People have a lot of feelings. Twitter and the Internet at large are places where said feelings are expressed in a wide scale, which goes from very strong all the way to frighteningly insane. It’s clear when Justin Bieber shares a picture of his bum or whenever the One Direction boys do… anything, really. But that’s music. What about film?
Apparently, people have a lot of feelings in this area too, as the latest #OscarsSoWhite controversy showed (as did the one before that…). In the realm of film, it’s never more clear, though, than when fandoms are hurt by their maker. The father of contemporary fandom is a creative genius with a white beard and who doesn’t really care about his fans’ feelings… Not Santa Claus, nor G.R.R. Martin, the (merciless) author of Game of Thrones, but George Lucas.
Star Wars helped cement the role of the blockbuster in popular culture after his pal Spielberg had invented it with Jaws two years previously. And then the two collaborated on Raiders of the Lost Ark, which became the Indiana Jones franchise (There. I’ve dropped the f-word.), which developed a cult following of its own. (And all three have iconic soundtracks.) The funny thing is that George Lucas’ later outings within those two universes weren’t really warmly welcomed by the public nor by the fans. In fact, many feel that George Lucas did to them what Indy did to that swordsman in the Egyptian marketplace.
When the news came that Disney was starting pre-production on a fifth Indiana Jones film came, many film buffs and Indy fans alike had but one query, which they expressed with strong emotions on the Internet. No escaping a nuclear explosion in a fridge ! That sole element killed the movie for many fans who thought that, three years after having
ruined finished the prequel Star Wars trilogy, George Lucas was only good at anymore was ruin his perfect babies.
However, if we return to both these stories’ origins, it turns out that both Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull and the Star Wars prequels are heavily influenced by pop culture and especially by pulp stories. These stories were not know for being absolute perfection. (Star Wars is really an indie film.) but you still bought them because they had an inherent goofiness, almost to the point of clumsiness, in a meta way, and -most of all- they were page turners. And what’s the equivalent of a page turner in movies? A film you’d watch while eating pop corn, right? A blockbuster.
George Lucas was heavily criticised, yet most Star Wars exegetes tend to agree that the prequels are closer to his original vision for the story. The big question it leads to is: who do you make movies for ?
After all, you start with an idea, and the rest is an endless struggle to realise it and show it to people. There’s a paradox at the core of this idea that an artist is creating for intrinsically selfish reasons, yet needs to share and show his work. That’s immensely true of film, as it’s at heart a collaborative medium, and the movie-going experience is a shared one. (No, Netflix & Chill doesn’t count.)
Star Wars became a phenomenon beyond anyone’s expectations, and invented a myth for the pop culture age. (It helped that George Lucas worked from mythic structure, however much he shook it.) The fandom that the original trilogy spawned made Star Wars something more than it was, and it took a life of its own, beyond Lucas’s grasp. It was clear when Disney decided to go where the audience was with the current trilogy, which prompted Lucas to express dismay with his statement about Disney being “white slavers” (not the most PC comment, but the idea is there).
So in the end, in an ideal world, you’re not making a film for yourself -however much you want to. Films are meant to be created and consumed by groups of people. Today’s indie filmmaker can’t survive without a strong social media presence. And the greatest filmmakers in history have been known to constantly think about the audience’s reaction. That’s especially important in an age when films are heavily marketed and make the audience have certain expectations (which you can play with).
So perhaps George Lucas is as stubborn as ever and will put another fridge escape in his next script and not betray the soul of his original idea. Or we can hope that he does a bit of both and meets his audience halfway. That’s what we expect with most movies these days.