(This is an extended preview of the PopRox column in Sunday’s Pocono Record. We usually do this on Thursdays, but hopefully when you read this, you’ll realize why I felt the need to get this out ASAP. Eff you, George Lucas.)
I wanted to joke.
I wanted to open this column with a somewhat witty joke lambasting George Lucas’ decision to sell off his ground-breaking film company Lucasfilm to Disney for $100 trillion gazillion. Something along the lines of, “Wait, didn’t this happen already, like around the second Jar Jar appeared?“
But I’m too depressed, and the situation is too grave for dorks like me who based a good chunk of their childhood, adolescence and now adulthood on the Star Wars franchise. When I opened my email last night, I had one from my brother Erik in Virginia Beach with the subject line, “son of a bitch.” And I knew exactly what it was about, echoing my sentiment and the sentiments of millions of other devoted fans.
So here’s the non-joke opening line:
For all the ways the patently evil George Lucas has raped, pillaged, demeaned and financially disrespected his devoted fans over the past 13 years, he managed to give those fans one final, emphatic middle finger by finding the one company on the planet that could possibly rape, pillage, demean and financially disrespect Star Wars fans more than he already has.
The company every Star Wars fans hates.
The company that epitomizes everything Lucas once hated about the corporate movie-making system.
You know what? We should have seen it coming. Actually, how did this take so long? The most money-grubbing Hollywood corporation teaming with the biggest sell-out Hollywood icon in two generations? It’s a match made in money heaven!
Maybe there is some good to Lucas selling Lucasfilm to Disney. We’re getting more Star Wars movies, that’s theoretically good. The Star Wars prequels and Indiana Jones and the Crystal Skull mostly sucked — maybe Disney can actually improve the franchises by keeping Lucas as far away from the productions as possible. Disney owned Marvel when it made The Avengers, and that turned out almost perfectly.
But even if the franchise is addition by Lucas subtraction, the Star Wars creator and mastermind has fully transformed a legacy that once was thought to be breakable only if he made a concerted effort to flush it in to the toilet.
It may have taken him almost 30 years, but he hasn’t just flushed it down the toilet, he’s sent a cherry bomb down after it to make fully sure it was completely destroyed.
If you’re too young to remember the release of Return of the Jedi — and I was only 8, so I’ve only heard from my Star Wars elders and read about it — you might not know the Ewoks were a huge (appropriately) Nuke the Fridge moment for Star Wars fans at the time.
The lovable teddy bear things were a joke to hardcore Star Wars fans. Those fans saw through any feeble attempt to justify their inclusion as some kind of narrative advancement and saw it for what it was: A cutesy, obvious attempt to sell more toys.
It was a page right from Disney’s historic book. The money they make from any movie is fine, but like Mel Brooks said in Spaceballs, “Merchandising, merchandising — where the real money from the movie is made.”
If Disney pioneered the kids dolls, books, drinking glasses, placemats that supplemented the revenue stream from its movies, then Lucas perfected it. Or at least took it to a completely new level.
He introduced characters into Empire Strikes Back — bad-ass guys like Boba Fett, Lando Calrissian — that actually advanced the story. It just so happened that he could sell thousands of action figures of those guys, fans told themselves.
But in Jedi, Lucas stopped trying to be stealthy about it and just decided he’d pull back the drapes of his money-printing factory. He introduced Jabba the Hut, the monsters on Jabba’s barge, new fighter ship designs, new outfits for all the stars (Camoflauge! Sexy slave!) and anything else that could have a future price tag put on it. The toy and Burger King glasses marketing was endless, more than for any other movie we’d seen.
There’s a good reason for that. When Lucas was trying to get Star Wars made — you know, back when he was a respected filmmaker who bled for his craft — he famously slashed his salary to almost nothing on one condition:
That he retained all merchandising rights.
So while most people were gushingly talking about how cute the Ewoks were, hardcore fans, almost in unison, were walking out of theaters with confused, defeated looks on their faces.
That was 1983. Since then, Lucas allowed for countless video game interpretations of the trilogy, seemingly mass-produced and collected royalties on dozens of Star Wars-inspired books, slightly tweaked the original trilogy with extra footage and released it back into theaters, unleashed the unholy series of prequels that were mostly just video games shown on the big screen, released about 547 different versions of both trilogies on VHS, DVD, Blu-ray and presumably chalk board if it made money and now plans to add in 3-D effects to Episodes 2 through 6 and release those into theaters after Phantom Menace made $45 million last winter.
Now, this. He’s milked the Star Wars movies for as much money as he possibly could while doing the bare minimum of work, so he’d decided to sell it off before someone actually asks him to write a new line of dialogue.
No one gets to tell anyone what they should do with their own property. For all the blood, sweat and tears Lucas put in to Star Wars to ensure it made it to the big screen 35 years ago, he should ultimately decide what happens to the massive empire that resulted from it.
But for all the time we’ve devoted to watching, reading, playing, paying for, assembling, and probably about 20 other appropriate verbs concerning Star Wars-related products, we feel like we’re owed something by the franchise and, ultimately, by Lucas.
And once again, he’s let us down. Hopefully, for the last time.