Graeme Robertson continues his series looking at directors who damaged their careers; next up is George Lucas…
This entry may raise a few eyebrows among readers, with some of you possibly saying “but George Lucas is a successful director” or “George Lucas created Star Wars, how did he damage his career?”
The answer can be summed up in two words: Prequel Trilogy.
These three films did near irreversible damage to the reputation of George Lucas and it did more damage to the reputation of the Star Wars franchise than most would like to admit, but let me take you back to the beginning so you can understand why I feel this way.
In the 1970s George Lucas was a film school graduate who was rapidly rising up the ranks in Hollywood.
He had made his mark with his often overlooked dystopian debut (don’t you love alliteration) THX 1138 (1971), and had achieved considerable critical and commercial success with his teen coming of age drama American Graffiti (1973). The success of Graffiti would earn him both Oscar nominations and the necessary clout to make the passion project that would become the original Star Wars (1977).
Yet, despite the massive success of his saga starter, Lucas didn’t direct the film’s two sequels, instead preferring to remain on as executive producer, leaving the directing duties to others.
In fact, Lucas didn’t direct any films in the 1980s, instead helping to use his newly gained influence to create iconic works like the original Indiana Jones trilogy (1981-1989), and less iconic works like Howard the Duck (1986).
Lucas would not return to the director’s chair until 1997, only after his numerous Hollywood friends rejected his offer to direct, to begin filming the first installment of the Star Wars prequel trilogy.
While the release of the Star Wars prequels may have been highly anticipated, and the films would ultimately be gigantic commercial successes, the reception from fans and critics has now become legendary.
People complained about the awkward performances, the terrible dialogue, seemingly endless scenes of boring political debate, frankly awful direction and the overabundance of CGI.
Seriously, go back and watch Revenge of the Sith (2005) and count the number of times you see fully built set that wasn’t created without the aid of computer effects, I guarantee you’ll be lucky if you make it to double digits.
By comparing the conditions in which Lucas made both the original 1977 Star Wars and the later prequels, one can see why Lucas may have lost his magic touch in the 20-year gap between directing stints.
When making the original film, Lucas was faced with various problems. Locations that proved difficult to film in, actors who didn’t understand the story he was trying to tell, a crew that wasn’t prepared to take the film seriously enough to do their jobs properly, and a studio that was certain that the film would fail.
Jump forward 20 years and Lucas enjoys complete control over every aspect of making the prequels. He doesn’t have to worry about a studio boss breathing down his neck, he is the studio boss. With his cast and crew bowing to his every command, and he has the lasted computer technology at his disposal, allowing him to fully realise his vision of his galaxy far far away.
I would argue that Lucas’s early brilliance came as a case of triumph through adversity. Lucas worked himself to exhaustion on the original Star Wars, punishing himself to make his dream of a sci-fi epic come true and it ultimately paid off big time, with the film beloved by millions to this day.
With the prequels, Lucas doesn’t seem to have that same passion; he just seems to be doing it as a means to make money, with the prequels at their very worst coming across as glorified toy adverts.
Lucas had made it clear that he does not intend to return to the director’s chair anytime soon, and that’s perhaps for the best.
The franchise he created has regained its popularity and acclaim among fans, primarily because he isn’t involved, and perhaps it is time for him to return to Skywalker Ranch and enjoy the billions his franchise has netted him.