The emperor strikes back but long may the farce be with us
Last week's announcement that George Lucas was selling off his Star Wars empire to the Walt Disney Company for just over US$4 billion (NZ$5b) has been met with what could be described as a lukewarm response.
OK, that's a bad pun - an insider joke if a joke at all - but one consistent with the level of wit oft exhibited by a hardcore fan base that is never satisfied. There are fair and logical grounds to criticise Lucas for off-loading a corporation that has been both a merchandising golden goose and an artistic millstone around his neck, yet the sarcastic tweets and feigned outrage vented on Facebook and the wider blogosphere seldom engage with the real issues. Like a disproportionately high amount of other garbage on the internet, the complaints about Lucas "selling out" are little more than egocentric whining, ill-focused abuse from a spoiled brat generation whose obsession with what was only ever meant to be an entertaining science fiction fantasy has led to what Han Solo might call "delusions of grandeur". Confusing Lucas' laissez-faire attitude toward their home-made parodies, recreations and homages with actual proprietorial rights, the fans think they have cultural ownership of the Star Wars franchise and have balked en masse at the idea that Mickey Mouse is going to somehow mess with their religion.
In consideration of Star Wars freaks it is difficult to avoid religious analogies. A decade or so ago there was an international movement to have "Jedi Knight" registered as an official spiritual option on census forms but that at least betrayed a healthy sense of humour.
The real hardcore Star Wars fans don't have anywhere near the discipline or stoicism of Lucas' fictional peacekeepers.
Invariably paunchy, aesthetically challenged wannabes with scruffy facial hair and glazed, hysterical expressions, their ongoing emotional investment in three-decade-old movies demonstrates something beyond mere arrested adolescence. Its fervour approaches that seen in fundamentalist sects.
For the first generation believer the original Star Wars trilogy is like the Old Testament, the founding document of the faith, the revealed word of God. Though the authorial deity responsible took an even firmer hand in the creation of the prequel trilogy, establishing its canonical legitimacy beyond question, for many of these purists the 16-year wait was too long. Doomed never to live up to a decade and a half's worth of expectations from a fan base that in that time passed into middle age, the euphoria that initially greeted the new films soon gave way to dismay, then loathing.
The New Testament was disavowed and a schism created forever.
The purists were on firmer ground when they criticised Lucas' ongoing tinkering with his original films, comparing the digital "improvements" and alterations involved in producing the "special editions" to the Ted Turner-led movement to colourise old black movies. Ironically, Lucas was himself to the forefront of protest against colourisation, testifying before the US Congress against a practice many would see as cultural vandalism. To create a new Star Wars product at the expense of the old, denying the world access to the prints of the original trilogy - rewriting your own history as it were - could be seen as broadly the same thing.
There's a fundamental difference of course.
Ted Turner didn't make the black and white 1930s films he sought to "improve". Ted Turner is neither a writer nor a director.
By contrast, George Lucas has the moral, the artistic and the legal authority to alter his fiction in anyway he sees fit.
Given the fans' own enthusiasm for doing as much themselves, making their own Star Wars sagas at home, turning the merchandise into film making props, it seems a peculiar hypocrisy to deny the man who created the universe in the first place the same right.
That Lucas became a victim of his own success, becoming the head of an empire in order to create a saga which derides empires, is a truism. Cursed and damned for years for his reticence to continue the Star Wars story he was then castigated all the more for giving the fans what they wanted.
Now even his retirement isn't enough for the fundamentalists and naysayers, though it is certainly understandable. As the usually placid and affable director said to the New York Times last year: "Why would I make any more [films] when everybody yells at you all the time and says what a terrible person you are?"
- © Fairfax NZ News