It seems hard to fathom that George Lucas – the man who gave us both Star Wars and Indiana Jones (with Steven Spielberg’s help, of course) – would get snubbed in Hollywood, but that appears to be exactly what’s happened with his newest film, Red Tails. The loved (and reviled) mastermind behind some of cinema’s biggest films showed his latest to Hollywood studios – and one by one, they all passed. Lucas says one studio’s executives didn’t even show up for the screening – which has left the filmmaker to pay for the film’s distribution entirely out of his own (admittedly deep) pockets. 20th Century Fox will distribute the film, but they will not pay for the honor.
Whatever the cause of this rejection (and there are countless theories – that the film isn’t particularly good, to more damning charges of racism because Red Tails focuses on the Tuskegee Airmen, a group of African American fighter pilots during World War II), Lucas has decided he’s had enough. “I’m retiring,” he tells the New York Times. “I’m moving away from the business, from the company, from all this kind of stuff.”
What he really means is that he’s retiring from Hollywood blockbusters (which he plans to do officially after dealing with the next Indiana Jones film) and will make smaller, more intimate movies that speak to him on a personal level. As shocking as that is, maybe it’s exactly what Lucas needs. The real question is, what have film fans lost – and do they even realize it?
It’s become easy over the years to portray Lucas as a soulless monster fueled by equal parts hubris and greed. He gave sci-fi fans arguably the most important trilogy in the history of the genre, then had the audacity to not only come back and tinker with it after the fact, but to make three more films that angered fans because the stories didn’t live up to their expectations. As someone who’s railed against Lucas’ constant revisions of the original Star Wars trilogy, and hated the prequel films, I understand where the animosity springs from – but at the same time, Lucas is still a human underneath it all.
“On the Internet, all those same guys that are complaining I made a change and am completely changing the movie,” Lucas says, referring to fans. “I’m saying: ‘Fine. But my movie, with my name on it, that says I did it, needs to be the way I want it.’ ”
And really, he’s right. While it may be hard to defend Lucas (and I’m not even going to try – he doesn’t need me to do it and I don’t think I’m even remotely up to the task), they are, ultimately, his films. We can all love Star Wars to death, but none of us created it. Good or bad, it’s his legacy to destroy as he sees fit.
Perhaps the most telling quote of all comes when Lucas says of the Star Wars films, “Why would I make any more when everybody yells at you all the time and says what a terrible person you are?”
I suspect the fanboys will read that quote and see it as Lucas whining as he trashes our childhood memories on the way to the bank, but I think there’s more to it. Lucas has endured the slings of very vocal and public criticism since he changed elements in the films back in the late 1990s. It’s easy to be defiant and arrogant in the face of that kind of adversity, but after 15 years, it’s bound to wear a man down. Add in the insult of Hollywood snubbing his latest project – after he’s made Hollywood boatloads of cash over the years – and it’s not hard to understand why Lucas is ready to call it a day.
The thing is, whether you love Lucas or hate him, there isn’t anyone who’s set to step in and fill that void when he’s gone. Lucas has never made deep films – Star Wars is basically a streamlined version of Campbell’s Heroic Myth and a space opera homage to Kurosawa’s Hidden Fortress. Indiana Jones is nothing more than a big budget serial. That being said, Lucas excelled at creating popcorn flicks that seemed far more important than you might initially believe. Who do we have today creating that kind of entertainment? Michael Bay? Bay is no George Lucas.
Sure, the more cynical amongst us may celebrate the news that Lucas is about to slink off and make small films and hopefully stop ruining the films we loved as kids, but this isn’t a victory. George Lucas has made mistakes along the way, for sure – and they were his mistakes to make – but that doesn’t change the fact that he gave us some incredible and unforgettable films during the course of his career. The truth of the matter – something that fanboys and Hollywood alike seem to not get – is that a Hollywood without George Lucas is a less magical place.