Steve Tilley feature on Star Wars
Steve Tilley as Yoda.
I don't hate George Lucas. Really, I don't.
Star Wars gave me some of my fondest childhood memories, through the movies, the action figures, comic books, video games and more. I say without snark or cynicism that if there had been no George Lucas or his creations, my youth - and chunks of my alleged adulthood - would have been less rich.
But this month, as we mark the 35th anniversary of the release of the original Star Wars (or Star Wars - Episode IV: A New Hope, to use its revised title), it's clear Lucas has been off his rocker for many years now. He holds the keys to the Star Wars universe, yet dwells in a reality disconnected from our own, surrounded by people who don't know how to say, "No, George, that's a really bad idea."
The Star Wars prequels were a huge disappointment. The animated Clone Wars movie a few years back was even more dreadful. The re-re-re-releases of the films in theatres and on home video - including new 3D versions of the crappy prequels - are a cash-grabbing punchline. The merchandising is obscenely out of control.
The spirit of Star Wars is dying. And we need to save it.
There's no precedent here, no other pop culture phenomenon that's survived for decades through successive reinventions only to enter a dark tunnel with no end in sight. But if Han, Leia, Chewie and Threepio could escape the guts of that giant asteroid-dwelling space slug in The Empire Strikes Back, surely the Star Wars franchise can blast its way out of this grim place before it decays any further.
If I was allowed to play armchair emperor, here's what I'd do to bring Star Wars back to something of its former glory: a relevant, exciting, hopeful experience that speaks to kids and grown-ups alike.
Make another movie
Much has been written about the Star Wars sequel trilogy that never came to be, but Lucas now insists Star Wars is a six-part story about Anakin and Luke Skywalker, and that story is finished. Well, that's not good enough. We don't need to commit to an entire new trilogy, but imagine a brand new Star Wars sequel set in that familiar galaxy far, far away. Done right - something that would hinge on the next item on this list - it could be the movie event of a generation, and reinvigorate Star Wars like nothing else.
Convince George Lucas to let go
George Lucas has excellent business sense and strong personal convictions, but he can't direct, he can't write dialogue and he fails to grasp how invested fans are in the Star Wars universe. Think about a Star Wars sequel directed by The Avengers' Joss Whedon, or Peter Jackson, or even James Cameron. If Lucas was a truly loving parent, he'd give his child up for adoption and let someone else raise it. If only for the kid's own good.
Build on the success of the TV series
While 2008's Star Wars: The Clone Wars computer-animated feature film was quite terrible, the TV series spun off from it, seen in Canada on Teletoon, has been one of the few bright spots in the recent Star Wars milieu. It's an example of how the franchise can continue to grow and tell interesting stories. If the much-delayed, live-action Star Wars: Underworld TV series ever gets off the ground, I hope Lucas and company take note.
Scale back the merchandising
I grew up playing with the Kenner line of Star Wars toys, and right now I'm trying to find a way to justify buying that amazing $500 Lego Death Star. But legend tells how Lucas reportedly tweaked the later films to make them more toy-friendly, and he and his company took in $3 billion from Star Wars licensing revenue last year alone. When merchandising dictates storytelling, you've done something horribly wrong.
Release the unaltered original trilogy
And finally, a personal sore spot: Lucas refuses to re-release the original, untampered-with Star Wars trilogy. Why? He feels the updated versions of these films - with their added visual effects and a Greedo who shoots first - are the "true" versions of his movies. Is Lucas within his rights to do this? Of course. Is it a slap in the face to some of his most loyal and longest-serving fans? Yes, it is. If only as a gesture of goodwill, George, give us back our cheesy effects and badass Han Solo. It's been a long time, and we miss them.
Three more episodes unlikely
Every once in a while I'll go back and try to rewatch Star Wars - Episode I: The Phantom Menace. Invariably, I get depressed within 20 minutes, skip ahead to a few of the action scenes, then turn off the TV and reach for a stiff drink. Or lie in the fetal position while cuddling my Chewbacca plushie.
From its opening crawl about the taxation of trade routes (nothing says thrilling space opera like trade disputes!) to its shockingly wooden performances by otherwise accomplished actors (not even Liam Neeson can make that dialogue sound good), The Phantom Menace is, frankly, a piece of crap.
Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith were each marginally better, but that might only be when compared to the awfulness of The Phantom Menace. By any reasonable critical assessment, the Star Wars prequel trilogy is simply not good.
And yet with month's 35th anniversary of the release of the original Star Wars, I can't help but wonder what might have happened if George Lucas had stuck to his late-1970s vision of making his sci-fi epic a nine-part saga, and had followed up with three more movies set after The Return of the Jedi.
Were these movies ever close to being made? Could they be made now?
No, and no.
Lucas had reportedly envisioned another trilogy set about 40 years after Return of the Jedi, with an old, wise Luke Skywalker handing his knowledge down, Obi-Wan Kenobi-style, to a young Jedi knight. But it never got off the ground, and Lucas has since said the Star Wars films are a story in six parts, with no more to come.
While there were online rumours as recently as 2010 that Lucas was working on a Star Wars sequel trilogy, earlier this year he told the New York Times that he's done with Star Wars feature films for good. "Why would I make any more when everybody yells at you all the time and says what a terrible person you are?" he said. Great, now I feel like a bully.
So what does that mean for the future of Star Wars? Well, maybe this Star Wars: Underworld TV series that's been halfway shelved will turn out to be great, if it ever goes into production. Maybe they'll make another great Star Wars video game, eventually. Maybe the Star Wars novels and comics will find some unexplored corner of the universe that ignites the wider public's imagination. Maybe Lucas will have a deathbed epiphany and hand control of Star Wars over to some skilled young padawan of a director.
Or maybe we'll just have to grab a stiff drink and try to watch The Phantom Menace again. A really stiff drink.
Unaltered classic trilogy won't be in high-def
You know what would be a fantastic present for old-school Star Wars fans to mark the 35th anniversary of the movie this month? If George Lucas released the unaltered theatrical version of the original trilogy in high-definition home video.
You know what else? It'll never happen.
Lucas is infamous for going back and fiddling with the Star Wars movies, beginning with the 1997 special edition theatrical re-release of Star Wars and ending with the 2011 Blu-ray release of all six movies in the saga. From the controversial "Greedo shot first" scene change to a CGI Yoda added to the Jedi council chamber in The Phantom Menace, Lucas has made scores of adjustments and additions to his films.
But he has emphatically said that the unaltered classic trilogy, which played in theatres from 1977 to 1983 and was last released in a surprisingly poor quality DVD version in 2004, will never be seen again. Essentially, the movie that older fans so fondly remember is gone, and the updated versions with their jarring and unnecessary CGI additions are now all we're allowed to experience.
But diehard Star Wars lovers won't take no for an answer, and there's a little-known yet surprisingly large, vocal and obsessed community of fans who have spent years creating homemade, high-definition edits of Star Wars, using sources ranging from the DVD releases to ancient Laserdisc copies, all in the name of producing a version of the unaltered original films with the best possible picture and audio.
If you're curious about their efforts, check out savestarwars.com and originaltrilogy.com to learn more about this high-tech, crowdsourced response to one director's cruel tyranny. It seems not all rebellions take place in a galaxy far, far away.