, I’ve tried to like it but it just isn’t happening), however take a look at his Filmography, specifically the films he has produced – there are some absolute gems in there.

Obviously, the Indiana Jones films are in there:  rip roaring, swash buckling bundles of awesome with Harrison Ford in his roguish, handsome heyday (I’m trying my best to ignore the Crystal Skull-sized elephant in the room and just don’t get me started on Kate Capshaw) but there are a handful of other gems with George Lucas’ name attached to them that mean we shouldn’t send him to the metaphorical Rancor cave just yet.

(Also I’m well aware that the brilliance of the Indiana Jones films is totally down to one Steven Allan Spielberg and Lucas was totally riding on his coattails, which admittedly isn’t really helping my argument).

Let’s start with 1981’s Body Heat.  This remake of the excellent Double Indemnity launched Kathleen Turner’s career, and also stars one of my favorite ever actors, William Hurt. Check out the trailer – not a CGI racial stereotype with ridiculous flappy ears to be seen!  (And if you really want a treat, get yourself a copy of Double Indemnity too – it really is fantastic.)

Lucas’s Redemption

Moving swiftly on, I refer the honourable ladies and gentlemen to what is possibly one of the finest family films ever made, indeed it’s one of Joel’s Must See Movies from 1986: Labyrinth.  Again, most of the credit has to go to Jim Henson, but it’s a Lucasfilm production.  This is just a diamond of a movie: OK,  Jennifer Connolly’s Sarah tends toward slightly annoying, and David Bowie’s tights are nothing short of terrifying (not to mention his wig), but the puppets still make my heart ache with joy 25 years later (my own particular favourites being Sir Didymus and the beyond-gorgeous Ludo).

One film that’s always amused me is the Lucas-produced Howard the Duck.  If I’m honest, I probably haven’t seen it since the late 80s, but I can remember a lot of it very clearly, and I remember that it was kitschy hilarious: what’s not to love about a vaguely perverted, cigar smoking animatronic duck battling a Jeffrey Jones-shaped Overlord from a parallel dimension?  Ironically enough, Howard the Duck received a critical drubbing and the Razzie award that year for Worst Picture… and yet I still like it a hell of a lot more than Attack of the Clones (there you go, I remembered the name!).

I feel like I should give Willow an honourable mention at this point: it’s an ok movie and certainly one for the kids, but as I have yet to forgive Ron Howard for Far and Away and I don’t recall that the story made a whole heap of sense (another black mark against Uncle George… what was it Harrison Ford said? ‘George, you can type this s***, but you sure can’t say it’), I’m going to leave it to you to make your mind up about it.

So, in conclusion: George Lucas – a shockingly bad writer, a truly heinous director, but an ok producer.  And let’s not forget one thing: George Lucas invented Chewbacca, and for that we should be truly grateful.

Maggie Kruger fell asleep on her dad’s lap on her first cinema trip to watch Return of the Jedi in 1983, and has loved the movies ever since, even going so far as to study them at college, where she worked on a number of short films. She lives and works in London, UK, and will tell you that her favourite film is Dr Strangelove, although when pressed will also admit a certain weakness for 1980’s brat pack movies and most of Adam Sandler’s early work.

Follow her on Twitter: @emmizzykay .

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12 comments on “How I Learned to Forgive George Lucas… And You Can Too!

  1. The Phantom Menace is pretty poor, and once you reach the end of that trilogy, quite obviously redundant. But amongst all the inane politics, Oskar Schindler talking into a ladyshave and yelps of “l’il Annie!”, there are some good bits. You have to admit the podracing scene is pretty amazing.

    Attack of the Clones is fascinating simply as a transparent fan-pleasing response to the critical mauling that Phantom Menace received. It’s as if George has just gone out onto the street and asked for ideas – “What do you want to see? Less Jar Jar? Fair enough? Boba Fett? Okay. Yoda fighting? Yup, we can do that. Jimmy Smits? Really?”

    But 90% of the basic story they were trying to tell with the trilogy is basically in Revenge of the Sith, which is definitely the best of the bunch. There’s definitely enough material to edit the three together into a big epic tragedy that’d stand up against any of the Lord of the Rings films … except for one thing: Hayden Christensen. The biggest crime the prequels commit is revealing that Darth Vader is essentially Dawson Leary.

    (And don’t forget – George is also responsible for LucasArts, and therefore some of the greatest computer games of the nineties – the Monkey Islands, X-Wing, Tie Fighter, Grim Fandango, Sam & Max. )

    • Hi Daniel, Thanks for commenting and those are excellent points! I suppose you are correct about ROTS being the “best,” but by the time we got to it, I was so jaded it was difficult for me to let go and simply enjoy it. That said, your “Dawson” comparison is spot on (though I think James Van Der Beek would have been more menacing!).

  2. Forgive George Lucas? Why, that’s proposterous! But I can give it a shot… *concentrates*… Must… forgive… GEORGE LUCAS! *balls fists, beads of sweat drip down forehead*… Must! FORGIVE! *face turns red, tears stream down face*… I CAN’T DO IT! I can’t do it, I CAN’T! *sobs* HELP ME! Help me!

    After Phantom Menace, I wound up in therapy with a doll showing doctors where George Lucas touched me! He’s the man that single handedly built my childhood, AND flushed it down the toilet, and he’s not even sorry! Just look at him, he’s STILL on the whole Clone Wars thing and he won’t let it go!

    I appreciate all your points, but I’m sorry… *sighs*… I just can’t forgive him.

    • Hi Russell! Man, that was hilarious! I know what you mean though. And when I hear talk of reissuing Empire with a CGI Yoda, well, let’s just say that doesn’t help! 🙁

      • Oh my God, if Lucas keeps this up, each of his special edition Star Wars movies will have their own special editions! God help us if we actually want to buy one of them in the future, we’ll be so confused. I can see myself approaching a clerk now…

        “Is this the version with the CGI Ewoks or the puppet Ewoks?”

        “Is this the version where Leia doesn’t kiss Luke, Luke kisses Han?”

        “Is this the version where Greedo survives?”

        “Is this the version where Lando Calrissian is Mexican?”

        It’s never going to end Joel. It’s never… going… to end.

        • Good point Russell! Although, I WILL buy the version of the prequels that replaces Jar Jar with, well, anything. How about a broom with a bucket for a head? Yeah, that I would buy! 🙂

          • I like the broom with the bucket for a head idea. But you know what Lucas will do, he’ll replace all of Jar Jar’s scenes with the broom now, re-release the movie in theaters, and then the following week he’ll replace the broom and bucket with a CGI broom and bucket.

          • Good point! Of course, considering it’s Jar Jar who single-handedly casts the vote that sets up the EMPIRE and ultimately everything that comes to be the STAR WARS we know and love, well, I’d prefer a bucketheaded broom set it all in motion to Jar Jar. Of course, that pretty much described Lucas, so… 🙂

  3. And that’s a good point by the way, about Jar Jar being the vote that dooms the galaxy, was that Lucas’ admission of guilt?

  4. Dewulf Apr 4, 2011

    NICE article, love the summary, can i just add my support for claims of ABYSMAL casting in the latter movies, for eg:
    – Hayden: Anakin needed to be deep and brooding, not petulant and p’d off. Woldn’t go with Jake G tho i think he’s great – would prefer an unknown.
    – Temeura Morrison is a good actor but throwing a New Zealand accent into these movies just doesn’t fit the fantasy that this was another time and place. Replacing orginal Boba Fett dialogue with Temeura’s in the original movies was completely unecessary and added insult to injury.
    – Jake Lloyd while good as a kid actor i believe, was always going to play the super-american precocious brat. Again, i think this role needed someone with a less overtly twentieth century feel, and a lot more presence.
    – and i have a thing about seeing really famous actors turn up in character roles…i’m not saying Samuel Jackson wasn’t the right guy for the role, he was great, i just wish he coulda been a little less famous before he did it, you know? Hey, on the plus side we also got Mace Windu vs Anakin on youtube, via a Pulp Fiction detour, mf’er 😛

    Back to the casting tho, what went wrong here? The original movies had great casting choices. James Earl Jones for Darth Vader’s voice for example, magnificent! Jeremy Bulloch for Boba Fett and Jason Wingreen for his voice. Obviously Ford, Hamilton and Fisher were all excellent. But then look at some other things and perhaps it starts to kinda to make sense?! What I’m talkin about is writing decisions like:
    1) exiting a steely cool-as character like Boba Fett with a bit of plain dumb luck – Lucas says he didn’t know how popular the character was but (a) he should have, c’mon, just ask how many figurines he’s sold! and (b) c’mon, he was tough, cool, and more effective at getting the job done than the whole Imperial fleet! (his accidental exit btw reminds me of lil’ Ani just accidentally flying into space, landing, and blowing up the droid army’s command ship…i mean, this is so hokey it’s almost hillbilly slapstick)
    2) even CONSIDERING Boba could be Darth Vader’s brother…cmon, we’ve already got an unknown to each other brother-sister in space, just how much coincidence do you think we can handle before we start to abandon all hope?
    3) more coincidence with C-3PO being BUILT BY ANI, i mean, well shucks, goll-lee, who’da imagiined a’that????
    4) allowing Extended Universe books and games to cannibalise elements of the original stories. The Cloud City Bespin, Dagobah, cloning planet Kamino, and episode III planet Dantooine are all distant, isolated locations that SOMEHOW keep on popping up again and again in further money making endeavours such as books, comics and games. Just. not. believable.
    5) Darth Maul not only being chronically underdeveloped (even worse than Count Dooku), but also exited in such a simple fashion. It’s like he suddenly just WASN’T the same Sith that took out Qui-Gon. (BTW: my solution? Obi-wan needed *something* special both to get out of that shaft he was hanging in and to beat Maul, something more than the realisation he could use Qui-Gon’s lightsaber (as per the movie). How about this…as he hangs there, starting to feel himself lose grip, he starts to meditate (to seek inspiration, hold on longer etc), and unexpectedly has a vision of the future…a vision of Leia’s message from the original movie, telling him he’s her only hope…he doesn’t know who it is, but the vision ‘peaks’ his strength with the force, he senses HIS lightsaber at the bottom of the shaft and reaches out to it, finally in his extreme need pulling it all the way up the shaft as he summersaults himself out (as per the movie), also drawing Qui-Gon’s saber to his other hand, using his blade to block Dath Maul’s attack above his head, whilst he uses Qui-Gon’s to cut the Sith in half.)

    So, I don’t know about forgiving dear old George, but at least i can be grateful that IV and V were brilliant and VI was pretty damn good….because when i look at what came after, it’s amazing they got made at all!

  5. Hi Dewulf! Man, this is definitely the most extensive comment left on the site to date and I must say I agree with everyone of your points! The prequels prove, if nothing else, that Lucas’s attempts to create his own “mythology” that he’d planned this whole saga out before starting were total B.S. Well, maybe not total. I believe he may have had some notes or basic outlines as to the backstory that came before IV, V, and VI, but I don’t buy for a second that this was how he planned it from the beginning. I also really dig your ending for Ep. I as it would have connected nicely to the OT. 🙂

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