A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away… a scriptwriter defined the childhood of a generation of beguiled youths with his planetary World War II-inspired saga that revolutionised the sci-fi genre. The original Star Wars trilogy shot George Lucas into the A list stratosphere after respectable indie efforts THX 1138 (1971) and American Graffiti (1973), but then he came crashing back down to Earth.
For children of the second Star Wars generation, it’s not been as happy an intergalactic childhood. In 1999 the first of the prequels, The Phantom Menace, shattered the hopes of adults returning to the theatre in giddy anticipation and baffled their kids who had been schooled on one of film’s most beloved franchises.
Proving that Yazz weren’t always right, along then came Episode II: Attack of the Clones. As wooden as a Trojan Horse and beset with wretched dialogue that made Phantom Menace a work of Harold Pinter, something was afoot. Fans and critics still extended an invite for redemption after the first episode’s flaws (Jar Jar Binks) but as Oscar Wilde may have said, ‘To script one bad film would be an accident. To script two would seem like carelessness.’
Despite improvement with the series’ finale Revenge of the Sith, it was another lacklustre addition to one of pop culture’s biggest phenomenon's. Lucas had actually ended the original trilogy on a whimper with Return of the Jedi’s ‘Muppets in Space’ premise as a plethora of teddy bears toppled a nefarious empire. So although there was a 16-year gap between number six and number one, was it that shocking that Lucas had exhibited more hopeless storytelling?
An imaginative visionary he may be, but the evidence is damning, and he should not be allowed to inflict more misery on passionate film-goers. Yet three years on from the underwhelming end to Star Wars came Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, and this time yours truly could gauge how the 80s Star Wars aficionados felt when trudging out from Phantom Menace.
In one foul swoop, another much-loved John Williams theme would be tainted with nightmarish visions, this time of Shia LaBeouf swinging from trees with monkeys. Now the Indiana Jones films are a case of two good, two bad after the dull MacGuffin (a plot element that drives the plot), shrieking incessancy of Kate Capshaw and irritating kid sidekick Short Round in 1984s Temple of Doom. But soon the bad might outweigh the good.
Steven Spielberg, who has directed all four instalments, confirmed recently that Lucas was working on the script for a fifth outing. The worldwide ambivalence veers from demanding a fitting finale to compensate for the KOTCS catastrophe to dreading another 21st century Lucas film, with a side order of LaBeouf.
Justly, Spielberg is largely immune from criticism over Indy’s two failed excursions. His desire to delight new generations with their own Jaws or ET or Raiders of the Lost Ark seals his faith with fans, and his back catalogue ensures he is cut a thick slice of slack rather than the wafer thin wedge placed on Lucas’ plate. Heartening too were his recent comments over Lucas and KOTCS.
‘George is in charge of breaking the stories. He's done it on all four movies. Whether I like the stories or not, George has broken all the stories,’ he said in Empire. That’s both a compliment (Raiders and The Last Crusade) but most tellingly, a criticism of his best friend. And the friendship appears to be the problem.
‘George and I had big arguments about the MacGuffin. I didn't want these things to be either aliens or inter-dimensional beings,’ he added. ‘But I am loyal to my best friend. When he writes a story he believes in - even if I don't believe in it - I'm going to shoot the movie the way George envisaged it.’
That’s arguably a blotch on Spielberg’s copybook because the audience should be of paramount importance in the process of movie-making. If he and Lucas aren’t pulling in the same direction, even two of cinema’s 70s sensations can cook up a bona fide disaster and will consequently lose trust in the audience.
LaBeouf, although reviled by the fedora following, was candid enough to share his discomfort with the finished product: ‘I feel like I dropped the ball on the legacy that people loved and cherished. Harrison (Ford) wasn’t happy with it either.’ Ford however dubbed his castmate a ‘fucking idiot’ for his retrospective comments, another example of blinded loyalty within the Lucas circle.
Even with a lucrative project brimming with a talented ensemble Lucas causes chaos before, during and after. The recent release of Star Wars on Blu-ray has angered many disenchanted with the digitalised tinkering that betrays the ethos of why the films were originally made. An undeniably creative filmmaker, Lucas' stubbornness over his babies needs another step-parent so that another bastard isn’t born.