|George Lucas directing Star Wars|
Considering he's the creator of the most popular movies ever made, George Lucas takes a lot of crap.
I've criticised him myself, particularly for his refusal to release the unaltered versions of the original Star Wars.
But a lot of the criticism goes way too far, and it seems to me that some myths are taking hold on social media. So today, Episode Nothing finds itself defending George Lucas.
George Lucas has been taking serious stick from many fans since at least 1999, when The Phantom Menace became the first Star Wars film that millions of people could discuss online. (Just a couple of years earlier, you could gripe about the Special Editions, but internet use wasn't sufficiently widespread for you to air your grievances to a huge audience.)
From that time until now, most of the complaints were about the prequel trilogy. I agreed with much of that criticism, but I thought it became unnecessarily nasty. Take the song 'George Lucas Raped My Childhood', which I think makes the mistake of conflating two slightly different things: disappointing films and child abuse.
Lucas was also slated for refusing to release the original, unaltered cuts of the 1977 Star Wars and its sequels. But I suspect most of the people who cared about this were a little older and therefore likely to be more mature in the the tone of our criticism.
The prequels, the special editions and the refusal to release the GOUT (George's original, unaltered trilogy), were all reasonable grounds for complaint. But lately, especially in the overheated world of social media, people have increasingly refused to believe that the success of the original Star Wars had much to do with the man who laboured over it for years.
Here's a tweet I just read: "God I hate seeing George Lucas credited for anything. Carrie Fisher & Marcia Lucas were the people that made the OT (original trilogy) even remotely watchable."
"No one would care about Star Wars without the editing of Marcia Lucas or the script doctoring of Carrie Fisher," says another tweet.
I think people are putting their agendas ahead of the facts here. And that's dangerous, given how quickly myths can take hold on social media.
Carrie Fisher went on to become a well-regarded Hollywood script doctor – and, of course, she was a gifted novelist – but there is precious little evidence of her having major input into the screenplay of Star Wars, back when she was an under-confident 19-year-old.
As for Marcia Lucas, I'd be the first to agree that her contribution seems to have been played down in the official Lucasfilm histories. She was a hugely talented film editor, and she made some other key contributions to Star Wars.
But to suggest that other people made Star Wars a success despite George Lucas is just plain wrong. I want to take on a couple of key criticisms in particular.
George Lucas is, as he was the first to admit, not a natural writer.
His friend, Francis Ford Coppola, told him that he should learn to write screenplays if he wanted to direct – although many other prominent directors of his time got along perfectly well without writing their own scripts.
Lucas hated the process of writing. He described it as "exactly like doing a term paper". But he made himself do it, keeping office hours as he scratched out his screenplay with a pencil. His assistant then deciphered his tiny handwriting and dealt with the spelling.
For Star Wars, he really wrote not just one screenplay, but several. There were four different drafts, with the story and characters radically different in almost every one. (Drafts three and, naturally enough, had the most in common as he refined his ideas.)
In early 1977, Gloria Katz and Willard Huyck gave the dialogue an uncredited polish. But until then, the changes to the screenplay were nothing to do with "script doctoring". What was happening was that Lucas was substantially rewriting and reinventing his own story in response to feedback from the people who read it – and the practicalities of what could be put on film.
A large number of people must have given useful notes, but the credit for what ended up on the page must go to Lucas.
Was Star Wars saved in the editing?
There's a very good video essay on YouTube by RocketJump, called 'How Star Wars Was Saved in the Edit'. It's a great account of how the movie was reshaped in the cutting room.
I have only one substantial quibble with the video, and that's its title. I don't think it's fair to say Star Wars was "saved" in the editing. It was just edited, extremely well.
Editing was George Lucas's strength. Cutting images together effectively was what got him noticed at film school. When he was directing American Graffiti, in 28 hectic nights of shooting, he told the cast that he didn't have time to direct it on set, but would really be directing it in the cutting room.
The same applies to Star Wars. Lucas fired a distinguished British editor, John Jympson, who didn't seem to be assembling the footage the way he wanted. Instead, Paul Hirsch, Marcia Lucas and Richard Chew cut the film back in California. They worked at a frenetic pace and the film itself had an equally frenetic pace.
In some cases, footage shot for one scene was moved into another. The scenes with Luke's Tatooine friends were excised. Timescales in the story were tinkered with. And a ticking clock was added to the climax, with the decision to make it clear that the Death Star was about to destroy the fourth moon of Yavin if the Rebel pilots didn't knock out the battle station first.
But this was the way Lucas worked and would continue to work. He has been called the "super-editor", and he presided over post-production as his footage was turned into a film whose pace and drive were unlike anything audiences were used to.
What to admire about George Lucas
|George and Marcia Lucas|
I find a lot to admire in the young George Lucas -- the man who, at 33, had made a flm that would change the world.
He was not a natural writer, but he had written a terrific screenplay.
He was a shy character, yet he directed hundreds of people to make a $9.5million movie.
Yes, there were many great collaborators who got his movie made. We don't hear enough about some of them. But there is no taking away the credit due to Lucas himself, for seeing his project through to completion and making the most successful film that had ever been seen.