While his tinkering with the original Star Wars, and inability to produce a prequel trilogy worthy of our own expectations, has angered many - My Geek Heart argues George Lucas' achievements will always outweigh the disappointments...
As fans eagerly await the first instalment of Disney's continuation of the Star Wars saga, are we finally ready to let the dust settle on the thorny issue of George Lucas and the Star Wars prequels?
The last time I checked, George Lucas had not invaded another country, blown up an airliner or attempted to restrict our freedom of speech- yet the level of abuse directed towards the man - who gave us two of the greatest movie franchises of all time, suggests otherwise. While I sympathise with the frustrations of fans, and even share some, isn't it perhaps time we let bygones be bygones, and remember the pioneering work of George Lucas. Make no bones about it, beginning with the formation of his visual effects group - Industrial Light & Magic in 1975 - the man created the modern blockbuster, and set a template for everyone else to follow. The current bevy of genre and superhero movies - we are all so enthused by - owe everything to George Lucas and the success of the original Star Wars. Ironically this gigantic toy box of geekiness, which we all play and revel in, wouldn't even exist if it wasn't for the man everyone has decided, its now cool to hate. Ok so, Jar Jar Binks, Han shooting first, Vader says Noooooo, and midi-chlorians weren't his finest moments - don't get me started on Kingdom of the Crystal Skull either - and I'm certainly not for one moment suggesting the man is above criticism, but in the grand scheme of things, hasn't he given us far more than he could ever take away. Imagine if you will for a moment, our world without Star Wars, it scarcely bares thinking about!
Now 70 years old, let us not forget that like all of us, George Lucas is in fact mortal. Rather than forgive Lucas his missteps after he's gone - and we know that is exactly what the haters will do - we need to reconcile our differences today and appreciate all he has given us. Do we really want the original nerd done well, who conjured up Jedi, the Force, Sith, Lightsabers, Wookies and Indiana Jones, to end on a quote such as, " Why would I make any more, when everybody yells at you all the time and says what a terrible person you are, " Terrible person?! Surely he's still the closet thing us nerds have to a genuine Yoda! Take a gander at the photograph above, converse and all, isn't he a bit like you and me?
The general consensus appears to be - as Lucas has more money than god - he is fair game, and thus devoid of any kind of emotion, deserves no sympathy or any sort of understanding. What we need to remember here, is nothing was handed to Lucas on a plate, he wasn't born into the movie industry. Lucas’ Father owned a stationery store, while George himself was a just kid who loved fast cars and science-fiction. An almost fatal car crash caused the young Lucas to re-evaluate his life - and by the end of his teens - had discovered a love for film which set him on a different course altogether. Award winning film school shorts followed, and it wasn't long before Lucas had indeed become the original nerd done well. After the sleeper hit success of his 1973 movie American Graffiti had bolstered his reputation , Lucas as we all know, turned to the science-fiction heroes of his childhood for his next project. While the single-mindedness he displayed in bringing Star Wars to the screen, may have proved detrimental to him in later years, Lucas needed every ounce of it and more to launch his space opera and the story of Luke Skywalker. Had Star Wars bombed, then the cinema landscape of today would look very different, and it proved a tough sell - with both United Artists and Universal turning Lucas down. Eventually one studio said yes, mainly due to the success of American Graffiti, as 20th Century Fox decided to take a punt on the young maverick and his movie. Whether by luck or design, Lucas also managed to broker the most astute deal in cinema history - to keep control of his project in return for less money - he gained the sequel and merchandising rights in return for a lesser directors fee. While others failed to see the full potential of such rights, for Lucas this was key to remaining in control of his vision, with it proving a master stroke and one for which I salute him. The rest as they say is history, and what Lucas unleashed back in 1977 became a genuine worldwide cultural phenomenon, bleeding into all aspects of life like no movie before and you could argue afterwards. Others have gotten close - The Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter series for instance - but those franchises had the groundwork laid for them by the achievements of Lucasfilm. While the man's detractors love to use the analogy of Lucas building his own Empire and becoming the very thing Luke Skywalker fought against, isn't this just the stuff of pretentious melodramatics. At worst Lucas is a stubborn so and so who, up until recently I should add, refused to relinquish control of his art. If all power corrupts, then the fact the only hint of it in Lucas manifests itself as a streak of stubbornness is pretty remarkable, even more so for a man who has amassed a reported four billion dollar fortune. I can easily imagine the type of egotistical monster a lesser person would have become, while the only vice Lucas seems to indulge in is a love of art, whilst adopting children, donating untold millions and creating educational programmes for schools. Hardly the work of a Dark Lord of the Sith now is it!
Like all creative souls, Lucas certainly has some phenomenal ideas floating around in that head of his, though mixed with a fair few stinkers too, the trick is separating the good from the bad. Sometimes he listens, it's to Lucas' credit that he did - after the barrage of criticism the first two Star Wars prequels received - reportedly open up his editing suite to consult with notable directors while making Revenge of the Sith. Although ROTS is not without its flaws, it is however a grander, more commanding piece of work, with a greater emotional pull than the two films which predicted it. The confrontation between Yoda and Sidious for example, coupled with the Anakin vs. Obi Wan battle, is as momentous as any other showdown in the saga's history. In the end, the man who gave us two genuinely astounding film franchises, turned out to be fallible after all, and just as we built Lucas up - many seem to delight in dragging him down. Yet those original works continue to endure and inspire everyone they touch, and perhaps now is the time to finally cut George Lucas some slack. Passing over the reins to Disney, Kathleen Kennedy and J.J. Abrams, all signs point to an awakening not just in name, but in form for the Star Wars saga. It wouldn't surprise me if by stepping back from the franchise he lovingly created, Lucas knew exactly what he was doing - anything with his name attached would be panned long before a single frame had been shot. Perhaps once The Force Awakens has been released, the furore over the prequel trilogy will subside and we can all be thankful for the universe Lucas lovingly created, and yes perhaps somewhat misguidedly overprotected in recent years. As the man has said, he feels as such the only person who never got to see Star Wars - now wouldn't it be sweet - if The Force Awakens can do for Lucas, what A New Hope did for us. Like a movie industry Doctor Who, Lucas has had a hand in many ground breaking moments throughout its history, guiding and pushing movie making forward - and while he may have made some mistakes along the way - his heart has always been in the right place.
So the next time you see a Stormtrooper run a marathon, or an Indiana Jones cosplayer zip slide from a bridge, think of the fans - the men, women and children - Lucas' creations have helped inspire to make this world just that tiny bit better. Surely that is the man's true legacy… although there is plenty more to be thankful for....
I've said before it and I'll say it again, Raiders of the Lost Ark - tied with A New Hope - is my favourite movie of all time. Temple of Doom begins as a rollickingly boys own adventure, before plunging right into the heart of darkness, and Last Crusade - with the dynamite pairing of Connery and Ford - felt a fitting conclusion to the saga. Kingdom of the Crystal Skull is, in all honesty, the fourth best Indiana Jones movie. Suffering from a muddled script, as several different aborted screenplays were rolled into one, plot lines drop half way into the picture - Indy under suspicion from the FBI for example - and the macguffin of the piece is not particularly awe-inspiring. Yet having said all that, the character of Jones is strong enough for Crystal Skull to have its moments. Ford is as engaging as ever, the lively motorcycle chase through the college is fun and the Star Wars - I have a bad feeling about this - nod just about made it worth sitting through every Shia LeBeouf scene. Largely one giant misstep, but when wrapped up within the tapestry of the entire Jones saga, even Crystal Skull can't detract from the franchises frankly more awesome moments - the giant rolling boulder, the dizzying mine cart chase or, well the list could go on and on. Coupled with Spielberg's direction and yet another iconic John Williams score, the Indiana Jones movies are the second greatest gift George Lucas bestowed upon us all.
While many rightly credit Steve Jobs with assisting Pixar in becoming the powerhouse it is today, he wasn't the first to aid John Lasseter and his talented crew. Lucas' role in the formation of Pixar should not be overlooked, and the company first came into being as a department of Lucasfilm's ILM. Known as " The Graphics Group, " Lucas hired Dr. Ed Catmull, a computer science professor from the New York Institute of Technology, and his Computer Graphics Lab in 1979 to bring the work Catmull had done in computer graphics and animation into the film industry as part of his Industrial Light and Magic set up . The team produced notable work on special effect sequences, such as the stained glass knight scene for ‘Young Sherlock Holmes’ and, most famously, the “Genesis Sequence” for ‘Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan.’ Running into difficulties following a reportedly messy divorce settlement, Lucas needed to cut costs, yet rather than disband the group all together, he allowed Lasseter and his team to find an alternative buyer for The Graphics Group, and the rest is once again movie history.
Let's face it, who didn't want to work at Industrial Light and Magic as a kid. The name seemed just perfect and they appeared to have the best job in the world - building and blowing up spaceships! As I have said, Lucasfilm's visual effects experts have had a hand in almost every major leap forward in the art, including to name but a few - the T-1000 of Terminator 2, and the first realistic digital animals even seen in film, the dinosaurs of Jurassic Park. More recently for The Avengers, ILM built a digital New York, seamlessly blending real photography and physical sets with CGI. The company's impressive body of work will continue of course, with the next batch of Star Wars movies.
George Lucas, not so back after all is he?
What do you consider to be George Lucas' greatest achievement?
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