I was probably no longer within George Lucas’s demographic by the time I was at the cusp of adolescence, just after the release of Return of the Jedi (I enjoyed it, but was mildly disappointed with it having “too many muppets”). Definitely before Droids and the Ewoks cartoon show was on. Fucking Ewoks.
I still remained faithful, standing in line for the re-released special editions of the first trilogy, and patiently hopeful for the follow-up prequel series. And I own the whole shebang on DVD, even the Clone Wars animated series (which I actually find superior to any of Episodes I-III), and watch them with regularity that tries the patience or understanding of my beloved.
But it became clear to me that what Lucas envisioned, besides another lucrative revenue stream, was at its heart a sterile, valueless legendarium. Or really just a series of incidents and episodes. Universal themes of heroism, good versus evil, self-discovery, the darkness within all of us, and so forth gave way to video-game spectacle: fire up my synapses with product engorged with CGI and special effects, but leave me spiritually empty afterward.
In good faith, I’m willing to assume that this was not what Lucas intentioned, but whatever fate the artistic gods abandoned him to years ago has resulted in a very mixed legacy. Sure, he is the man behind THE Star Wars, and has a pile of cash and other accolades to show for it. But thanks to him, we also have probably the clunkiest film cycle ever created, an unsatisfying attempt to extricate himself from a tangle of weak character motivations and pointless plot diversions, all couched in dumbed-down and shop-worn Left Coast ethos.
George, it was real simple: a demigod warrior falls from grace and is only saved through the courage and love of his son, who in turn discovers his own Great Purpose. Fuck the politics, the f/x and the “well I gotta account for this plot hole later” and keep to the story! I’ve read graphic novels with more dramatic tension and character development than in the nearly 10 hours of film I’ve watched. And watched, and watched, trying to find some spark of inspiration there.
The video games derived from and inspired by the films are a different matter—anyone who’s played “Knights of the Old Republic” will recognize the richness of story there that Lucas disregarded sometime in the 1990s. And I get a vicarious thrill out of being able to invade planets, amass fleets and decimate whole populations of annoying critters like Gungans and Ewoks. Fucking Ewoks.
It’s like the films were trying to live up to the video games. And failed. Instead, the video games have become the magnet for the most creative output the Lucas Empire can muster.
That’s what brings me to the latest product from the Lucasfilm juggernaut that is certain to be another huge hit: Star Wars: The Clone Wars. At first blush it seems like one big video game. Since it’s a theatrical release, it’s safe to assume it will also exhibit classic tools of cinema, such as sound design, voice performances and a soundtrack (video games have also been using these very effectively for years now, further blurring the line between game and film).
But I can’t help but react negatively to how cartoony it looks. And the trailers? I feel like I’ve seen (and played) it all before. Then I tell myself that it ain’t me Lucas is trying to communicate with anymore, but rather the legions of boys (and I suppose girls) who will also buy it on DVD, plus the new companion comic book series that will go with it, the collectibles and Lego spinoffs, and of course the video game(s) based on it. And on, and on…
Who am I kidding? Of course I’ll go see it. Because as the previous animated series proved—and in their own flawed and unintentional way, the prequel films confirmed—a good story can be told in any medium.