Tuesday, May 31, 2005

I am writing to say that George Lucas deserves canonization, beyond the usual Oscars fanfare for “lifetime achievment.” We should build a large bronze monument in his image. After all, he sustained a vision for 28 years. He created his own standards and put his evolution as a filmmaker out there for all to see. He made no apologies or conciliation to critics.

When I was six years old, sitting between my Mom and Dad in a crowded movie theatre in Queens, the sight of an enormous blue imperial cruiser coming into view, carrying Darth Vader and his ominous respirations, made my palms sweat and instantly began shaping my concepts of right and wrong, darkness and light. Christmas 1977 I got a red T-shirt with the reflective silver adhesive letters, “Star Wars.” I’d talk to grandparents, uncles, aunts, cousins, about Star Wars. I would play Star Wars (one note at a time) on piano. I also knew that I did not have the full story regarding Star Wars. My father, already an Alec Guiness fan, remarked that he thought Obi Wan was the most interesting character, that the force actually did exist, that the beginning of Star Wars was not really the beginning, etc. (This was a man who took philosophy courses at Columbia and had a rough childhood, who was practically a kid himself in 1977.) As a result I imagined what the Jedis were like; in daydreams I would ponder why and how Darth Vader was once “good.” It amazes me that 28 years later I would find my curiosity on these matters still intact, that George Lucas could plant seeds of wonder in children, allow those seeds to sit for decades, and then complete his story only after the children had become adults. Unlike any filmmaker I can think of, he extended his epic vision over an epic length of time, providing a new mythology that an entire generation could share.

Some critics are currently trashing his work. They whine that the characters seem wooden, or make fun of Hayden Christianson’s performance, blithely ignoring the fact that if George Lucas gave up on making films or decided to just skip doing episode III, it would have thrown millions of people such as me into an abyss. George Lucas ignored the naysayers, determined to finish what he started. As a result he brought us full circle back to our childhoods. He gives a sense of wisdom, a sense of gratitude for having been born when we were and having waited 28 years for an answer.

The scene with Padme’s funeral procession shows a silent, mournful JarJar Binks (an object of many critics' ridicule) and several exotically facepainted, headdress-wearing Naboo characters. Putting JarJar into the movie at any other moment would have drawn guffaws from the audience. Lucas puts him there in a cunning way, as if to say "try laughing now." They walk in a beautifully gloomy evening light, more sophisticated in terms of set design and lighting than anything attempted in episodes IV, V, and VI. Lucas effectively scolds his critics here, showing that his “phantom menace” characters had value, or at least that his attention to costume and atmosphere grew substantially via these characters. Compared to Leia’s hair buns the Naboo facepaint and headdress is exquisite. Perhaps, Lucas suggests, you were all too insensitive to appreciate the new things I tried.

I predict that Lucas’ next film will be less about fighting and more about fantasy. He is going to deliver a true modern incarnation of Fantasia, something that absorbs a new generation in heavenly forms, high resolution color, perhaps a little mathematical precision. Hopefully he’ll also discover the next Harrison Ford (female or male) and recapture the daring feel of the first Star Wars.