Thursday, March 03, 2005

The Lucasfilm Empire Gears Up To Invade

Like many other men my age, I have an irrational fondness for Star Wars (the first installment of the franchise; which is to say, “Episode IV”). In my case, Star Wars happens to be the first movie I saw in a theatre. I was a 12-year-old small-town boy from the prairies, and a preacher’s kid to boot - George Lucas could not have asked for a more perfect audience for his film if he’d hired a team of mad geneticists to cook one up. It took quite a bit of exposure to the medium of film before I realized movies as a rule weren't as fun as Star Wars. It took even longer to realize there were also films with considerably more heft to them. But I did reach this sophisticated perspective by the time the third and final installment was released. I was old enough to vote by then; I saw that chapter only once, and considered it every bit as lame as the Disney/Dean Jones comedies from the decade we'd just survived.

Years later, when the fiddled-with editions of these films were released, a friend of mine had a personal encounter with the Lucasfilm Empire. My friend worked for one of the city entertainment weeklies, and was asked by his editor to devote a column spoofing Lucas/Star Wars. I read the piece (not his funniest, but not bad either) and commented on it when I saw him. "Oh, man," he said; "I'm just lucky I still have a job!" Apparently when Lucasfilm caught wind of this “editorial”, 20th Century Fox promptly yanked all their advertising from the paper - and this is a publication that devotes a third of its pages to movies and showtimes.

Thus George Lucas transforms himself from childhood hero to heel. As I watched the recent Episodes I and II, I figured Anakin Skywalker’s ho-hum transformation to Darth Vader was not a bad metaphor for George's transformation to Darth Lucas. We first see a clumsy kid with a big head embraced for his clever instincts and taken in by his heroes, the Jedi Knights. As he gets older, he becomes petulant and whiny, and won’t listen to the counsel of his peers and superiors. He makes bad decisions and assumes unparalleled control over unwilling subjects, to his own spiritual impoverishment, and eventually employs an army of faceless lawyers ... erm, “clones” to establish a totalitarian regime.

Last week my brother sent me to an obscure site address, and said he’d be curious to hear my thoughts, so long as I didn’t mind exposing myself to spoilers from the forthcoming Episode III. I checked out the site, and it amounted to a truly breathtaking breach in Lucas’ security. If you recall the “Star Wars Storybooks” that were published in the 70s, then you have a good idea of what this site looked like. Hundreds of movie stills, arranged in narrative order, with brief (execrably written) plot synopses stitching it together.

I thought about posting the link, then thought of my friend, and reconsidered. I shared it with some friends and my nephews. The general consensus was that Lucas knows whom to hire to make his ideas look "kewl". Of course, we haven’t yet been exposed to his evidently diminishing skills as a writer and director - until we are, Episode III remains an attractive package.

I checked the site again yesterday. It’s been shut down. It was only a matter of time – if the site’s counter was any indication, it had already received over half-a-million visits. Half-a-million! Peter Jackson may have wrested the “Popcorn” crown from the clumsy, aging kid with the big head, but Lucas should find some satisfaction knowing that, so long as we don’t have to listen to his wooden dialogue or watch his static direction, he continues to hold our adolescent imaginations.

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