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This essay is from Matt Gibson
Published on October 9, 2001

Keep It Fresh, George

Up until a little while ago, I had always been on George?s side. It really didn?t matter what the man did: Howard the Duck. Maniac Mansion (the TV show). Radioland Murders. Old Indy. Taking out Old Indy with the home video release of The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles. The 8 billion home video releases of the Star Wars Trilogy on Beta, VHS, and Laserdisc.

I had been there through it all knowing that someday George would come back to the story that made everything possible: the Ranch. ILM. Star Tours. The MAGIC. I cheered when Tim Zahn?s novels hit the scene and I waited with baited breath as The Phantom Menace was announced as the title of the first new Star Wars movie in sixteen years. I was there at midnight watching the familiar crawl as my pulse throbbed in my brain and even more crazed fans than myself dueled with toy lightsabers for the news cameras in the theatre lobby.

I?m not on George?s side anymore.

Don?t get me wrong. I think most of the ideas introduced in The Phantom Menace (can we just call it that rather than Episode whatever? Marketing. Sheesh.) were fantastic. Great stuff. The design of Darth Maul alone was worth the price of admission. George has hired a top-notch staff that cranks out some amazing art that simply wouldn?t be possible without the Lucasfilm marketing juggernaut. But let us all step back from the rose-colored glaze covering our collective eyes and look at what has happened to the saga.

The freshness is gone.

What finally did it for me was an article on The Force.net regarding a 20-year-old Japanese TV show and a spaceship on that show called a Gatchaman. It really doesn?t take a Jedi scholar to make anyone believe that this design is the basis for what will be a "Jedi Starfighter" in the upcoming Attack of the Clones.

This story was just the cap on a myriad of ideas that have been borrowed ... well, okay, let?s just say it: stolen from other media sources. It is truly amazing that someone hasn?t nailed George on some sort of copyright infringement. At the very least, the issue must be brought up on a very popular fan site (such as this one) to suggest that George needs to either:

  1. Come up with more original ideas or a better cover-up job of old ideas.
  2. Hire some people who can stand up to the man and come up with some truly thoughtful designs that don?t require duplication of 20+year-old concepts!
Let me say here that Iain McCaig, Doug Chiang, and the rest of the Ranch staff have come up with some amazing things. Sebulba makes The Phantom Menace worth watching again and again. But George can't seem to let these talented people come up with more fantastic designs without out-and-out stealing from other sources.

There is, to me, a lack of teamwork in the George camp these days then there seemed to be in the days of Bantha Tracks. It?s more corporate for one thing. The Ranch and ILM staffers revere George rather than simply work for the guy. Most of them grew up with the first three movies and have a genuine, albeit blind, faith in what George can and will do. The Phantom Menace was our wake up call.

Yes, Star Wars is George's playground and he is the artist, blah blah blah. It used to be that being a filmmaker was enough...now George is an artist. Whatever. Surely there is some room for fresher thought on George's canvas? Consider these alarming examples of outright plagiarism that exist in The Phantom Menace and, apparently, Attack of the Clones:

  • Queen Amidala's dress AND hairstyle at the beginning of The Phantom Menace are IDENTICAL to a Mongolian Princess' gown seen in a turn-of-the-century issue of National Geographic.
  • The chariot race in Phantom Menace is not simply an homage (read: copy) to Ben-Hur ... it's practically ripped right from the celluloid! The stadium, the colorful racers, the carnage, the action between the two lead protagonists ... even the fat guy watching the proceedings!
  • The parade at the end of Phantom is taken DIRECTLY from the pages of Dinotopia books! The buildings and the 'dinosaurs' of Theed haven't been changed in the slightest from the original children?s material. Maybe this is why we can see a stone horse perched on one of the archways?
  • And now, the Gatchaman ship will make its debut in Attack of the Clones as a "Jedi Starship". Please!
(Yes, I know that even A New Hope is a thinly veiled copy of Kurosawa?s The Hidden Fortress...but vague similarities to storylines and characters from other sources are a far cry from outright duplications presented on screen.)

That?s just off the top of my head. Add to this the stunted dialogue (Lawrence Kasdan, where are you?!?), choppy editing resulting in a horrifically choppy music score by John Williams (listen to the ?Ultimate Edition? Soundtrack ... I dare you!), and HORRIBLY conceived plot points (Midichlorians? Virgin births? WHAT?!?) from The Phantom Menace and I, as a fan, am terribly concerned.

We're going to see Boba Fett without a helmet? Isn't the mystery and intrigue what made Fett such an interesting character the first time around? The Force is being explained by microbes in the blood? If this is the case, then why does Vader still hold such mastery in the Force when he?s nothing but a machine?

It?s not that The Phantom Menace was such a bad movie. It?s just that it wasn?t great. It was mediocre. It wasn?t even FINISHED. It could have been so much more! And I?m tired of the argument that Phantom was weak because it had the unlucky job of setting up the entire saga.

A New Hope set up the entire Star Wars UNIVERSE in 1977 without even ONE pixel being drawn! After sixteen years of waiting, I wanted ... no, I deserved! ... a complete movie that not only set the wheels in motion for the next two but was a complete, simple tale within itself. That?s right: I DESERVED it!

I?ve shucked enough money into George?s pockets that despite the hype, the overwhelming marketing, the gargantuan amount of toys and doodads, and the Taco Bell/KFC/Pizza Hut billion dollar promotion, despite ALL OF THIS ... The Phantom Menace should have been a GREAT movie. Artist?s vision be damned! I want a wild payoff for allegiance and for my $8.50 plus popcorn!

The outright stealing of other artistic visions just add to the punishment. Star Wars was fresh once. It?s not anymore. Wasn't it George himself that once said that without a good story, a special effect was a very boring thing? Well, it's boring, George.

I'm hoping that the rumors coming out of the new SW production are true and that Attack of the Clones will be a tremendously better movie without resorting to using other people?s intellectual property. Heck, I?m even warming up to the title.

Take this all for what it's worth. I'm close to 30 years old and my viewpoint is considerably more slanted than they were from 1977-1983. I?m really hoping that Attack and Episode III are better because I would hate to hear my young son tell me one day that Episodes IV-VI are so much better than I-III. If George is going to the trouble of making an epic six-part saga, let us all hope that at least five of the six live up to the responsibility of what ?epic? really means.

The ironic part about all of this? I actually LIKED Jar Jar.

Thanks for reading.

Feedback welcome

 

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