Star Wars, George Lucas, and the Problem of the All-Powerful Auteur

So if you haven’t seen Star Wars: The Force Awakens yet, you’re missing out. Even if you’ve only been vaguely aware of the Star Wars universe, I’d recommend it because it’s a great start to a new arc of Force awesomeness. And one of the many reasons I’d recommend this new Star Wars is because of how immensely I enjoyed it. I’ve seen all six movies. I fall into the category of people who didn’t really enjoy the first three prequel episodes but definitely saw the magic of the original trilogy. However, what’s always bothered me about those first six movies is also what made them great: George Lucas.

I’ve only ever seen the re-mastered versions of the original three episodes with added CGI effects. It’s easy to tell the most obvious additions. They’re rather jarring, and I’ve always wondered what it would have been like to see those episodes without the additions. On the one hand, I feel for George Lucas as a filmmaker. He had access to so much more technology in the 2000s than in the 1970s and 80s. And by that time Star Wars was an empire of its own, and George Lucas had the power of a true auteur behind him. If he wanted to digitally enhance Chewbacca’s eyelashes he probably would have been allowed to. Which is where my problem with the prequels usually comes in. At this point in Star Wars movie-making history, the franchise was a success so like Peter Jackson and The Hobbit, more money and more effects were poured into the prequels. But that doesn’t always make the movie better. And very rarely does it actually contribute to a better story.

That’s the problem with the all-powerful auteur. George Lucas was genius in the inception of the Star Wars universe, but we can see all too easily how that power can go awry. Many people would argue the Ewoks in the Episode VI introduced primarily for merchandising purposes as an example of this. And while I think the Ewoks are adorable, when I learned that was one of their purposes in creation, I was sorely disappointed in how I’d been manipulated.

Which is why I think I liked The Force Awakens the best. George Lucas isn’t the director or writer. The movie as a whole feels like a love letter to original series while also continuing the story and setting it up for a blockbuster future. I didn’t feel manipulated by anything in the movie (except perhaps some references to the originals but that’s part of the fun!) I didn’t feel like it was a giant merchandising campaign. (Although I’ve seen some ridiculous “Limited Edition Stars Wars Mascara” advertisements that just seem silly to me. They make the wands look like lightsabers. Why?)

Part of me wants to be scolding and say, “George Lucas, you’ve lost your Star Wars privileges!” However, that doesn’t really do all that much good. I feel like the rule is more that an auteur with too much power is going to get in over his head eventually because Hollywood is ultimately about the money. If you want to make movies that really say something, you’ll have to accept the low pay, high-risk of the indie world. If you make something that truly lights a fire in the imaginations of the masses, you’ll eventually be pulled under the Hollywood, moneymaking bus. Your integrity is smashed to smithereens like nothing more than a speed bump!

I’m interested in the choice to have three different directors for this sequel trilogy. At first, I thought “But I like J.J. Abrams! Why can’t he do the rest of them?” But then, perhaps, this juggling of directors is actually a fail safe for the story. With a new director taking the helm with each movie, it might mean that they have to focus more on staying true to the themes, story, and universe they’ve been developing in this trilogy rather than inserting their own unique take on the universe. Or it could be a total disaster. Who knows? We can only hope!

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