(UPDATE: I got a bit carried away due to being passionate about the issue and this became really long. I apologize for this, and hope that at least a few people make it all the way through.)
So George Lucas has recently declared that the blockbuster is dead. What he is neglecting to point out is that it was him that killed it. Sure, it isn't entirely his fault that the blockbuster died, he did have a little help from those Wachowski wackjobs, Roland Emmerich and the double-threat of Jerry Bruckheimer/Michael Bay, but it was at least partially his fault. You really can't deny that people were repeatedly disappointed by the sheer suckiness of movies they've looked forward to -- some for more than two decades. People are finally realizing that making a film bigger, shinier and explodeyer does not in fact make it better. In most cases, it actually makes it worse.
George also doesn't point out that he actually created the blockbuster (with considerable help from Steven Spielberg) way back in 1977, dooming us to years and years and years of shitty movies. See, it was Star Wars and Jaws that caught people's attentions, and began making money at a rapid pace. Hollywood beancounters began to take notice, and suddenly they were pushing for even more bigger, shinier, explodeyer movies of increasingly crappier substance. Then along came megaplexes, overpriced concessions, product tie-ins, action figures, etc, thus cheapening the art form of movie making, and turning it into one big commercial.
Don't get me wrong, I enjoyed Star Wars (and to a larger extent, Jaws) a great deal. They are very entertaining. Are they deserving of such fanfare from a technical standpoint? Not really. See, the brilliance in Jaws only came to be when the stupid rubber shark broke down, forcing them to shoot most of the movie without ever seeing the shark, thus accidentally exploiting one of the most misunderstood principles of movie making: the imagination of the moviegoers is a more powerful thing than latex and miniatures. Star Wars contains nothing new; nearly every aspect of the movie is cribbed from Buck Rogers and Flash Gordon serials1, with a bit of classic literature thrown in for good measure2. Upon seeing the "finished3" work of Episodes IV-VI, you might get the impression that there was some really subtle planning going on, allowing things to tie together in masterful execution, but you'd be wrong. No matter what you may have heard George say in the past, he did not write Episodes 1-6 (or 1-9, depending on when you heard George say it) and plan it all out before creating Star Wars, he went and made sequels after the unexpected success of his stand-alone original movie. The studio, Kenner Toys, and the gigantic friggin' boat-loads of money occupying George's living room helped make that decision an easy one, and he's been frequently lying about it (inconsistently) ever since.
What does all this have to do with blockbusters? Well, with the increasing presence of blockbuster movies occupying more and more of the (ever expanding) movie theaters, it became harder and harder to make movies that actually consist of substance. How frequently have there been One Flew Over the Cuckoos Nests, Cool Hand Lukes, Guess Who's Coming to Dinners (OK, so there was another one of those recently, but it helps make my case. Frickin trash.) and the like after the release of Star Wars? Sure it has happened, but it is no comparison to the pre-Star Wars era. Without question cinema has been hurt by these blockbusters, despite Hollywood making tons of money off them. George is right to point out that things are changing, and it's really about time. Finally we are starting to see excellent movies, with excellent reviews making plenty of money -- without a single action-figure, lunchbox, breakfast cereal4 or Burger King tie-in.
DISCLAIMER: In no way should a reader think that I am bashing on Star Wars, because I am not. I like them, especially Empire. I just don't like what they've helped do to the medium of cinema. It is OK to like Star Wars; I like them, and so should you. I'm just hoping you can realize the negative impact they've contributed to, and realize that action figures do not a good film make. Also, I hope you recognize that some really great movies don't have explosions or big stars or expensive CG pets, and that in many cases, they're better than the ones that do.
Explosions are pretty cool though.
1: Upon the release of the original Battlestar Galactica series, George and his cronies took legal action accusing them of stealing many aspects of Star Wars illegally. The Battlestar folk simply filed their own lawsuit, pointing out that every thing the Lucas people claimed was stolen was in fact originally stolen from Buck Rodgers, Flash Gordon, and miscellaneous other sci-fi serials from a bygone era, to which the Lucas folk had no reply, other than dropping the suit.
2: This is most evident in the whole 'overcoming the sins of the father' motif that encompassed the Vader/Luke relationship. This was not present in Star Wars until they were forced to come up with plot elements for the sequels. Note Luke making out with Leia.
3: Finished is a terrible word to use, as every subsequent re-release on every single medium has been different in some way than the prior. These movies are constantly evolving, and will probably never truly be "finished." This is a strong argument for why none of the movies are truly deserving of a Best Picture award; if it truly was a best picture, why the need to keep going back and changing things?
4: Brokebacki-O's would be pretty awesome though. "I just can't quit.. eating a balanced breakfast."
Apparantly George Lucas is still blowing smoke up our asses regarding the future of Star Wars.
There's a snippet of an interview from the latest issue of Premiere on Coming Soon where George Lucas says about the Star Wars franchise, "A lot of my life has been wrapped up in this one thing. I can walk away from this now 'cause I feel it's the best I could do ... "
Over at MovieWeb there's a few snips of an old interview he did with MTV explaining why there won't be any more Star Wars movies:
"This was never planned as a nine-episode work," Lucas said. "The media [pounced when] I made an offhand comment, 'It might be fun to come back when everyone's 80 and do another one of these.' But I never had any intention of doing that."
"The original 'Star Wars' was only three films, and that was what it was meant to be," he said. "After a lot of pondering and thought, I went back to do the back story, but that pretty much tells the story. Episode six is the end. There isn't any more to it."
Recently he said he would like to get back to the more "indy" feeling films he made in the past like THX 1138, American Graffiti, and long delayed sequels such as .. ahem... Indiana Jones 4. I suppose that is "indy"...
Sounds like he's washing his hands of Star Wars for good, doesn't it? Well at last month's ShoWest convention George announced that they are working on 3D adaptations of all six films, the first of which will be in theaters in 2007. The remaining 5 will be released one per year for the next 5 years after that. Lucasfilm told Variety that while George really wants it to happen right away, they won't be able to do it until the adoption of digital projectors is more widespread throughout the nation's theaters. Looks like we will have to wait a while longer to see the latest "improvements" George is making, but they certainly are coming.
So with no remixed Star Wars movies coming out any time soon and no real progress on Indiana Jones 4, what will George Lucas have to distract him? TV shows. Yup, not just one, but twoStar Wars TV series are in the works, according to Coming Soon. One will be a half hour long CG animated series, the other will be live action.
Rumors on the 'net the past year or so have been hinting at a possible Star Wars series, so this wasn't totally unexpected.
I personally think Lucas is going to have a hard time doing much of anything after Star Wars. He has proven to the entire world that he isn't a good director, isn't a very good writer, and he can't make a film without working it to death. Most filmmakers have at least some growth throughout their careers, but I think the idea is to make better movies, not more expensive ones.