Tuesday, May 03, 2005

Lucas Gets WIRED

Hard to believe that I’m writing another post involving George Lucas and by default Star Wars. But I suppose being that the last and final Star Wars movie is being released in about two weeks from now, there’s a lot of material out there to inspire.

The May issue of WIRED magazine is basically devoted completely to articles on Star Wars and George Lucas. There are a couple of articles that a dear reader forwarded on to me, which I found to be quite interesting reads.

The first is Life After Darth which delves into Lucas’ future plans for his film making career, and also touches upon the many cinematic influences in his early life.

The Second is a Q & A with Lucas, an online exclusive that gives his perspectives on “Star Wars, Farenheit 9/11, and his own legacy”

“Life After Darth” goes into the roots of Lucas’ creative inspirations, and how the experimental film and foreign cinema of the 60’s shaped his artistic principles and standards. Granted I’m sure in order for Lucas to agree to the interview, Steve Silberman, the journalist who wrote the article, had hold off on more controversial subject material. Still, it would have been satisfying to read more hard hitting questions from Silberman, such as where the influences of Akira Kurosawa and experimental Canadian film maker Arthur Lipsett could be seen in Episodes I and II. Was there an homage to Kurosawa’s directorial technique of wrenching passion from his actors in their performances, when Anakin told Amidala that her skin was smooth, and not rough like the sand? Were Fellini’s pieces on the forgotten individuals in society, the foundation for Jar Jar Binks’ journey?

Do not mistake my barbs as patronizing Lucas for not properly recreating traits of obscure cinema, this is not the point. I am well aware that the Star Wars films are not attempting to be experimental cinema, nor independent films. But then why ramble on about unusual influences for two pages in an article of a widely published magazine? It’s almost as if Lucas and the article are trying to sell the readers and audiences that Lucas and Star Wars are actually much more intellectually and artistically grounded then anyone would realize. But most anyone who picks up this issue of WIRED magazine, already loves Star Wars. I’m not going to think any higher of it when I learn, (as interesting as it might factually be on its own) that Lucas watched a lot of small independent films growing up, because that is not what the original Star Wars trilogy was, and it is CERTAINLY not what the recent prequel trilogy is.

What I want to know, and what I feel many other Star Wars fans are interested in finding out, is why the marked differences in tone between the original trilogy and the new one. Why is there such a disparity in quality, resonance, and story? Obviously, it would be difficult to sell Lucas on doing an interview centered around this issue, but even an article that discussed the differences between the two, without decrying the modern trilogy as defunct would have been more intriguing.

A lot of this article came across as WIRED, and more likely Lucas’ handlers trying to say “See, See!! Lucas isn’t a sell out! He was totally influenced by all these under the radar film makers, that he even used to reference in THX 11-38 and the first Star Wars! He hasn’t become a commercial hack after all!!”

One of the metaphorical motifs through this article, is one that has been bouncing around the media for a little while now: that Lucas has become Darth Vader himself. The very force of the Hollywood Studio system he was trying to fight against as a young film maker, has now become entrenched in his identity.

Arthur Lipsett, the film maker of 21-87, a short experimental film which Lucas credits as having been a huge influence in his earlier creative life, committed suicide in 1986, after living a life of destitution and illness. Meanwhile, Lucas himself went onto become one of the most successful commercial film directors/producers on the planet. There is a staggering irony in this fact, that though Lucas may reiterate time and time again how much he wants to work on personal independent films that no one wants to see, he is so far removed from that life style and that mindset that it seems almost ridiculous to hear him say it. It is almost as if he is a painter who wishes to thwart his own instinctual technique to go with the broad bold strokes he has always known, and wishes to force his hand to paint in another way that is not truly his style. Even American Grafitti, which apparently studios did not bank on being very successful, is a very straight forward, relatable film, about a group of high school students running around town one night, not exactly a pre-cursor to the wildly abstract sort of film making Lucas said he would have done if it hadn’t been for Star Wars.

I found the shorter Q & A article to be more satisfying. I preferred the direct format, and I thought some of the questions allowed for more provocative answers from Lucas. It felt less like it was trying to push an agenda.

Lucas’ answer as to why he returned to the Star Wars films after he completed the first trilogy instead of moving on to his would be independent projects, I thought, was very telling.

Most of his answer to this question seems to be driven by technological advancements and the fact that he could make things look as they never looked before. A desire to expand the story of a universe that he felt had unlocked potential seemed secondary.

However, learning that he had said thirty years ago, that he was going to pursue smaller projects, yet ended up back in Star Wars, is indicative of the fact that he is simply drawn to do big blockbuster movies. Try as he might to deny it, it is who he is, and it is kind of director he was meant to be. There is no shame in this, and it is fascinating to me that there is some sort of an identity crisis that he struggles with when labeling himself as a particular kind of film maker.

Also in this interview, I was pleasantly surprised to find a wonderfully insightful quote that Lucas makes about the genres of fantasy and science-fiction, genres which I constantly try to defend:

“The thing I like about fantasy and science fiction is that you can take issues, pull them out of their cultural straitjackets, and talk about them without bringing in folk artifacts that make people get close minded…..You could look at (these) issues more open-mindedly –at what’s going on with the human mind…by making the film “about” something other than what its really about. Which is really what mythology is and what storytelling has always been about. Art is about communicating with people emotionally without the intellectual artifacts of the current situation, and dealing with very emotional issues.”

Well put George. There does seem to be some hope for you after all. Forget all this independent film hoopla, you were made for big sci-fi and big sci-fi was made for you. Search your feelings you know it to be true.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

2:01 PM  
Blogger Elliot said...

I've always wanted to see George Lucas and Ridley Scott battle it out in the ego arena.
It's very hard to imagine who'd win.

3:02 PM  
Blogger The New Yorker said...

It is isn't it? And yet in spite of myself I plan to see Kingdom of Heaven this weekend.

3:13 PM  

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