The creator and the audience: the irony of Star Wars

Okay, it is occasionally argued that the reader or viewer knows more about a piece of work than its writer. Bollocks. I’ve been told by reviewers that my Doctor Who dramas are unquestionably, undoubtedly, certainly based on things I’ve never actually heard of.


There is this thing with Star Wars. George Lucas keeps fiddling and he says that the original version was unfinished. He says that all his fiddling is making the movie into the film he always wanted it to be. I could be alright with that. There’s a song called Anchorage by Michelle Shocked that I adore and later on in her career she changed a couple of words. I found that very hard, somehow, but it’s her song and that’s it.

Except some of Lucas’s fiddling is juvenile.

He’ll take a scene and fill the background with CGI aliens that are distracting from the dramatic purpose of the moment and are sometimes just crap anyway.

Then he’ll go all Old Man’s Attitude on a scene. Originally, Han Solo is cornered by a baddie and kills him. Han is therefore a bit interesting, a bit less squeaky-clean than most of the characters, a little bit more than one-dimensional. And, most of all, his enemies are serious. Later we’re going to hear more about them and it’s more and more of a thing. But in the subsequent versions of the film, the baddie shoots first. He does so because Old Man’s Attitude says decent heroes don’t shoot until the baddie has. Lucas is fussed about the word decent whereas I am fussed about the word hero: because the baddie shoots first and we want Han to survive the film, the baddie must miss. From about a pixel away. Baddie is therefore ridiculously amateur and unthreatening.

That’s what you want: baddies who are unthreatening.

All this comes up now, though, because of a news story in The Atlantic that features someone called Harmy who has spent years recreating the original version of Star Wars from the various versions. You literally cannot buy the original film now but over the years there were Laserdisc and VHS versions and the like that are being scraped and utilised to rebuild the movie as it was. Fine.

I appreciate the craft and the determination. I wouldn’t if Lucas’s changes weren’t so often truly, deeply poor but they are so I do. What really interests me though, is that The Atlantic has also got this quote:

People who alter or destroy works of art and our cultural heritage for profit or as an exercise of power are barbarians, and if the laws of the United States continue to condone this behavior, history will surely classify us as a barbaric society…

Today, engineers with their computers can add color to black-and-white movies, change the soundtrack, speed up the pace, and add or subtract material to the philosophical tastes of the copyright holder. Tomorrow, more advanced technology will be able to replace actors with “fresher faces,” or alter dialogue and change the movement of the actor’s lips to match. It will soon be possible to create a new “original” negative with whatever changes or alterations the copyright holder of the moment desires. The copyright holders, so far, have not been completely diligent in preserving the original negatives of films they control. In order to reconstruct old negatives, many archivists have had to go to Eastern bloc countries where American films have been better preserved.

That’s George Lucas making a speech to the US Congress in 1988. The Atlantic points out that this was to do with the then hot-topic of bastards colourising black and white classics. The Atlantic says:

Some argue that here Lucas was railing against outsiders being able to alter a directors work, not against directors being able to update their own pieces. Which raises the question of who truly owns something like Star Wars—a huge cultural phenomenon—once it is unleashed. Lucas addresses that in his speech too. “American works of art belong to the American public; they are part of our cultural history,” he said.

I think the word you’re looking for is ‘busted’.

Read the full piece in The Atlantic and learn more about what drives this Harmy.

Lessons from being a director – part 3

See the serious part 2 about delegation and also the power-mad-crazy part 1 about RULING THE WORLD.

How long do you think I can keep milking my directing career for productivity advice? I’m hoping I can carry on until the exciting day when I get my second-ever job as director.

But when you’re boring everyone about your power and artistic talent, you have to have more specific topics and now I have this one. Now I have realised this one: directing changes how you write.

Actually, it’s more than that: anything you do that is in some new way related to your writing or whatever your specific talent is, it changes.

I did rewrite the play on the fly to adjust for unforeseen problems, I did many, many times tweak to improve things based on the actors’ opinions. It’s common for writers to decry this but I would like to say right now that I am smug: I have always said that directors and actors should not make changes to a scene when it risks buggering up the rest of the script. Actors and directors are prone to concentrating on this scene right now, this scene you’re memorising, this scene you’re filming. And they should. They need to. Except when a brilliant suggestion that truly lifts that scene is an almighty bomb that ruins the entire point of the drama.

Granted, that’s a worst-case scenario.

I loved the whole process of directing but for me the whole process was in bringing that script to the stage. As short as it was, as specific as it was to this group, it had to be directed right and I had every syllable of that script in my head all the way through. Then I’d have multiple versions of the same scene in my head and I would be running them simultaneously.

None of which helps you, I just got carried away.

The action of doing something different in drama is the same, I think, as heading in to your home town from a new direction. There is one road into my home village in Birmingham that, for whatever reason, I rarely used as a kid. So now if I drive down there into the village, I come out into an entirely familiar world but it is entirely unfamiliar. The library is in the wrong spot. So is the school.

I reexamine them, I notice them again when I have become so used to them that I don’t.

So it was looking at this script from a new direction.

The short recommendation here is that you should go direct something. But the longer is that maybe you can find any way of looking at your story and your script that is different. Not better, not worse, just different. And see what it throws up at you, see what you notice.