Sunday, May 26, 2013

The People vs. George Lucas, or Revenge of the Fans

Ran across this doc in the library.  An excellent and lighthearted exploration of the Star Wars phenomenon, specifically the fans' love-hate relationship with its creator, George Lucas.  More than just a “those crazy fans” kind of story, this film touches on enough cultural and even spiritual issues to fuel many long discussions.
The central theme is how Lucas’ brainchild grew to be such an important presence in so many people’s lives that it came to dominate his own.  The film covers how Lucas has dealt with the backlash of his own success.  How an artist’s work can be embraced so completely by the public that it becomes questionable who owns it.  How his subsequent decisions about storylines, characters (Jar-Jar Binks!) and alterations to the original work (Han shot first!) have created controversy, stirred passionate debate and even inspired resentment toward the creator.
Musicians deal with the same issues of ownership and revision when it comes to their recordings.  Some professional songwriters never feel their work is finished, even after it’s a radio hit.  Some music artists feel the need to put out remaster after remix after re-recording.  In some cases, it’s simply a means to capitalize on previous success, but sometimes it’s because the typical artist is never quite satisfied with his own work.  Someone in the film quotes the old saying, “Art is never finished, only abandoned.”  The question the doc pursues is “at what point is an artist allowed to change his work, when it means so much to his audience?”
Another point the film brings up is how Star Wars is so much more than an artistic and marketing triumph; it has endowed countless viewers with a vital underlying philosophy by which to live.  It has become their religion.  This is not an understatement (at least for some), and it is not altogether accidental.  Lucas stated early on that one of his intentions was to create a new myth; one that replaces the religions that had been discarded (to a great extent) by modern man.
I am a Christian believer, a creative person, and though I’m nowhere close to being one of THOSE fans, I did enjoy the films (the original three, anyway; the prequels were prime examples of the law of diminishing returns).  So I feel I understand the need for a guiding myth, and I can see how a film series could provide one.  I have to admire the effectiveness of Star War in this aim, even as I shudder to think how it replaces genuine faith in some people’s hearts and minds.
The word “myth,” by the way, does not necessarily mean “fantastic” or “made up.”  Stories, metaphors, and parables, which fill the Bible, are kinds of myth. As C.S. Lewis pointed out, Christianity is based on a myth, but it’s a myth that is true—the story that explains the meaning of our lives.
The Star Wars mythology does contain much truth that is part of my Christian worldview, as any good story does: the ongoing struggle of good vs. evil, how personal sacrifice is often necessary to achieve a larger goal, how “evil people” are fallen good people, how we can have a legacy and a destiny that define the path we are on even as we labor in our current mundane situation, how we can benefit from listening to those who have gone before us…the list is quite long.  I can affirm these truths even as I recognize that what is missing is the notion that a Person, not a faceless Force, is the central crucial element in the universe. Having (as I believe) the Key to the truth of life itself, I can unlock that truth to be found in everything around me, even (or especially) in other mythological attempts to explain the world. So as long as I view with discernment, I, too, can be enriched spiritually by these films.
Many people featured in the documentary, including Lucas himself, acknowledge the irony that Lucas, who started out as a rebel of sorts against the powerful industry types that would limit his creative output, has in fact become a bigwig himself (and not necessarily a popular one at that), and exerts a notable amount of control over the Star Wars legacy (the Expanded Universe).  Like Anakin became Vader, the very thing he would have resisted.  For this reason, some point out that the films have become semi-autographical.
Fans (including Francis Ford Coppola) who lament that Lucas has yet to get beyond the Star Wars world to make other films may take comfort in where the storyline leaves off in The Return of the Jedi.  Vader joins his son Luke in battling the evil emperor, and it ends in reconciliation and redemption.  There is a sequel in the works (Episode VII), but with Disney at the helm and Lucas serving as creative consultant, and given the astonishing level of financial and legal obligations at stake, I have my doubts that life will imitate art further in this case.  But by the time it comes out, I doubt there'll be many superfans left to care; at least, not as much as they did in the beginning, in a galaxy far, far away.

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