Unstable Entities

“Star Wars is bigger than George Lucas. This deal means his creation has finally been wrested free of his troublesome mitts.”

My first reactions to hearing the news yesterday that Disney now owns the Star Wars franchise was disbelief followed by sadness followed by anger. While I knew something like this was inevitably going to happen, and I absolutely agree that this was the decision George Lucas needed to make, I nevertheless felt sad at the passing of an era — and pissed off at how happy that would make some people.

The ‘Star Wars’ saga has been an entertainment franchise unlike any other. It was the creative vision of one man who through talent, shrewd business sense and a little luck managed to do what arguably no other artist in modern history has been able to do on such a massive scale: maintaining complete artistic, financial and legal control over a billion dollar artistic franchise. While most major film franchises are corporate “tent-poles” conceived and financed by businessmen looking to enhance the bottom line, Star Wars has been an entertainment juggernaut still run by the guy who started the whole thing in his garage. Love it or hate it, Star Wars represented a triumph of creativity and entrepreneurship at the heart of the American Dream.

And now that dream passes to Wall Street — and there are those who couldn’t be happier.

The split in Star Wars fandom that began immediately after the first film’s release in 1977 and cracked wide open in 1997 is not about what parts of the franchise are good and what parts are bad. All art is evaluated based on subjective tastes. The split is fundamentally about the issue of creative control. As I said in my post, You Are Now… MINE!, there are many fans who believe in COLLECTIVE OWNERSHIP of Star Wars: that their passion and obsession with Star Wars entitles them to have a vote on its creative content. They have invested so much of their personal worth into being fans that they go bananas when ever George Lucas makes a decision without consulting them first. They arrogantly believe that THEY know what makes a good Star Wars movie, book or TV show, not the guy who created it and made it successful.

And for years these people have dreamed of the day when Star Wars will finally be out of George Lucas’ hands. Some even speculate about the benefits of George Lucas’ death. In an interview, Michael Kaminski, creator of SaveStarWars.com, responded to a question about someday getting the unaltered theatrical versions of the 4-6 trilogy by saying:

“This will sound morbid, but possibly it will take the death of George Lucas before this happens. The entire issue boils down to his own personal vendetta, and once he is out of the way, things will change.

“Once he is out of the way…” Since he is already personally profiting from George Lucas’ work, one can speculate about Kaminski’s reaction to this news. George Lucas is finally getting out of the way so now the REAL priests of the faith can enter the temple.

What’s most galling about all this is that guys like Kaminski have framed their arguments as a noble mission to protect art –a holy war to “save” Star Wars for the good of mankind. Kaminski even suggested literally taking the film from the guy who created and owns it. Back in 2006, Kaminski, posting under his avatar “zombie84” at originaltrilogy.com, offered his “crazy proposal” for fans to violate George Lucas’ copyright and claim his work as their own. He wrote:

“So, what i am getting at is: how crazy is it for us to attempt to do our own high-resolution 2K scan of a 35mm print? This would literally preserve the film, more or less, forever. It would be so high-resolution that you could even make new 35mm prints from the data. Forget SD and HD, this is better than anything even available to consumers yet. This would place the future of the film in our hands, safe, secure, and for future releases, no longer bound to the Lucasfilm cash machine. The data could be used to make SD releases, HD releases and more and better 35mm prints. In short, we would never need Lucasfilm for the film ever again, ever. In time, people–for instance the same people that slaved over preserving the XO project–could frame-by-frame restore all the scratches and grain that would inevitably be resultant in a theatrical print. Star Wars would literally be ours for the ages.

“How crazy is it to get a fundraiser going to make Star Wars truely–and physically–ours? If everyone here contributed a hundred bucks we’d have a good start, and many people including myself would be willing to donate many more times that amount.”

Kaminski proposes that fans literally (he uses the word “physically”) steal Star Wars from George Lucas. In more recent years, Kaminski’s SaveStarWars.com site criticized Lucas for his 1988 testimony to congress about the importance of preserving films in their original form for future generations. Kaminski cherry-picks Lucas’ speech to make it seem as if a younger (and better) Lucas was advocating that films should be protected from the exact same kind of digital alteration and editing Lucas himself later did in the Special Editions. For example, Kaminski puts this quote front and center:

“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.” – George Lucas

Sounds damning, right? But what Kaminski doesn’t post on his site (or even provide a link-though he has promised he will) is the whole transcript where it’s clear Lucas is advocating for the rights of the ARTIST to have their work preserved from meddling corporations and other third parties (which includes fans). Lucas repeatedly refers to the “moral rights of ARTISTS” and says:

American artists are a national treasure, similar to our forests and our wildlife. We must exploit these resources wisely.”

“The corporations who hold many of these copyrights are unstable entities.”

But Lucas’ key argument in 1988 — and a line Kaminski omits on his site — make Lucas’ point crystal clear:

“Who better, than the person whose hard labor and unique talent created the art, to determine what is an appropriate alteration.”

“Buying a copyright does not make one an artist. The copyright owner does not suddenly become talented and creative, does not suddenly have the ability to write a novel, play music, paint pictures or make films. An artists’ creative talent is not something that can be transferred. And it is the artist’s unique vision that must be respected, that must be protected.”

What Lucas was clearly saying in 1988 is exactly what he’s been telling fans for years: that he’s the original artist, he has the moral and legal right to make and present his art as he sees fit, and that government should protect artists and their work from meddling third parties. As this article from the time shows, Lucas insists that ARTISTS should control their work. Period.

The fact that Kaminski doesn’t bother to show that quote to his readers, or post a link to the full text (he tells his readers the omissions are all “less relevant material”), combined with his “crazy proposal” to violate George Lucas’ copyright, says volumes about the “rift” in Star Wars fandom. Hateboys and their journalist allies routinely link to Kaminski’s site as evidence of their righteousness. Do a Google search for “Lucas 1988 testimony” and you’ll find that nearly every article denouncing Lucas as a hypocrite links to SaveStarWars.com as their source. When I talk about lazy journalists and “hateboys with jobs” in the media having an agenda against George Lucas, here’s your evidence. Not one of those writers passing along Kaminski’s interpretation of Lucas’ testimony does their homework to check the actual FULL transcript. Instead, they offer snark, outrage and righteous indignation that gets passed gleefully all over the Internet. Every one of those writers owes an apology to their readers and to George Lucas for not doing the most basic requirement of their jobs. How many times have YOU had hateboys slap an out of context quote from Lucas’ 1988 testimony in your face as evidence of his hackery?

It’s all bullshit.

And now hateboys couldn’t be happier. One of the “unstable entities” Lucas warned about in 1988 now controls Star Wars. A former TV weatherman is now the chairman of the galaxy far, far away. The artistic gatekeepers can be replaced at the whim of the money crunchers. Chairmen can be replaced. Artists can be fired. Companies can be sold. One bad quarter and suddenly Star Wars could be owned by Walmart or George Sorros or the Koch Brothers. Art will be conducted by committee with the bottom line goal of pleasing the shareholders. Equity bankers and other financial masters of the universe will determine Star Wars’ future.

And the keyboard priests of the holy war are no doubt delighted.

The King is dead! Long live the King!

A possible bright side, however, was mentioned to me by my lawyer friend. He says, “Lucas could have written a moral rights clause into the purchase prohibiting re-edits or re-releases of other alternative edits. If Lucas really cares about the issue, it seems like a logical option. It would be simple to put in there and the edits would have little economic value to Disney compared to the option to extend the franchise and the technology of Skywalker Ranch.” Wouldn’t that be sweet irony? The hateboys finally get their wish to have Lucas out of the way only to have Disney’s legal army ready to defend Lucas’ wishes far into the future!

“Who better, than the person whose hard labor and unique talent created the art, to determine what is an appropriate alteration.”

“And it is the artist’s unique vision that must be respected, that must be protected.” -George Lucas, 1988

Here’s hoping Lucas has walked away letting the door hit the hateboys in the ass.

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21 Responses to Unstable Entities

  1. Omar says:

    I just saw this video:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=QIkqX5fG_tA

    And I have to say, I have feeling that GL is doing the right thing. It really looks like he has confidence in this new ownership. And because of that, I’m actually feeling a bit more positive about Disney owning Lucasfilm.

  2. Stefan Kraft says:

    Quite a powerful article.
    I have actually read the comment somewhere (some weeks ago) that law may tell us that movies like SW (or everything popular enough, as far as I interpreted the comment) may belong to the owner/copyright holder, but moral tells us differently. Now, you could argue when a work of art has become part of the human cultural heritage that belongs to everyone (quite a difficult discussion depending on the basic assumptions you make), but a movie series where the creator is still alive and well? Yeah, I’ve read such a theory (if a work of art is released to the public, the public becomes part of it and has therefore a right to access it whenever it wants, maybe for a fee or something like that).
    “The hateboys finally get their wish to have Lucas out of the way only to have Disney’s legal army ready to defend Lucas’ wishes far into the future!”
    Okay, schadenfreude may be a bad thing, but still… Lucas would have changed his mind regarding the O-OT, some artist’s decisions were ignored after her/his death (I think Kafka wanted his work burned), but you cannot change a contract clause defended by the lawyers of one of the largest media companies in existence.
    ” ‘If everyone here contributed a hundred bucks we’d have a good start, and many people including myself would be willing to donate many more times that amount.’ ”
    Good thing that kickstarter was not invented back then… Now, if someone owns a 35 mm copy of SW and wants to make a 2k copy of it to preserve his personal copy, go ahead. But if he start making copies of the copy and distributes them, good luck; I think copyright laws prohibit such activities.

    • A New Hope says:

      I invite anyone who claims it’s legal to copy a 35mm print and wants to try it to go visit their local FBI office and fill them in on your plans. Then get a lawyer.

  3. Martin Hay says:

    Great article. I remember reading earlier this year that when asked if he intended to make more Star Wars movies Lucas replied, “Why would I make any more when everybody yells at you all the time and says what a terrible person you are?” Do you think this is part of the reason he’s sold the franchise? Has all the mindless hatred driven him from his own creation? Apparently he has written treatments for episodes 7 to 9 and passed them on so clearly he still has ideas on what he wants for his characters.

    • A New Hope says:

      Lucas has been living with criticism his entire career. Yes, I don’t doubt that the more hateful stuff stings — especially when it gets personal and involves his kids. And I think it played a role in the likelihood that he wouldn’t want his kids subjected to that crap after he’s gone. Can you imagine the shit they’d take after he’s dead and the hateboys start demanding the OUT? I think the decision now has more to do with mortality. He’s 70 years old. He’s still able to call his own shots, but he clearly doesn’t want to deal with the BS. I totally get it.

      • Martin Hay says:

        Despite his billions, I sure don’t envy Lucas. I can’t imagine what it must be like to invest so much of yourself in creating something purely to entertain and then have it thrown back in your face by unappreciative assholes with an inexplicable sense of entitlement who think they know your creation better than you. I mean how absurd is that crap? “I know Star Wars better than George Lucas”. And how do you know that exactly? “Because I watched the original trilogy a bunch of times.” Right…and who created that trilogy again?

  4. Sifo-Dyas says:

    I dont think any of HIS films are going to get changes/tampered with. He would obviously never allow that and certainly he undoubtedly had a basic clause regarding that as you say.

    Like you said at the end, this IS good news because:

    1.) Star Wars is now PROTECTED for Lucas’s death

    2.) Star Wars is now prepared for the future after Lucas’s death.

    And most importantly…

    3.) There will be no more PT vs. OT mentality! Instead that is now replaced by OS (Original Saga) vs. ST (sequel trilogy and beyond)

    Whatever happens now is whatever happens now. Because Lucas (or John Williams) are not involved anything SW that happens from here on out will be regarded more as EU and not “The True” “Original Saga”. The new trilogy will be regarded not much more differently than things like “The Old Republic”. Something that is largely “separate” from what is “The Original Saga” by George Lucas.

    Star Wars.com is already taking this stance on the front page of the site! They have a newly edited youtube video titled “The Skywalker Saga”. The Sequel Trilogy will be “Another Saga”.

    Star Wars defenders like us need to OWN THIS.

    OWN IT!

    Dont let them make it out to be like Lucas somehow “caved” because HE DIDN’T. All he did was protect and secure SW to be able to live on after his death.

    After Walt Disney died Disney almost got broken up because he DIDN’T do what George Lucas is doing with this move.

    “George Lucas’s Star Wars Saga” is complete. It has been since 2005. And it will go down in history for generation to discover and appreciate for generations to come like it already has.

    Remember. Even if the hateboys are trying to spin this in their favor like they always have it doesn’t change reality. They didn’t “win” anything.

    We won.

    Hold your chin up and project positivity!

    • A New Hope says:

      You are a passionate Star Wars fan, sir. I agree and I will hope for the best. I still want to hear more details about how Disney will protect Lucas’ work, but of all the studios Disney is clearly the best fit. I will miss Lucas and Star Wars being a true independent, but I want this to work. And I want the hateboys to go obsess about Game of Thrones or something else.

      • Sifo-Dyas says:

        Just please remember to project positivity!

        I want to see some big posts and blogs by you (and true fans like you) correcting/debunking the hateboys spin.

        There is already OFFICIAL confirmation that there IS indeed basic clauses protecting Lucas’s films:

        http://www.theforce.net/latestnews/story/Disney_Buys_Lucasfilm_The_Investors_Conference_Call_148661.asp

        Boom. Proof.

        Also he is donating virtually the whole 4 billion to charity! So thats YET ANOTHER thing the hateboys can try to use against him.

        http://www.theforce.net/latestnews/story/Disney_Buys_LFL_GL_Donating_Sale_Money_To_Charity_148677.asp

        Now I want to see you take those two pieces of factual information and run with it! Fight the urge to feel overwhelmed by the hatboys and go on the OFFENSIVE. I believe in fans like you.

        • A New Hope says:

          I’m missing the place in your link where it says there’s a clause protecting the films. The question is asked: “With the Marvel deal, there were some small print details restricting what you could do re “exploiting” characters. Any like this?” The answer: “Not as many, but there are some – far fewer than Marvel though. Some restrictions on Indiana Jones, and some on the Star Wars films made with Fox.” That doesn’t confirm what versions Disney plans to release in the future. I wish it did.

          Believe me, my fears in this deal are all about the hateboys. I have faith Disney will make every effort to deliver quality entertainment. I just worry that they are underestimating the lengths the hateboys will go to destroy the Disney brand until they get their way.

          • Sifo-Dyas says:

            Yea but Disney is MUCH larger and stronger than Lucasfilm ever was and even older. I think if in Lucas’s heart he saw them as the best/safest place to put SW then he MUST trust them to keep it safe from the basic things Lucas spent most of his life keeping his Saga safe from.

            I acknowledge and know first hand how bad the hateboys are but I cant help but feel that your giving them way to much credit. You really think a semi-national nerd trend is going to be able to DEFEAT a strict, decades old, multi-national mega corporation?

            It will never happen. These elite people dont even regard “Star Wars” as having different “versions” like geek-sheek nerds do. As specially if its creator doesn’t see SW as having any other “version” than his official, completed work that he has stood by all his life until his retirement (and eventual death). And thats what he sold to them.

            SW Defenders who I respect (like you) are making the mistake of acting like Lucas handed a vault over to them with the “OOT” somewhere in it. He didn’t. Like he himself says: The “OOT” no longer exists. Literally. There is no such thing. There is nothing for Disney TO give. They would be forced to release something that (for all intents and purposes) is only Lucas’s official version with scenes “painted out” and “covered up”. And no one would view that as “official”.

            Also maybe people listened to a fan backlash towards one man and his company but now NO ONE will take seriously a movement by a bunch of 30 and 40 year olds against Disney –a company synonymous with children.

            Its a brilliant move by Lucas becouse it makes them look like just what they are -a bunch of bitter old people angry at micky mouse for not making them feel like 8 years old again.

            These are all great points for you to campaign.

            I just badly want to see you pop your chest up and project positivity and satisfaction. The hateboys didn’t win SHIT unless you make it sound like they did. If anything they lost for good and dont even know it.

  5. Dawn Richardson says:

    Not only do I sincerely and emphatically agree with your lawyer friend, in the fact that such a “moral rights clause” is indeed quite likely in the deal Papa George reached with Disney – more, I think given the fact that George is absolutely such a canny, smart and sensible businessman (among all his other laudable, commendable qualities and talents, natch!), that such a clause in the contract is an absolute and assured *certainty*. I already posted something to that effect to some friends of mine, just this morning, because I was getting kind of surprised that no one had mentioned it prior….it seemed kind of an obvious next conclusion to be reaching, I’d thought…. :)

    It makes more than perfect, full sense that it would be in there….it’s just what he would do, so I think we can rest comfortably enough – and, hence, surely have at least some of those existing concerns assuaged – in knowing that, and hence in trusting and believing in him, and in his judgement, know-how, and his smarts. I trust him, I believe in him, I *know* he knows what he’s doing….that’s all I need! :D

    • A New Hope says:

      I trust George. I don’t trust businessmen. Contracts are ultimately as good as the paper they’re written on. Just ask the Native Americans!

  6. lazypadawan says:

    Your lawyer friend is right. I have a very hard time believing a stickler for the moral rights of an author/artist wouldn’t ensure there’s a clause protecting the moral rights in the movies he made.

    One potential downside to corporate custody is the inevitability that Disney will be at some point run by an idiot and that opens the horrifying possibility of what you said, Lucasfilm being sold off to whomever. The idea of Star Wars in the hands of say a private equity firm is pretty scary, unless it’s run by people like us ;) . But que sera sera.

    • A New Hope says:

      There are upsides and downsides. Bottom line, I want the movies now in Disney’s control released only in the versions Lucas prefers. I don’t want them caving to the hateboys or ignoring the 1-3 trilogy just because they hold the keys.

      • Dawn Richardson says:

        And that too, I imagine, is all the more reason why LFL and Papa GL were *super*-stringent about all the ins and outs and proverbial deets of the deal signed….George unto himself, as I mentioned, canny, smart and with-it as all heck, and he’s got all his people – yes, lawyers etc. – who also know full well what they’re doing, what’s at stake, and so on….and Disney as an entity, from what I can see, the folks running it have obvious respect and admiration for George and for the company, and I don’t believe there’s any reason whatsoever to presume nefarious motives on their part….or that they’ll somehow cave to external snarking. I think it’s a certainty that precautions have been taken, by Disney and by Papa GL, LFL, Kathleen Kennedy (and how much am I loving her right now, too, through this? :) ), etc. – to ensure that the feared worst really won’t happen….that it can’t.

        Deals and contracts like this are such that if any clause in them is contravened, say….there would be repercussions which even Disney wouldn’t want to run afoul of!….so, to be sure, they won’t. :) It’ll be fine, just fine, honest….look, just – trust Papa GL, trust LFL, they’ve never once steered us wrong….he’s the captain of our collective ship, and with him we’ll *always* reach safest harbour. And I know I’m probably mixing my metaphors dreadfully here, but you know what-all I mean. ;) :D

  7. Nicholas (Darth Bizarro) says:

    Excellent post as usual and it’s good to have you back. As I posted on facebook earlier today:

    -FYI. I am happy about the announcement that there will be more Star Wars movies. I am not happy because, as the hateboys but it, “Somebody has finally taken Star Wars away from Lucas.” I’m happy that Lucas is staying on as a creative consultant and I hope they follow his wisdom. George Lucas is a better story teller than a director and I hope they get someone good who has the proper level of respect for GLs work and isn’t going to come in with the idea that he needs to come in and fix Lucas’s “mistakes.”

    I was not met with many positive responses as it turns out. It actually makes me very sad that most of my Star Wars “loving” friends are really just hateboys or hateboy sympathizers.

    • A New Hope says:

      Keep being passionate and speaking up. You’ll get people to come around. Not all, but some.

      Or you can always get new friends.

      • Hey, it seems you’re getting noticed.
        From the Save Star Wars OT.com Thread:

        “-Zombie, it seems you have a fanclub of incredibly creepy SW-fans or whatever you call these weirdos. Apparently according to this guy there’s a war going on between fans. :) I truly regret I stumbled upon that site, some f***ing people…”

        • A New Hope says:

          So let me get this straight. I repeat their own words, provide links, and even post Lucas’ full congressional testimony for everyone to see– including the stuff that shows he said the exact opposite of what they claim he did… and I’m the bad guy? So now its creepy to like all of Star Wars, not just two (maybe two and a half) movies. You’re a “weirdo” if you think its wrong that some fans try to ruin other fans’ enjoyment of the saga? I’m “some f-ing people” — the nerve of me –because I believe the artist who created Star Wars gets to say how it should be made? Um… okay.