Before he blew up the box offices with his special effects driven spectacles George Lucas was a rather reserved documentary filmmaker who leaned more towards experimenting than empire building. Watch, Filmmaker, a documentary about the making of Francis Ford Coppola’s The Rain People, and you’ll find a wholly different filmmaker than the man who gave the world Jedi Masters and Wookies.
Confession: I was once an unabashed Star Wars fan. Episode IV: A New Hope was the first film I ever saw. I had all the toys and so much other crap plastered with the Star Wars logo. I saw the Star Wars Holiday Special when it originally aired! My love for the original Star Wars trilogy never wavered during those dry years after Return of the Jedi and before the Special Editions, when hope of Lucas ever fulfilling is promised 9 part saga grew dimmer and dimmer.
My love for Star Wars is what drove me to attend film school. I entered film school right around the time of the Special Editions and when Lucas announced that he’d begin making new Star Wars episodes. While I didn’t like the digital dicking around with the old films, I was excited for the new ones. But, Lucas was now also saying he’d only make three more, denying that he ever said that Star Wars was a 9 part saga. I should have taken that as a sign of a man who had grown sick of his own creation. When the new trilogy finally arrived. I fears were confirmed.
Of course, By the time Episode I: The Phantom Menace was released I wasn’t the same 3 year old who went gaga for lightsabers and X-wings. I had completed film school and undergone a transformation into an artist who no longer wanted to make fantasy films. I wanted to make neo-realist independent films, documentaries, and experimental videos. Still, I loved Star Wars. It was, after all, such a big part of my life. That all changed with The Phantom Menace. Sure, I watched the subsequent prequels. Each one only further confirmed my lack of interest in the franchise and my growing theory that Lucas was more interested in making money than telling a mythical tale.
Today, I’m like a reformed Catholic. I know all the saints. I know all the rituals, but I don’t believe any of it and I don’t waste my time thinking about it. I’ve moved on. So, when Disney announced that they would be buying Lucasfilms and making new Star Wars films I didn’t mind. What could they do to besmirch the Star Wars franchise that Lucas hadn’t already done with his megalomaniacal prequels or his lack of interest in protecting the brand? Heck, he’d already been in bed with Disney for two decades, thanks to Star Tours at MGM Studios in Orlando, where you could witness this travesty.
If anything, the sale of Lucasfilms to Disney meant two things. First, it means that the Star Wars saga might get some writers who can do a have decent job of writing a story. Face it, without help, Lucas is a piss-poor writer. Secondly, and far more interesting to me, is the fact that Lucas, freed from the burden of running Lucasfilms, might get back to making experimental and documentary films. It is something he has said he wants to do for many years. I never understood what was stopping him before, but now he has even less of an excuse.
Lucas was once a very technically minded film student who enjoyed foreign and experiment films. He once mentioned Arthur Lipsett‘s 21-87 as a life changing film experience. Lucas’ student work reflects these non-mainstream tastes. He produced animations, visual tone-poems, lyrical documentaries, and experimental narratives, few of which predicted the blockbuster kiddie films that would make him a household name. While never profound and perhaps not even that original, for student work, Lucas’ films showed the promise of a growing filmmaker dedicated to his craft and curious about the ways film could be used. This notion carried with him after college when he went on to make behind the scenes documentaries for Columbia pictures and Francis Ford Coppola. These works are far more spectator than spectacle and I would be far more excited to see him return to making these kinds of films than another Star Wars.