This is part eleven of an ongoing series about why Hollywood and American cinema in general is awful trash.
READ HERE: PART 1-AMAZON AND NETFLIX
READ HERE: PART 2-THE DAYS BEFORE THE HOLLYWOOD BLACKLIST
READ HERE: PART 3-WHAT COULD HAVE BEEN IF NOT FOR JOE MCCARTHY
READ HERE: PART 4-FRENCH FILM
READ HERE: PART 5-SIX QUESTIONS WITH FILM PROFESSOR VINCENT BOHLINGER
READ HERE: PART 6-TINSELTOWN GET GOOD, FOR ABOUT FIFTEEN YEARS
READ HERE: PART 7-WHAT THEY DID TO MARCIA LUCAS, EPISODE 1
READ HERE: PART 8-WHAT THEY DID TO MARCIA LUCAS, EPISODE 2
READ HERE: PART 9-‘THE LAST JEDI’ IS GREAT, BUT GEORGE LUCAS BLOWS
READ HERE: PART 10-‘MY FILM IS NOT A MOVIE; IT’S NOT ABOUT VIETNAM. IT IS VIETNAM!’: FRANCIS FORD COPPOLA GOES INSANE AND MAKES A MASTERPIECE
In 1980, The Empire Strikes Back was released and became a huge hit. The film shocked audiences for a generation with the jaw-dropping revelation that Darth Vader was more than merely the one who betrayed and murdered Luke Skywalker’s father. And because of stellar editorial work combined with tight scripting, it is considered both the best in the whole series and one of the finest adventure films ever made.
What is not remembered, however, is how close to the financial precipice the production brought George Lucas for the second time in a row. In hindsight it seems inconceivable given the popularity of the franchise but, yes, in fact there was a time when people in Hollywood didn’t want to cut a check to make sure the Wookies ran on time.
This point is worthy of deep consideration for the resolution of this story. After being wrung through the stress of cinematic financial bargains that kept the lights on, Lucas probably was feeling so exhausted that he wanted to move in a more safe direction. As such, he decided to switch gears and make the next film, Return of the Jedi, a picture that would generate a mint from action figure sales. This was the straw that broke the camel’s back for Gary Kurtz, the producer on the first two films. Here he explains things in detail:
In a 2010 interview with the Los Angeles Times, Kurtz said “The emphasis on the toys, it’s like the cart driving the horse… If it wasn’t for that the films would be done for their own merits. The creative team wouldn’t be looking over their shoulder all the time.”
Originally, the final Star Wars picture released in 1983 was going to be quite different. The major action would take place on the home planet of the Wookiees. Kurtz told the Times:
“Instead of bittersweet and poignant he wanted a euphoric ending with everybody happy. The original idea was that they would recover [the kidnapped] Han Solo in the early part of story and that he would then die in the middle part of the film in a raid on an Imperial base. George then decided he didn’t want any of the principals killed. By that time there were really big toy sales and that was a reason.”
The Rebels were going to win in the end, but just barely. Princess Leia, who was never intended to be a Skywalker, would become the queen of her people but at a painful price. The newly-minted Jedi Luke Skywalker would go sojourning in the galaxy alone, “like Clint Eastwood in the spaghetti westerns.” (In my opinion, the most recent film, The Last Jedi, feels like it is intended to approximate this 1983 plot with regards to the original trilogy’s cast members. while simultaneously introducing a new set of important characters with their own arcs of development in future films.)
Of course what we got instead was Muppet Teddy Bear Picnic in Space.
What good there was in the film can be attributed to Marcia Lucas. It was the last picture she worked on for decades, which is pretty astounding given the fact she had won an Oscar less than ten years earlier.
Now here’s where things get really nasty.
George and Marcia became distant during the production of Jedi. While he had claimed he was going to be hands-off with this picture, he was in fact anything but that. Between his focus on the production and running a business, Marcia left him for another man. A younger man at that. The details are a little sketchy and speculation would be unfair.
But then in 1997 Lucas started doing some weird shit that everyone hated. Like a crazy uncle who tinkers around with a jalopy in the garage, he released a number of highly reviled “Special Editions.” Here’s Kurtz explaining what he thought:
The weird part was how he did this. When Steven Spielberg did the same with ET, he still released the original version on DVD alongside it. But Lucas, by contrast, not only refused to ever release the original films ever again, he went on a bit of a crusade to hunt down and repossess every single solitary print of the film held by any film archive in the world.
That means every time someone said they were going to show the old versions at a movie theater, he sent in lawyers that would take the film out of the projection booth and shove it in the trunk of a car, never to be seen again. (Yes, this is true because in the insane world of American film law, George Lucas could claim ownership of every copy of his films).
His changes to the film were awful, everyone hated them, and they also wanted the old movies back. It made no sense at all why he would go so bonkers in this way.
Unless of course it was his way of getting back at Marcia for dumping him and showing to the world that he, George Almighty Lucas, was the better craftsman than the woman who had saved his career multiple times. This is speculation but pretty much the only way his bizarre behavior can be explained.
But wait, there’s more!
The 1997 Special Editions served as the production template for the next two years of the first prequel film, Episode I: The Phantom Menace, a motion picture that caused a million virginal dweebs to beat their breasts and rend their garments in the likes of which has not been seen since the crucifixion of Brian Cohen of Judea. Here’s the gang from Mystery Science Theater 3000/Rifftrax going at it without shame.
From 1999-2005, Lucas made two and a half awful movies and half of a movie that was decent — mostly because it was about Darth Vader killing children and being lit on fire in the end by Obi-Wan Kenobi while Yoda has a killer lightsaber battle. The major reason for this poor output was that instead of having a sane producer like Gary Kurtz to keep things on the straight and narrow, George surrounded himself with sycophantic yes men who sang hosannas to his greatness.
One of the more interesting parts of these movies is how Anakin Skywalker, the guy who becomes Darth Vader, hooks up with Padme Amidala and they make Jedi babies. See, when they first meet, Anakin is a little boy and Padme is a teenager. Kinda like how Marcia met a younger man and fell in love with him, leaving George in the dust.
Here’s how that romance is ultimately resolved in the final film. It literally causes the creation of Darth Vader and the entire universe to go to hell in a hand basket.
Like I said in Episode 1 of this series, Lucas is a nasty narcissistic prick who processed the pain of his divorce in front of the entire planet. He’s at best a mediocrity who carries on like a cinematic Shakespeare, as proven by the terrible prequels.
I don’t know if Marcia Lucas will ever read this. She might resent the hell out of someone like me writing something like this. Or she very well may be indifferent.
But with the #MeToo movement going on in Hollywood, it’s worth pointing out this blatant case of sexism. It’s not exactly Harvey Weinstein’s brand of sexual harassment but it perpetuated a culture that devalues women’s work in an industry that exploits them viciously. Marcia went from being the cutter on the biggest films of a decade to not being involved in any production at all for decades, which I imagine has the fingerprints of George’s pal Steven Spielberg or another big Hollywood director/producer all over it.