This essay is from Scott Samons
Published on October 7, 2001
Are we really more interested in seeing
Lord of the Rings & Harry Potter?
It would appear that, yes, we are more interested in LOTR and HP. But are we more interested in seeing new, fantastic worlds and adventures? Or are we just getting less interested in that fantastic world of a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away?
For as long as I can remember, I always wanted to be a goodfe- Jedi Knight. Guardians of peace and justice, but capable of laying the smack down with their lightsabres if needed. They were wise, but not infallible, and always wanted to do the right thing. They were patient, but stubborn at the same time. And this was just from watching the original trilogy, where the only Jedi we saw were Ben, Yoda, Luke and the fallen Jedi Anakin. The Phantom Menace strengthened this belief with Master Qui-Gon Jinn, one of the best characters ever created for a movie. Strong, but compassionate, wise but blinded by his quest for the Living Force by the events of the Unifying Force. Anakin turned out to be the chosen one, but his actions will be far from what Qui-Gon could have ever imagined.
Truly a fantastic storyline and plot for a series of movies, is it not? So why then are fans flocking to other franchises, leaving Star Wars, if not out in the cold, then at least up on the highest, forgotten shelf, with an armless Sheriff Woody, and a squeaker-less Wheezy the Penguin? George Lucas. The man who brought us this fantastic world of characters and adventures, and now appears to be bringing us a fantastic world of Jar Jar Underoos, Jar Jar the coloring book, Jar Jar the breakfast cereal. Yes I know he utilized merchandising for the OT. I owned a good sized chunk of it myself. But it was a means to an end.
When I first saw TPM, I was enthralled, but each time after I grew less and less enchanted. No, I hadn't grown up. I am 27 years old and I still have toys throughout mine and my wife's apartment. She does too, and we think there's nothing wrong with them. But I saw less of the OT's magic and charm, and more of the writings of a man just going through the motions. And TPM appears to be the means to the end this time, with that end being merchandi$ing. Ranging from the expected new figures and ships, to the unexpected three foot tall dancing Jar Jars. Reaching their lowest depth with the Tri-Con (Pizza Hut, Taco Bell, KFC) commercials making light of the already cartoony Gungan/Trade Federation droid army battle. The merchandising has actually left a bitter taste in the mouths of collectors who usually relish more and more. Those who have received the Episode 1 DVD early say that Lucas appears to admit in the documentary that he may have gone too far with this one. And he has only himself to blame.
And the most bitter pill is, the merchandising he won't do is the one the fans want most. DVDs of the original edition, Original Trilogy. No Greedo shooting first, no Luke screaming like a girly man on Bespin, and no Muppet-tastic musical number in Jabba's palace. The only good addition besides FX cleanup was the more sombre yet jubilant at the same time ending to ROTJ showing the far reaching effects of the Emperor's death. And that was just a few scant seconds and most of the credit should go to the beautiful new music (John Williams?) playing over the scenes. I would gladly trade all my action figures, new and old, for a copy of three of the greatest movies of all time on a non-degrading, high quality format that is DVD. The movies that, long after I had stopped playing with the toys and reading the comics and novels, I would still go back to time and time again. Movies that managed to capture lightning in a bottle and transport me away to an incredible new world, over and over again. But beginning with the politically correct Special Editions and then the Jar Jar love-fest Episode 1, there is a difference. A difference that we the fans don't like.
Who are we, the fans, to tell George Lucas how to do his movies, I hear you asking? GL has admitted time and time again how exhaustive movie making is, how he hates writing, how editing is his favorite part. And when we suggest GL listen to his own advice and get somebody to polish up the script a bit and maybe get a little bit more from the actors, we are treated like heretics who dare question the actions of an Almighty God. I know some of theforce.net staff are very religious, and I wonder how you can justify worshipping the One God, when you also seem to idolize a simple human being who is capable of making mistakes, but seemingly incapable of admitting that fact.
I could also bring up the fact that filmmakers and fans form a symbiotic relationship, much like the Gungan/Naboo one GL tried to preach to us about in TPM. They make movies, we pay to see them. We get to see a movie, and some of our money is an investment in the studio and filmmaker for future projects. For us to ask for the sky is arrogant, for us to expect more of the same is the least we can do.
SW fans have been criticized for begging Lucas to do more Star Wars films, then criticizing them when he does. We only do so because we are hurt, we only expected movies on the same level as the OT, but TPM is not. And not just because it's the first chapter of a saga either. Because it wasn't made that well. We are only asking that GL do his best, is that suddenly a challenge? So be it.
Filmmakers seem to do their best when challenged, but GL no longer has any challenges. He has more money and power over his movies than one can imagine. He has Fox studios on a leash like a dog begging for scraps, patiently waiting for the OK to release on DVD the movies that they also invested in, and took a risk on. They have proven themselves with special editions of Fight Club, the Die Hard series, even sci fi schlock fest Independence Day. But that's still not good enough for the Holy Trilogy. Yet the DVD we are getting in 10 days is apparently far from the perfection the Lucasfilm camp promised. A good soundtrack, but no DTS to make it even better. Added scenes and deleted footage, but of Jar Jar and the podracers, not the Jedi Knights and Maul we wanted to see. A documentary that apparently is pretty darned good, but only scratches the surface, and will probably be revisited in the future, as admitted by Rick McCallum.
Oh well, I'm buying it. And I'm surely re-buying it down the road. And truthfully I would have bought a barebones last year. And I would trade a kidney for the OEOT on DVD. But I'm just given more toys. But I'm not buying them. In a small and probably meaningless gesture, I will not buy any more "junk" so to speak from the Lucas camp. I will buy DVDs and soundtrack CDs, and the novelization. But no Count Dooku endorsed Metamucil, or Jango Fett endorsed Excedrin.
I realize I haven't even touched on LOTR and HP. The Lord of the Rings trilogy of movies is being done by a man, Peter Jackson, with a few, obscure, but cult favorite movies under his belt, by a studio betting it's very existence on the success of these films. The FX are being done, not by Lucas's wunderkind ILM, but by a new group called WETA. And it doesn't hurt GL's cause that he bragged about only ILM being capable of doing the FX needed for LOTR. That's the kind of pressure that GL had in the seventies, and that pressure today is going to create something that will transport people to a world almost like our own, yet entirely different. An adaptation of a world created nearly fifty years ago, by somebody who paid attention to every detail. Creating an in-depth history to his world, and not just a few notes on cocktail napkins. The director has also taken to the internet, truly the community of the future. The dot coms may have dot bombed, but discussion rooms are as strong as ever. On every conceivable subject, but a good chunk of them for movies. And Jackson has embraced these people, the people that will sink his career, or elevate him to the level of Lucas and Spielberg, but hopefully without the ego.
Harry Potter? Perhaps not quite as rich, though I have only read (and enjoyed) the first book. One of the criticisms of Lucas these days, is that his fatherhood has made him soft. Changes like Greedo shooting first, and clipping frames of Imperial officers being struck by laser blasts, to the goofy battle droids that the Jedi would have no ethical qualms about slicing and dicing in TPM. But author J.K. Rowling is a parent too. And in the first HP book she managed to create characters and situations that were fun and believable (within the story) at the same time. Her child characters were kids, but not one-dimensional pollyannas or prodigal sons. Just kids with hopes and fears, and one kid being dragged screaming and kicking into his destiny as a great wizard. And she's not afraid to make her books just a bit scary.
It's sorta like watching a loved one throw away an opportunity to better themselves, and nothing you can say will change their mind. I will still love Star Wars, but will be far slower to embrace the new chapters in the future.