I have no doubt in my mind that George Lucas was severely hindered by the popularity of Star Wars. Looking at his works before and after, it’s clear that the space opera fandom took a toll on his energy, efforts, and creativity. How so and why is up for debate, but I’d like to take some time to expand on the above quote from local New Orleans writer and Shotgun Cinema intern Josiah Berger, from a recent blog post on THX 1138, the directorial debut of Lucas.
The behind the scenes documentary Hearts of Darkness about the making of Apocalypse Now (perhaps my favorite film) features George Lucas giving an interview on the early days of the project. Originally, straight out of college, he was to direct the picture on handheld 16mm cameras, in the thick of Vietnam. Idealistic with a belly of fire, he was seemingly prepared for this experience that could result in death or, at least, trauma. Of course, his friend Francis Ford Coppola would take the reigns, but this singular concept and potential danger for something greater than oneself would permeate throughout all of Lucas’ work.
Yes, even the prequels.
THX 1138 predicted so many things that turned out to come true, if only in more “acceptable” ways: Big Pharma, the marriage of Church and State, pre-programmed police, etc. Decades later, the prequel films would explore W. Bush-era policy and the rebirth of American Fascism, while attempting to placate the hardcore fans with juicy origin tales of the Skywalker Saga. They would creatively flop but turn out to predict more than meets the eye: Trade war, puppet leaders, manipulation of the media and the people, etc. Hammy and cheesy, ugly and too clean as they were, there was a touch of young Lucas in this older man who has been long relegated to being “out of touch”.
Honestly, he gets it more than any of us will ever know. Lucas is totally in touch, really.
George Lucas attempted many things with the prequels – new filmmaking tech being one – some didn’t work out as well, but even in the confusing moments, there existed that idealistic spark. All the money in the galaxy, all the resources at hand don’t make for good storytelling by themselves. It’s that flicker of an idea and an ideal that will get one through from A to B. Perhaps filming during a war was a silly proposition, but he was initially raring to go. Thankfully, he channeled that effort against capitalist fighting into stories that sold many a toy and bed set. And, within those products, there be a deeper story steeped in dark politics and straight up evil.
Maybe “hindered” is going too far …