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The Red-Headed Step-Prequel

December 1, 2007

So I’ve been doing a lot of thinking lately with regards to the responsibility of a storyteller. To what extent are they responsible to the story, the audience, and themselves? Where is the balance?

As anyone reading this knows by now, I can take a while to form my argument when it comes to this kind of thing, so I’m going to break it up over a few days so it’s more bite-sized. I will also attempt to think of clever titles for each installment so as not to get boring, but no promises.

Anyway, to begin:

George Lucas, and his supporters, like to point out that Star Wars was Lucas’ story, and so it is his prerogative to do anything he wants with it.

Greedo shoots first? Done.

Hayden Christensen in Return of the Jedi? It’s in.

Midichlorians? Shit, why not.

The fact that the specific reference in my second link is lost in the PAGES of changes listed should finish making my point. If not, see also the pages for A New Hope (which wasn’t even originally called that), and The Empire Strikes Back.

In terms of intellectual property, Star Wars belongs to Lucas. He can do whatever he wants to monetize it — and he does. But as a STORY, as a MYTHOLOGY and a CULTURE, I think it’s out of Lucas’ hands. Legally he may have the right to alter it in whatever way his whims dictate, but he is violating the purity and the impact of the story every time he does so.

Aside from the fact that George Lucas is a prime example of someone who NEEDS a guy on set to go “George, that’s a stupid idea,” the story doesn’t belong to him anymore. As soon as you make it part of the fabric of culture, part of the language of the zeitgeist, you have to be ready to let it go and find a life of its own.

Storytellers call their stories their “babies”, their “children.” Star Wars was Lucas’ firstborn, and he didn’t know quite what to do with it. The “child” wound up getting reared by a huge team of people, producers and executives who all had their input and influence on making it the film it was. They’re like the teachers and friends a child makes in school. Then the film went out into the world and took on its own life.

If it were a child, it would be acceptable and expected that George let it go. But what he did, instead, was give up his next two children for adoption. Then he later kidnapped his adult firstborn, medicated it heavily, and then locked it in the attic for good measure. He also invoked his rights as the biological father of the other two to steal them away from the families that REALLY raised them, brought them under his roof against their will and then forced them to live under his rules.

And then 30 years later, he had three more kids, but THIS time he sheltered and homeschooled them to make sure that they had all the values and beliefs he wanted. I think we’ve all met the weird homeschooled kid. (Don’t get me wrong, there are cool homeschooled kids too, but they’re pretty rare and typically not strictly “homeschooled” so much as privately schooled by a group of parents.)

If George Lucas did to his real kids what he did to the original trilogy, child services would SO have had his ass. And there’s nothing to be done for the prequels but to shake your head, just like when you meet the socially maladjusted homeschooled kids. “It’s not their fault,” you say, “their parents made them that way. They probably would have been cool if they’d been let out to play once in a while.”

Now, don’t get me wrong. There is NO question that legally, Star Wars is George Lucas’ property, and I and many of my colleagues owe him gratitude for being progressive, and not suing the bloodstained zombie Christ out of us for playing in his backyard. But that doesn’t mean I have to be okay with the way he mistreated his films.

Just because you created something, doesn’t mean you control it forever. A storyteller should treat his “babies” like his babies. You have to have responsibility without demanding control.

More in my next post.

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