Jewish World Review May 21, 2002 / 10 Sivan, 5762

David D. Perlmutter

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Consumer Reports

George Lucas has gotta go! | Like anyone writing opinion columns I've rteceived my share of hate mail. But after this essay appears I plan to move my family to an undisclosed location (Hint: somewhere on the planet Naboo) as part of our enrollment in the Jedi Witness Protection program.

My fears of being ambushed by some light-saber-wielding fan who has legally changed his name to "Jango Fett" are not wholly unfounded. Star Wars aficionados are third only to Trekkies and Tolkeinites in the depth of their allegiance. And so it is with trembling fingers that I dare to suggest that the great and mighty progenitor of the Jedi, Darth Vader and the Force be cast down.

Simply put, George Lucas has to go.

I'm grieved to make such a charge. Like many teenage boys of the late 70s, fresh from watching Star Wars as many times as I was years old, I thought Lucas a man of vision and magic. He created a timeless fable (partly borrowed in part from Kurosawa's Hidden Fortress), established a myth for the new age (cribbed from Joseph Campbell), and lifted cinematic science fiction out of cheesy irrelevance.

A generation later -- with Howard the Duck and Willow in between -- we got Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace. Sixteen years to come up with an interesting plot, unlimited money and prestige to hire good actors, and all he could muster to populate a dull, dull movie were stereotypes of Chinese, Jamaicans and Jews? This is genius? And where did he unearth that terrible child actor to play Darth Vader as enfant terrible?

(Only positive points: Darth Maul, no Ewoks and Natalie Portman).

What happened? What went wrong? Worse, did our former hero "get it?" According to Time magazine, Lucas did not even know until recently that people disliked the movie. "I'm getting my education now from the press," he admitted. In contradiction, Newsweek assured us that: "After 'Menace' finished its run in theaters, Lucas knew he had work to do."

Which George is the real one? I think the out-of-touch grandmaster, isolated from fans and from criticism in his Skywalker never-never fortress, is the more credible portrait. In Hollywood as much as in Baghdad, absolute power mushes the brain.

Lucas declared after the stunning successes of the first run of Star Wars films that he wouldn't endure other people's editing. "I'm not going to live in that world." He meant Hollywood. But the result is that there is no one, or wasn't in 1998, in Lucasland who had the courage to say, "George, that's a dumb idea."

And no one has taught him a simple truth: Make a terrific movie, and people will buy anything you brand off of it (even "Clone Crunch" cereal).

Worse, Lucas disdains criticism. He dismisses hecklers of the Rastaman-as-Mr. Toad character of Jar Jar Binks as "37-year-old guys who spend all their time on the Internet." No, George, we 37-year-olds (How did you know that was my age when the film came out?) hated "Menace," but so did the college kids whose standard was The Matrix and the world-weary 12-year-olds who played Quake and Oddworld. Indeed, I asked a class of 150 college freshmen and sophomores in 1999 what they thought of SW1. "Silly" was the most common verdict.

The audience has grown up: we want movies that touch the teenager in all of us, not the toddler or toymaker.

Moreover, he has been hinting in interviews that Attack of the Clones is applicable to today's headlines, about democracies eroding into tyrannies when responding to outside threats. Well, what is his filmmaking but an egocracy of sorts? Shakespeare, after all, heard his audience and the jingle of their farthings and stamping of their feet; he didn't mail in his plays from a Scottish castle.

So why not to listen to fans? Don't let us write the scripts, but when a million people tell you something is ridiculous, perhaps you should pay attention. What right have we to complain? Well, just because an architect builds a house that becomes a national treasure does not give him the right to trash it. Star wars belongs to all of us.

Still, Master George, I'm still rooting for you. I'm sure that the next two films will be better than the last one and I still believe in your force of creativity. (Although, didn't Wired magazine assure us last time to "Believe the Hype!"?) But understand: If you fail, I won't be the only one hoping the saga will be turned over to someone--Peter Jackson?--whose talent didn't go over to the dull side.

JWR contributor David Perlmutter is an associate professor of mass communication at Louisiana State University and a senior fellow at the Reilly Center for Media & Public Affairs. He is the author of, among others, Visions of War : Picturing Warfare from the Stone Age to the Cyber Age. Comment by clicking here.


04/18/02: To jump-starting the market, the animals need to be re-trained

© 2002, David Perlmutter