This post is part of ForceCast.Net's editorial series, where our listeners weigh in on Star Wars topics in-universe and in the real world.
The Lessons of Lucasian Vision
By Michael Falkner
Nearly a quarter of a century has passed since my life was irrevocably changed for the better. When I was around the tender age of six, my little sister and I were in the care of a babysitter who asked if I wanted to watch a movie. At that point, movies had always been cool, particularly if they were animated and released by Disney, so I said yes. She asked if I wanted to watch Star Wars, and I told her that I had no idea what she was talking about. Appalled, she fed the cassette into the VCR, and I eventually fell asleep. The last thing I remember were two shiny bickering robots making their way across an endless expanse of sand. A few years later, I watched the entire trilogy with my proud parents, and then immediately devoured the novelizationsÖ twice.
Sometime around my tenth birthday, a friend from school invited me over to watch a movie he simply called Raiders. He put it in the tape player and we chatted and played while the film filled the atmosphere. He stopped mid-sentence when he saw a little monkey reach into a bowl and fall over dead half a minute later. I was bored with the whole exposition between the actors, but I distinctly remember my friend saying, in perfect time with Jonathan Rhys-Davies, ďbad dates.Ē I didnít see that movie or its sequels in their entirety until I purchased them on tape Ė in the rare widescreen format, mind you Ė nine years later.
Some might claim that this incredibly gradual introduction to such cultural touchstones is inhumane at best, but I see it differently. My parents had an understanding of what it meant to be geeky, even if the term was used differently in their era. My father always watched reruns of Lost in Space and the original Star Trek with me on Sunday mornings, and my family cultivated my imagination by encouraging dreams of outer space and high adventure coupled with grounded discussions of current events and real-world happenings. With a firm foundation of books and dreams, the creative endeavors of George Lucas spoke to me when I needed it most.
The first lesson I take from the Lucasfilm properties is that there is always something to be learned. Looking at the beginnings of the Lucasian vision, I see Uncle Georgeís tales as delicate mixtures of escapism and life lessons. THX 1138 is a story of someone looking for the upper limits of their potential in a culture of mediocrity. American Graffiti is about saying goodbye to the innocence of childhood. Willow is a combined tale of redemption mixed with the reminder that what rests on the outside is not the character within. Star Wars is the classic mythological arc of a heroís rise, fall, and redemption. Indiana Jones is an everyman who searches for what he cannot have, but retains his humility despite his failings.
The escapism results from the era in which Lucas grew up; it was one that used the cinema to forget about life for a while. His films provide a lesson while being just abstract enough to avoid being preachy. Even in the Expanded Universe of novels and comics where the story gets much more cerebral, the sense of escapism still exists in the form of translating current events into something a little more manageable. While other fans have derided the films or their creator for certain elements, I have never found faults that completely ruin the experience for me.
The second lesson Iíve learned from George Lucas is not to take things so seriously. Indiana Jones comes from the 1930s-style pulp adventures, and as a result, I can overlook physically impossible things like falling from a plane in an inflatable raft or surviving a nuclear explosion in a refrigerator because they lend a sense of surrealism to the character. We donít complain that Superman can fly, or that Jedi have enhanced skills, or that the Enterprise travels faster than light. Why? Because these are critical elements to the settings these heroes live in and the plots they live out. For me, Indiana Jones is, in at least some small part, a superhero. Iíll never be able to travel to the depths of the world in search of a rare mythic artifact, but I can be inspired to learn about other cultures and stories, and become a better person in the end. As Indy himself would say, ďItís not the years, honey, itís the mileage.Ē
In my opinion, fans across every franchise have become so consumed by a sense of self-importance that they have failed to realize that creators of intellectual property donít owe them anything. Star Wars and Indiana Jones were not created to satiate fan desires anymore than were The Grapes of Wrath and Les Miserables. While the public vote for what they like with their pocketbooks, creativity on this level is a business. George Lucas owes you your vision of Indiana Jones 5 as much as you owe your kids a cookie because they want it.
Todayís fans complain that the Star Wars Prequel Trilogy ruined the series Ė or even worse, their childhood memories Ė because it didnít meet their expectations. The point is that fans had impossible expectations. After sixteen years of waiting, Star Wars fans had mined every last piece of published information and mapped out the rise and fall of Darth Vader for themselves. After The Phantom Menace was released, legions of disappointed fans around the world lodged their complaints, blaming George Lucas for not meeting the sweeping vision of which they had dreamed. Fans like that have no leg to stand on; how much sense does it make to criticize a storyteller for not weaving his tale to your exacting specifications?
Furthermore, fans took umbrage at characters like Jar Jar Binks, a bumbling idiot and an outcast in his society. I defend Binks because I recognize myself in him. Everyone else in the Star Wars universe is a hero of some sort, but Binks is the opposite. If anything, he is pure of heart, despite being somewhat dim intellectually. He selflessly offers what he has and tries his best to help the Jedi complete their mission, even if the tasks are well beyond his capabilities. Star Wars fans don't like him because he talks strangely, is somewhat slow, and is not what we expect from the other street-smart characters in the saga. Jar Jar Binks is that person you know who is clumsy or mentally challenged but pure of heart, and the willingness to discard such a character tells me that fans donít have the grasp on diversity for which we give them credit. Iíve always seen Jar Jar as a test of our acceptance of what others have to offer, which is the same lesson Qui-Gon tried to teach Obi-Wan in the movie.
Finally, the third lesson Iíve gleaned from George Lucas is that everyone makes mistakes. The corollary to that lesson is that we have to learn from our mistakes and move on. More American Graffitti, Howard the Duck, and the Star Wars Holiday Special may have been failures, but Lucas isnít defined by these films. It is unfair to beat someone against the rocks for all time because they did something you didnít like. Itís not enough to simply rehash what you thought was wrong, because that just continues the bitterness in a pointless game of one-upmanship. Life is far too short to spend it pointing fingers in blame when we all could be out there creating something better. Go make something spectacular and original and share it with somebody. Despite what anyone says, every person has some iota of creativity in them, and all it takes is motivation and dedication to make that spark ignite an inferno. After that, it takes bravery to put that piece of your soul before a critical eye. Trust me, itís hard, but itís not impossible.
At the end of the day, the Lucas brand is one based on entertaining the people. The lessons we pull from the silver and small screens are what we make of them. There are days when I feel the full range of emotions, from happiness to disappointment, when I think about how the brand continues to impact my life. But one thing remains constant: I have never once regretted my exposure to such creativity. Itís been a quarter of a century of dreams and visions, and the net result has been a life-altering experience.
The views expressed in this editorial are those of the writer and do not represent the views of the ForceCast team. If you have questions or comments about these editorials, please email ForceCast Senior Web Editor Eric Geller.