No Takesies Backsies, George Lucas: A Conversation

Alan Decker and I had a conversation that covered many topics, as usual, but also dove into the arena of creatives (writers, directors, producers) who later decide to either outright adjust/fix things about their former creations or verbalize doubts they harbor about those products.  How much acknowledgement is too much and when is it okay to go back and tweak something you already offered up to the public as complete?  We attempt to figure it out...

 

VampireNomad

So you want to discuss authors and/or directors... basically creatives... who later retract on their own work? Or downtalk it in some way?

 

CmdrAJD

Yes. Obviously George Lucas' tinkering with the original Star Wars trilogy is the most famous example, but JK Rowling's interview last week certainly fits

Any preference on which one to start with?

 

VampireNomad

George Lucas' "Greedo shot first" re-imagining of the way Star Wars played out is probably the most famous. And most famously derided.

 

CmdrAJD

True. I compare what he did with Star Wars to the ‘Star Trek Remastered’ project from a few years ago. Since CBS Television now owns ‘Star Trek’, a few years ago they decided to remaster the episodes, meaning they cleaned up the film to get it ready for HD broadcasts and Blu Ray release. They also added new effects.

The original series had budget issues, and many times a ship on the viewscreen would just be a light out in the distance. For the remastered Trek episodes, the CBS special effects team went through and replaced the Enterprise model shots with a CGI ship and, in instances where maybe there was only a light on the viewscreen, they put in an actual vessel. But they adhered strictly to the original episode's timing and intent. If an effect shot took 3 seconds in the original episode, the new shot took 3 seconds as well.

Lucas, however, didn't just improve effects when he put out the special editions in the 90s and again when the DVDs came out, and yet again when the Blu Rays came out. He changed the way parts of the film play entirely.

 

VampireNomad

Yes. The "Greedo shot first" example in the Cantina is just one of those things he drastically altered. The fact that Jabba the Hutt walks through the hanger and is human-sized is another. He significantly altered characterizations and narrative. Sure, in small ways, but in ways that resonated throughout the films. And not, arguably, in ways that improved what were already classic films. The ‘Star Trek’ remastering is an example of just enhancing what was already there - using available technology to bring it to greater life without changing a thing. But Lucas tinkered with his own effects and story to ill effect. He watered it down. He overdid it.

 

CmdrAJD

Exactly, and I know the counter-argument to that is that they’re his films, so he can do what he wants. I don't agree with that. Filmmaking is a collaborative process. Not to be overdramatic, but he's disrespecting the work of hundreds of people when he makes these changes, particularly in Empire and Jedi, which he DID NOT DIRECT.

 

VampireNomad

I would agree with that. Fine, "they're his films" but what about the effects people who worked so laboriously to make the Jabba creature so impressively large and off-putting the first time he's seen? Lucas disregards their work entirely by adding in the lacklustre walking smaller statured Jabba. Altering films, whether they're his or not, in such a way that the narrative is swayed and things look entirely different is a slap in the face not only to the creatives who worked on those films but to us. To the fans who loved them exactly the way they were. It's like he's saying "You don't really know what's good. You can't love them this way because I can make them better and then it's okay to love them" but he doesn't have the right to say that. We loved what he showed us. Tinkering with that sort of flips the bird at our devotion.

 

CmdrAJD

True. And some of the changes make no sense. Why replace older Anakin's force ghost with Hayden Christensen at the end of Jedi? Luke won't have a clue who that guy is next to old Obi-Wan and Yoda. Why have Vader scream "Noooooooo!" on the Blu-Ray before he saves Luke from the Emperor? It's completely unnecessary. The scene as it originally played worked just fine at showing Vader's inner conflict until he finally comes to a decision. I was 9 when I first saw Jedi, and I understood it. It didn't need to be spelled out with "NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!"

 

VampireNomad

Exactly! I always thought "but the Force ghosts are for LUKE'S benefit, not mine" so it seemed such a jarring change. And he must have known at some point much later he'd make the prequels and a different actor would be cast so.... And the "nooooo" just, again, is a slap in the face to us. To the fans. He honestly must think we're incredibly slow to not be able to pick up on the nuance of the scene as it was originally filmed.

 

CmdrAJD

That said, there are some changes that I liked. The new Cloud City effects in Empire worked well, and I didn't mind the cutaways to celebrations around the galaxy at the end of Jedi. But then we hit crappy CG Jabba, Han's awkward walking over his tail, the Greedo debacle, the musical number in Jabba's palace, and NOOOOOOOO!

 

VampireNomad

For any positives gained in Cloud City I think we more than lost in the other areas. It all adds up to a striking argument for leaving the films as they were originally filmed. Don't mess with them.

 

CmdrAJD

I absolutely agree. I'm not the first person to say this, but I really just want Blu Rays of the original trilogy films as they were when they first hit theaters. He's tinkered with these films three different times since, and not made anything appreciably better. But, and these are words I never thought I'd say, Disney may be our savior here. They own it all now, so George will have to find other ways to keep busy. And I don't think they'd have the aversion to putting the originals out on Blu Ray that Lucas had...unless there's something in the sale deal preventing it.

 

VampireNomad

Oooooh such an interesting point! Disney has the opposite disease - haha. They revere their films as such unassailable classics that they spend lifetimes pulling them and drumming up feverish anticipation for the inevitable re-release. Each re-release is a 'Platinum' or 'Gold' or 'Deluxe' edition and may include additional never-before-seen-scenes and swaths of features but they NEVER ACTUALLY TOUCH THE ORIGINAL FILM. So. Even Beauty and the Beast's re-release that includes the originally-cut (and awful) "Human Again" number is still available exactly as it first screend. There's something nice about that, after all. Maybe Star Wars will be given the same treatment?

 

CmdrAJD

I certainly hope so. There's money to be made here, folks. I never bought the Blu Rays because of all of the changes. Put out the originals as they were when they came out, and you will have my money.

 

VampireNomad

Quite so.

So... JK Rowling is now afflicted with a version of Lucas-itis?

 

CmdrAJD

At least she hasn't gone back and revised the books...yet.

Still, her revelation last week that Hermione and Harry should have ended up together is in some ways nearly as damaging.

Rowling is known for having vast amounts of backstory for the characters and the world of the Harry Potter books. She's given out a lot of this information after the fact, but none of it has really made us question the whole story. Fine, Dumbledore was gay. That didn't occur to me when I read the books, and it really doesn't affect the tale being told one way or the other.

But when the author tells you that she feels she made a mistake with major character relationships, how does that not impact the way you see the stories from now on?

 

VampireNomad

Well here is where I must carefully disagree slightly. Or at least play devil's advocate. I'm not a Potter fan so my lack of fan bias may actually help me see clearer in this instance. 1) The quote is ostensibly a spoiler from the upcoming issue of Wonderland Magazine which isn't even released yet (it releases today) so the entire debate revolves around a teaser from something we can't even fully ingest. 2) The quote that is going around states "I wrote the Hermione-Ron relationship as a form of wish fulfilment. That's how it was conceived, really. For reasons that have very little to do with literature and far more to do with me clinging to the plot as I first imagined it, Hermione ended up with Ron." She goes on to say "distance has given me perspective on that. It was a choice I made for very personal reasons, not for reasons of credibility". None of that explicitly says "I hate Hermione with Ron" (though she does say the couple likely would have needed therapy down the road which, having seen them in action, I can't disagree with) nor does it say "the books are all wrong, you guys, because Hermione should have been with Harry". 3) I don't honestly believe there's a writer alive who hasn't re-read something they've worked on and not had a moment of alarm or realization about something that would be 'perfect' if changed. Or some way a character could have done something better. JK Rowling isn't actually changing anything she wrote. She's really saying she put Hermione with Ron because of emotional reasons and plot choices she'd made but looking back maybe... maybe she wouldn't have... but she did. And it's not a crime, I don't think.

 

CmdrAJD

I also don't think she'd try to change it. For one thing, it would require massive amounts of work because not just Ron and Hermione would be affected. Ginny and Harry's relationship would be changed as well. As a reader, I don't really agree with her. I felt that Ron and Hermione's relationship in the books worked far better than in the movies. Granted, the films have less time to work with, but honestly Emma Watson had far more chemistry with Daniel Radcliffe than she did with Rupert Grint. This isn't to slight Grint at all. I think he did a great job as Ron. But chemistry is either there or it isn't.

 

VampireNomad

Well the thing is, you're allowed to disagree with her. But what you're disagreeing with isn't even true. Because never once did she state - based on what little info we have - that she explicitly hates the pairing. Quite the opposite. I read it differently than the fans, I think, because I'm not reacting emotionally to the revelation on characters I'm attached to. When I read it she seems to be saying that Hermione and Ron's relationship formed because of "personal reasons", reasons that were personal to her, and it also sounds like she's admitting they had their own life. You know as well as I do that as a writer sometimes your best laid plans go to hell once your characters take on enough life of their own. Sometimes they demand things you didn't intend. And looking back you can easily say, as their creator, "well that's not what I had planned" because it isn't. But that's also not saying you dislike where they went. It's saying you're wise enough to let your characters live the life you gave them. If anything the fans should be proud that she was strong enough to let Hermione and Ron have their way with the story. :)

 

CmdrAJD

Admittedly, I got the opposite impression from the quotes I read. I gathered that the characters were pulling one way, which was having Hermione and Harry together, but she forced the Ron/Hermione relationship for personal reasons.

 

VampireNomad

Well either way aren't you glad Ron and Hermione ended up together?

 

CmdrAJD

In the books, yes. In the films, it's a tough call. But overall, yes. Really, though, I'm just glad that we won't likely be getting Special Editions of the Harry Potter books where she changes things.

 

VampireNomad

Which is also why I honestly think this entire thing is being blown out of proportion. Every writer can imagine a thousand different ways for their works to have gone. It doesn't mean, like Lucas, that they write twelve versions of their book with each new version trumping the one before. It just means they can see different paths than the one written. And that's okay. JK Rowling LIVED these characters for a long time. She's bound to see them differently than everyone else. Maybe she just... shouldn't have said it aloud. But people, she's changing nothing. So there's honestly no harm done. She hasn't said she dislikes anyone. She just admits to seeing another path.

 

CmdrAJD

And that's fine. As a writer, I'm interested in the writing process. I'm glad that we have access to Lucas' original script for "The Star Wars," which is, if I'm honest, a complete mess. But once the works are released to the world, I feel that the authors/directors need to let go. That was actually advice that my screenwriting professor gave us. He said that if we ever sold a script to a studio, wash our hands of it. That was mostly because the studio was likely to change it completely or just not make it at all. It's a good rule in general, though. Millions of people love the original Star Wars trilogy just as millions love Harry Potter. Going back and making changes may please Lucas, but he's causing more damage than good.

 

VampireNomad

Agreed.  Lucas would have been better served leaving his films alone and just having Rowling over for whiskey and complaining about how Han shot first and Ron stole Hermione. Haha.

 

CmdrAJD

And if they put that conversation out on Blu Ray, I'd buy it too! Especially if it meant he left the films alone.

 

- Corinne Simpson and Alan Decker