With The Revenge of the Sith opening today – supposedly the last new Star Wars movie the world will ever see – I thought I'd weigh in on the phenomenon from a more critical point of view. I saw the original Star Wars at least a dozen times in the theater when I was a kid. I had all the action figures. I was a big fan, but it was nothing out of the ordinary for a seven-year-old lad in 1977. Now that I've grown into an actual filmmaker instead of a raving fanboy, I can look at the whole thing with some perspective. And I'm not afraid to go against the grain and say that, no matter how decent this new movie may be, I'll never have the same admiration for George Lucas that I did when I was a tot. Why? Well for starters...
- He recut his old films. I understand the temptation for artists of all stripes to revisit their old work and tweak it. But personally I think that one should move on and do new things, instead of farting around with decades-old projects. Especially when... but I'll save this for the next entry.
- He recut his old films and now only lets us watch the new versions. With a movie like Star Wars, after it's been seen by hundreds of millions of people, you have a responsibility to not erase their cherished memories. If Lucas wants to go back and make Greedo shoot at Han Solo first, fine. But it's unconscionable to tell us, "Sorry if you've been watching Han shoot first – and loving it – for the past 20 years. You won't get to see that ever again, unless you watch your shabby old VHS tapes."
- Jar Jar Binks. I don't think it's necessary to explain this entry.
- Midichlorians. With this awful plot device introduced in 1999's The Phantom Menace, Lucas abandoned his lovely original idea of The Force as a groovy, oversoul-like entity that exists within all of us – it's God, really – in favor of a clunky, Scientology-like notion of organisms in the bloodstream called midichlorians, which some people genetically have more of than others. What crap.
- Actually, all of The Phantom Menace. Call it Episode I if you must, but Jar Jar, midichlorians, a talentless child actor exclaiming "Yippee!", poop jokes, and a two-headed sportscaster alien are just a few of the many things that made this movie unbearable. Some apologists may remind you that Lucas's intention was to start light and end dark with his second trio of Star Wars films, but that doesn't excuse this from being a two-hour-plus embarrassment.
- One movie! No, nine movies! No, I said six movies! There's a reason I don't refer to the original Star Wars as "Episode IV" or "A New Hope". Okay, two reasons: First, it's a stupid practice. Second, any fool can see that Star Wars was a standalone story. Darth Vader was the bad guy, not Luke's father. Leia was Luke's love interest, not his twin sister. This film offers no hint of the soap opera to come. Only after it became a huge success did Lucas announce, "Actually, it's the second trilogy in a planned series of three trilogies, or nine films." That's right, we all heard him say "nine films". Yet in the late '90s, when he finally got to work on The Phantom Menace, he suddenly changed his story and said, "No, I always said six films." Liar. [2013 UPDATE: NOW HE'S SAYING IT'S NINE FILMS AGAIN.]
- Raiders of the Changed Title. Let's not forget Lucas's few non-Star Wars efforts. He has also re-released his first feature, THX-1138, with new and unnecessary special effects that mar the sparse nature of the film, and even changed the title of Raiders of the Lost Ark, which he produced, to Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark in order to be consistent with its sequels. What's next, Richard Dreyfuss finally hooking up with Suzanne Somers in American Graffiti?
- General Orwellian revisionism. As suggested by several of the above entries, Lucas has a creepy knack for revising history to suit his needs. It's like Obi-Wan Kenobi convincing the stormtroopers that these weren't the droids they were looking for. "It was always called 'A New Hope.' I always meant for there to be six films." What's more disturbing is that people believe him. Thank God he's not a world leader.
- General control freak-ism. Along with this paranoid revising and suppressing (ala Stalin having Trotsy airbrushed out of old Communist Party photos), Lucas has also spearheaded the awful trend of replacing real sets and exteriors with computer-generated ones. Not to mention pissing on the crafts of puppetry and makeup by throwing in awkward CG characters. Why? Because this is what control freaks do: they don't leave anything up to chance, and thus their creative work is drained of spontaneity. What's sad is that Lucas's sterile technomania has caught on with insecure filmmakers worldwide.