AS A HUGE ADMIRER of the original “Star Wars” trilogy — we’re talking a grown man with a toy light-saber — here’s some free advice to TV executives.
You know those new “Star Wars” TV programs that George Lucas intends to produce? Think twice before buying them.
Lucas made a relatively rare appearance in L.A. Saturday at the Museum of Television & Radio’s Paley Festival, where he reiterated a strategy to keep the blockbuster franchise alive strictly in television with two series — one live-action, the other animated.
Yet for someone who has become a multi-billionaire courtesy of the movie business, Lucas sounds not just disenchanted with the theatrical world’s bloat, but semi-delusional about the present state of television.
Asked about his decision to shift to television, he explained that in movies, “The risks are so high, and the odds so great, it takes the fun out of it.” By contrast, he said, in TV, “Nobody seems to care. You just get to do whatever you want to do.”
Television has no critics, he continued, and if it does, nobody reads them. (No offense taken — I’ve long suspected those angry emails are self-generating.) He also suggested that because of the lower stakes, TV is creatively liberating, including the freedom to be “goofier.”
From the man who gave the world Jar Jar Binks, this does not inspire confidence.
Lucas is dead right on one front: As Newsweek recently noted in a piece titled “Why TV Is Better Than Movies,” much of the most interesting and challenging popular entertainment is being produced for television.
In the broad strokes, though, Lucas exhibited the naivete of someone ensconced in an ivory tower outside San Francisco, afforded all the privileges that rarefied existence allows.
THE ASSERTION that risks in TV are inconsequential, for example, would come as news to TV producers as well as, say, Warner Bros. executives, who produce $100 million or so in TV pilots every year, hoping one or two hit it big a la “Two and a Half Men” and deliver returns on that investment.
Perhaps most tellingly, following a clip reel of the “Star Wars” sextet, Lucas said his first thought while viewing the package was how the movies were “a lot of work.” His repeated emphasis on the pressure, criticism and gambling associated with the latest trilogy helps explain why those movies were so joyless — an obligatory slog to get through and complete, lacking the elan or vitality of the originals. It’s hard to imagine Sam Raimi, for instance, assuming the same hang-dog, “woe is me” posture about the “Spider-Man” movies.
Lucas didn’t direct the first pair of sequels, and in hindsight probably should have handed the reins to someone else on the opening installments of the second trilogy.
AS FOR TELEVISION’S advantages, beyond overlooking the laundry list of movie titans thwarted by Nielsen’s unyielding tally, Lucas seems to miss how that medium excels in its ability to establish and develop compelling characters — precisely where his work on “Star Wars,” a technical marvel and visual triumph, has consistently been weakest.
The MTR event instructively focused on Lucas’ earlier TV experiment, “The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles,” which aired on ABC. While that program enjoyed memorable moments, it was also emotionally turgid — an expensive study guide, relegating the archaeologist-adventurer to the role of “witness to history.” (Reflecting the educational bent, Lucas is prodding Paramount to release the episodes on DVD, augmented by documentaries about the real-life historical figures featured during its two-season run.)
Interestingly, the 1999 “Star Wars” installment “The Phantom Menace” and “Young Indy” also share a fundamental miscalculation: the movie foolishly centered on a child, 10-year-old Anakin Skywalker, as did half the “Young Indy” episodes, which were largely forgettable compared with those starring Sean Patrick Flanery as the character from age 16 to 20.
Lucas has clearly earned the right to do as he wishes, including his stated plan to produce 100 episodes of the animated series and only then shop it around to networks. Still, after listening to him last week, as that noted philosopher Jar Jar would say, “Meso thinksa yousa needsa breaksa.” And not just from the movies.