Star Wars - Return of the Visionary
Joe Tracy, Publisher of Digital Media FX Magazine
In 1998, before
Lucas had completed or titled The Phantom Menace, I had
granted an interview to Screenwriters Utopia Magazine. One of
the questions they asked me was:
the making of "special effects" changed since Lucas
and Star Wars? Is technology the only consideration?
was as follows:
that Lucas is going to bring back to the screen what the majority
of today's science fiction movies lack and that is a real vision
of the future. If you are writing a movie about tomorrow then
why are you using the weapons, tactics, strategies, and environments
of today? That is a major downfall in science fiction writing
that I've taken to task in my trilogy. If you are telling a story
of tomorrow then make sure that every aspect of your script reflects
a society of tomorrow. Shows like Space: Above and Beyond failed
because it was a series about tomorrow that never left today.
Technology shouldn't be the only consideration although it is
the most recognized. The costuming, development, acting, environment
- everything - should be a consideration."
I have always
been a big fan of Lucas because of the strong futuristic vision
he presented in the original Star Wars trilogy that was
light years ahead of other movies. Like millions of other Star
Wars fans, there was never a question in my mind that the
new trilogy would be just as visionary and strong as the original.
I even had a quote from Lucas to fall back on. In that same interview,
Screenwriters Utopia asked me the following:
success of non-character driven stories where the "special
effects" are why people see them, such as Jurassic Park,
is screenwriting as an art form going to become secondary to the
Here was the
first sentence of my response:
not! At least I hope not. It's important to remember what George
Lucas has said for many years, which is 'an effect without a story
is just an effect.'"
Lucas forgot that quote because when The Phantom Menace
was released in 1999, it seemed to be all about effects. The strong
story, conflict, and strategy from the original trilogy were replaced
with bathroom humor (Jar-Jar stepping in poop and big creatures
farting), weak strategy (boy gets lucky, accidentally blowing
up the main enemy ship), and a weak story (no real motive for
Darth Maul character, which also lacked screen time and character
This was not
the same George Lucas I had highly praised in 1998.
Phantom Menace was released, the criticism of the movie was
harsh and quick. But this time it wasn't uneducated critics throwing
out the harshest criticisms - it was Star Wars fans like
me. The number one complaint was how an uncoordinated, stupid,
and hard to understand character (Jar-Jar) was allowed to run
amuck throughout the movie, ruining it for many people. This character
lacked the "charm" of a Chewy or the innocence of the
Ewoks. His main motive in life seemed to be to annoy other characters
and the audience at the same time.
I waited for
a public apology from Lucas when the outburst from fans hit. It
never came. Instead of accepting the criticism and blame for Jar-Jar,
Lucas appeared to blame the fans and critics, then followed it
with an announcement that Jar-Jar would return in Episode II.
So what went
wrong with The Phantom Menace? How is it that one of the
greatest sci-fi visionaries of all time could ruin the first part
of the new trilogy? It's not like his vision had completely vanished;
there are great moments in The Phantom Menace. In fact,
the first 10 minutes of the movie was well written, executed,
and showed signs of that great visionary who did the original
trilogy. The worlds created were awesome and inspiring.
As a great
visionary, Lucas may have suffered from taking on too much responsibility
in an attempt to control all aspects of the production. And,
frankly, it's his right to do so since it is his story. But
I've noticed that the best work from Lucas seems to come when
he has help with the script and other areas that he can staff
with other visionaries. In fact, Lucas seems to have done more
delegating for Episode II, which allows him to focus more on his
strengths and leaves me with A New Hope that we may yet see that
vision played out in Episode II and Episode III. I'm ready to
see the Return of the Jedi visionary and I hold high hopes that
Lucas won't be a continuing Phantom Menace to die hard Star
I'm not holding
my hopes too high, though, as there still are signs of trouble
(i.e. the name of Episode II - Attack of the Clones) and
the fact that Jar-Jar will still be given a few minutes of (hopefully
mute) screen time. Then there was the whole controversy of N'Sync
appearing in Episode II until Lucas heard the cries from fans
and promptly announced they had been removed from their non singing
background Jedi roles.
to remember that visionary stories avoid typical movie humor related
to things like farts and characters stepping in poop. Lucas never
had to rely on this type of bathroom humor in his original trilogy.
He didn't have to try to force humor through the use of annoying
characters or The Three Stooges tricks (i.e. running into objects).
Visionary stories are original, relying on new ideas and techniques
to grab and hold the interest of the audience.
stories also have a strong sense of strategy. This is apparent
in some scenes of The Phantom Menace involving the ground
fighting. However, the space attacks in The Phantom Menace
are another story. A refresher course may be in order for Lucas
from a great visionary in space strategies - Babylon 5's J. Michael
Straczynski. Just watch his recent Babylon 5: Legend of the
Rangers movie to see how strategy (versus luck) is used to
defeat the enemy. Of course, Lucas doesn't really need to rely
on Straczynski for his space battles because he has shown us his
own great strategies in the original trilogy.
however, is the following: Make us care about the characters.
it - I'm not in position to give George Lucas advice. After all,
I have not written a Star Wars caliber trilogy of my own
(almost there, though). However, as a die-hard fan of the original
trilogy and a person who has publicly upheld Lucas as a great
sci-fi visionary, I would like to offer the following quote that
was once said by a great visionary who I still have a lot of respect
and hope for - "an effect without a story is just an effect."
force be with you, Lucas
here to discuss this story in the Digital
Media FX Forums.
is the publisher of Digital
Media FX and he still holds a deep respect for George
Lucas and the amazing ability of Lucas to transport viewers to
interesting new worlds and conflicts. Tracy is the author of four
books and former editor of the visual effects print magazine,
NewTekniques. He is also a visual effects columnist for
The Hollywood Forum and has been writing an original sci-fi trilogy
for several years that he hopes to have fully completed by 2003.
quote about sci-fi, originally from Tracy's Screenwriters Utopia
do you have for Science Fiction writers?
Look at the stories out there - they are all the same! An evil
alien is loose on Earth trying to kill everyone and all aliens
are hideous looking. So what do people do? They write more of
the same movies. But it's not the same type of movie that will
attract an audience - it is the original movie that will attract
them. Be bold. One of my favorite movies this past year was
Contact, but what was suppose to be the climax - the meeting
of the alien - became the most anti-climatic part because all
we saw was "just another human". Yet apparently the
script originally called for an angelic looking alien and to me
that would have been awesome to see. The audience would have been
in more of an "awe" than just looking at good old "dad"
explain the virtues of the Universe.
If you want
your screenplay to stand out amongst the hundreds of thousands
of scripts, you must be original. Why not create a beautiful alien
for a change? When you think about it, an alien that is full of
beauty can actually be more dangerous than one who people expect
to be bad and frightening. Why not have Earth attack an alien
planet (unprovoked) versus aliens always attacking Earth? Why
even have aliens all the time? The key to originality is to look
at everything out there and take an opposite approach to see if
it might work.
remain passionate and never give up on your dream. Accept constructive
criticism as a great teaching aid and every time you get a
rejection letter, improve your product and resubmit it! Most of
all, be satisfied with what you are writing and ask yourself if
your final product makes a positive contribution to society and
entertainment. Star Wars did!"
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