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Although not a widely-used as a precise term, "Lucas Bashing" is the terminology used to describe particular attitudes, comments, critiques, parodies and discussions which display a strong negative bias against the work of Star Wars creator George Lucas, within the contex of an otherwise general appreciation of the Star Wars fictional universe.
Clearly Distinct from a more general, legitimate critical appraisal of Lucas as a filmmaker (or the films themselves), Lucas Bashing is nevertheless a slightly amorphous phenomenon amongst Star Wars fandom and more casual Star Wars viewers alike, although naturally it is more prevalent amongst the former. Generally speaking, it involves a tendency amongst fans to attack George Lucas for aspects of his films or filmmaking process that they dislike, with various degrees of vehemence, whilst simultaneously ignoring or failing to acknowledge his agency in creating the aspects which they do like. Such attitudes in some cases lead to ridiculing and in some cases villifying Lucas both personally and as a creative artist.
Often habit-forming, this mode of attack generally states that aspects of Star Wars which the fans dislike is Lucas' fault personally, whereas the reverse is usually not the case; favoured elements are simply regarded as "good" or intrinsically "Star Wars" and are thus somehow reasoned to not require similar attribution to Lucas, or that the favoured elements were most likely the result of someone else's contribution and couldn't have possibly been the result of creative imagination on Lucas's part. An often pointed to fact on this is the fact that Harrison Ford, who played Han solo, ad-libbed and improvised much of his own dialogue, and reportedly told Lucas at one point during filming "You can write this stuff, but you can't say it."
For example: large proportions of fans cite Darth Vader as the best character in the Star Wars fictional universe, without generally feeling the need to praise Lucas for inventing the character. Frequently, such opinions will include attributing particular significance to the creative contributions of performers such as David Prowse, James Earl Jones, conceptual artist Ralph MacQuarrie, co-screenwriter Lawrence Kasdan etc. In contrast, discussion of the widely-despised character Jar Jar Binks routinely centres on direct criticism of Lucas as the character's creator, usually with little if any accompanying responsibility being laid at the feet of performer Ahmed Best or the ILM animators who brought him to life.
Despite Lucas' extremely intense creative control over all six Star Wars films being self-evident and well-documented, the Lucas Bashing mentality perversely maintains that Lucas himself is the creatively weakest part of the franchise's tapestry.
Lucas Bashing has arguably existed as long as Star Wars fandom itself. Lucas is, in many ways an easy target for such criticism, being a maverick independent filmmaker of extraordinary success and influence, he is a deeply non-conventional adjunct to the Hollywood machine. His career since the release of Star Wars has been a complex and unique one, a generally private man thrust into a long-term spotlight and position of increasing authority over his many companies.
Of greatest relevance here, Lucas has long been in the unusual position of having near-total creative control over not only several big-budget films, but arguably the most successful and beloved science fiction franchise in popular culture. His well-known degree of auteurist control over his creations has made it very easy for disgruntled fans and critics to level all criticism at Lucas directly, as the image he and Lucasfilm project does indeed obfuscate other artists' creative contributions, or at least creative authority. When criticising aspects of the Star Wars films it can be difficult NOT to hold Lucas accountable, as the precise limits of his control are unknown.
The earliest widespread case of Lucas Bashing was in response to the Ewoks in the final film of the original trilogy, Return of the Jedi. These cute, teddy bear-like primitives which featured prominently in ROTJ and are depicted as being essentially the major protagonists of the final ground battle. Many fans and casual viewers felt that the Ewoks were a jarringly childish addition to a franchise that had many adult fans, and furthermore that it was simply implausible that these diminutive savages could overcome the supposedly implacable Empire and their armoured, high-tech Stormtroopers.
Fans regarded the Ewoks as an example of Lucas' folly, and many rumours sprang up concerning their creation, most prominently speculating that Lucas had cynically invented the creatures purely for their merchandising potential, or that he was approached with the idea by merchandisers and greedily acquiesced.
The next significant event to generate a wave of Lucas Bashing was the 1997 "Special Edition" re-release of the original trilogy, which included many actual changes see List of changes in Star Wars re-releases to the content of the film, some unobtrusive and cosmetic, but many quite obvious and controversial. Using the digital technology which would become the hallmark of Lucas' later career, these SE versions of the much-beloved original films included some actual alterations of the narrative content.
Most infamous of these was the "Greedo shot first" incident, in which Lucas had the footage of a scene digitally altered so that the character Han Solo no longer fires a pre-emptive shot at the bounty hunter who is holding him at gunpoint. The new version depicts the villain shooting first and Solo killing him in retalliation, a change designed to make the protagonist seem less cold-blooded. Many fans variously derided the change as absurd, implausible, diminishing of Solo's character arc from rogue to hero and even insulting to the intelligence of fans who were more than familiar with the original version.
Of course, criticism of "Greedo shot first", or indeed the specific dislike of any particular element of the Star Wars franchise does not automatically constitue Lucas Bashing. For the term to apply there must be a specific targeting of Lucas as the author of the disliked material, and must indicate a general tendency by the critic to attribute only bad decisions to Lucas.
Lucas Bashing only began in earnest, however with the release of the first movie in the Star Wars prequel trilogy, Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace. Although immensely successful in terms of box-office, the film had a mixed critical response, and many casual and hard-core fans of the original trilogy regarded this prequel as anywhere from disappointing to appalling.
Episode I was significant in that, unlike the Special Editions of the original films, it was the first wholly original contribution to the cinematic Star Wars mythos in over a decade and it was touted as being entirely under Lucas' creative control. As it was the first Star Wars film that Lucas had solely written and directed since the first one (Episode IV), Lucas was naturally held accountable and instantly became the target of the vast majority of fans' ire.
Despite the fact that Lucas clearly exterted significant control on both of the second and third films in the original trilogy even after handing them over to other directors, and despite the fact that it was Episode IV which was the most successful of them, Lucas Bashers began to express the view that the Star Wars franchise was at it's weakest in direct proportion to Lucas' level of personal involvement and thus creative control.
Common evidence cited for this opinion was the widely disseminated latter-day truism that The Empire Strikes Back is the strongest film in the original trilogy (and many argue it remains the strongest of all six films), as notably stated in the 1994 Kevin Smith film Clerks. This truism is often used as "proof", due to the perception that ESB had the creative contributions of another director and co-writer, thus "diluting" Lucas' creative voice to positive effect.
Essentially, such hardcore Lucas bashers maintain that Episodes IV, I, II and III would all have been infinitely superior if someone else had written and directed them.
Although still very common within Star Wars fandom, Lucas Bashing has diminished somewhat in the more mainstream media since the release of the later prequels which were generally considered to be a considerable improvement - Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones and especially Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith. The final film in particular has garnered much serious critical praise for Lucas amongst fans and mainstream reviewers alike, and the assessment that it is even the second best film of the trilogy (after Empire) has been commonly circulated, if by no means universally accepted. Nevertheless, Lucas Bashing of various intensities still proliferates on the internet and can easily be found in postings, articles and chat on sundry Star Wars (and many other) fansites.
Major Inspirations/Triggers for Lucas Bashing
Following is a list of several topics which have inspired considerable amounts of Lucas Bashing. Of course, merely taking issue with any of these points does not constitute Lucas Bashing; genuine critical engagement with these topics is merely that - legitimate critical response. However, these contentious topics frequently inspire the Star Wars fans (and also casual moviegoers in many cases) to transcend the merely critical and launch into prejudiciously anti-Lucas commentary.
A pioneer of the use of computer-generated imagery (CGI) in filmic special effects, Lucas is arguably the most prolific (some would say addicted) utiliser of CGI in films. Since the Special Editions, Lucas has increasingly used CGI to create backgrounds, sets, props, creatures, space battles, whole characters and many tiny details that escape the untrained eye. The volume of CGI effects shots have grown exponentially over the course of the prequel trilogy to the point where in Episode III (according to DVD content) there were very, very few shots in the entire film which did not feature some kind of CGI work.
Many fans feel that Lucas overuses CGI, and that in many cases more traditional special effects or filmmaking techniques would be just as easier, and indeed preferable. Lucas is inarguably the primary cause of the CGI backlash phenomenon, whereby many film afficianados and filmmakers themselves have come to regard CGI as inferior and only to be used whenever absolutely neccessary. This has led to many recent films which proudly reclaim the use of animatronics and "man-in-a-suit" creatures in films such as Dog Soldiers, Underworld, Blade 2, and Hellboy.
In the Star Wars prequels, the main bone of contention for many fans in reference to the over-use of CGI is a sense of "fakeness". However sophisticated the process becomes, many viewers are immediately able to detect much of the CGI work, whether due to a trained eye or simply contextual logic (such as impossible creatures like Jar Jar or Battle Droids). In some cases, the objection stems from the use of CGI seeming to be gratuitious, such as CGI to create all of the armoured Clone Troopers in Episodes II and III, when costumed actors sereved perfectly well as the Stormtroopers in the original trilogy.
Another source of this objection comes from Lucas' own actors. Many of his prequel cast members have complained with varying levels of intensity over the years about the difficulty of "blue/green-screen acting", often having to perform in empty studios conversing with absent co-stars who, like the backgrounds, will be added in postproduction. Some actors who actively persued their roles were disenchanted by the CGI requirements of the filming process, such as Liam Neeson (see entry on Episode I). However, some actors do not agree. Natalie Portman has stated in several magazine interviews that she finds the sensory deprivation of such environments to be a stimulating acting challenge (although some would say this is merely a politic response). Samuel L. Jackson has stated in interviews on The Late Show with David Letterman and Parkinson that he actively enjoys such acting when it comes to chaotic fight scenes such as in the climax of Episode II, as it allows him to fully unleash his imagination as in childhood.
It is a commonly held perception that George Lucas is a "bad" director in terms of dealing with actors. It is a partially self-perpetuated image, as Lucas has often famously quipped that his acting direction to his stars after a take is (or rather perhaps was) limited to "faster, more intense". This notion has been extended in interviews with Lucas and his staff, particularly on Star Wars DVD special features, in which Lucas frequently states (and also has said of him) that directing on set is his least favourite part of the filmmaking process, and that editing is where he really feels he is creating the film.
Many feel that the prequel films contain poor or wooden acting from elsewhere acclaimed actors such as Neeson, Portman, Ewan MacGregor etc, leading many to believe that the only logical cause for such performances is Lucas' shortcomings as a director. The image of a director who not only places actors in difficult, alienating blue rooms and then fails to compensate with detailed direction has very much stuck to Lucas in many viewer's eyes. Others dispute this characterisation of the prequel performances, or at the very least argue that they are truly no worse than those of the original trilogy cast if one examines them without the rose-tinted glasses of nostalgia.
The perception of Lucas as an inferior director has also been fed by the aforementioned dissatisfaction voiced by some of his cast at the CGI-intensive filmmaking process, as well as the fact that Lucas did not direct the last two films of the orginal trilogy. Some argue this was simply because Lucas disliked directing so much that he passed off the responsibility of handling the actors whilst still retaining chief artistic control of the two films overall.
Harrison Ford, who played Han Solo in the original film, said in an interview "I think George [Lucas] likes people. I think George is a kind, warm hearted person, but he can be a little impatient with the nature of acting, that need to work until you find something. He's sometimes like 'It's right there, it's right there, I wrote it, it's there, just do it.' But you can't just do it that easily."
Intellectual Marginalisation of crew & actors
On a related note, some fans criticise Lucas' apparent tendency to keep his actors in the dark as to his creative intentions. Central actors such as Hayden Christensen apparently had no idea as to the specifics of his character's turn to the Dark Side until very late in the process, arguably putting his performance at a disadvantage by being stripped of adequate time to prepare. Ian McDiarmid has stated in interviews that his fist inkling that his character would be involved in lightsabre duels in the final film was when he saw "fencing training" on a call sheet. Mark Hamill was only informed of the major plot twist that Darth Vader is his father in the Empire Strikes Back mere moments before his crucial reaction scene was filmed. He has stated retrospectively in the "Empire of Dreams" documentary on the 2004 Star Wars original trilogy DVD box set that had he known ahead of time and been given a chance to prepare, he believes he would have played the scene differently.
Vast anecdotal evidence found in various "making of" books and DVD features indicate that often even his preproduction creative collaborators will not know major elements of the films until the design and development process has already advanced considerably; such as the appearance of Anakin Skywalker and Palpatine in their full Darth Vader and Emperor personae and costumes in Episode III.
The most infamous and (comparatively) well-documented example of Lucas' tendency to be apparently inconsiderate of his actors' needs to be informed is the multiple examples affecting David Prowse, the actor who portrayed Darth Vader in the original trilogy. Prowse claims that he was never informed that his voice was to be dubbed over by James Earl Jones, and that the first time he learned this was by watching the film at its premiere, much to his embarrassment. Most fans regard this as an incredibly inconsiderate act to have not warned Prowse, although some point out that the actor must have been fairly naive to not realise that the fact he was presumably never called in for any ADR sessions would obviously indicate that his voice was not to be used.
The other, perhaps more extreme example was that during the making of the Empire Strikes Back the aforementioned plot twist was a closely-guarded secret, never printed in the script and only revealed to Mark Hamill moments before the specific scene was filmed. However, as David Prowse was to be re-dubbed anyway, it was technically not neccessary for the actor to actually be speaking appropriate lines and thus it was decided not to inform him at all. Once again, Prowse was never notified of the deception and reportedly discovered this major element of his character upon viewing the second film's premiere.
As a minor coda it should be noted that Prowse apparently lobbied to be included in Episode III, reprising his role as the fully-armoured Darth Vader, but his requests fell on deaf ears. In fact, there is anecdotal evidence from some statements made by Hayden Christensen that it was never even a question of Prowse versus himself, but rather Christensen apparently had to argue to wear the suit instead of Lucas find an anonymous tall actor. Perhaps partly in response to this, as well as the fact that most casual viewers of the films primarily attribute the Vader role to James Earl Jones, Prowse has developed the habit of signing his autographs "David Prowse IS Darth Vader".
Although Prowse continues to associate himself with his role in the Star Wars films and is involved in the convention circuit, it should be noted that he has apparently not been included in any of the recent reunions of the original cast, such as for the 1994 DVD documentary "Empire of Dreams" and the 2005 Vanity Fair cover featuring Lucas and all the major actors from both trilogies. It is unknown whether Prowse was invited and declined, or if he is indeed now effectively blacklisted from Lucasfilm endeavours as some Lucas Bashers contend.
As previously mentioned, much of the current trend of Lucas Bashing began and/or intensified with the significant portions of the fan community who disliked Episode I. It is difficult to encapsulate the sheer venom that many have directed against this first prequel, and some hardcore Lucas bashers maintain that all the prequels are poor films and that the latter two installments only seem good by comparison. One 2005 article in Australian Empire magazine argued (perhaps facitiously) that Lucas had deliberately made Episode I and even Episode II to be terrible films purely as a strategy for making Episode III appear a masterwork by comparison.
Jar Jar Hatred
Although a significant part of the previous topic, Episode I's comic relief character Jar Jar Binks was almost universally reviled, even inspiring websites that allowed visitors to "punch" Jar Jar in the face. Found by most viewers to be intensely annoying and outrageously childish (at best), Jar Jar's extremely prominent role in the film is considered by many to be a major creative blunder on Lucas' part. In fact, some fans who otherwise largely approve of Episode I argue that it was actually the fact that Jar Jar so profoundly aggrivated many viewers that their annoyance at him coloured their experience of the entire film. This line of reasoning contends that had Jar Jar been exised from the film or his role in some way significantly reduced or altered that Episode I would have had a much more universally positive reception. This argument is indirectly borne out in several fan-based re-edits and re-dubbs of the film, such as The Phantom Edit.
Jar Jar is also considered by some to be a racist caricature. Although it seems unlikely that this would have been the specific intent, the character's notionally alien "Gungan" accent sounds to most people as being highly reminiscent of a stereotyped Afro-Carribian accent. Given the foolish clumsy nature of the character and his offer to enter into servitude to Qui Gon Jinn, some perceive the character to be a throwback to pre-Civil Rights Movement caricatures of black minstrels and African Americans in general.
Without defending Jar Jar per se, some comentators in the fan community extend a measure of Sympathy to Lucas over the whole Jar Jar backlash, arguing that there was no way the director could possibly have anticipated such an unprecedented amount of negativity towards one of his creations, and that such a misstep could not possibly have been done on purpose. This argument states that essentially, it was just "bad luck" for Lucas and his collaborators (to say nothing of Jar Jar's voice & movement performer Ahmed Best) that most viewers rsponed so badly to a character that was merely intended as comic relief. For further discussion of the Jar Jar controversy, see the full article on Jar Jar Binks.
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