George Lucas Reconsidered

by Benjamin Domenech on 11:27 pm February 3, 2011

After seeing the Red Letter review of Revenge of the Sith — the best part which is the “sitting on a couch” sequence. “Would you like some refreshment while I talk about your mother being murdered and raped?” — I thought of these quotes from the early pages of The Making of The Empire Strikes Back, an excellent book every Star Wars fan should own. A smattering:

“George made an analogy between the real estate business and the film business,” says Weber [Lucasfilm CEO]. “There are three rules in the real estate business: location, location, location. And three rules in the movie business: script, script, script.” … Lucas had written Star Wars himself, out of necessity, but he did not enjoy the job, which was laborious …

With Brackett [the original scriptwriter] hospitalized, everyone waiting to get started, a locked-in production schedule, and no other writer on hand, Lucas was left with no choice but to write the second draft himself. “George doesn’t like to write,” [director Irvin] Kershner says. “He hates writing.”

“I’ve retired from directing,” Lucas says [in a memo regarding finding a director for Empire]. “If I directed Empire then I’d have to direct the next one and the next for the rest of my life. I’ve never really liked directing. I became a director because I didn’t like directors telling me how to edit, and I became a writer because I had to write something in order to be able to direct something. So I did everything out of necessity, but what I really like is editing.”

So to be clear: Lucas 1) hates to write, 2) hates to direct, and 3) only likes editing. But later in the book it gets into the fact that Lucas hated the way Kershner had filmed it when it got to the editing stage, since Kershner had given him a lot less to work with (in fact, after the first cut is done, Lucas leaves for Japan). Throughout the process, Lucas talks about how he wants everything to be like a documentary, a ton of material to work with once you get into the cutting room — instead, Kershner gives him very limited options with just the adapted (often on-set) dialogue and shots. So 3) is only true if he’s got all of 1) and 2) just the way he likes it?

Perhaps this is why he declared Empire was the worst Star Wars movie (yes, he seriously said that). His role in the process seems to be more along the lines of that of an initial inspiration for characters who long ago lost control of the direction they’re headed in. Lucas’s initial script is a mashup of ideas, and lacks nearly every memorable line from the final film (even “Do, or do not, there is no try,” is not his). The side by side comparisons of Lucas and Kasdan are night and day. Example:

Lucas: “Not material are we. Luminous beings are we, tied together by the Force. Yes. There are two of you… your body and your energy.”

Kasdan: “Luminous beings are we [pinches Luke’s skin], not this crude matter.”

You start to see why Jar-Jar sounds the way he did, after a point where Lucas had become all-powerful and uneditable. No wonder the prequels feel like a forced process of a guy doing something he doesn’t want to do, and poorly. The contrast between the muted non-direction relayed in clips from the RL review with some really excellent text in Making of an extensive conversation between Kershner and Harrison Ford about script and directing changes for the Carbonite scene, and you realize how much the elements fans love so much about Empire have so little to do with Lucas’s intent. In almost every circumstance, Kershner or Kasdan are slicing away the fat of overwritten dialogue, useless scenes, throwaway shots, and the rest, bringing it down to an almost zen-like state. Even the smallest scene is thought through with more care than anything found in the prequels. Compare the directors’ commentary on Episode II to this, from Kershner:

“The admiral says to one of his officers, ‘We don’t need those bounty hunters. They’re the scum of the galaxy,'” Kershner notes. “Then the admiral, who is standing below them in the control pit, is startled because, hanging over the edge of the bridge area, are 10 toes, huge claws with lizard-like skin–and you wonder, ‘My god, what’s attached to that?’ He looks up and you see a lizard character glaring down at him. But his disgust is not that it’s some alien creature, but that it’s an immoral creature. [laughs] That was not in the script, of course, his reaction to the toes, but that’s what I mean by an interpretation with humor. The imperials are all very pure looking and very clean, they’re all humans. And yet he’s reacting to the bounty hunters’ immoral motive. They work for money. Even the Imperials think they’re doing good for the galaxy. There’s no such thing as people desiring to be evil, they’re evil for a purpose. They want to do good.

Compare this, of course, to the entire prequels — where I still have no clear picture of the motivations of nearly any of the evil characters, besides wanting to break or enforce trade embargoes of some kind.

For some reason, prior to seeing the RL take, I had never mentally assembled the number of couch-based blah blah blah scenes, and the comparison to Soap Opera camera work was a revelation. Someone who was just passably competent at their craft could’ve managed better than one scene of rushed background packing to give the people something to look at that wasn’t CGI.

For more on this whole thing, read Dan McLaughlin’s take from a few years ago on the failures of the prequels. An aside: The proof that time travel will never be invented is in the fact that George Lucas was not mysteriously murdered by someone who appeared out of thin air in 1981.

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