On The Jazz #18: Fuck Lucas

Yeah, that’s right. Fuck him.

By Matt Springer
September 16, 2004

Fuck George Lucas.

I’ve practically had to shackle my hands to my desk to keep from typing those words. You don’t know how bad I’ve wanted to lay into that sad, flannel-clad motherfucker since the announcement of Star Wars on DVD. (It’s coming September 21, in case you haven’t heard. Four discs, one with extras, possibly commentaries, only the Not-So-Special Editions. NO original versions of the films.)

You read that right: NO original versions. And that chafed my gourd. But I wasn’t going to say anything, because I always talk shit about Lucas, and he’s always a bastard, and I just ranted on him in my last column.

I could not, however, stay silent any longer when I read this charming quote from Jim Ward, a Lucasfilm VP and the exec producer of the set, in the New York Post’s writeup on the DVDs:

“We realize there’s a lot of debate out there. But this is not a democracy. We love our fans, but this is about art and filmmaking. [George] has decided that the sole version he wants available is this one.”

To paraphrase the great Khan Noonien Singh, I cannot help but be chafed. I think any fan of Star Wars, or any fan of DVDs or movies or pop culture, should be chafed. Those little loaded words raise all sorts of questions that Lucas himself has ignored for the better part of his prequel-era career.

I guess the first and foremost question is pretty easy. Is the relationship between consumers and the “artist” a democracy? Technically, it’s not a democracy. And yet, in a sense, technically it is. When it comes to consuming pop media, we do “vote” on what we like and don’t like. We “vote” with TV ratings, with movie tickets, with purchases at Best Buy. Some of these systems are more flawed than others (do we REALLY get a vote when it comes to TV ratings, or is it just a pack of weird psychopaths in middle America with Nielsen boxes who determine how many quality shows are canceled by November 1 each season?) but we do have a very tangible voice. That voice speaks through our participation, and we participate mostly through spending.

(We also have a voice in the sense that fandom can communicate its opinions via a wide variety of communication outlets, most prominently the internet. But this is obviously less consequential than money ever could be. More on this later.)

Buying a movie ticket or a DVD is not true “voting” in practice, however, for a couple reasons. First off, there are myriad factors that impact how our “votes” are counted. 100,000 people may buy a DVD set, and that may be viewed as great numbers for one property or crappy numbers for another. A small specialty company could see those sales as a blockbuster; for a megalocorporation, those sales may be a disappointment. Additionally, there may be corporate bullshit involved, or the ego-stroking of an important Hollywood player, or any one of a million reasons why those numbers may be tossed out the window.

Then there’s the category where you’d put people like Lucas, folks for whom those numbers are largely meaningless. If you have enough money or enough power or the sheer force of will, it doesn’t matter who sees your movies or buys your DVDs or snags your album. You can crank out whatever you want, public be damned. And that may be all that matters when it comes to this issue, and that’s the biggest reason why I hate Lucas; for him, it isn’t a democracy, and I’d like to believe that it is. Skywalker Ranch is in fact a monarchy, with King George as the high holy ruler of all us lowly neophytes who clearly don’t know what’s good for us and need to be spoon-fed the “right” version of the films.

But ultimately, our “votes” may not count in this particular matter because we’re not really exerting our opinions, are we? Moriarity put it best on Ain’t It Cool:

“If fandom decided that it was a big enough deal to them that they were not getting the original theatrical versions of the films, they could demonstrate their personal displeasure by not buying the box set. And that’ll never happen.”

We may vote by buying, but we buy like morons, and thus, our purchases become meaningless. In a fan climate where folks will drop a couple hundred bucks for a fiberglass tube with a light in it masquerading as a “lightsaber,” is there any doubt we’ll lap up whatever garbage King George tosses into our troughs? Even if it’s not what we really want? None at all.

So technically, the relationship between artist and consumer is in fact a democracy; in practice, it is not. At the very least, we know it isn’t for Lucas.

But wait. There’s more. Let’s yank another portion from Ward’s quote: “…this is about art and filmmaking.”

Is this really a question of “art”? If it were a question of “art,” then one would assume that the decision would be made to release only the Special Editions because they were artistically superior to the Original Editions. Then we get into all kinds of very hazy issues of what makes art, who decides what’s “superior” and what isn’t, and so on. I think for the sake of argument, we can assume that the opinions of fans do matter in this regard. And I think this petition speaks volumes. As of this writing, over 52,000 fans want the original films available on DVD as they were released in the late seventies and early eighties. At best, fans want to choose between the Original Editions and the Special Editions as they see fit; at worst, they view the SEs as an artistic failure.

If you buy into the common media line on the DVDs, there’s actually way, way more than 52,000 geeks who want the Original Editions on DVD. Courtesy of The Force.Net, a sampling from the media coverage of the DVD announcement:

From the San Diego Union Tribune: “The versions on DVD will only feature the special editions, LucasFilm spokeswoman Lynn Hale said. Many fans of the original movies had hoped the rougher, unaltered films would also be provided.”

From the Toronto Star: “The three films will be available only as a collection and will be the special editions only — the versions that were digitally spruced up a few years ago — and not the originals.”

From Fox News: “The DVDs, which are certain to be blockbusters, are also certain to be controversial: Despite pleas from Star Wars fanatics all over the world, these DVDs will not contain the original theatrical version of the movies.”

If everyone agreed that the SEs were better, or even if everyone agreed that Lucas has no responsibility to the desires of his fans and that he should be able to do whatever he wants because he’s GEORGE FUCKING LUCAS DAMNIT, then why would most of the media coverage of the DVD release mention that we’re only getting the SEs, and that fans are going to be disappointed? Sure, it’s an easy story hook, but it’s one of those hooks that also happens to be true, based on the petition. At least 52,000 fans want the Original Editions on DVD; probably more.

So if it’s about art, the Original Editions should be released, because the Special Editions haven’t really improved the films in the eyes of anyone but Lucas. Of course, this assumes that the consumers of art have a say in the media we love so much. Lucas would probably argue pretty vehemently that we don’t; he’s King George, remember?

I’d tell him to fuck off. Does the guy who’s watched A New Hope once a day every day for the past seven years honestly have no right to feel he has anything vested in the future of these films? How can that be so? What kind of a tyrant would deny this fan his right to purchase whatever version of the films he wanted, or at least to purchase a set that includes both versions of the films? King George, that’s who.

When a movie is released, whether it’s a big movie or a small movie, a popular movie or a flop, there’s a contract implicit with the viewer. The creator has worked hard to bring his vision to the screen, and the audience accepts the work as much as they can. When a movie is as popular and beloved as the original Star Wars movies are, there’s a vested interest that fans have in it, a passion they express for it with their costumes and their money and their time. Lucas has touched people with his work in a profound way, and to me, this means Lucas does owe his fans a voice in the future of these films. Should we be there voting on every angle of every scene that he chooses to shoot for the prequels? Absolutely not. Should it matter whether most of us want the opportunity to purchase these movies as we loved them when we were kids, the way we saw them when we first sat in a theater and were blown away? Fucking right, it should.

Lucas would think that whole idea is bullshit, but fuck him. He’s wrong…about a great many things.

But it’s not even about art, at the end of this very long day; it’s about history. Lucas is practicing a dirty, hubris-tinged version of revisionist history by hewing so stringently to his Special Editions-only line. And as technology improves for home video and releases become more and more accurately described as “archival,” Lucas will eventually be able to erase the original movies from film history. Even now, there may be a thriving trade in bootleg discs of the originals as released in theaters back in the day, but it’s still not an easy task to track down the classic versions of the Holy Trilogy. That will only get harder each year, until our kids and their kids will be stuck with Greedo shooting first and an abortion of a dance number crammed down the throat of Return of the Jedi.

That’s what it’s all about, not money or art or “filmmaking.” It’s about control. King George is obsessed with it, and we’re just the nostalgia-drunk stooges who keep letting him have it.