Watching TV a few weeks ago in a couch potato haze, my nonchalant bliss was interrupted by a new advertisement for Vodaphone Red Box. The ad features a couple in a sushi bar discussing the laborious nature of transferring old data from one phone to the other when who should needlessly join the conversation but Yoda from Star Wars. Why? Well for the purpose of the ad, he is there to use his Jedi mind tricks to help the earthling of questionable intelligence with his mobile woes, and then is told he is not needed after all. It was definitely salt in the already gaping wound of Episode I 3D.
This is one of many commercial moves by George Lucas in recent years to be interpreted by fans of the original trilogy as tasteless cashing in on the Star Wars legacy; further tainting the childhood memories of millions for more money. The Vodafone adverts, however, aren’t the only example of Lucas has milking his seminal cinematic cash cow. In Christmas 2011 characters from Star Wars were used to promote Currys/PC World in the run up to the festive period: Darth Vader instilled fear into the employees and Chewbacca got an orgasmic blow-dry from a sleek hairdryer.
Although it is easy to understand why many fans of the 1977 release find this infuriating, when the adverts are well-executed they actually have the power to evoke and enhance the nostalgia of youth. A good example is the Volkswagen ad where the child is dressed as Darth Vader and tries to use the force on various household items, this is charming and reminds us all of many an hour trying to move pencils and tape cassettes across the room using only the power of our mind. When these cherished icons are taken out of all context, however, and used purely for shoddy gags and corny narratives, it defiles and cheapens the original and makes you imagine George in his mansion, springing off a board DuckTales-style into a pool of money.
Given the amount of commercial leverage George has had out of Star Wars it is easy to forget that he came from humble, independent roots in terms of filmmaking. Originally Star Wars was not seen as commercially viable and credit must be given to Lucas for believing in the film as he waived his initial upfront director’s fee in return for a 40% stake of the profits. The studios believed the licensing rights would be worthless and Lucas had no reason, other than blind faith, to think otherwise. Unfortunately over time he seems to have exploited his own artistic vision for a few dollars more. Star Wars at present has generated upwards of $27 billion in lifetime revenue so the beardy wonder is surely not short of a bob or two.
Naturally, it’s not only the advertisements that have got the loyal fan boys (and girls) up in arms but also the manner in which Lucas continues to rejig and repackage his original works, with versions first in widescreen, then re-mastered, then came the arrival of the prequels. The initial trilogy was dug up, enhanced, reedited and airbrushed to within an inch of its CGI life with additional digital ogres. Continuity errors were eliminated between the original three and the prequels and the first theatrical releases were all but buried, perhaps just the way George wanted it. Though it is well within the rights for any director to change their own work and create new versions (such as Ridley Scott’s Blade runner and Coppola’s Apocalypse Now) by denying the devotees the opportunity to revisit the film that they remember he is throwing away the connection between him and the people who first paid to see his film and put him where he is.
Like any other film debate the reasons behind Lucas’s constant repackaging are subject to a neverending stream of internet conspiracies. One theory suggests that Lucas has practically erased the chapter of the original trilogy that most fans agree is the best: Empire Strikes Back because he is still bitter that he never directed this film or wrote the screenplay. Consequently this instalment has had the most changes made to it in the digitally re-mastered version of the trilogy. Apparently George is weary of not being acknowledged for his directorial skills and has vented his frustration via the medium of blue screen.
In Lucas’s defence, he is a man who has pioneered special effects and sound design within the film industry. He has produced an array of cinematic classics and forged a creatively successful partnership with Steven Spielberg. But he now needs to realise that enough is enough. As George himself once said ‘I took over control of the merchandising not because I thought it was going to make me rich, but because I wanted to control it. I wanted to make a stand for social, safety, and quality reasons. I didn’t want someone using the name ‘Star Wars’ on a piece of junk’. It’s time to remember the true force of that original sentiment, and his original trilogy as it once was.