The New York Times magazine has this excellent article by Bryan Curtis on George Lucas. I’ve long been an
apologist for fan of the Star Wars prequels, and I remember taking a sceptical friend to the world’s first six-movie marathon in Leicester Square the day Revenge of the Sith had its London premier. Upon emerging for our 15 minute break after The Phantom Menace, I tried to find consensus midway between our opinions (he was no convert) by opining that, “Obviously no Hollywood studio committee got anywhere near that.”
I meant it. There are things in it that are undeniably clunky (my wife is always driven to scream when Jake Lloyd’s Anakin yells, ‘Yipee!’), things that would’ve been ironed out by committee to make it more like “other films”. I don’t believe or argue that these should all be forgiven as artistic quirks to be revered in the slick modern homogeny of mainstream movies, but I note that audiences in general seem less able to cope with quirks than they were forty years ago. Whether that’s a raising or lowering of standards, I really don’t know.
Lucas is giving interviews primarily to plug Red Tails, the story of the Tuskegee Airmen who overcame racial prejudice in WWII to achieve the same privilege (!) to fight and die for their country as their caucasian comrades. A possible trilogy, Lucas has exec produced what will be the middle part. If it makes money, Spike Lee will make the prequel and Lee Daniels the conclusion, both without Lucas involvement, it seems. Those are to be, he admits, movies that he’s not equipped to make. Red Tails, on the other hand, is directed by Anthony Hemingway, a young (36) director from TV for whom this is a feature debut, so Lucas’s hand should be somewhat evident from his executive producer role. Indeed, Hemingway took more TV gigs during the two years Lucas oversaw the post production. Unlike the surrounding films, this is designed as a mainstream entertainment, which Lucas felt was more his thing. One of those old-fashioned glory-of-combat movies that honours those who stand in harm’s way with big fanfares and sweeping, if simple, sentiment.
And no one wanted to know.
Amazingly, movie execs refused even to watch it. Having already financed the production personally (to the tune of $100 million), Lucas only persuaded 20th Century Fox to distribute it by agreeing to meet all those costs too. Is it cos dey is black? Lucas doesn’t think so. He just thinks its lack of guaranteed, built-in audience means none of the suits thinks it’ll play. From the trailers, I’d give it a go anyway, but given this history, I’ll buy my ticket in support of the personal filmmaker, even if that personality demands simplicity, naivety and entertainment for its own sake.
Lucas announces his retirement from the mainstream (such as he was ever in it) in the Curtis article. He’s concentrated on making entertainment for the masses and the masses have literally accused him of raping their childhoods. Well, haters, he’s finally taken the hint. I, for one, look forward to the ‘personal’ films he’s been promising/ threatening us with since he embarked on Phantom Menace in the mid-nineties. When the youngsters on YouTube and the like are trying their best to imitate the style of those who need a multi-million dollar opening weekend to even survive (and hence owe fealty to the lowest common denominator), perhaps Lucas can show us something new… again.