The Lie of Star Wars as Entertainment

Pyr Books main man Lou Anders points me in the direction of a call and response discussion on the topic of science fiction and “entertainment,” as in, is written science fiction entertaining enough to capture the unwashed masses who watch it on TV and in the movies but don’t bother to read the stuff. The first document in this discussion is an essay in Asimov’s in which writer Kristine Kathryn Rusch says that the problem with written SF is that it isn’t influenced enough by Star Wars, which to her mind is an exempar of good old-fashioned entertainment, and poses it in opposition to much of written SF, which is “jargon-filled limited-access novels that fill the shelves.. dystopian novels that present a world uglier than our own, [and] protagonists who really don’t care about their fellow man/alien/whatever.”

This earns a whack from Ian McDonald, who both denies that the rest of SF ever abandoned entertainment (“It’s a basic and primary as good grammar and syntax. It’s not an end point. It’s a beginning point”), and also decries the idea that entertainment is all there is, or that Star Wars is its apex (“Let me say, if that’s the highest I can aspire to if everything I have ever hoped for or dreamed of attaining, how I dared to touch hearts and minds, is measured against that; then the only morally consistent action I can take is for me to give up writing.”) And then Lou comments on what Ian has to say here.

For the moment I’m not going to go into the issue of whether written SF needs to save itself via being more entertaining, partly because I’ve discussed it before and partly because at the moment it’s not an interesting subject for me. Suffice to say that I write books that are meant to be both entertaining and smart, because that’s what I like to read. What I’m going to go into is the fact that much of the debate between Ms. Rusch and Mr. McDonald is irrelevant, because it starts from an erroneous premise. That erroneous premise is that the Star Wars films are entertainment.

Star Wars is not entertainment. Star Wars is George Lucas masturbating to a picture of Joseph Campbell and conning billions of people into watching the money shot.

There is nothing in the least bit “popular” about the Star Wars films. This is true of all of them, but especially of Episodes I, II and III: They are the selfish, ungenerous, onanistic output of a man who has no desire to include others in the internal grammar of his fictional world. They are the ultimate in auteur theory, but this creator has contempt for the people who view his work — or if not contempt, at the very least a near-autistic lack of concern as to whether anyone else “gets” his vision. The word “entertainer” has as an assumption that the creator/actor is reaching out to his or audience to engage them. George Lucas doesn’t bother with this. He won’t keep you out of his universe; he just doesn’t care that you’re in it. To call the Star Wars films “entertainment” is to fundamentally misapprehend the meaning of the word.

Which is not to say that the films can’t be entertaining: They can be. George Lucas is an appalling storyteller in himself, but at the very least he has common tastes, or had when he first banged together the original Star Wars film. The original Star Wars is a hydra-headed pastiche of (as I wrote in my Rough Guide to Sci-Fi Movies) 30s adventure serials, 40s war films, 50s Kurosawa films and 60s Eastern mysticism, all jammed into the cinematic crock-pot and simmered in a watery broth made from the marrow of Campbell’s thousand-headed hero. With the exception of Kurosawa, all of this was stuff was in the common culture, and Lucas did a decent enough job spooning out the stew. Star Wars also benefitted from the fact that it emerged at the end of a nearly decade-long string of heavy, dystopic SF-themed films, beginning with Planet of the Apes and gliding down toward Logan’s Run. After a decade of this (and combined with the film’s brain-jammingly brilliant special effects), Star Wars felt like a breath of fresh air.

But even at the outset, Lucas was about something else other than entertaining people. As he noted in a biography of Joseph Campbell:

“I came to the conclusion after American Graffiti that what’s valuable for me is to set standards, not to show people the world the way it is…around the period of this realization…it came to me that there really was no modern use of mythology…”

What’s interesting about mythology is that it’s the residue of a teleological system that’s dead; it’s what you get after everyone who believed in something has croaked and nothing is left but stories. Building a mythology is necrophilic storytelling; one that implicitly kills off an entire culture and plays with its corpse (or corpus, as the case may be). It’s one better than being a God, really. Gods have to deal with the universes they create; mythmakers merely have to say what happened. When Lucas started Star Wars with the words “A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away…” he was implicitly serving notice to the audience that they weren’t participants, they were at best witnesses to events that had already happened, through participants who were long dead.

Why does this matter? It matters because Lucas’ intent was to build an overarching mythological structure, not necessarily to make a bunch of movies. If you listen to Lucas blather on in his laconic fashion on the Star Wars DVD commentaries, you’ll hear him say about how he wanted everything to make sense in the long view — that all his films served the mythology. This is fine, but it reinforces the point that the films themselves — not to mention the scripts and the acting — are secondary to Lucas’ true goal of myth building. Myths can be entertaining — indeed, they survive because they can entertain, even if they don’t brook participation. These films could work as entertainment. But fundamentally they don’t, because Lucas doesn’t seem to care if the films work as entertainment, as long as they sufficiently conform to his created mythology.

This is especially evident in the prequel trilogy, which is designed for the specific purpose of consecrating the mythology of the Skywalker family; in essence, putting flesh on the bones of the myth, so that the flesh could then turn to dust and the bones could be chopped up for reliquaries. Because they’re not designed as entertainment, it’s not surprising they’re not really all that entertaining; strip out the yeoman work of Industrial Light and Magic and what you have left is a grim Calvinistic stomp toward the creation of Darth Vader. Lucas was so intent to get there that he didn’t bother to slow down to write a decent script or to give his cast (riddled though it was with acclaimed actors) an opportunity to do more than solemnly intone its lines. Lucas simply couldn’t be bothered to do more; entertainment gave way to scriptual sufficiency.

Now that the magnum opus of the Star Wars cycle is done, we can see that any entertainment value of the series is either unintentional (Lucas couldn’t suck the pure entertainment value out of his pastiche sources), achieved through special effects, or is the work of hired guns, notably Lawrence Kasdan and Leigh Brackett (those two wrote The Empire Strikes Back, the only movie in the series that has a script that evidences much in the way of wit, much less dialogue that ranks above serviceable. Kasdan and Brackett were clearly attempting to entertain as well as serve the mythology, showing it is possible to do both). It’s clear that Lucas doesn’t much care what people think of the films, and why should he? He got to make the films he wanted to make, the way he wanted to make them. His vision, his mythology, his structure is complete, and he doesn’t have to rationalize the means by which the structure was achieved.

Ironically, I don’t blame Lucas for this. He is who he is. Personally, I blame whatever jackass at 20th Century Fox agreed to let Lucas have the rights to the sequels and to the merchandising in exchange for Lucas lowering his fee to direct the first Star Wars. I don’t know if the films of the Star Wars series would be better overall if there were real studio oversight, but I do know that each individual film would at least try to be entertaining. Because film studios don’t actually give a crap about mythology; they give a crap about getting butts into the seats. Perhaps someone could have asked Lucas if maybe he didn’t want to hand the script of Episode I over to someone who could, you know, actually write dialogue, or possibly if he might not be content to produce while someone else handled the chore of putting the actors through their paces, since clearly he found that aspect of filmmaking to be a necessary evil at best. In essence, people who would let Lucas fiddle with his myth-making, smile, then turn to a director and screenwriter and say “now, make this entertaining, or by God, we’ll feed your testicles to Shamu.” Oh, for a time machine.

Now, hold on, you say: If the Star Wars films aren’t meant to be entertainment, how come so many people were entertained? It’s a fair question; after all, there’s not a single film in the series that made less than $200 million at the box office (and those are in 1980 dollars). I’m happy to allow it’s entirely possible to be entertained by Episodes IV, V and VI, due to their novelty and the intervention of hired guns who aimed for entertainment even as Lucas was on his holy quest for mythology. Even then, however, Return of the Jedi was pushing it. I defy you to find any person who was genuinely entertained by Episodes I, II and III. Episode I in particular is an airless, joyless slog; in the theater you could actually hear people’s expectations deflate — a whooshing groan — the moment Jar-Jar showed up. After the first weekend of Episode I, people went to the prequel trilogy films for the same reason so many people go to church on Sunday: It’s habit, they know when to stand and when to sit, and they want to see how the preacher will screw up the sermon this week. You know what I felt when Episode III was done? Relief. I was done with the Star Wars films. I was free. I’m not the only one.

But even accounting for the fact that the IV, V and VI could be entertaining, they were still not meant as entertainment. In the final analysis they were means to an end, and an end that only one person — George Lucas — desired. This is not entertainment, save for Lucas, and it’s wrong to say it is. And it’s why saying we should have more entertainment like Star Wars is folly. Do we really need more entertainment that’s designed only to make one person happy? Look, I write books that I’d want to read, but I don’t pretend I’m not writing for others as well. George Lucas managed to con billions into thinking that he was entertaining them (or alternately, they so desperately needed to believe they were being entertained that they denied they weren’t), but honestly. Once is enough. Fool me once, etc.

Look, here’s a test for you. I want you to go out and find this movie: Battle Beyond the Stars. It’s a piece of crap 1980 B-movie, produced by Roger Corman, that’s clearly cashing in on the Star Wars phenomenon. Hell, it’s even a pastiche of the same things Star Wars is a pastiche of (it even has a planet Akir, named for Akira Kurosawa), and it was made for $2 million, which is nothing money, even back in 1980. Thing is, its screenplay was written by John Sayles (later twice nominated for the Best Screenplay Academy Award), and it’s funny and smart, and the whole movie, rather incredibly, keeps pace. Watch it and then tell me, honestly, that it’s not more entertaining than Star Wars Episodes I, II, III and VI. Unless you’re so distracted by the cheesy special effects and the fact that John Boy Walton is the star that you simply can’t go on, I expect you’ll admit you were more entertained by this little flick than all that Star Wars mythology.

The reason: It wants to entertain you. Corman and Sayles, bless their little hearts, probably didn’t give a crap about mythology, except to the extent that it served to help them entertain you, the viewer. They cared about giving you 90 minutes of fun so they could make their money back, and that would let them do it again. I’m not suggesting that there should be more SF like Battle Beyond the Stars (though I can think of worse things). I am suggesting that if we’re going to talk about the Star Wars series as entertainment, we should note that as entertainment, it gets its ass resolutely kicked by a $2 million piece of crap Roger Corman flick. So let’s not pretend that the Star Wars series is this great piece of entertainment.

Instead, let’s call it what it is: A monument to George Lucas pleasuring himself. Which, you know, is fine. I’m happy for Lucas; it’s nice that he was able to do that for himself. We all like to make ourselves happy. But since he did it all in public, I just wish he’d been a little more entertaining about it.

195 thoughts on “The Lie of Star Wars as Entertainment

  1. Very perceptive.

    I would change just one word:

    “After a decade of this … Star Wars feels like a breath of fresh air.”

    Not feels, felt.

  2. I distinctly remember the moment of the “collective sigh” when Jar Jar appeared. The entire audience started groaning and laughing AT the movie. After so many years of anticipation, all of us dorks that grew up with Star Wars were kicked in the groin by the supposed master and visionary.

    Your post has clarified years of unease. Thanks for providing the Star-catharsis.

  3. I think you misunderstood her point. Her point is not about the attractiveness of the Star Wars movies as entertainment (or even some “apex” of artistic aspiration), but rather the success of the Star Wars novels in both sales and capturing shelf space.

  4. Gabriel: No, she’s saying that Star Wars is in itself entertainment, and thereby, its success as such is fueling sales and shelf space.

  5. Two thoughts on Star Wars:
    1) What is the difference between a bunch of rebels destroying a construction central to the Government (ie the Death Star) and a bunch of rebels destroying a construction central to the Government (ie the World Trade Centre)?

    2) Does Jar Jar remind anybody else of the ‘comic negro’ such as Missy in Gone With the Wind?

  6. Funny you should mention Battle Beyond the Stars, since that is one movie from my childhood that I really remember enjoying. Of course I saw episodes IV, V and VI, but I don’t recall if I enjoyed them all that much, whereas I think I will always remember Battle Beyond the Stars, and now I know why. I watched episode I, and honestly have very little desire to see II and III.

    Thanks for shining a light on that difference, it is appreciated!

    Tom

  7. Pigeonhed:

    If it’s all the same I’d rather not have a discussion as asinine as comparing a fictional space station with a building filled with real live humans in this thread, so I’m suggesting that people don’t have that conversation here.

  8. I think an interesting comparison point might be between the Star Wars films and the Peter jackson Lord of the Rings films. The original books are obviously almost pure mythology, and many of the characters are even more purely archteypes than the ones in Star Wars.

    But when Jackson made the movies, he strove very very hard to make them entertaining. The changes to the Aragorn character are probably the most obvious, but giving good actors good lines also helped a whole hell of a lot.

  9. MoXmas:

    Indeed, and I also wonder how much it matters that the “mythology” in this case was already created — ie, Jackson was working with an already established source rather than making it up himself.

  10. This is a Heinlein fanboy thing, isn’t it? This disgust with STAR WARS?

    The first movie had lame dialog, yeah, but it was lots of fun. The second movie was actually pretty good. The rest were varying degrees of shithole awful–so mind-bogglingly dull they tarnished those first two flawed but fun movies.

    And Lucas can bloviate as much as he wants, but his usual line of fatuous crap does nothing to dim the memory of that first film. I don’t care if he thinks on the films in terms of his mythology; his intent doesn’t affect my reaction to his work.

    I was entertained. Still am whenever I see it.

    And yeah, BATTLE BEYOND THE STARS was fun stuff.

  11. MoXmas, you’ve made a very good point. Tolkien was clearly setting out to create a mythology of western Europe, and gave a lot more attention to his languages and worldbuilding than his characters and their interactions and motivations.

    Aragorn’s changes are good, but – and I know a lot of people would crucify me for saying this – I do love that he gave more attention to the women. Eowyn was always my favorite, but in the films she’s a total badass.

    John, I went to see all three of the prequel trilogy because they had Ewan McGregor. I’m shallow, but at least I acknowledge it rather than pretending I’m going because Lucas is a genius auteur.

  12. Harry Connolly:

    “This is a Heinlein fanboy thing, isn’t it? This disgust with STAR WARS?”

    Is there supposed to be some sort of opposition?

    No, it’s just the realization that the SW films just aren’t that good, excepting Empire. I fully concede the first Star Wars is an immensely important film — it would be stupid to suggest otherwise — but it’s not a film that I’d watch as an adult, save through the lens of first seeing it when I was eight.

  13. John, your definition of ‘mythology’ is kind of weird. Mythology isn’t a chronicle of old, dead stories. What’s weird about building a mythology isn’t that it’s necrophilia; it’s that it’s artificial.

    Can’t really disagree too much otherwise, although I was always under the impression that the chronologically-first two movies were made before Lucas got, like, a vision.

  14. Pigeonhed,

    Yes, JarJar definitely had similarities with the caricature roles African Americans played in early movies. Heck, one look at the Naboo celebration at the end of the film (Naboo was JarJar’s planet) and you could see a blatent ripoff of the Grambling State University Tiger marching band’s high-stepping style.

    Frankly I was a little surprised Lucas got away with including what could have been seen as a negative stereotype from early movies.

    I know in the first Star Wars he wanted the style to look like the old movie serials thay played every week, and if you watch the cut scenes they come right from the serials. That worked, but including the goofy ethnic sidekick JarJar did very much NOT work.

  15. Dude, Battle Beyond The Stars rocks. I mean, never mind ol’ John-Boy; you’ve got Robert Vaughn as the hard-bitten Gelt (essentially the same character he played in The Magnificent Seven), you’ve got George Peppard as the colorful Cowboy standing up for all us Earthlings and doing it in style, you’ve got drive-in ripaway-bra queen Sybil Danning as Saint-Exmin of the Valkyrie, you’ve got John Saxon chewing the scenery as the bad guy Sador, you’ve got Nell the snarky shipboard computer (who I suspect could take on both Eddie from Hitchhiker’s and K.I.T.T. and give each of them a swift kick in the databank), you’ve got a kick-ass score by James Horner (who would go on to give us the music for Apollo 13 and Titanic), and, working down there as an art director, you’ve got a guy by the name of James Cameron, who clearly learned a thing or two here…

    Okay, yes, it’s cheese. But it’s my kinda cheese.

  16. I wonder idly whether we can take Lucas’s word for this: more precisely, whatever his motivations by the time he made the prequels, I suspect there was a chunk of, simply, “what would a Saturday morning serial look like with modern special effects?” in the original _Star Wars_. (This may well be answerable, if someone were to go back and dig out old interviews to find out, for example, when he started talking about Joseph Campbell.)

  17. Mythago:

    “Mythology isn’t a chronicle of old, dead stories.”

    Didn’t say it was. I said it’s the stories of dead teleological systems; stories from a dead way of life (or way of understanding life).

  18. I think the other person who deserves credit for setting The Empire Strikes Back apart from the other movies is Irvin Kershner.

    I’m willing to believe, actually, that the fun of the original Star Wars wasn’t necessarily accidental… First off, I did enjoy American Graffiti. You can see Lucas moralizing away in that one, too, but if you haven’t yet had time to develop an allergy to his particular brand of soapboxing, it doesn’t interfere with the entertainment value. Second… there’s that whole “Han shot first/Greedo shot first” thing. To me, the re-ordered events in the cantina sequence are the moment when Lucas annoucnes that he’s inverting his priorities: from then on, he will be more concerned with the poorly thought-through ethics of his characters than with actual storytelling.

    (Though, okay — I think you’re right to harp on Lucas’ “mythbuilding” obsession. The problem with Lucas spending a decade-plus pondering the creation of his “Star Wars mythology” is that, in the end, Lucas became his own biggest fan.

    Which makes the prequels the world’s most expensive exercise in fanfiction.)

  19. Jackie M.,

    Well, there’s also the moderating factor in the first film that it’s the one film in the series where Lucas had to please a studio. It’s also a complete story in itself, which I think is a good thing. I do think his going back and fiddling with little details in the re-release is evidence that the mythbuilding is more important than the movies; we all know Han shot first.

  20. This is very well thought-out. But I really liked the first two. I mean the fourth and fifth, I guess. I disagree with you.

    What I’m astonished by is your assertion that it is possible to definitively say whether or not something is “entertaining.” How can this be?

  21. Haddyr:

    “What I’m astonished by is your assertion that it is possible to definitively say whether or not something is ‘entertaining.’ How can this be?”

    Why, because I’m a professional critic, of course!

    More seriously, it should be understood this is an opinion piece. I could be wrong as toward what it entertaining and what isn’t. But I feel generally confident I’m on the right track.

  22. Vicki,

    I specifically remember Lucas stating he wanted to make a modern serial. I also remember him saying he studied WWII dogfights to copy in his movie. I don’t remember any of this mythology stuff at the very start, even when he mentioned the original was four of nine. I’m pretty sure he talked about giving people the old-fashioned entertainment of the Movie serial, complete with cliff hangers and orchestral music and obvious villians and heros.

  23. My sister and I went to see Battle Beyond the Stars in the theatre, lured by the chance to see another sci-fi movie. I think we were the only folks in the audience at that showing. But I still remember (and laugh!) at some of the scenes. Great fun.

    And I think you’ve nailed the Star Wars stuff. I too am happy the slog is over and I never have to see them again.

  24. I’m going off of old memories here, but yeah, Battle Beyond the Stars was much more entertaining than the Star Wars prequels. (At least the first two. After those, I gave up and didn’t bother watching Episode III.)

  25. Is there supposed to be some sort of opposition?

    One of the groups big on bashing STAR WARS seems to be Heinlein aficianados. At least, it’s something I’ve noticed many times before.

    Another group big on bashing SW is “people who think movie dialog should sound like something people would actually say.”

    Of course, this was before the third movie. After that, all the kids were doing it.

  26. Janice,

    And I think you’ve nailed the Star Wars stuff. I too am happy the slog is over and I never have to see them again.

    I think we need to make a distinction between the first Star Wars movie and what followed.

    The orginal Star Wars was wonderful when it opened. As John says, much of that is because it came at the tail end of a completely depressing time in US history and people were starving for some good old-fashioned entertainment.

    As a college student I stood in line around to the back of the theatre to see Star Wars, and this was NOT at the premiere. This was on a weeknight the second week after it opened. People were crazy for the movie.

    I think it holds up pretty well viewed 30 years later. It is pretty good. Maybe not great.

    As for the follow-on movies – they were one big let down. The first movie was incredibly entertaining – the rest not at all.

  27. John – While I agree with much that you say here, I’ll admit that if Episode VII were released tomorrow, I’d be in line at the theatre to see it. SW may not have been great Cinema, but I was entertained and do not regret spending my money to see them (and I was out of college when they started).

    Tripp – I thought I was the only one who remembered that SW was originally supposed to have 9 episodes.

  28. I saw the first three released and haven’t seen any of the others. I’ve never felt particularly deprived, but thanks for giving me another reason not to regret missing them.

    and…

    “They are the selfish, ungenerous, onanistic output of a man who has no desire to include others in the internal grammar of his fictional world.”

    That sentence is a masterpiece.

  29. I said it’s the stories of dead teleological systems; stories from a dead way of life (or way of understanding life).

    Even so, that’s not correct; a living tradition’s stories can be ‘mythology’ (without meaning false or dead; I once almost got attacked by a co-student when I referred to the body of Judaic religious stories as ‘mythology’). I know what you meant in regard to Lucas, but I would still argue that his strange world-construction is strange because it’s trying to impose a single, artificial cohesiveness on the world. Mythologies tend to be more organic and, well, human, and I don’t want to hear any lip for the Tolkien fans, so there.

  30. Heh.

    Lucas has claimed that he was misquoted and that he never intended to write 9 parts. Given that parts 1-6 are all about the life and death of Anakin/Vader, that seems quite reasonable.

    If you’re interested in Episodes 7-9, however, some young feller name of “Timothy Zahn” wrote those things already.

    Since they’re unlikely to match Lucas’ vision, I figure there’s about a zero percent chance that they’ll be made during Lucas’ lifetime.

  31. Pigeonhed (And anyone else who felt a momentary shock of recognition at the analogy between the WTC attacks and the Rebels in Star Wars):

    You should check out http://www.adpov.net/

    Go to the mp3 archives and listen to a VERY different point of view.

  32. Mythago:

    “Even so, that’s not correct; a living tradition’s stories can be ‘mythology’ (without meaning false or dead; I once almost got attacked by a co-student when I referred to the body of Judaic religious stories as ‘mythology’)”

    Heh. This is why it’s easier to call a living tradition’s mythology “religion.”

  33. Just to put a fine point on what Mythago and a few other folks are getting at: the Lucas and Campbell mutual love-fest came after the success of Star Wars and Empire, not before.

    It was and remains a loathsome little circle-jerk: the hack scholar gave a stamp of academic respectability to the hack filmmaker, who in turn gave the hack scholar the sheen of Hollywood fame and made him a household name, while hack reporters the world round (I’m looking at you, Bill Moyers) took the both of them at their word that the it had all been some carefully conceived master plan rather than the slapdash retcon job that it obviously was.

    Meanwhile, Leigh Brackett’s name is a footnote. Like some old guy once said: there ain’t no justice.

  34. Star Wars is George Lucas masturbating to a picture of Joseph Campbell and conning billions of people into watching the money shot.

    …and I hope to God Kenner never tries to make an action figure playset out of that.

  35. They are the selfish, ungenerous, onanistic output of a man who has no desire to include others in the internal grammar of his fictional world.

    That was awesome. In fact so was this whole post.

    I wanted to like Episodes I to III. I really did. But they were so painful to watch! It was as though George Lucas had put all his plot points on cue cards, put them in order, and then just gone out and shot the movie without bothering with dialogue or character development or anything else. The bones of a decent story were in there, but at every opportunity to do something cool or emotionally meaningful, he chose Option B. Arrgh. I could go on for hours, but I’m supposed to be working…

  36. Scalzi, I agree that at least Episodes 1-3 aren’t about being entertaining, it was pretty distracting with the machinery of plot banging and groaning in the background. I’ll also agree that Lucas can’t write dialog to save his life, the man has a true tin-ear when it comes to the spoken language.

    But I have to disagree with the mythology angle. Lucas (at least at first) was trying to update the mythology for the modern day in a way that exceeded the vision of Tolkien (yes, I can hear you all scream, but go read the Swedish Volsung Saga and the real mythology of pagan western Europe, not the Disney versions, and you can see the pillaging Tolkien did, at least for LotR). That Lucas’ product was less than Professor Tolkien’s there is no argument (at least from me).

    I think saying that mythology is something from a dead culture is misleading, but comes from how we teach and look at it. That is, “here is the mythology of (insert culture here) and here are some ties into Modern Western Christian Culture to help you understand these stories.” The whole discussion, because of the contextual frame, appears to be a dissection of something long dead while neatly ignoring the structures, meanings, and psychological yearnings. All this then leads us to laugh and think “how silly the ancients were, to believe that Zeus threw thunderbolts or that dwarves were bowling, and that the world was flat,” etc.

    We think that there is no modern mythology because we live in a technological world. Just to be clear, mythology does not equate religion, unless you squint your eyes and look at religion sideways. There are plenty of mythological stories playing out before our eyes everyday. This includes the morality-play that the lives of Paris Hilton and Brittany Spears have turned into.

    With the latest release of the “Original” movies on DVD, which I distinctly remember Mr. Lucas saying there were forever lost and would never happen, I think we can say for certain that George traded in his robes of being an acolyte of Campbell for the green shade visor of an accounting clerk.

  37. I have to admit to enjoying Return of the Jedi. I mean, I was all of 6 years old and I wanted an ewok for a pet. Then again, I also enjoyed Ice Pirates too, which, in retrospect, was a totally awful film.

  38. Well, Ling, Ice Priates was also pretty awful at the time. Although it did have Mary Crosby. Gosh, she was cute.

  39. While I by no means felt the new trilogy were great movies, I was entertained by them, and really think the whole “Lucas raped my childhood” crowd is taking things to extremes. I agree with Scalzi that Lucas’s intent all along was to create (or appear to, at least) a mythology rather than a series of good movies, and that Lucas doesn’t care much what other people think about it, but I admire Lucas in a twisted sort of way for that. He made his original movies pretty much how he wanted them, made a shit-ton of money and got the clout with the industry that allowed him to do what he felt he needed to to flesh out the story. He also has shrewdly milked his audience for everything he could get out of them, and while I’m a bit bitter about that, there’s no doubt that it has benefited the only person Lucas seems to care about. Good for him. His works aren’t public domain, and he is right to do whatever he wants with them.

    But I agree that it’s telling that there’s far more ‘entertainment’ to be found in Ep. V, the Clone Wars Cartoon Network spots, and large portions of the novels that use the setting than the sum total of the rest of Lucas’s body of work combined.

  40. OneBallJay:

    “But I agree that it’s telling that there’s far more ‘entertainment’ to be found in Ep. V, the Clone Wars Cartoon Network spots, and large portions of the novels that use the setting than the sum total of the rest of Lucas’s body of work combined.”

    The general rule of thumb is that a Star Wars property’s entertainment value is in inverse proportion to Lucas’ own direct involvement.

  41. I think Lucas’ problem with telling a story that matches his interior vision is the same that (IMO) Marion Zimmer Bradley had. Briefly: Fine ideas, not enough of the right talent to make the idea come to life.

    I don’t mind Lucas stretching towards mythological archetypes. I think his goal was a worthy one: dress ancient archetypes in new clothes, to hit the same buttons in people that the archetypes are designed to hit.

    But Lucas either isn’t sufficiently deep thinking or doesn’t know how to get from internal concept to screenplay. It’s as if he had a Platonic vision in his head of true agon, where people wrestle with their own animas and cosmic fate, have impassioned arguments with themselves and their gods, and fail to escape (or even recognize) the moral and logical traps laid for them – but what we got was a kind of nickel tour version, where the personal revelations, shocks of recognition, and transformations come at a quick pace accompanied by comic opera dialog.

    John’s contention that Lucas is motivated by a deep contempt for his audience is, in a way, that’s more flattering than my contention – which is that Lucas just didn’t have the chops to do it right.

  42. Hmmm. Well, I knew there’d come a time when I disagree with you, Scalzi, old bean. And now we come to it.

    First off: Battle Beyond the Stars? Really? Entertaining? In a South Park sort of way, I suppose. Directed by the man who brought you the added sex scenes to “Humanoids from the Deep”! Written by the Man* who wrote “Piranha”, “Alligator” and “Jurassic Park IV”! The number of second-string stars…well, let’s leave that alone. And for the record, I’ve never been entertained by anything Roger Corman has ever done. BBTS isn’t just cheesy, it’s intentionally aware that it’s cheesy and intends to be. It’s not so much an SF movie as someone’s interpertation of what ‘skiffy’ was supposed to be. Which, apparently, is a ship that looks like a woman’s bosom.

    I won’t even consider defending the second trilogy, though I disagree that PARTS of them have charms. Clones, for example, was awfully fun when it was just about Obi-wan. Remove the Annakin/Padme material and it’s much more enjoyable. But I’m in total agreement that the second trilogy is basically Lucas engaged in onanism.

    But the claim that original trilogy was “the selfish, ungenerous, onanistic output of a man who has no desire to include others in the internal grammar of his fictional world.” is, IMHO, demonstrably false. What is Boba Fett, if not the inclusion of others into his fictional world? To this day, Lucas doesn’t understand the appeal of the character, who got a much larger part in Jedi after fans fell in love with him. Jango Fett’s presence in the prequels is the same. Lucas may not always enjoy such deviations from his audience, but he hearkens to entertain them. And I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone intimate that any of the SW films weren’t the result of Lucas employing huge teams of people to collaborate with him on his designs and results.

    In fact, Lucas is emboldened by fan reaction to act exactly the way he has. I mean when you make a movie that’s SO phenonmenally popular, that would seem to me to send the message: keep doing what you’re doing. For that matter, how exactly IS Lucas to include me in his world, if not by producing a film for me to watch? Is he supposed to consult his contentious and fractured fan-base? Where does his obligation to his fans begin and end? What makes “Revenge of the Sith” Lucas’ equivalent of “Dodesukaden”? When is it OK for Lucas to profess a grand vision and when is it not? I tend to think that if we were talking about Scorcese or Coppola, different standards would be applied.

    I’m not trying to support Lucas here…but what I am saying is that Lucas’ failings are for forgetting what made the first films so entertaining, to me. He combined disparate elements together and made them work. I get swept up in the epic struggle and the larger than life characters. Childhood nostalgia isn’t what keeps me riveted to that screen whenever it appears (nor what keeps my son riveted now, a generation later). Star Wars delivers on movie magic. Is it great art? No. Is it an example of cinematic achievement? Perhaps, perhaps not. Does it gel to become one of the most entertaining movies of the 20th century? I would say, without a doubt, yes. And if BBTS is your counter-argument, then the terrorists have already won. :-)

    *- OK, I’m being facetious there. Sayles is immensely talented, but he’s worked on some really diverse projects, quality-wise. I mean, for every “Secret of Roan Inish” and “Matewan”, there’s a “Men of War” or “Clan of the Cave Bear”. Of course, he was also responsible for the movie, “The Challenge”, which really isn’t that good of a movie, but it has Toshiro Mifune and there’s ninjas and samurais and I really like it anyways, ‘cuz it enterained me so nyah-nyah at you, John Scalzi.

  43. Sf/fantasy can possibly be defined (out of the thousands of definitions of the genres) as the world of the imagination. As imagination happens on the inside of one’s skull, this leads to a problem with movies within these genres: one man’s imagination becomes the only vision, and viewers of same must kowtow to that singularity. Whereas the written form of these still allows for each individual to form their own vision of whatever is being talked about.

    Star Wars is clearly a Lucas only vision, and its entertainment factor is only as good as how well his vision matches up with the movie-going populace’s vision. IMO, it doesn’t match very well, with an E! factor that’s pretty low, once you take away all the pretty pictures. I made the mistake of reading the novelized version of the first SW movie, where this becomes painfully obvious. But I couldn’t convince my kids that the SW thing wasn’t very good – they never got beyond all the pretty pictures to what story was really there, and I imagine that’s true for the majority of SW fans.

  44. I saw Battle Beyond the Stars for the first time as a double-feature in a crummy little Northside Chicago art theatre with Dark Star.

    Talk about entertaining cheese! (Frightening to realize that BBS had bigger and better production values than DS, but the latter has more ridiculous killer lines…)

    Dr. Phil

  45. Ugh, that Rusch piece is just the tired old “what’s wrong with you so-called arteests, don’t you know all the public wants is a Good Read” complaint, only lamer.

    It’s not like there’s any shortage of fiction that wants only to entertain.

  46. John I think you make the mistake of taking Lucas’ commentary about his work at face value. They are in fact complete self aggrandizing rubbish. Most of the good ideas that made the first three movies worked from a storytelling perspective were probably someone elses. The creation of those movies was a colloborative effort involving several people. Lucas has sidelined his co-contributors and set himself up to be some kind of prophetic genius with the commentary you’re referring to. It’s crap, don’t take it seriously.

    If you want to see Lucas storytelling at its purest take a look at episode 1, 2 and 3.

  47. I’m a big Star Wars fan, first of all.

    I have to admit I don’t really understand your definition of ‘entertainment’ in your denial that Star Wars is it. Isn’t entertainment just something you put in front of a person and they enjoy? Why does Lucas’s motivation in creating it have anything to do with that? Why does your reason for enjoying it have anything to do with that?

    The dialogue in the Star Wars movies is generally wooden and cheesy. The acting is clumsy and unbelievable. The movies were modeled after ’30s serials that were the same way- is this a surprise? I think for most of the people who love the Star Wars movies, the crummy dialogue is part of the fun. This isn’t art we’re talking about- it’s entertainment.

    My response upon leaving Episode III was indeed a sigh of relief. I then whispered to myself, “Holy crap, the sonofabitch pulled it off.” Episode III was a triumph, full of exciting moments that, yes, closed the gap on the mythology but also recalled the energy and spirit that drove the original Star Wars film. Episode I is almost wholly un-entertaining, but I still get a rush every time I watch the Duel of the Fates.

  48. In case anyone else is interested, I was curious about “Battle Beyond the Stars” and it looks like it is out of print and a copy will cost $50 or so?!

    Geez, I doubt I’ll spend that kind of money to watch it. Speaking of obscure SF video – can anyone else recall a movie about a kid who lived in a trailer park and who’s video game skills got him abducted by aliens to be a spaceship pilot and win a war?

  49. I’ve been saying it for fifteen years, but nobody wants to hear it, so I keep saying it: George Lucas had a better special effects budget, but Ed Wood always was and always will be the superior writer and director.

  50. Aaron Burr:

    “Isn’t entertainment just something you put in front of a person and they enjoy?”

    That’s one way of looking at. In which case my cat running headlong into the sliding glass patio door is sparkling entertainment, because, really, that never gets old.

    However, in this case I’m discussing the issue of whether there is intent to entertain. My cat bonking into glass is entertaining, but it’s not intended to be entertainment. Likewise, as I note, it’s possible to be entertained by the Star Wars films, but I don’t think Lucas’ primary goal is to entertain others with the films, its to realize his own personal goal which doesn’t have much to do with anything outside his own whims.

    I mean, if you’re entertained by the Star Wars films, good for you. I’m not saying there’s somethng wrong with you if you are. I am saying I don’t think Lucas puts much thought into whether the films are genuinely entertaining to others, however.

  51. I just wanted to mention that mythology is only dead for a dead culture… a culture that is alive will have a living, growing mythology… In this case I would call Tolkien’s work as part of a living mythology- of Great Britain…
    Even though the people living at the time (like the Greeks) would not call it mythology themselves (actually, I guess they would, that’s a greek word after all)… they would think of it as their actual reality, or at least a facet/important part of it.

  52. Ok – I have never thought of Star Wars as real science fiction, over the top space opera yes but science fiction please, where is the science, where is there any original thought? In an attempt to intercept the hands about to spank me I acknowledge the place of space opera in traditional SF. Beowulf in the original verse has it’s place as well.

    To me SF is about looking forward at the possibilities and how they modulate the behavior and culture, not merely the re-rendering of traditional tales in a galaxy far far away. It is one of the reasons I have a bug up my ass about SF and Fantasy genres sharing shelves in bookstores. Fantasy is fine I have read my share, but there is little that departs from existing fiction and lore. Good SF starts with a novel premise, a quantum leap of science, aliens that are alien, not just a hyped up katana and aerodynamic flight paths in vacuum.

    I enjoyed SW IV and V and found myself Muppeted out in VI (nicely offset by Leia in a brass bikini). I, II, and III well…nice eye candy is the best I can come up with. Star Wars maybe Lucas masturbating, but masturbation can be quite entertaining, but it need not be called science fiction. I do enjoy the films; I have an 8 year old son and a DVD player need I say more. I am currently trying to wean him (and his twin sister) off Chewbacca to better SF (John sent you something about that and didn’t get a harrumph out you).

    I was going to leave it at that but I thought of an applicable analogy. Star wars is to Science frication as Amazon is to hi-tech. As an engineering physicist who worked in real hi-tech (lasers), it used to drive me nuts when the media (particularly the financial folks) labeled Amazon as hi-tech during the dot com bubble. Innovative yes, leveraging a recent technology yes, but it was still a product catalog and don’t get me started on patenting one click shopping. Old ideas in a new wrapper, fine idea, outstanding implementation, but Amazon is not a hi-tech firm any more that it is a chocolate manufacturer. Star Wars is legitimately space opera, but let’s really put the emphasis on opera please. Fini.

  53. As others said before, pretty perceptive. And I also felt the shadow of the word “Tolkien” lying all over the entry—but since it’s already shown up in the comment threads I won’t touch it.

    There are a couple of points I wonder about, though—
    * I think you’re dead-on about Lucas’ almost-exclusive focus on myth-creating, but he did occasionally try to be enteratining, I believe. Jar Jar and the endless podrace were attempts at entertainment. Misguided attempts, but attempts nonetheless. (I’m not touching some of the later such elements, because there is a difference between trying to pander to fans and trying to entertain people…)
    * I am not sure if Lucas himself was aware of the narrowness of his focus. Tolkien certainly knew (OK, so I can’t not refer to him); in his Letters he mentions writing Lord of the Rings the way it is partly because he wanted to show a world where it is expected to say “the stars shine on the hour of our meeting” as a greeting, except in Sindarin.
    * The entire stuttering, lurching flow of the prequels couldn’t be because he gave his cast no leeway to be anything other than intoning archetypes; at some point it has to be that he didn’t know how to give his cast that leeway. But that’s already been discussed, at length and at many elsewheres.

  54. I saw the original 26 times in the theatre. (I was in 7th grade, so don’t mock me too much).

    You are ABSOLUTELY right about the three latest installments. I slogged through each one, waiting for Anakin to stop whining–which he never did. That alone made all three movies unbearable for me.

  55. I adore Star Wars (in the way only someone who grew up on worn-down tapes of the original trilogy can), but honest to dog, I can’t defend George Lucas even for a second.

    This is a man who said in an interview that he considered dialogue just more sound effects. And he meant it. As a writer, my reaction was “…buh?” As a Star Wars fan, it was “well, that sure explains a lot.”

    If you’ve seen the cut scenes from Episode III and some of the abandoned plotlines, it becomes painfully obvious that he intentionally sacrificed good story in favor of those ten-minute long “you’re pretty!” “Nuh-uh– you’re pretty!” scenes. (Padme was supposed to try to kill Vader. And start the rebellion. And generally not be a whiny prat who died for a stupid reason).

    But hey, I’m a Star Wars fan, and as we all know, Star Wars Fans Hate Star Wars.

  56. I saw episode one mainly because I was in college, and it was at the buck-and-a-half theatre. My neighbor had seen it 17 times already, and dragged me to it one night. I saw two and three praying to see Jar Jar dead…

    Personally, I think they are entertaining if you can sink into the story and keep the dialogue from jarring you back into reality. The originals were far more entertaining than the prequels, I think. And episode three really didn’t connect the six episodes for me. It just didn’t seem to line up between two and four, but that’s just me.

    I’d have to say you’re right, though, they don’t seem to have been made to be entertaining to everyone, they just are entertaining at points. For myself, I think 4, 5, and 6 possess more entertainment value of their own, with 1, 2, and 3 being somewhat the same ideas told with different characters. I understand that this may have been, from what I’ve read, Lucas’s intention, to show life as a cycle or some such.

    I’ve added Battle Beyond the Stars to my to-watch list. It’s got Hannibal from the A-Team in there, it’s gotta be worth watching, right? Sounds like an entertaining flick, and it can’t be any worse than some of the movies SciFi Channel tosses out there.

    I had a crazy old professor for an Eastern Civilizations class (grades were based entirely on arguing about the assigned readings – I loved that class) who suggested Kurosawa’s movies one time. I wasn’t too enthused about reading subtitles for an entire movie, but I picked up one called The Hidden Fortress, and was strangely entertained by it. It seemed to run something of the same course as Star Wars, though. I kept seeing R2D2 and C3PO when I looked at the peasants. I’ve kinda wondered if the Lucas saw watched the movie before Star Wars came together in his mind, and how much it might have influenced him.

  57. Josh Jasper:

    “I swear to god I’ve read the same critique of Steven King, only with a differnt paint job.”

    Really? That’s interesting. And I wouldn’t agree with it much; I think King has a good grip on the fact that he writes to entertain (I think he also hopes that his writing is seen as more than mere entertainment, especially as he goes along — and I think he’s got a right to want to be seen as such, because he’s a good writer).

  58. Actually, I liked and was entertained by RotS, and AotC was great fun whenever Anakin and Padme weren’t talking.

    But I have absolutely nothing good to say about Phantom Menace. It’s a movie which turns worse and worse the more times you try to watch it.

  59. Lurks-no-More:

    I suspect you could boil down the prequel trilogy into one kick-ass two-and-half hour film, with lots of action, and judicious cuts to embarrassing dialogue.

    Incidentally, I feel the same way about the second two Matrix films.

  60. What baffles me is that I, II, and III seem almost expressly designed to destroy any mythic sensibility that IV, V, and VI might have created. Everything in them conspires to scale down the “epic” feel of the originals. Characters and locales from the sequels are improbably reused (pre-used?) so much that the Star Wars universe starts to feel cramped in comparison to the diverse galaxy that we caught a glimpse of in the the original trilogy. It goes from a million worlds to a few dozen, populated with the same rotating cast. Anakin Skywalker goes from the legendary star pilot of Obiwan’s remembrances, to a whiny kid piloting the interstellar equivalent of a Honda civic with a really big spoiler on the back. The Clone Wars turn out not to be some cataclysmic confrontation with a galactic menace, but petty insurrection headed by villains so laughable (Dooku and the unbelievably pathetic Gen. Grievous) that the whole thing is hard to take seriously. The Jedi Council, “Guradians of Peace for a Thousand Generations”, turns out to be a tiny cult of halfwit ditherers. And perhaps worst of all, Yoda, that venerable font of inscrutable wisdom, dicards all semablance of dignity to become a yelping inneffectual hop-frog.
    So if Lucas made the prequels solely to shore up his private mythology… what the hell went wrong?

  61. Incidentally, I feel the same way about the second two Matrix films.

    Amen. What an incredible waste of the seemingly limitless potential of the first one.

    My solution: Producer gets script for SF film from average Hollywood screenwriter. Producer sends script plus check for $200,000 to actual SF writer–perhaps picked randomly–for a critique and suggestions. Producer receives report, makes changes, improves film. SF writer pays rent, buys Hummer. Everybody happy.

  62. Avdi:

    “So if Lucas made the prequels solely to shore up his private mythology… what the hell went wrong?”

    Lucas can’t write.

  63. “His works aren’t public domain, and he is right to do whatever he wants with them.”

    Woah, now. Can we please distinguish between “he has a right to do whatever he wants with them” and “he is right to do whatever he wants with them”? The former is descriptive, the latter is normative, and it makes you sound as if you heartily endorse the last three SW movies as quality.

  64. (1) Lucas stopped using outside directors and writers after he ran into problems with the Directors Guild over credits to ESB. Since then, he’s been strictly non-union, and that’s cut into the quality of talent he could get.

    (2) The best part of EpI was the 20th Century Fox logo and “A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away…” It was downhill from there.
    I was so disappointed by Ep2 (particularly the antisemitism inherent in the portrayal of Watto, whose appearance totally killed any enjoyment I’d had until that point) that I still haven’t seen Ep3.

  65. Annalee Horne: Oooo, that’s a Padme I can get behind. The Vader-killing, rebellion-fomenting, girl on the run sort of Padme. Not the wimpy “Boohoo, my hunny bunny’s a psycho, so I must now expire in grief” Padme. (I rewrote number three in my brain so she takes the kids and runs…)

    Also her pregnancy in SWIII: the inanest movie pregnancy ever, lasting about as long as your average fruit bat’s. (90 days, in case yer interested.) She goes from “Hey, we’re preggers,” to “Ooops, honey, can you stop strangling me, I think I’m in labour,” in no time at all.

    I always wondered how you could take such an easily cool and fun setup and extract all the fun from it, as occurs with the first three movies, and I think you’v explained it here. I honestly feel once Mr. Lucas had his story populate his head, he felt he couldn’t deviate from it even if it wasn’t good, even if it didn’t entertain. It was his goddamn vision, after all.

    (I heard once that each of the first three movies has a different director because each director was just so worn out after working with Lucas. Any body else hear the same thing, or is it just rumour?)

  66. I suspect the first three movies have differing directors because Lucas didn’t want to direct again after the first one; remember at the time he was also busy producing the Indiana Jones movies.

  67. No problem, Pigeonhed. I have no problem with people discussing it elsewhere, and even if I did, who cares?

  68. Coincidentally, I heard a storyteller speak this past weekend who, when asked about the importance of point-of-view in story construction, mentioned Eps. 1-3. A big reason it all went brown and squishy was that, he said, it should have been Obi Wan’s story, not Anakin’s.

  69. I had a theatre professor in college who defined good, meaningful theatre as theatre that is both entertaining and enlightening. That definition has stuck with me, and I apply it to the books that I read.

    Take Starship Troopers, for example. That book really stands out as an excellent example of GOOD literature. Although it can get pedantic at times, it is a story that engrosses you while at the same time forcing the reader to think.

    When applied to the sci-fi genre in general, I would say that “good” sci-fi is that which utilizes a future vision of science and/or society to shed light on some aspect of the human condition.

    Does this mean that books that simply entertain are “bad”? Not in my opinion. OMW (with regards to Mr. Scalzi) is an intensely entertaining book that nonetheless lacks an overt moral or philosophical theme. That hasn’t stopped me from reading OMW and GB multiple times, because it is the spectacular imagery evoked by the rich dialogue and settings that provoke my imagination, and hence my interest. OMW and GB stays on my bookshelf and in my mind because it is well-written, imaginative, and entertaining that gives the reader insight (through good storytelling) into what makes people tick.

    Applied to SW, it is tough to draw out meaningful conclusions as to the “human condition”, because the storytelling is so awful (Empire Strikes Back being the notable exception). Does that mean it is not entertaining? No, I think that you can definitely call it entertainment. Is it enlightening? Only if you look at the movies as a window into the mind of the Asperger’s-like persona of George Lucas.

  70. MoXmas wrote:

    “I think an interesting comparison point might be between the Star Wars films and the Peter jackson Lord of the Rings films. The original books are obviously almost pure mythology, and many of the characters are even more purely archteypes than the ones in Star Wars.

    But when Jackson made the movies, he strove very very hard to make them entertaining. The changes to the Aragorn character are probably the most obvious, but giving good actors good lines also helped a whole hell of a lot.”

    I don’t think that Peter Jackson strove to make his LOTR trilogy any more entertaining than Lucas meant to make Star Wars, Episode IV. What Jackson did may not have been “mythmaking,” but it definitely was myth-regurgitating. To say that giving the characters better dialogue and putting more effort into the sequels speaks to difference in talent between Lucas and Jackson, but not their intent.

    In any case, I think the premise of the article is wrong. Star Wars (even the horrible prequels) does attempt to entertain. Whether it’s any good at it is subjective, but the intent (as half or quarter-assed as it is in spots) is still there. Yoda hopping around and waving a lightsaber like a meth-addled tree frog in Episode II has nothing to do with myth, that was there for pizzazz. Darth Maul? That was cool factor. The marketable little Ewoks in Episode VI? Okay, that was more an attempt at money-making than myth-making, but still. Heck, C3-P0 and R2-D2 were strictly there for entertainment.

    This has nothing to do with how I feel about Star Wars (which I loved as a kid but can’t watch now) or Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy (which I think more fits the rubric of impressive special effects overwhelming it’s deficiencies in other areas–in about ten years, you aesthetic elitists will be agreeing with me here), but rather the difference between the creator’s intent and how well they pull it off.

    Was Lucas trying to cash in on his myth with Episodes I-III? Undoubtedly. Did he not try to entertain along the way? He did.

  71. John,

    Based on the things I heard at the time I think Lucas intended the first Star Wars to be entertaining – even escapist entertainment. I think the success of it enabled him to try for something which was more important to him.

    I don’t have much hard data to back this up, but it seems to make sense to me.

  72. Blockbuster Story :

    This happened right here in good ole’ Virginia back in 97 (might be off a year on that) when Lucas re-released episodes IV, V, and VI with “updated special effects”. Anyhow, I’m at Blockbuster with the wife we are doing the normal troll around the inside of the store, and I’m desperately trying to float away from her as she peruses the selections. This of course prevents the standard “Honey, what should we watch tonight?” conversation. Always better to let her pick something out.

    I finally make my escape – and as I approached an end-cap proudly displaying the updated Star Wars movies, I see two red-necky looking guys scanning them. One of them picks up Episode IV, and this was their conversation:

    “Hey Red, lookit here, they got thu new Star Whars”

    “I ain’t watchin’ no Stars Whars”

    “How come?”

    “They got them little words an’ shit. Thet Harrison Ford guy goes into some gay bar fulla blue puppets made outta’ rubber, and then they had some wurds on the screen lahk one of them there French movies. I ain’t readin’ no little wurds.”

    At this point I decided that it was better to go back and argue with my wife. So I think America is in agreement with you John, “Star Wars is not entertainment”.

  73. Blockbuster Story :

    This happened right here in good ole’ Virginia back in 97 (might be off a year on that) when Lucas re-released episodes IV, V, and VI with “updated special effects”. Anyhow, I’m at Blockbuster with the wife we are doing the normal troll around the inside of the store, and I’m desperately trying to float away from her as she peruses the selections. This of course prevents the standard “Honey, what should we watch tonight?” conversation. Always better to let her pick something out.

    I finally make my escape – and as I approached an end-cap proudly displaying the updated Star Wars movies, I see two red-necky looking guys scanning them. One of them picks up Episode IV, and this was their conversation:

    “Hey Red, lookit here, they got thu new Star Whars”

    “I ain’t watchin’ no Stars Whars”

    “How come?”

    “They got them little words an’ shit. Thet Harrison Ford guy goes into some gay bar fulla blue puppets made outta’ rubber, and then they had some wurds on the screen lahk one of them there French movies. I ain’t readin’ no little wurds.”

    At this point I decided that it was better to go back and argue with my wife. So I think America is in agreement with you John, “Star Wars is not entertainment”.

  74. Yosh

    OMW “lacks an overt moral or philosophical theme”?

    Well, maybe, if you mean in the sense that our host has the respect for his audience to refrain from hitting us over the heads with them?

    How about asking the question, “Just what would a man be willing to do to regain his youth?”

    And then there’s that whole theme of “What is the Colonial Union really up to?”.

    I suspect we’ll be learning a bit more about these questions in forthcoming installations.

  75. Anonymous/Moné Peterson:

    “In any case, I think the premise of the article is wrong. Star Wars (even the horrible prequels) does attempt to entertain. Whether it’s any good at it is subjective, but the intent (as half or quarter-assed as it is in spots) is still there. Yoda hopping around and waving a lightsaber like a meth-addled tree frog in Episode II has nothing to do with myth, that was there for pizzazz. Darth Maul? That was cool factor. The marketable little Ewoks in Episode VI? Okay, that was more an attempt at money-making than myth-making, but still. Heck, C3-P0 and R2-D2 were strictly there for entertainment.”

    I see where you’re coming from, but I have a tendency to see things like this not as much an attempt to entertain as simply the throwaways Lucas gave out as if to acknowledge that, yes, some people won’t be down with his myth thing, so here’s Yoda and his dinky green saber for you cretins. And to be sure, Yoda and his little saber were cool, but that’s a minute out of a two-hour movie. Meanwhile, there are endless scenes of Anakin comparing explaining to Padme why she’s not like sand, and so on.

    Also, of course, Lucas is not stupid. C-3PO and R2D2 were hugely popular; it’s not hard to put them in again (although making 3PO made by Anakin was a bit of a stretch, I thought). Likewise, when the hideous Jar-Jar was quite rightly reviled, his role in the two other prequel films vanished to almost nothing. Also, having Yoda visit the Wookiees was total fan service; it really didn’t do much of anything other than give the fanboys a moment to enjoy the return of Chewie.

    All this is canny, but is it actual entertainment, or merely good manipulation of fan? It’s like Lucas pulling a Jedi Mind Trick: “You’ve seen Yoda with a lightsaber. You have been entertained.” To which the fan says: “Dude, Yoda kicked ass with his little saber! That rocked!”

    Your mileage may vary, of course.

  76. Mayhap I missed it somewhere in thr lengthy comments or the original post, but I just finished reading a book focused on this _ Star Wars on Trial _ with major contributions by Matt Stover and Ben Bova and while many of the essays it included were repetitive, some – in particular those focusing on the publishing industry, were enlightening. Did no one else read this or am I a moron? (And for the moment we will treat these possibilities as mutually exclusive, ya pranksters)

  77. I loved the Ewoks, screw you all:)

    The really interetsing thing about Star Wars(and also Trek) is that the universe is so bloody compelling despite it’s creator. Lucas is a git, but I love the storytelling potential of the SW universe. Yes, it’s often trite, and really silly, but there is something to be said to the immense time commitment that millions of fans have put in to create waht Lucas thinks he made single-handedly.

    Star Wars, in it’s present form, probably owes more to us lost pen-and-paper gamers and the silly stormtroopers than Lucas.

    And forget the Han shooting first. Lucas spends eternity watching mothing but Perfect Stangers reruns in esperanto for changing the original Ewok song in Jedi to english.

  78. Also -

    Yoda.

    The Master does not come down off the mountain…I HATED the Yoda fight scenes – it cheapens everything in the later films.

  79. John, I’m tickled to see you uncork a righteous rant against the naked emperor Lucas — with its passing acknowledgment of vapidity from someone who contributed to one of the many deaths of science fiction (tying cute bows around a live prozine back in 1996).

    But, I think there might be room to take issue with this:

    What’s interesting about mythology is that it’s the residue of a teleological system that’s dead; it’s what you get after everyone who believed in something has croaked and nothing is left but stories. Building a mythology is necrophilic storytelling; one that implicitly kills off an entire culture and plays with its corpse….

    I think Neil Gaiman works with mythologies in “Anansi Boys,” “American Gods,” “Sandman,” and other stories, by showing us that the mythmaking culture is still alive in us. Making note to play with the “corpus” of your essay in a panel, somewhere. Thanks for cutting loose. SF criticism can always use more of that, when it’s done coherently. (I’ve already bookmarked Ian’s LJ entry.)

  80. “Yosh

    OMW “lacks an overt moral or philosophical theme”?

    Well, maybe, if you mean in the sense that our host has the respect for his audience to refrain from hitting us over the heads with them?

    How about asking the question, “Just what would a man be willing to do to regain his youth?”

    And then there’s that whole theme of “What is the Colonial Union really up to?”.

    Good points, Nathan. While I agree that the theme of “just what would a man…” exists in the book, I don’t agree that “what is the Colonial Union up to?” is a thematic device; rather it is a plot device IMHO.

    As to the books lacking an overt moral/philosophical theme, I think I can stand by that. OMW is an action-filled love story. It doesn’t seem (to me, at least, although I could be mistaken) that it makes an attempt to explore the implications of “just what would a man do to regain his youth”; that is rather the premise for the story I think. I also don’t think that the book was intended to have a grand lesson in philosophy or morality, but rather was intended to be, as Mr. Scalzi puts it, “the kind of book I like to read”. This is not a criticism of the abilities of Mr. Scalzi, but rather my observation as to his choice for this particular set of works. I DID feel that GB raised some excellent questions about how people’s personalities are affected by their environments. I felt that the author made a conscious choice not to delve too deeply into that realm, because to do so would distract from the story – not a bad choice, again IMHO.

    I have observed many times in some really excellent books the choices authors have made on whether to explore and develop a thematic point or to just get on with the story, and it is probably a difficult choice to make. How the author chooses to present these themes distinguishes stellar writers from the merely talented.

  81. Lenny Bailes:

    “I think Neil Gaiman works with mythologies in ‘Anansi Boys,’ ‘American Gods,’ ‘Sandman,’ and other stories, by showing us that the mythmaking culture is still alive in us.”

    I think Neil Gaiman is actually very interesting in how he plays with mythologies, partly because he views them as subset of a currently existing — and continually generating — teleology. I don’t know that the way Gaiman sets up his universes is a refutation of my general statement so much as a very clever way of getting around it, but I certainly agree he’s proof that you can do play with mythology and make it vibrant and engaging for the audience. Gaiman rocks, basically.

  82. Thank you, John. You’re absolutely spot on.

    The Star Wars Universe has incredible potential. Too bad Lucas couldn’t just create the universe and let non-hacks handle the writing and directing. I’ve had this argument with a couple of Star Wars fanatics of my acquaintance, one of whom is a filmmaker and can only see it from a filmmaker’s perspective (the other is my roommate). They now refuse to let me talk about Star Wars at all.

    I enjoyed the original Star Wars movie well enough and I’ll watch it over and over again, but only because I’m a big Peter Cushing fan and I used to know Mark Hamill’s brother in the late 70s, plus, hey, Harrison Ford. Yummy eye candy. And yes, Empire Strikes back is too much fun.

    But I only watched the first half of Episode One through DVD glasses while my dentist was working on my mouth. Despite the very pretty Liam Neeson, I couldn’t figure out whether the movie or the dentist’s drill was worse torture.

    I saw Attack of the Clones only for the presence of Christopher Lee, whom I’ve adored since I was five. I cursed the fact that Count Dooku lived because I realized I would have no choice but to watch Episode III. I still haven’t seen the last one, but I know I will at some point. At least this time I’ll have the luxury of only watching Dooku’s scenes.

    BTW, Ice Pirates also had a score by Bruce Broughton. I love me some Bruce Broughton.

  83. John, I understood you to be talking about intent to entertain. I simply don’t understand why intent to entertain is relevent to anything whatsoever. Something is entertaining or it isn’t. Many things intended to be entertaining are horrible wastes of time.

  84. I am with the “don’t believe Lucas” camp when it comes to the whole mythology angle. When you watch the original Star Wars it’s obviously a fun Kurosawa pastiche intended solely to entertain. There’s no mythology — there is an attempt to imply a history — but it’s all on the same scale as, say, The Hidden Fortress. Just to pick a random movie. A “historical epic” about an imaginary history.

    But then Star Wars made more money than anyone had ever conceived of, and Empire made as much or more. And suddenly Lucas is getting all Campbellian. As others have posited, I think it gave him the solace of intellectual respectability — because otherwise he would be remembered only as the most successful “popcorn movie” maker of all time, a mere “entertainer,” and evidently that rankled.

    I can remember the moment it all started to go bad for me. Halfway through Return of the Jedi. As soon as Carrie Fisher got back in clothes and the Empire’s big new sinister plot was revealed: another frickin’ Death Star.

    That’s it? I said inside my head. That’s all?

    And since then, as John says, each movie of the prequel has been a horrible disappointment. Again, my reaction has been That’s it?

    That’s what took down the Republic?
    That’s the Clone War?
    That’s what turned Vader to the Dark Side?

    The universe and backstory that all of us constructed inside our heads while watching Star Wars and Empire turned out to be a lot more interesting and exciting than what was inside George Lucas’s head.

    Alas.

  85. Guys, there was one reason and one reason alone to see Ep I: Liam Neeson in a cloak with a ponytail. Once Qui Gon kicked it, there was nothing on the screen worth looking at …

  86. Aaron Burr:

    “I simply don’t understand why intent to entertain is relevent to anything whatsoever.”

    It’s probably a good thing that you’re not a studio executive, then, Aaron. They generally prefer to spend their money on things intended to entertain.

    Intending to entertain is relevant to releasing something as entertainment basically for the same reasons intending to hit the baseball is relevant for a baseball game — there’s no guarantee you’ll hit the ball, but if you intend to do so, there’s a rather better chance than if you don’t. George Lucas being fundamentally uninterested in entertaining others than himself makes it rather more likely that others won’t be entertained.

  87. It’s synchronicity day for me. In an interview I read yesterday at Bookslut, Gaiman weighs in: “Mythology tends to be what religion decays into. A sort of second stage religion. Or it’s the bits of religion that won’t get you shot or harmed if you don’t take them seriously enough.”

  88. Yosh

    I’m talking out of my ass here(around the flying monkeys), since I haven’t gotten my sneak peak at The Last Colony, but I wouldn’t be surprised if somebody in the book didn’t find him/herself facing a (DA, DA, DAAAA)(beat) MORAL DILEMA when the true nature of the Colonial Union is revealed.

    Or, I could be totally wrong and just find out that its a book about a colony of shoemakers.

  89. David Brin also has his rants against Star Wars at his website (http://www.davidbrin.com/fictionarticles.html). They originally appeared in Salon. The thrust is a little different – “Star Wars is an assault against Western Enlightenment values” instead of “Star Wars is narcissistic tripe” – but they supplement Scalzi’s piece pretty well!

  90. Reading this little diatribe reminded me of this:

    http://foxvalleygeeks.blogspot.com/2006/09/lucas-is-right-and-fanboys-are-wrong.html

    Which I wrote, but no matter.

    (For those that don’t want to click, my little essay essentially points out that Tolkien ALSO revised his works, over and over again, and no one whines about it today.)

    I think the only way to discuss this argument is to divide it into smaller bits:

    Were the Star Wars movie meant to be entertaining? Well, I’d certainly say the first trilogy was. Pause for a moment and consider something – George Lucas already made THX 1138. He’s very capable of making a plodding, obtuse story that most people won’t be interested in seeing.

    Someone else here already stated that Lucas said, in the early years, that the Star Wars movies (as well as the Indiana Jones movies) were designed like the movie serials of old. Which is to say, they were entertainment.

    It was only when he started making Episodes I-III that he really started talking up the idea of myth, and how it tied into the movies.

    My pet theory (which has never been proved, and probably can’t be proved) is that the reason Lucas ended up writing and directing the movies himself is because nobody else wanted to be the person who took the fall if the movies were bad. I love the Star Wars movies, truly, but if Lucas had called me up and said, “Hello award-winning but unknown screenwriter. Wanna help me write the Darth Vader story?” I’m about 99% sure I would have said no, out of pure terror of screwing up.

    All things considered, though, I think he intended I-III to entertain as well. He clearly wanted people to see the movies, or he would have done even more love story and politics, and left out all the “stuff goes boom and people go slash” parts of the story.

    As for the second part of your thoughts – are the Star Wars movies not-good movies?

    Well, compared to what? Apparently, compared to Battle Beyond the Stars, but I haven’t seen it, don’t have Netflix, and I’m not certain it’s going to be available in any of my local video rental spots.

    Not-good movies make money all the time. Da Vinci did. The Grudge did quite well. I’d say Star Wars I-III was better than both of those movies. Combined. And then doubled.

    And yes, there are those who didn’t see III. And there were those that didn’t buy the new movies on DVD. But clearly someone is. A lot of someones.

    More importantly, when it comes time to consider movie series that fall apart, consider the fact that if Episode I was really all that awful, II wouldn’t have made the money that it did. People would have given up and walked away. And if you don’t buy it, think about how badly Matrix III crashed and burned.

    As to whether or not sci-fi should aspire to be as good, or as entertaining, or as… well, whatever, as Star Wars, I can’t really speak to that.

    I mean, Orson Scott Card referred to Serenity as The Greatest Science Ficiton Movie Of All Time, and that movie didn’t manage to break even at the box office. On that level, “fun and popular” does seem to win out over “great story, great dialogue, so aim high little skiffys.”

  91. It has always been my contention that the original Star Wars was titled “Episode IV” because Lucas wanted to make it feel like an episode in a serial, and not because he started out with a grand plan to write six (or nine) screenplays.

    To me, the saddest thing that happened when the prequels were made was that the Clone Wars Plot Device suddenly didn’t work. Rather than a throwaway line that gives a character more depth than the time should allow, it refers to a really bad movie made after the original.

  92. Josh:

    “More importantly, when it comes time to consider movie series that fall apart, consider the fact that if Episode I was really all that awful, II wouldn’t have made the money that it did. People would have given up and walked away. And if you don’t buy it, think about how badly Matrix III crashed and burned.”

    Actually, Matrix Revolutions made $424 million worldwide and was the 9th highest-grossing film of 2003 (domestic), so the suggestion that it “crashed and burned” from a fiscal point of view is wildly incorrect; it simply made rather less than Matrix Reloaded. (although, notably, not that much less than the original film).

    Now, as it happens, Episode II is the least-successful of the Star Wars films when adjusted for inflation, and brought in about $120 million less (unadjusted) than Episode I. So if you want to suggest Matrix Revolutions was punished at the box office for Matrix Reloaded sucking, I think you’d also have to agree that Episode II was punished for Episode I sucking as well.

    I think you also rather minimize the effect being a long-time fan has on entertainment purchases. Star Wars fans had invested far too much time/energy to stop going just because Lucas stopped caring about them, if indeed he ever had cared about them at all.

    “The Star Wars movies not-good movies? Well, compared to what?”

    Compared to a vast number of movies actually, and a large number of science fiction films as well. I’m qualified to make an informed opinion on both because I’ve been a professional film critic since 1991 and the author of a book on science fiction film. You’re free to disagree, of course, but I feel comfortable making the assessment.

  93. Janis:

    Guys, there was one reason and one reason alone to see Ep I: Liam Neeson in a cloak with a ponytail. Once Qui Gon kicked it, there was nothing on the screen worth looking at …

    Amen. Luckily, I get to look at that every day without resorting to watching Episode I.

    What? My roommate has a life-sife cardboard cut-out in our living room. It’s nice eye candy for me, so I’m not booting it out of there.

    Yes, our apartment is a geek apartment.

  94. 1) John, you have some good points. Lucas is an egotistical twit who has been masturbating for 20 years, and it probably would have been nice if he’d turned the reins over to someone who would have made better prequels.

    However:

    2) In spite of everything, I was entertained by Episode II. Let’s get that out of the way. I’m at least one person you can find who liked it. Wasn’t perfect, but the Fett/Kenobi chase through the rings was fun (yes, I know the “physics” were bullshit) and I chuckled with joy watching little Yoda whip out a lightsaber and start kicking Christopher Lee’s ass. I can forgive the chunky dialogue.

    3) I enjoyed parts of III. Not many. Few, in fact. But there you are. And moments, albeit even fewer, of I.

    4) Lucas is a liar. Someone else in the thread (tactfully) alluded to it earlier by pointing out that Lucas didn’t mention the Campbell-fetish at first and claimed he was misquoted about nine chapters in the saga. No. After the first movie, Campbell mentioned Star Wars as an example of his–well, theories, if that’s what you want to call his schtick–and suddenly Lucas was all over how important he was.

    Here’s what Lucas said in 1977, specifically in the liner notes to the vinyl double-album soundtrack LP put out by 20TH Century Records (Fox’s long-defunct soundtrack label):

    “I’ve always loved adventure films,” commented writer-director George Lucas. “After I finished AMERICAN GRAFFITI, I came to realize that since the demise of the western, there hasn’t been much in the mythological fantasy genre available to the film audience. So, instead of making ‘isn’t-it-terrible-what’s-happening-to-mankind’ movies, which is how I began, I decided that I’d try to fill that gap. I’d make a film so rooted in imagination that the grimness of everyday life would not follow the audience into the theater. In other words, for two hours, they could forget.”

    In other words–and this is why the Lucas-written and directed “Episode IV” is better than the Lucas-written and directed Episodes I-III–Lucas wasn’t obsessed with Campbellian twaddle in ’75 or ’76 or even after the movie came out in ’77: he was interested in entertaining people, exactly what you accuse him of not knowing how to do.

    The point isn’t that you’re actually wrong: the point is that you’re pretty spot on re: the self-mythologized, egotistical “Lucas Now” but “Lucas Then” was a different cat, a naive and somewhat aimless and overly-intellectual film-student who decided to do something “gee-whiz fun” and suddenly had astronomical box office receipts and a lot of critics hailing him as a genius. They’re different guys, and “Lucas Now” is full of crap and says a lot of things that contradict things he said 10 or 20 or 30 years ago–if you’re judging “Lucas Then” by what “Lucas Now” says on DVD commentary tracks, you’re making a huge mistake.

    5) On that note, Star Wars–the 1977 movie that was later re-titled “Episode IV” and A New Hope (part of that revisionary thing that goes along with Lucas’ self-importance and essential dishonesty)–has some magical moments that do swallow the viewer. The single best scene in the entire movie occurs early on (and Lucas, happily, hasn’t changed it): Luke Skywalker, having fought with his uncle and bitter about his life, walks outside and watches the suns set as John Williams’ score swells. A simple double exposure takes the viewer to a faraway and amazing place. It’s a better scene than any of the wonderful space battles following, and maybe worth watching again just to see what “Lucas Then” used to be capable of pulling off.

    6) Citing Roger Corman as an example of someone whose main goal is to entertain (as opposed to making a buck) is a bit ironic. Sure, Corman can be entertaining–he can also be pure agony to watch (oddly enough, earlier today I was reading a review of his unreleased-often-bootlegged version of Fantastic Four which apparently is quite firmly in the latter camp, not even bad enough to be entertaining). Corman’s Battle Beyond The Stars wasn’t merely a pastiche of Kurosawa–it’s a remake of The Seven Samurai, and it’s not a particularly good movie (it’s biggest claim to fame might be launching the career of James Cameron, who accidentally took over the special effects department during the production). I will speak no ill of John Sayles (whose story about re-writing the film’s last scene after the shooting schedule was finished is quite funny), but I will note that I’m under the impression he’s not especially proud of his mercenary work on Battle. At any rate, Battle was nothing more than an attempt to cash in on Star Wars, and Corman’s been honest enough to admit it.

    6a) BTW, mentioning Sayles’ Oscar nominations was a little clumsy in my opinion. It’s an appeal to authority (“You should like him, he’s been nominated for prizes), but an ironically ineffective one: the Oscars are notoriously popularity contests, not awards of merit, and the fact that a talented writer like Sayles hasn’t won one after being nominated is itself evidence of how valueless the nominations are in assessing merit–if they rewarded merit, he would have won one.

    6b) Unless you’re so distracted by the cheesy special effects and the fact that John Boy Walton is the star that you simply can’t go on, I expect you’ll admit you were more entertained by this little flick than all that Star Wars mythology, is a straw man full of gunpowder. The “Star Wars mythology” is something different from “the personal experience of sitting in a theater and watching Star Wars movies.” The experiences might overlap–perhaps the mythology obstructs ones view of the film (or enhances it for another), but the mythology is nonetheless a seperate creature. Lucas doesn’t understand that anymore, but (sad to say), he’s not that bright when it comes to that kind of thing and is so immersed in it at this point he has no objectivity anyway. I’d assume that you can see the difference.

    I enjoyed watching Star Wars and The Empire Strikes Back and Attack Of The Clones more than I enjoyed watching Battle Of The Planets. The “Star Wars mythology” I can take or leave–there are some video games where it’s been put to good use and the Genndy Tartakovsky cartoons were quite fun. As far as I can recall the “mythology” presented in Battle Of The Planets’ backstory, it was crap as it came out–I believe I read an interview with Sayles awhile back where he mentioned some things that might have made the BOTP universe more interesting, but apparently all that got cut because it was too expensive to schedule. (The film’s budget and abbreviated production schedule was more importatant than the story, funny that.)

    7) Just because someone mentioned them: The Lord Of The Rings movies by Peter Jackson are awful, unwatchable, cliche-ridden, pretentious crap by a guy who was so stricken by Tolkien’s supposed “epic grandeur” or whatever that he totally failed to get that Tolkien’s heart was in the Shire (specifically, in the countryside of his childhood) and not in some huge battle. Abusing slow-motion, turning Gimli and Legolas into Hollywood buddies, and actually shooting a scene where the cavalry rides out of the sunrise didn’t actually help any, adding insult to… well, lots of previous insult along with some injury. I don’t care how many tickets Jackson sold, his Rings movies were garbage. (The two I could watch, anyway: I never saw the third. I actually walked out of the second regretting that I hadn’t seen Star Trek–Nemesis instead, and that regret didn’t abate when I finally saw Nemesis, which actually says a great deal considering what a turd that was.)

    Ack. A rant. I’ll post it anyway.

  95. Okay, well, I think the “is Star Wars entertainment” has been pounded into the dust, but I’m slightly more interested in the implications Rusch brings up about the Science Fiction culture as it’s one I’ve also seen and felt. That is her discussion of the “Village” as an insular group, which consciously keeps “the proles” out.

    As an author at the start of my fiction career I can say that I have run across “writer help” websites, books, and online blogs from Big Time authors who talk about the science and not the story. I’ve read, even in Year’s Best anthologies, stories that were little more than, “look here, there’s this corollary to this mathematical proof (done by people you’ve never heard of) that says this could happen. See, see as the permutations work their way out.” Zzz, zzz, zzz. I used to study these stories for their story-telling techniques until I realized there wasn’t any and that I should be studying the stories I actually liked reading. I’m not saying that you can’t incorporate these great ideas into the stories, or even weave a story around them, but they aren’t the story, at least not outside Science News Weekly.

    There is also this ongoing concern/belief that SF is graying/dying. While more new titles are being published every year, and there is a rise in small press operations, the backlist and mass-market sales (once the mainstay of SF) are disappearing. I’ve seen various discussions of sales numbers but I’ve seen very little done on actual readership. Is the readership growing? Are we able to convert those who may start off with SF Lite/Media and bring them into the richness that SF can offer, or are we saying sink or swim as the media tie-in section slowly eats away at the shelf space>

    So is there something to her claim that there is a larger potential market out there for SF which is being ignored because we’re too busy talking with each other, being “literary,” or critiquing authors on their science acumen instead of asking if it the work is accessible, a “good romp,” or simply a fun story? There was a Big Time Author™ that stated since the reading public had the bad taste to prefer fantasy, which he thought was navel gazing, over SF, which according to him drives us toward a brighter future, that he was going to stop writing for a time. He attributed this “bad taste” among the reading public to the lack of science education and intelligence. My response was maybe Fantasy is giving them something they want. It may be Bread and Circuses, but it works for them. As “entertainers” shouldn’t we be working toward that market? Or are we going the way of Cyberpunk, which started out with interesting tales and devolved into brand-name deus ex machina?

  96. Eric:

    “6a) BTW, mentioning Sayles’ Oscar nominations was a little clumsy in my opinion. It’s an appeal to authority (“You should like him, he’s been nominated for prizes), but an ironically ineffective one: the Oscars are notoriously popularity contests, not awards of merit, and the fact that a talented writer like Sayles hasn’t won one after being nominated is itself evidence of how valueless the nominations are in assessing merit–if they rewarded merit, he would have won one.”

    I’m not entirely sure I follow your logic on this one, Eric. For one thing, while not at all disputing the general assertion that Oscars are popularity awards — as are nearly all awards, in one form or another — it’s worth noting that with the Oscars the category nominations are made only by Academy members in that particular branch; i.e., only Academy screenwriters can nominate in the category.

    So, even factoring standard politics, an Academy nomination is in fact a reasonable estimation of value and competence from a writer’s peer group — indeed, in some ways a better metric than an Academy win, because the nominees on the final ballot are voted on by the Academy in general, not only those members in the category. So as an appeal to authority, an Oscar nomination is entirely reasonable.

    But having said that, I’m not entirely sure I agree that not winning shows the inherent valuelessness of an Oscar; in the years he was nominated, Sayles lost to the Neil Jordan (for The Crying Game) and to the Coen brothers (for Fargo). In both of these cases the Oscar choice has merit, in my opinion; Sayle’s scripts for Passon Fish and Lone Star were good, but Jordan’s and the Coens’ scripts were better.

    Now, speaking as a longtime professional observer of the Oscars, I’ll note that popular award or no, the screenwriting Oscars do tend to go to reasonable nominees. Part of this is due to the initial category screening — Academy screenwriters do a pretty good job in not nominating crap — and part of this is due to the fact that to most people, it’s clear when you have a good screenplay. There is some calculus you need to factor in, of course; primarily that Screenplay Oscars are often given as consolation prizes to directors who won’t get the Best Director Oscar that night; this has happened to Orson Welles, Quentin Tarantino, Jane Campion and the aforemention Neil Jordan. But given the screenplays in question (Citizen Kane, Pulp Fiction, The Piano, The Crying Game), this is a generally tolerable factor.

    I’m sort of vaguely surprised that this is the objection to noting Sayles’ Oscar nominations; a more pointed objection would be the one that noted that George Lucas has two screenwriting nominations, one for American Graffiti (which I think is deserved) and one for Star Wars (which I think really is not). Lucas was beaten out in the first by The Sting and in the second by Annie Hall, and it again it’s hard to gainsay those particular choices over Lucas’ work in those years.

  97. If anything, you’re praising the series with faint damns. Ignore the writing. This is an incredibly long series of movies without barely a sentence of worthwhile dialog, not one scene of decent acting, and characters that run the full gamut from boring to annoying. There are some aspects of the original Star Wars trilogy that were top-notch for the time (special effects, score) and some that were pretty good (set direction, fight choreography), but when it comes to be basics of good entertaining moviemaking there’s just not a lot there. For the second trilogy, there’s just no aspect of them that rises even to the level of mediocre.

    If you want to see what a great movie-maker can do with the idea of redoing the 1930′s serials on a huge budget, watch Indiana Jones. If you want to see what a great movie-maker can do with myth on a huge budget, watch Lord of the Rings. Either of them packs more entertainment in any given scene than Lucas managed in the entire series.

  98. Cambias,

    The universe and backstory that all of us constructed inside our heads while watching Star Wars and Empire turned out to be a lot more interesting and exciting than what was inside George Lucas’s head.

    Rock on, dude.

  99. You can’t forget the thousands of people who are loyal fans…the ones who worship Lucas. I’m convienced the only reason StarWars is still going strong (recently heard news of a StarWars new TV series coming out) is becuase of the huge fan base Lucas has built. But what i don’t understand is how Lucas built such a huge, fanbase on episodes IV and V alone?(assuming your right, and episode VI was a huge letdown) Was it just a boxoffice hit? (you can tell i wasn’t around in the 80′s) I know he lost a ton of his fans after episode I and even more after II. If its not enertaining, why is it so popular?

    I think it can be said that Star Wars is enertaining, not to the general public. But then, what is? Judging something by how enertaining it is an opinon. There is no way to come to an absolute truth in this, but i wish there were, becuase it would spare us from watching a bunch of horrible movies.

    As far as Lucas not making the SW films to enertain people, i agree with that. I never could figure out what i didn’t like about the Starwars films and i think thats it.

  100. Star Wars is not entertainment. Star Wars is George Lucas masturbating to a picture of Joseph Campbell and conning billions of people into watching the money shot.

    Scalzi, you are one beautiful son of a bitch.

    Thank you.

  101. I find it very ironic that while some may argue that Scifi isn’t entertaining any more there are plenty of people who would argue that the entire genre is just popcorn literature/movies, existing only for entertainment. I certainly don’t agree with that but I wonder if the effort by some to legitimize the genre is alienating some its accesiblity to casual fans.

  102. Here’s the thing: I’m not a studio executive. Neither are you. Why is your criticism of Star Wars from that perspective?

    That’s the thing I can’t understand. I’ve heard plenty of criticism of Star Wars, and plenty of it is valid. But you’ve adopted a strange point of view in order to deliver your criticisms.

  103. Tripp:Speaking of obscure SF video – can anyone else recall a movie about a kid who lived in a trailer park and who’s video game skills got him abducted by aliens to be a spaceship pilot and win a war?

    As others already noted: The Last Starfighter I was actually thinking about that movie when reading John’s post, as another example of a crappy sf movie that was nonetheless surprisingly entertaining. Starfighter had one terrific thing going for it: Robert The Music Man, Victor/Victoria Preston, as, if I recall correctly, the Second-to-Last Starfighter.

    Another example: Dance of the Dwarfs.. Think The African Queen, only instead of Africa, it’s the Phillipine jungle. Instead of a boat, it’s a helicopter. Instead of Bogey, it’s Peter Fonda. Instead of missionary Katherine Hepburn, it’s anthropologist Deborah Raffin. John Good Times Amos plays a fearsome-looking shaman. Also: Man-eating dwarf-sized lizards. Great fun. Haven’t seen it in 20 years, would like to see it again.

  104. As far as Ms. Rusch’s argument goes, I should probably note that I have a friend who has been subjected to pretty much nothing but media science fiction all her life, and she hates it. Absolutely refuses to have anything to do with science fiction. She’s a pretty bigger reader and a bit of a writer.

    I lent her Eleanor Arnason’s _Ring Of Swords_ a while back, and I’ve made a science fiction fan of her. She’s even thinking about writing something for Asimov’s now. So as far as I’m concerned the ‘written SF should be like Star Wars’ crowd can suck it.

  105. Robert Landrigan (re: Yoda’s fight scenes):

    “The Master does not come down off the mountain…”

    So how does the Master get to the top of the mountain in the first place?

  106. Aaron Burr:

    “This isn’t art we’re talking about- it’s entertainment.”

    Implies some sort of mutual exclusivity; weird.

    Anyway, if they’re films artists worked on, that makes them art. Art is an object that is the result (or product) of effort on the part of the artist/s.

    Star Wars is art. So is Episode I and so, for that matter, is the Emmerich Godzilla.

    Being not very good diminishes this not a bit. A garbageman hauls garbage. An artist makes art.

  107. quoting Mitch Wagner
    “Starfighter had one terrific thing going for it: Robert The Music Man, Victor/Victoria Preston, as, if I recall correctly, the Second-to-Last Starfighter.”

    Robert Preston played the recruiter not a Starfighter. The only available member of the Starfighter corps to partner Lance Guest was played by Dan O’Herlihy.

  108. Aaron Burr:

    “Here’s the thing: I’m not a studio executive. Neither are you. Why is your criticism of Star Wars from that perspective?”

    It’s not. It’s from my perspective. I’m not entirely sure why you were under the impression I was writing from any other perspective. Noting that it’s good you’re not a studio exec does not imply that I thought I was one.

    Now, as a data point, I was friends in college with someone who is currently a studio executive and have interviewed a number of people who hold (or held) that job description. So I have some measure of confidence that intent to entertain is important to them, based on what I’ve been told over the years by them.

  109. Chalk me up as an Ice Pirates fan too. In fact, when John was talking about Battle Beyond the Stars, all I could think of was Ice Pirates. I love me some Bob Urich! I also thought of Big Trouble in Little China, another film that was so cheezy (yes, with a “z”) but so entertaining that you didn’t care. That’s what Episode I needed, Kurt Russell!

  110. Soren, I think you’re taking her arguments as a black and white issue (it should be this OR that). It should be both. My own reading is very far from media/SF Lite style and while most of what’s on SciFi or the other channels passed of as SF is dreck, some is actually good from an entertainment point of view.

    But somebody who sees Star Wars (Star Trek, Firefly, Dr. Who, Battlestar, etc or even Jackson’s LotRs) and thinks, “hey, maybe there’s something to this SF stuff, that was kind of fun” is going to find very few entry books to feed their begining fondness for something genre. There was an article in a library journal about how readers in genre, specifically SF, change their reading preferences over time which makes recommending SF a difficult process. In other words, a reader who’s only forey into SF/F was Harry Potter and is looking for a new fix isn’t going to immediately jump to the Silmarillion and enjoiy it. Mostly they’ll be confused and disappointed. This has nothing to do with the intelligence or skills of the reader, but where they are at with their tastes.

    That your one friend likes a better written, IMHO, story that what they can get in media, great. There are, however, legions of fans for the media stuff. How can we get them, the Star Wars people, interested in say, Drake, Halderman, Scalzi, Azimov, Clarke, etc? Can we ignore them and the money they bring to the table? I would definately argue that we shouldn’t pander but can the market of SF ignore or religate those fans to the media tie-in books (which, in case you haven’t noticed, have gone from one or two shelves, to a recognizable percentage of space in the SF/F section) and have this Adult/Kids Table mentality?

    This shouldn’t change individual writers and what they do, but is more of a concern to the publishing houses.

  111. Star Wars is fantasist escapist entertainment isn’t it?

    Star Wars is not entertainment. Star Wars is George Lucas masturbating to a picture of Joseph Campbell and conning billions of people into watching the money shot. This is a priceless wonderfully inflammatory sentiment. HAs it generated more comments than Bacon on a Cat?

    Rusch’s statement about Satyr Warts (originally a typo but now a glorious new name for the movie) is ridiculous. It’s coming from the same mindset that thinks Starbuck is ad always will be a man. The last thing one should do is be overly influenced by Satyr Warts.

    I have to say I agree with most of this. Almost all of it. It seems like the last three films were definitely Lucas cashing in on the notoriety of the first three. They are so weak and just horrifying bad to watch.

    I go back and forth on Empire. Some days I think it’s my favorite, some days Ep. 4 is my fave. I agree it is better. I suppose I am having some trouble disassociating my seven or eight year old self from my adult self in the movie. I remember it just blew my mind os much that I rode my bike onto a curb thinking I could fly and ended up merely bruised but no less dazzled.

    Battle Beyond The Stars is something I will have to go see again. My memory of it is that it’s weak in alot of ways. I still liked it because of the boobie ship. Sue me.

    Ice Pirates is the shizz! I saw it hundreds of tims on cable and memprized whole scenes. Hilariously funny. My first exposure to Bruce Vilanch. Talk about inapropriate contact with minors. And of course Bob Urich.

  112. The point that there are few modern entry points to the SF field for a newbie reader seems pretty valid. It seems that lifelong readers of the field are mainly snagged during their early adolescent years – and the current movie/TV stuff should be a great lead in for that age group.

    Back when I was growing up there were the Heinlein, Norton, and Asimov (Paul French) juveniles. Today there doesn’t seem to be anyone with that kind of cachet writing similar books (Varley, Gerrold, a few others have some out there, but they simply are not as well known as those earlier authors). And once you get beyond the YA field, there are even fewer books that are reasonably accessible to someone who hasn’t soaked up the fields tropes and idiosyncrasies through their skin. Going from Star Wars movies to, say, Le Guin’s The Dispossessed is not going to work. So perhaps Rusch has a least a partially valid point, that there needs to be more current work that is relatively ‘easy’, that doesn’t get buried under its heavy philosophizing and complex scientific concepts. But I don’t agree that Star Wars ‘entertainment’ should be used as a model for such works. In fact, I hereby nominate OMW as something that should fill this bill, very accessible and entertaining, but with enough real meat on its bones to stir up some real thought.

  113. To say that Eps 1-3 are in any way Lucas spanking it to the work of Joe Campbell is horridly insulting to JC’s brilliant work in identifying mythic archetypes. You can relate the complete failures of those movies in no small part to the fact that it ABANDONS JC’s hero’s journey concept. It may be an effort at fleshing out the universe and backstory of the myth-structured work in 4-6 but it sure doesn’t use any of the hero’s journey concepts after the ‘mythic birth.’

    Anakin never faces any real challenges at any point, he never resists the call or denies his abilities, he never makes the decision to return to humanity to bring his knowledge. He never really resists temptation. This is pure backstory wankery for the first three movies.

    If the first three movies had any imagination and HAD used the JC hero’s journey concepts they would have been a million times better. Imagine if the hints of a system just as corrupt and shitty as life under the Emperor had been fleshed out and Anakin had created the entire debacle trying to really do good? He’s born on a planet that has slavery. SLAVERY. A complete disconnect with this system that claims to be some vast wonderful democratic enterprise. Annnnnddd it’s never brought up.

    When Anakin runs off with Kenobi he promises to come back and free everyone, though that world is a member of the parliament and presumably as a jedi he’s obligated to protect their way of life. Huh, how will that work out? How will be be working for The Man and yet advance the cause of freedom when it’s apparently sanctioned? Instead the promise of that complicated story it all turns out to be OH NOES MOMMY DEAD RARRRRR! ANAKIN SMASH! Then there’s some lame almost-guilt about how he loses his temper, but the only real point is UH OH ANAKIN CAN DO BAD STUFF – none of the depth of character analysis and growth that being forced to do bad things to fight a bad system would have created.

    Can you imagine what a rich story could have been created if Anakin had become a jedi and was trying to alter a bloviated, corrupt system that oppresses the Little Guy, even though it pretends to be this big democratic system? The whole secret wedding thing, instead of being just as limp as everything else, could have looked critically at how the jedi are forced to keep separate from all the people they’re supposedly protecting and their sense of disconnectedness – since they can’t marry – helps keep them aloof and blind to the suffering of the common man.

    The hero’s journey’s demand for a phase where the hero returns from the beyond to bring his truth could have been fulfilled by Anakin rejecting the jedi council to bring freedom and teachings to his people. Instead we get him losing his shit over not being able to continue to play hide the salami with Padme in secret. Zzzzzzzz.

    Anakin isn’t going through the hero’s journey at any point. He’s just a dick with more power than smarts.

  114. Yes, Tolkien did the same thing as George Lucas — sampled culture and created his own “mythology” out of the pieces — and the fans love them for it.

    So apart from “entertainment”, there does seem to be many fans of Star Wars/LOTR who see the stories not as entertainment or intellectual speculation, but as a kind of “ersatz” mythology or not-quite-religion.

    Why is that, I wonder… is is compensation for a lack of religion in their lives? I have no idea.
    :-S

  115. Steve Buchheit:

    [...]

    But somebody who sees Star Wars (Star Trek, Firefly, Dr. Who, Battlestar, etc or even Jackson’s LotRs) and thinks, “hey, maybe there’s something to this SF stuff, that was kind of fun” is going to find very few entry books to feed their begining fondness for something genre.

    Patrick Shepherd:

    The point that there are few modern entry points to the SF field for a newbie reader seems pretty valid. It seems that lifelong readers of the field are mainly snagged during their early adolescent years [...]

    I think it may also depend on how avid a reader one might be. I can’t say I’ve been a SF fan all my life, but I have been exposed to it as far back as I can remember, as my father is a SF guy, so maybe it was inevitible I’d eventually grow to enjoy it. I remember reading a couple of SF short stories when I was young, but the only one that stuck with me was “It’s Such a Beautiful Day” by Asimov.

    However, I became a full-fledged Trekkie on my own when I was 12 (thank you, “Trouble with Tribbles” – perfect for a pre-teen girl with undiscovered SF corpuscles floating around in her blood). The only SF I read were Star Trek related – everything else seemed way too involved. I was always more interested in the characters, anyway. I started watching more SF, but didn’t really read it.

    When I finally picked up and read my first hard SF book, it was The Mote in God’s Eye by Niven and Pournelle and I was 37. I devoured it. It was one of those “What the hell took me so long?” moments. I’ve never looked back.

    But I’ve always been an avid reader, so I may have been more primed to fall into the SF literary well than someone who thinks Star Wars and Star Trek and their ilk are fun to watch, but doesn’t take the time (or have the inclination) to read a heck of a lot.

  116. John Scalzi:

    Really? That’s interesting. And I wouldn’t agree with it much; I think King has a good grip on the fact that he writes to entertain

    He’s done his share of franchise work in his own universes, much in the way you castigate Lucas for.

    As for who has a better grip on writing to entertain, I think that speaks a lot to the person’s state of mind, which is not something I feel qualified to comment on, but I do wonder why you keep implying that you know Lucas’ so well, or for that matter, why you’re using such harsh words about him. What’s the motivation behind the rather nasty criticism at his failures?

  117. Star Wars is a very good kid’s movie. Sufficiently childish enough that even grown adults for 2 hours go vroom, bzzt, and kapow. Empire is an ok adolescent effort, the transition to maturity of the story and characters with all that overwrought emo angst teens crave. RTJ should have been the grown up story and failed.
    After that it just plain sucks but the fanbase has been fully brainwashed in to obedient drones. It was their compulsive habit that made money for Lucus not the quality of the work.

  118. Josh Jasper:

    “He’s done his share of franchise work in his own universes, much in the way you castigate Lucas for.”

    I’m not castigating Lucas for doing franchise work, however. I’m castigating him for doing it poorly. King, so far as I’ve read him, and I’ve read a fair amount, does the job better, or is at least more entertaining.

    “I do wonder why you keep implying that you know Lucas’ so well, or for that matter, why you’re using such harsh words about him.”

    Well, Lucas’ mind is his own, obviously. However, to the extent that he’s shared his thoughts on the matter, I feel qualifed to comment, and I’m going off of what he’s said publicly on the matter, through interviews, commentaries, and etc.

    As for using harsh words about him — dude, have seen the movies? They deserve the words I use. That’s my opinion, of course; you’re free to disagree.

  119. Still working my way through the comments here.

    “What is Boba Fett, if not the inclusion of others into his fictional world? To this day, Lucas doesn’t understand the appeal of the character, who got a much larger part in Jedi after fans fell in love with him. Jango Fett’s presence in the prequels is the same. Lucas may not always enjoy such deviations from his audience, but he hearkens to entertain them.”

    I will always maintain that the original movies would have been better if the fanboy references he included were subtle and small, like they were (organically) in the original trio and not THE ENTIRE FOCUS OF THE FREAKING MOVIE. The clone was Boba Fett? Ugh. I am just disgusted. It was overkill.

  120. Hurray! Until today I thought I was the only one who thoroughly enjoyed Battle Beyond the Stars (especially George Peppard as Cowboy). Glad to see it finally getting some of the credit it’s due.

  121. Are the definitions not implictly clear?

    Well, yes. I mean, if one goes to a dictionary and ooks them up then you find that according to the definitions I found at dictionary.com (all my dictionaries are still packed from my move) then Satyr Warts is in fact popular. So – and far be it from me to tangle with someone who has a much better way with 1)debate, 2) argumentative style and c) critique – then why do you maintain it isn’t popular?

    Also, regarding entertainment… The deifnition for that also fits when applied to Satyr Warts. Now, I agree with you that the movies are for the most part monotonous cloned circle jerks. I in fact agree with almost everything you wrote. Just not the claim they are not popular and entertainment. Especially when they are when one looks at the deifnitions of those words.

  122. Actually, one of the definitions of “popular” at Dictionary.com rather well fits what I meant to say, Chang. Likewise one of the definitions of entertainment.

  123. Oh, sure you;re going to make me look stuff up right whne I am in the middle of a song and whne I should be going off to teach a class? Did my mother call you? hang on, let me go thumb through them…

  124. Star Wars went downhill after that first shot – the Star Destroyer chasing the tiny little ship. I saw that in the biggest, most modern cinema in London and just gasped. Then the carboard characters started opening their mouths, and I gasped for another reason. Then Alec Guinness came in and I had no more breath for gasping. By the time I crawled out of Episode 3 several lifetimes later, all I could think was all that effort to such little effect . . . I was reminded of the old lavatory graffito ‘Here I sit, broken hearted; paid my penny, only farted.’

    The parallel with LoTR is apposite. Lucas was myth building, and so was Tolkein – who didn’t believe that England has any mythology, so he was dutybound to present it with one that reflected all those decades of becoming the world’s number one expert on Norse myth (I’ve suffered for my art, and now its your turn) I think he was a presumptuous old man – my islands have mythologies that can trade blows with anyone! – but at least he could spin a tale. Which Lucas couldn’t, at least not for anyone with a mental and emotional age into double digits.

    The changes wrought by Jackson are more than tweaking Aragorn. The hobbits are English yeomen, with their squire, and the bad guy is German (or possibly Russian, if you believe Tolkein was interested in contemporary politics, despite all evidence to the contrary) In the film the hobbits are American and the villain is British (doubtless, Jackson would have cast Peter Cushing instead of Christopher Lee, were he still alive) I do not say he was wrong to do this, just that it was a divergence from the book.

    Interesting to mention Battle beyond the Stars in the same breath as Kurosawa, as Battle was a thinly disguised rip off of The Magnificent Seven, which was – all together now – a rip off of Kurosawa’s The Seven Samurai.

    Imagine SW made by Kurosawa.

    Imagine more SW made by Lawrence Kasdan. It would have had Kathleen Turner in, and Geena Davis, and . . .

    I think its time to go and lie down in a darkened room.

  125. As to why Episode IV works, despite it’s manifest flaws -

    I’m surprised no one mentions Harrison Ford. Sure, he wasn’t much of an actor back then (though it isn’t exactly an accident that he is the only one of the “unknown” actors int he film to go on to have a real career), but he had charisma, created an immensing appealing character, and IMO was one of the best things about the original film, and, to a lesser extent, the next two films.

  126. There is a version of Star Wars made by Kurosawa (at least according to a billion movie obsessives and/or Japanophiles) “which was – all together now -” Hidden Fortress (which to all accounts was a well-done reinterpretation of the John Wayne vehicle, The Searchers). I’ve heard the Kurosawa workship ad naseum. And the Seven Samurai really is that good; haven’t downloaded or found a rental copy of Hidden Fortress yet, but I nearly fell out of my chair when it got mentioned above, and have nearly died laughing since no one brought it up again, except in passing, to say “See, you can do this right”.

  127. Since Chang’s busy, I’m going to dictionary.com to see if I can guess which definitions of “popular” and “entertainment” Scalzi is saying do not apply to the Star Wars franchise (excepting, of course, V and IV, in that order):

    “popular” – 6. suited to or intended for the general masses of people (because Lucas made these films primarily for himself)

    “entertainment – 2. something affording pleasure, diversion, or amusement, esp. a performance of some kind…
    Well, I was going to make an argument that the 3 prequels were not that amusing or diverting, but then I remembered that Scalzi said “Star Wars is not entertainment. [snip] Which is not to say that the films can’t be entertaining: They can be.”
    None of the definitions I found on dictionary.com (not the end-all-and-be-all of references, but one of my favorites, I admit) say anything about intent (as “popular” does) or about the qualifications of the “entertainer”.
    Am I not looking at the right reference, John? It seems as if the definition for “entertainment” is based on the result. “Something that is entertaining” not “Something made for the amusement of someone other than the author.”

    What’s you’re source?

  128. At least Star Wars sets a precedent for the success of future “franchises”: give the fans a make-believe mythology, and damn the torpedoes.
    ;-)

  129. Listen, I’m not great fan of the Matrix sequels (though not much of a detractor, either)…but I think you’re implying that they were a financial failure, which is demonstrably false.

    Matrix: $460,379,930
    Matrix: Reloaded: $738,599,701
    Matrix: Revolutions: $424,988,211

    Now, you could argue that the second two films squandered all the potential of the first…but if you’re trying to argue that the films were a failure financially, you’ll lose. The second movie, for example, is #23 on the list of highest grossing movies of all time.

    Clearly, even though people weren’t as entertained as they’d hoped, enough people WERE entertained to see the third movie.

  130. WizarDru:

    “I think you’re implying that they were a financial failure, which is demonstrably false.”

    Nope, that wasn’t my implication at all, particularly as I noted the financial success of the Matrix films upthread. My implication was the second two Matrix films were so concerned with trying to resolve the half-assed philosophical constructs that the Wachowski’s felt obliged to provide that they forgot that, you know, they were supposed to be fun, too.

    Also, as I noted before, the Matrix sequels could almost certainly be edited down into a single kick-ass film.

  131. The Star Wars Saga is most definitely entertainment. No doubt. When preasured to make a film for all of us who were kids in 1977 but who were now adults with the accompanying sensibility Lucas said nope. He made movies for the original demographic – kids. Kids were entertained by the Prequels. Kids loved Jar Jar. Kids loved the poop and fart jokes. Kids did not care about the dialogue.

    Oh, and may I remind everyone that the dialogue in the original trilogy was just as crappy as the prequels – just watch the scenes at night in the Ewok village … painful.

    Those of us 30 something (and 20 something) were less entertained by I, II, and III because we had grown up but the films had not.

    Lucas knew what his target demographic was and nailed it. The prequels did not rake in the $$$$ because of us, it raked in the $$$$ from the under 12 set.

    Now, as to the assumption that no one over 30 was entertained by Episodes I, II, or III … sorry but that is not true.

    If no one else will admit it, I will. I loved all three films. Was Jar Jar annoying? Sure. Does that really matter to me? No. I did not watch those films with the notion that I was going to see a grown up version of my childhood favorites. I wanted to see light saber duels, chases, villains that were villainous and heroes that were heroic. I wanted to see stuff blow up.

    I expected bad dialogue. I expected flat characters and performances.

    What I wanted to see … to be entertained by … was a continuation of the mythology. I got that and then some.

    Diving deeper into a fictional mythology is entertainment. That is what kept Star Trek going for so long. Even the crappy episodes of deepened or broadened the mythology of Star Trek.

    My advice to all of those who considered themselves Star Wars fans until they first laid eyes on Jar Jar Binks is to let go of your adult expectations and just enjoy the ride.

    That my friend is entertainment.

  132. David:

    “He made movies for the original demographic – kids.”

    Ah, this is revisionist crap. The original Star Wars wasn’t made for kids, and Empire certainly wasn’t, and for that matter Sith has a PG-13 rating, which means that it’s not “for kids.” I would agree that Lucas, not being stupid, pitched Ewoks and Jar-Jar at the kids, and filled the movies with stuff suited for toy lines. But as for the series intended for kids: Crap.

    And while we’re at it, the idea that it’s okay for things to be crap because they’re for kids is pretty lame, too. Children can discriminate between crap and not-crap, if they are given the opportunity, and beyond that saying “well, it’s crap but it’s good enough for kids” bespeaks a certain contempt for children I’d rather not practice or endorse. There is a lot of entertainment intended for children (and families) that isn’t crap, so excusing crap on that rationale really doesn’t fly. Put The Phantom Menace up against, say, The Incredibles and the difference is stark, and appalling. I have a seven-year-old daughter, and she knows the difference between crap and good entertainment, and more to the point she deserves good entertainment.

    Also, she thinks Jar-Jar sucks. Good for her.

  133. Bloody server ate my nice long response… now I’ll have to see if I can summon the patience to try and rewrite it.

  134. He may not have intended the films for kids but the first one is perfectly suitable for them. The only thing he kept through all of them was the immaturity aura of the work.

  135. While the proprietor has explained himself quite well (except for the assertion that people were “conned” into enjoying something), I see from others here a lot of self-congratulatory, hipper-than-thou elitist bullshit in dumping on Episodes I, II and III. So some of you didn’t bother to see II and III because you were so put off by I? Oh, you’re sooo cool.

    We had 16 years for the story of what we each wanted to see in the prequels marinating in our own brain-pans. So Lucas didn’t select your version (or mine, either)? Tough. The fault was not in Star Wars, but in ourselves.

    (Aside: I didn’t care for the amount of screen time J. J. Binks received in I, but he didn’t irritate me as much as other folks. Reason: Even at seven years old, I found myself wishing 80% of the time I could hit C-3P0′s off-switch myself, so I was half-expecting another wear-out-the welcome character 22 years later.)

  136. With threepio, it helped that we knew R2-D2 was in there mocking him for us. Jar-Jar clearly needed some street-wise sidekick to tell him to shut belittle him and tell him to shut the hell up.

  137. Were you aware of what Campbell himself said about the films?

    One site says, “When Lucas showed Campbell the movies at his home, Campbell remarked “I thought real art stopped with Picasso, Joyce and Mann. Now I know it hasn’t.”

    Campbell was further quoted as saying, after seeing the films, “I tell you, I was really … thrilled. Here the man understands the metaphor. What I saw was things that had been in my books but rendered in terms of the modern problem, which is man and machine … That young man opened a vista and knew how to follow it and it was totally fresh.”

  138. Right now, millions of dollars are being dumped into and out of both the RNCC and the DNCC. The end product isn’t very entertianing at all. (barring some sort of perversity of the given value of entertianment).

    Having said that, amount of money isn’t always the deciding factor. Was anyone truley entertianed by the fact that four kids were able to turn the tide of war with presents from Santa Claus? Surprised the the Narnia movie wasn’t drug out during this discourse. Heck, my seven year old daughter hated that.

  139. “When Lucas started Star Wars with the words “A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away…” he was implicitly serving notice to the audience that they weren’t participants, they were at best witnesses to events that had already happened, through participants who were long dead.”

    Would this also describe J.R.R. Tolkien?

  140. I was vastly entertained by the (chronologically) first Star Wars. Of course, I was 15 at the time, but I still find it worth watching now and then. Not the doctored revision, of course; the original. Aside from the stupid “who shot first” controversy, I’m enough of a physicist that I find the stupid planar shocks in the revised versions of the Alderaan/Death Star explosions terribly, terribly irritating. Curiously, I also find some of the new CGI animation terribly, terribly irritating.

    I thought The Empire Strikes Back was too pretentious. Return of the Jedi was just silly. I fell in love with Carrie Fisher in Episode IV, and back out of love after seeing her in Episode VI. Maybe I missed the point, and Fischer in a bronze bikini wasn’t supposed to be sexy? If so, she was wildly successful.

    I actually liked Episode I, mostly because I liked Liam Neeson. But it probably says more about my own psychological deficiencies than Lucas’ entertainment skills that I felt drawn to the strong father figure. Episode II just irritated the heck out of me — I very nearly skipped Episode III on account of it, which might have been a good thing, since Episode III irritated and frustrated me.

    Which brings me to my serious point.

    There is only one mythology, because there is only one human race. There is one Great Story, though it is told in a thousand variations across myriad cultures. Lucas’ presumption that he could create a mythology is silly; the best storytellers discover or rediscover the archetypal Great Story, which has its own rules and logic. Whenever Lucas tried to twist the Great Story to his own agenda, the effort fell flat. And he did this often.

    Tolkien succeeded, in spite of being an Oxford blowhard steeped in Norse mythology, because he was an Oxford blowhard steeped in Norse mythology. He already had a terrific head start on understanding the Great Story because he knew the Norse version through and through.

    Episode III is the best illustration of why Lucas did not succeed. To take a famously controversial line: Anakim says “If you’re not with me, you’re against me.” Lucas wanted to take a slap at GWB so badly that he botched the response — which ought to have been “So be it” followed immediately by ignition of light sabers. The Lucas version falls flat, because it is not plausible that the archetypical character of Kenobi would respond that way in the true Great Story.

    Likewise the scene where the newly created Vader howls, snaps his restraints, and lurches off the table. Frankenstein got this archetypal scene right, but not Episode III: The monster is supposed to attack its creator, then lurch off to terrorize the village — or, in a rather older version, bring the temple of Dagon down upon himself and his gloating enemies — but instead we have Vader snap his restraints, lurch off the table, and … stand there looking confused, impotent, and very, very foolish, while his creator chuckles in the background. Sorry, George, you totally muffed that one. (Of course, you had to, because you had written yourself into a corner — one reason I don’t believe your B.S. about having the whole mythology worked out prior to Episode VI.) And it’s a pity, because the preceding putting-on-the-facemask sequence flirted with genius, and demonstrated what the franchise might have become, in more capable hands.

    (On a mostly unrelated tangent, I consider Wrath of Khan to be as close as Star Trek ever came to magnificent storytelling, and a painful illustration of that that franchise might have become in more capable hands.)

  141. I got something not at all in this critique out of Star Wars. Partly it was about having a common connection with sci-fi and the outside world. But mainly, it was about the three main characters. I really think those actors did something amazing. I adored them, but, and you have to understand that this was as a young girl in the 80s, Leia was *incredible.* She was a pretty princess, like little girls were supposed to be, who also shot guns and lead rebellions. She was the most important character plot-wise, and a love interest, and generally kick ass. Nobody had ever put that all together before. Han Solo was a good cad, but not exactly the first. Luke was a fine idiot vessel of destiny, but you can’t swing a dead cat without hitting a dozen of those in sci-fi/fa. No, it was Leia that was remarkable. She was a whole generation’s permission to be strong without giving up being a girl.

    And so, it’s hard to convey the complete betrayal and nausea I felt seeing Amadala. By the end of the third film, they’d even managed to steal Leia back from me, by fucking up her origin so badly.

    I intend to sit down with my daughter and show her the first two movies proudly. I will grit my teeth and show her the third. But as far as I’m concerned, those other movies never happened.

  142. Referring to starwars episode IV, im not entirely convinced that luke did say ‘clone wars’. It also sounds like ‘colonial wars’ to me. Lucas has used the starwars fan base to create his mythology since then.
    As for prequels, it seems apparent to me that he has placed more on the fan created starwars mythology to create the films than existing earth mytholgies and cultures. This has created a far more fabricated feel than the original movies, which appeared to relie more on the existing mythologies that are already imbeded in our social conciousness. The prequels relate to hardened fans.

  143. It’s really hard to come to come to grips with the fact that Lucas totally fucked up the SW franchise with those prequels. What a complete cluster fuck. I mean almost every level of those movies is a disaster: dialogue, acting, character development, plot, not to mention the cheesy CG FX that are already looking dated.

    My pet theory is that Lucas is really just a glorified FX junkie who’s just infatuated with the CG effects. The movies were really just a platform for implementing new computer effects for industrial light and magic. How many fuckin times is he going to re-release the films with super-duper new effects? Even though Spielberg fell prey to this same bullshit when he released E.T. on DVD with cheese digital CG, he at least had the wisdom to release the original version without any tampering on a separate disk.

    Jim
    (just another pissed off SW fan)

  144. Way too much cynism here.
    It’s science “fiction”. We arent supposed to be part of the story, we are being told the story.
    I personally felt it(episode IV) to be very entertaining. It was dramatic,suspensful and funny. Harrison was great as the anti-hero.With many one liners and monologues that make the regular person laugh. When Luke kills the tie fighter from the falcons anti-air guns he gets very excited. Solo’s response “great kid now dont get cocky!” was awesome.
    WHy even anylize this, they are movies.I guess the owner of this site has a major dislike for everything Lucas.

  145. Matt:

    “Why even anylize this, they are movies.”

    That’s just about the most ignorant and moronic thing anyone’s said in this entire thread, Matt. Thanks ever so much for sharing it. Now, please take your willful obliviousness somewhere else.

  146. Heh… this article has the hallmarks of a bitter person who has no idea what they want to do with their life and time!

  147. And that comment has all the hallmarks of someone with their head deeply wedged into their duodenum. You must be proud.

  148. I agree with Kristine Kathryn Rusch’s essay if you ignore what the original Star Wars series actually was (stilted dialogue, black and white plots, etc.) and focus on what they represented in the popular culture.

    They were(in theory)fun adventures that wanted to sweep you up and entertain you. That’s what people think of when they think of those old movies- lightsabers and spaceships.

    Rusch’s point is that sf needs to entertain more than it has been doing lately. If her sales numbers are correct, and I have no reason to doubt her, the one thing sf hasn’t been doing is entertaining people.

  149. As was mentioned above, Lucas’ stated intention when Ep. IV was done was to recreate the Sunday afternoon action serials that he enjoyed as a kid. Not art for the ages. Needing to accept the input from others as a prerequisite to getting funding for the next 2 kept the ‘Art for the Ages’ impulse under control. It also kept the fun factor somewhat in mind.

    The prequels not so much. I think John’s right. It all became about self-deluded ‘Art for the Ages’ and simple fun became third or fourth in importance. Lametude takes over and fun vanishes.

    As far as the Matrix sidebar is concerned, there are several places in the second film where elements are buried that, I believe, were supposed to be revealed (in retrospect) in the third film as clues to what was really going on. I believe the moneymen forced a major rewrite of the third film because they saw it as too cerebral and not enough action. They also seem to have assumed that the audience would not have been able to understand the concept of the Matrix world having (at least) three levels. The spoonbender koan, the ability of Neo to shut down the mechs (limited timeframe or not) and other issues look pretty solid as lead-ins to the concept of the Zion level as being another Matrix level between the already known Matrix level and ‘reality’. Agent Smith would have been perfectly placed to spot the Zion level’s true nature and disclose this to Neo.

    If they had been able to film the story they were aiming at beyond the second film rather than the compromise they were forced to film, I believe, the series would have had a much better finish.

  150. My question is this: What is “entertainment”?

    I’ve read the essay 3 times now, and I can’t parse out what you mean by “entertainment”. And without that, I can’t understand why Star Wars doesn’t count.

    It can’t be “entertainment = that which is entertaining” because you concede that at least 2 of the films are entertaining. (I contend that they were all entertaining, insofar as I was entertained by each of them.)

    It can’t be “entertainment = that which is entertaining to a lot of people” unless you can establish the lower limit on audience numbers before a work can qualify.

    It can’t be “entertainment = that which is entertaining by design” because I reject the notion that Lucas has/had absolutely no intention of entertaining anyone. I’m sorry, but I just do.

  151. Do we not like Joseph Campbell?
    and if Lucas is metaphorically masturbating to a picture of Joe, what does that mean iin reality?

    Lucas builds worlds.
    His characters are standard archtypes.
    his plot is cliche.

    world, characters, plot. What else is there? It seems that all this talk of mythology is just saying Lucas spends all his time developing world and lets character and plot fall to the side.

  152. Doc Rocketscience:

    “It can’t be “entertainment = that which is entertaining by design” because I reject the notion that Lucas has/had absolutely no intention of entertaining anyone. I’m sorry, but I just do.”

    I never said such a thing. He meant to entertain himself, and has apparently done so.

    Now, you can reject the notion that Lucas had no intention of entertaining any one else (or at the very least didn’t worry if he did not), and my response to that would be: Fine, then, reject it. Doesn’t bother me any.

  153. er wait. by masturbatory, are you talking about Lucas inserting himself into Star Wars as the main character? Lucas became Luke, and the rest is one huge Gary Stu storyline? Lucas cast himself as one of Joes heroes?

  154. Yeah, the original Star Wars film was a Saturday morning cartoon. Could’ve been pretty good if it had stuck with the droids and avoided the annoying kid and the old guy and the bogus black-helmeted dude. A worm’s-eye view of that universe could’ve really gone somewhere.

    Saying that George is a crappy filmmaker, though, runs aground on one of the great films made in America — American Graffiti. That’s an outstanding film. Great script. Fine directing. Radically innovative structure for that time. Everything clicks.

    George Lucas’ tragedy was to accidentally make a cheesy live-action Saturday morning cartoon that became inexplicably popular. So he got sucked into making a bunch more of ‘em, progressively worse, and wound up sacrificing his life on the altar of cash. There was just too much of it for him to give up making Star Wars films.

    Hey, I actually kind of liked Star Wars episode IV. The plot didn’t make any sense…but so what? The plot of 2001: A Space Odyssey doesn’t make any sense either. (Why not send a robot probe to Jupiter instead of a giant honking ship full of people? Doesn’t HAL have Asimov’s Three Laws? And what kind of engineers would design a hatch that can only be opened by the computer from inside? Ever hear of a button that operates the door, guys? You know, like a garage door opener? Ever heard of one of those, master engineers of the year 2001…? Does the term “fail safe design” ring a bell?) The action scenes in episode IV were tons of fun. The pod race was dynamite. Sure, it’s fluff, and so what? Empty-headed fluff is the bread and butter of American movies. After nearly two decades of Schwarzenegger films, you’re going to complain about Star Wars episode IV? Compared to most Schwarzenegger films, it comes off like Shakespeare.

    To be fair, I never bothered watching episodes V and VI. Episode IV was pretty fun. I didn’t have a big problem with Jar-Jar Binks either. Maybe I’m a mutant.

  155. Great article, expressed a lot of the frustration I felt watching the prequels.

    I thought Lucas hit every plot point in the prequels that he had mentioned before, but did it stupidly, he compressed the time scale and the size of the galaxy so that the clone wars instead of being a long ago great war, weren’t that long ago and were no big deal. It would be like someone describing the first gulf war as a great war. Hey, wait, that was only 20 years ago, I had already graduated from college, of course I remember that guy palpatine becoming suddenly old and taking over everything.

    I’d like to see a star wars reboot, no ewoks, no jarjar, and use the Darthblog as inputs for Vader’s character.

  156. I never said such a thing. He meant to entertain himself, and has apparently done so.

    Well, can’t we take the artist’s intention to self-entertain as a given? I think even Darren Aronofsky, Danny Boyle and Gasper Noe respectively find Requiem for a Dream, 127 Hours, and Irreversible entertaining, even though they did not intend to entertain the audience. Are you asserting that George Lucas – an archetypal commercial, popular filmmaker – was doing this with Star Wars? On the other hand, if a work fails to entertain, is that not a very different thing from not being intended to entertain?

  157. Doc Rocketscience:

    “an archetypal commercial, popular filmmaker”

    Anyone who’s seen THX 1138 would see the flaw in that assessment; the film was neither commercial nor popular.

    Likewise, the suits at 20th Century Fox apparently thought so little about the commercial/popular potential of Star Wars that they thought they had gotten a good deal by signing away sequel/merchandising in exchange for Lucas reducing his directing fee.

    Lucas is commercial and popular in hindsight (and because he was both canny and lucky). The day before Star Wars came out, however, he was a director who had gotten lucky once with American Graffiti and now likely to blow his cred on a junky space film.

  158. Bitter, party of 1, your table is ready……?

    Not sure why all the drama over Star Wars. Love it or hate it, it has made a ton of money. Why? Because people like it. Pretty simple and clearly pretty successful.

  159. Anyone who’s seen THX 1138 would see the flaw in that assessment; the film was neither commercial nor popular.

    That was his first feature, made in 1971, 6 years before Lucas himself created the environment in which he could become the archetype of the modern commercial, popular filmmaker. He’s never made another movie like that. Besides, no one saw Piranha 2 either, does that make Cameron a schlock B-movie director? (Yes, YMMV on that.)

    Likewise, the suits at 20th Century Fox apparently thought so little about the commercial/popular potential of Star Wars that they thought they had gotten a good deal by signing away sequel/merchandising in exchange for Lucas reducing his directing fee.

    20th Century Fox was operating in a mid-70′s, pre-Star Wars environment. What Lucas asked for in terms of sequels and merchandising rights was largely unheard of. Meanwhile, the space opera had not been a successful bet for more than a decade, and Hollywood was in the midst of its “Golden Era” of “personal films”. They had no reason to expect it to be successful, and no context to value things Lucas was bartering for. Or, at least, so goes the conventional wisdom – I’m not a film scholar.

    Lucas is commercial and popular in hindsight (and because he was both canny and lucky). The day before Star Wars came out, however, he was a director who had gotten lucky once with American Graffiti and now likely to blow his cred on a junky space film.

    “Hindsight” as opposed to what? Canniness and luck are going to be a factor in any artist’s commercial success. Everything in this paragraph is true, but what what is your point?

    Anyway, all of this is a tangent to my actual question: if entertainment must be entertaining by design, does that then mean you assert that Lucas had no intentions of entertaining an audience (other than himself, which I take as a given)?

  160. Doc Rocketscience:

    To dismiss THX 1138 simply as a first film is to fundamentally misapprehend Lucas as a filmmaker. It’s also incorrect to say he’s never made another film like that, since the kind of film it is, is a personal vision which is not particularly concerned with being approachable or even comprehensible to anyone but Lucas. In which case, he’s made several like it.

    Likewise, attempting to dismiss the considerations of the era in which Lucas made Star Wars is overlooking quite a lot, including, incidentally, the relative success of science fiction immediately preceding Star Wars; from 2001 and Planet of the Apes in ’68 through Logan’s Run in ’76 there had been a number of very successful SF films, tuned into the tenor of the time. There had been enough science fiction out in the market that Star Wars was not utterly alien as a concept (although, of course, it turned out completely different in execution).

    Regarding “Hindsight as opposed to what,” the “what” here is the expectations of the people putting up the money to make the film, i.e., the studio, which has to make it own estimation as to the commercial and popular viability of a film in order to decide how to market and promote it. In this case, Fox doesn’t appear to have thought the commercial prospects for the film were all that great. The studio execs in this case turned out to be wildly wrong, but their assessment was not uninformed.

    The point to all this is before we go asserting that Lucas is obviously an archetype of a commercial and popular filmmaker, it’s important to remember that in fact prior to Star Wars his filmography included an aggressively uncommercial and unpopular film which in its form, structure and intent far more closely resembles the Star Wars films than the one film which Lucas in fact wrote explicitly to be a mass entertainment, namely, American Graffiti .

    Rather than Lucas being an archetype of a popular and commercial director, he was in fact a stereotype of a certain type of 70s filmmaker, the one who made aggressively personal films — and indeed if you listen to him discuss his film and his work, he very much sees himself in that vein. He is a filmmaker of a certain school who, by dint of being in the right place at the right time with a work that no one knew they wanted so very much, finds himself cast as another sort entirely.

    Finally, I’m not sure as to why you need me to reassert a point which I made clearly obvious in the essay.

  161. To dismiss…

    I’m taking a different perspective, not dismissing.

    …he’s made several like it.

    I see what you’re saying. I disagree, but I understand.

    Likewise, attempting to dismiss the considerations of the era in which Lucas made Star Wars is overlooking quite a lot,…

    Actually, I thought I specifically addressed that. Besides, Logan’s Run and Planet of the Apes are dystopias, while 2001 is… well, I’m not sure what sub-genre to file it under. (and if ever a sci-fi film was inaccessible and incomprehensible…) What they’re not, however, are space operas. I’d say Star Wars bears as much resemblance to those movies as Avatar does to Terminator: Salvation and Moon. Fox made what, at the time, any studio would have seen as a good business decision.

    …in fact prior to Star Wars…

    But that’s just it. It’s not unreasonable to divide the history of American filmmaking into BSW and ASW eras (so long as one remembers that there are several such breaking points.). It was Star Wars, specifically, that allowed Lucas to become an archetype for an era.

    Rather than Lucas being an archetype of a popular and commercial director, he was in fact a stereotype of a certain type of 70s filmmaker…

    I find him to be, paradoxically, both. As well as a case study in how difficult it is to serve two masters. Unquestionably, he wants to make the films he wants to make.* He also knows that you need the clout to be able to do that. And he knows – or, at least, knew between 1973 and 1977 – how to get that clout: by making something that gets butts into seats. He created the modern version of the dramatically simplistic, highly technical, special effects extravaganza. I think he knew that that kind of film would be commercially successful. That’s what he continued to do, though, ironically, audience sophistication may have outstripped him.

    Finally, I’m not sure as to why you need me to reassert a point which I made clearly obvious in the essay.

    Well, “need” is an awfully strong word. But that’s the question I’m hoping to have answered. Because, to this reader, it’s not that clear. Your thesis – Star Wars is not entertainment – depends on defining your terms, specifically “entertainment”. I think I can surmise, form the essay and from some of your comments over the last couple of days, that the definition you’re working from is that entertainment is, and must be, designed to be entertaining, above all other considerations. But, I don’t want to put words in your mouth, so I ask for clarification.**

    *An artist driven by ego? Particularly one with total control over the product? The hell you say. Actually, i think Robin Williams put it best. “The writer-producer-director: the only creature on Earth that can blow smoke up its own ass.”

    **I actually disagree with this definition. I think that audience entertainment would have to be specifically excluded, a la those films I mentioned. And I don’t think there’s evidence that that’s what Lucas did, anyway. No, I don’t expect you to care. I didn’t actually expect you to respond at all, though I’m certainly grateful that you did. Thank you.

  162. Doc Rocketscience:

    “I think that audience entertainment would have to be specifically excluded, a la those films I mentioned. And I don’t think there’s evidence that that’s what Lucas did, anyway.”

    As I note in the entry, Lucas doesn’t keep the audience out of his universe, he just doesn’t care that they’re in it. The artist doesn’t have to exclude an audience for what he/she creates not be considered an “entertainment”; being indifferent to the desire of the audience is sufficient. I very strongly suspect in the Star Wars films, particularly in the prequel trilogy, that Lucas is fundamentally indifferent to the audience for the work. Not antagonistic — I think he’s perfectly happy to let those he works with suggest and implement entertaining elements, so long as they don’t get in the way of his vision of things, and he himself is content to add in what entertains him and therefore might additionally entertain others as a side effect — just indifferent. He doesn’t have to make the films for anyone but himself, so he doesn’t.

    And as I’ve also noted, this is fine; heck, sometimes I myself write things just for myself and couldn’t care less what anyone else thinks about them. If they like them, groovy; if not, oh well. It’s a privilege of a creator. But in those cases I wouldn’t argue that what I’m doing is an entertainment, in the sense that its purpose is to amuse and engage others. Lucas is doing the same thing, just on a rather larger scale.

  163. Way back on Oct 11 2006 our host noted about the comparison with Lord of The Rings “… I also wonder how much it matters that the “mythology” in this case was already created — ie, Jackson was working with an already established source rather than making it up himself”.

    I’d point out that it’s merely a matter of degree. Jacksons’s material, ie LOTR, The Hobbit, Silmarilion etc were established material *to him* by the time Jackson came to them. However, take just one step back up the generation tree and guess what – Tolkein *made them up*. He quite deliberately set out to create an English mythology. Certainly drawing on Norse and other roots, but part of his impetus to do so was that England had no mythology.

    So I’m puzzled as to why Star Wars is so reveiled, apparently for being a deliberatel;y created mythology, while LOTR, just as deliberately and knowingly a created mythology, seems to get a free pass.

  164. Heh. Ep. IV (::rolling eyes forever::) came out when I was 16, and I had a new driver’s license, and my mom would let me borrow her car to go watch the movie in the next town over with my friend, and I discovered Harrison Ford, and hey, that was all I needed. Harrison Ford got me back for Eps V and VI, although VI was mightily disappointing. (I reeeeally wanted a sex scene. *sigh*)

    Went to see Ep. I for Liam Neeson (plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose), but was so appalled, I never went back. Eps II and III remain a blessed blank for me. I can learn from my mistakes.

  165. Hm, having given this another read, I’m still confused.

    If I understand correctly, the criticism is that Lucas wasn’t trying to entertain the audience. And the evidence to this is that Episode 4 begins with “long long ago”, and therefore he is telling a myth that has already happened and the audience didn’t see it and didn’t partake in it.

    But isn’t that also true of the myth that is the “Lord of the Rings”?

    If I recall correctly, Tolkien basically wanted to write a “creation myth” for England. And it happened long before the audience gets to watch/read. And the audience doesn’t get to partake in what happened, we only get to hear/read/see what Tolkien wants to tell us. If one wants to say that if the primary goal of the author is “creating a myth” and not “entertaining the audience”, then couldn’t one point to “Silmarillion” and make the same accusation? That Tolkien was more interested in creating a mythology of Middle Earth than in writing a story to entertain? The man invented an entire elvish language, didn’t he?

    The problem I see with this criticism of Lucas is that it rests entirely NOT on the attributes of the movies but on your psychological profile of Lucas himself.

    Does it matter why an author wrote a work? If Edgar Allen Poe’s “The Raven” was a pot boiler, a story written because he needed money, what does that information affect? Should it alter the way I feel about that poem? Should that information change anything of my opinion of the work itself? I can’t see how the motivation of the author would alter my opinion of their work.

    To borrow a quote, no man but a blockhead ever wrote, except for money. Should it matter that the author had mercenarial intent? Or that they had personal investment in their creation? Or that they were doing it for purely self satisfaction?

    You are making an assertion about the psychology of Lucas, which is orthoganol to the quality of his work. It’s like looking at a work by Vincent Van Gogh and pointing out that he suffered from depression. Or a painting by Picasso and mentioning he had syphillis that affected his sanity. Except in this case, you don’t even have the benefit of a medical diagnosis.

    Saying “Lucas did not write Star Wars as entertainment” is pretty much an unfalsifiable statement. Unless he confessed as much. But your only quote from Lucas is “there really was no modern use of mythology”, which I would say fails to prove his intent behind Star Wars. And even if it does prove your assertion, then what?

    It seems that if this were to tie back to anything about the art itself, it would be the bit where you say this:

    writer Kristine Kathryn Rusch says that the problem with written SF is that it isn’t influenced enough by Star Wars, which to her mind is an exempar of good old-fashioned entertainment, and poses it in opposition to much of written SF, which is “jargon-filled limited-access novels that fill the shelves

    On the one hand: Rusch is talking about something called “entertainment”
    On the other hand: “jargon filled, limited access” novels

    Rusch seems to be pointing to an important lesson for authors and would-be authors, which is that jargon-filled stories tend to appeal to a much smaller audience. Not everyone who reads Lord of the Rings is going to read Silmarillion or study Tolkien’s invented Elvish language. Whether a jargon filled story is “better” than a non jargon filled story is a different debate.

    The part where you seemed to have taken and run with it, is the word “entertainment” and whether Star Wars qualifies for that term or not. And your definition of entertainment seems to hinge on the psychological frame of Lucas when he created the films. Did he intend to entertain the audience or was he doing it for his own satisfaction. It might be that you were right and Lucas was a tosser. But that seems to be a rather pedantic reading of Rusch’s point. And maybe Rusch even intended the term that way.

    But if the point was to educate writers and would be writers, and possibly improve the quality of science fiction and fantasy, it would seem that what is essentially gossip about Lucas’ state of mind as he created Star Wars is pretty much irrelevant. Just about every bit of writer advice I’ve read for the genre of science fiction and fantasy at least mentions the problems of too much jargon. I think its good advice. Useful advice. As for whether or not dystopia’s are “good” or “bad” fiction, that’s more debatable, but clearly the phrase “hollywood ending” points to happy endings.

    Star Wars doesn’t have a lot of jargon. It’s got jargon, but it doesn’t go into long explanations of how the hyperdrive bends space and makes the ships cover large distances, or how the “restraining bolts” makes droids more obedient, or how a light saber works.

    And Star Wars has a happy ending. It’s not dystopic. Episode 4 by itself follows the three-act-play arc. In the end, Luke destroys the Death Star. Episodes 4, 5, 6 together form a larger three-act-play. And both have happy endings. Certainly both have dark act 2′s, but that’s that point of act 2, to show the protagonist fail.

    Star Wars was entertaining in the sense that it doesn’t have a lot of jargon and it had a happy ending. I don’t know if that’s what Rusch was intending to say or not, but it seems to be the useful bit of educational information to take away from this conversation.

    That Lucas was or was not of a mental state to entertain his audience seems fairly orthoganol to the work itself, seems mostly unfalsifiable, and the one quote from Lucas you provide would just as easily convict Tolkien and many other sci-fi/fantasy writers of the same “crime”, and in the end, doesn’t teach any authors anything they could use to improve their fiction.

  166. @MartynTaylor

    > Tolkein … didn’t believe that England has any mythology, so he was dutybound to present > it with one that reflected all those decades of becoming the world’s number one expert on > Norse myth (I’ve suffered for my art, and now its your turn) I think he was a presumptuous > old man

    This is strange considering Tolkien began to write as a young man, for himself, long before he became a scholar: he continued to write until the time of his death. He worked under the burden of a publisher’s miscommunication that his life work (20′s through deathbed) was unpublishable. (He wrote anyway.)

    From his essay in _Finn and Hengest: The Fragment and the Episode_ it is clear Tolkien loved what he studied for its own sake and from “On Fairy-stories” that he wrote trying to capture that power and fascination. (It was not Norse myth but Norse myth, Finnish myth, medieval Arthurian romances, and especially Ango-saxon literature (his field of expertise) that influenced LoTR.) Tolkien did not think these things were grim dead remnants an audience should suffer through but delightful, strange, renewing stories that made the tedium of industrialized, urbanized life just bearable. He had a geek’s affection for complex arcane stories and linguistic systems — he gave them a significance (renewal and refreshment from the grimness of modern life and the horrors of mechanized war) — but he loved them for themselves.

    He wrote _The Lord of the Rings_ because _The Hobbit_ did well and his publisher asked for a sequel: he stumbled a lot through the early drafts of the first chapters, noodling with ideas, picking awful character names, going down dead ends. On his own he would likely never have written _Lord of the Rings_ and he showed no signs of wanting to “inflict” his life work on anyone: he was never happy with it, himself. (_The Silmarillion_ with its near total lack of description, dialogue and characterization is at best a sketch Tolkien intended to work from: pick up nearly any volume of _The History of Middle-earth_ to read his false starts at writing proper novels from _The Silmarillion_’s compressed outlines. You may even find the Science Fiction novel he started.)

    You may accuse Tolkien of many things, but he truly thought other people would enjoy the historical permutations of Welsh or the ancient deeds of Anglo-Saxon chiefs cast in verse just as much as he did. Any geek has something they love just as much — which has equally good prospects of falling flat on its face presented to a general audience in its raw form.

    This is what being a geek is: by the time you finish explaining what the cool thing is your audience has left — and no one has stayed to hear why it’s so awesome. Tolkien did the thing a writer has to do: he put the awesome up front and snuck in the explanations later. (Watch how Gandalf gets Beorn to welcome so many guests: same storytelling technique.)

    -Lisa Shapter

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