.: Don't Rock the Boat:
Why the Media, Public Figures, and Fans are Afraid to Speak Out
Ever wonder why you never hear anything about the suppression of the Star Wars trilogy except for on the internet and occassionally a newspaper or magazine mention? Think about it: this issue is a deliberate act by an individual, who is still a very active public figure. When Ted Turner started colourizing black and white features in the 1980s, there was a Congressional hearing on the matter, which Lucas himself testified for. Yet no one seems to really take Lucas to task in any meaningful way. Why is that? It is not that people do not care. Instead, we see people silenced by a culture of fear, control, and self-censoring.
Let's start with the media. When they interview Lucas why do they let him off the hook? Oh, sometimes the issue gets brought up: "Will the originals be released?" or "why don't you release the originals?" But this results in two answers: "no" for the first one, and "because they are my movies and this was how they are supposed to be" for the second one. Then the issue is left. Effectively, this results in nothing. But why is the issue always left? Well, there is a notion of priviledge, magnified since Lucas is regarded as a recluse; this isn't really true anymore, given the amount of interviews he has done between the release of the Special Editions and now. However, landing an exclusive with him is a hot ticket if you are a journalist. It doesn't come around every so often. You don't want to piss George off. Lucas' representatives control who he talks to, and what kind of questions one may ask, and you have to go through them to get in touch with him in the first place. Ask the wrong kind of questions, make him look bad, and you don't get a second interview. Lucasfilm keeps an actual blacklist. David Prowse is on there, as is Lucas biographer Dale Pollock. When the filmmakers of The People Versus George Lucas, who it was felt were getting too political, approached Mark Hamill to partcipate in the documentary at a convention, Lucasfilm gatekeeper Steve Sansweet intervened and stopped him, implicating that if Hamill participated he might not be included in future Lucasfilm events (conventions, etc., that form a large part of Hamill's livelihood these days).
This extends to fan interaction as well. This year, George Lucas will be making a rare convention appearance at Celebration V. As part of the appearance, there will be a fan Q & A. Sound good? Well, the questions must be submitted in advance to Lucasfilm for approval via their website. Then during the convention, pre-selected fans in pre-selected order will ask pre-selected questions. It is not a real, live Q & A but a pre-arranged publicity show, controlled by Lucasfilm. It also makes it appear that everyone is fine with the status quo--and it gives Lucas the illusion that all he does is okay, which is another large factor that keeps him satisfied with himself. Imagine if, during the event, a fan voiced to Lucas how he was re-writing history and suppressing something so many millions of people loved and that it was important not only for the people that supported him and gave him his success but for society at large that the originals be preserved; and imagine if the 10,000 people there applauded this. How would Lucas feel then? Probably he would still say his usual "my films" speech, but he also might actually begin to have second-thoughts. But instead he lives in his cocoon. Least of all, his employees dare not voice concerns--in fact, there is a "don't talk to George" policy for all lower-level Lucasfilm employees. As the organization is built to serve him, you don't question your ultimate boss; and if you have the priviledge of working for Lucasfilm you will want to keep your job. See, this notion of "priviledge" extends to those within his company. Lucas is so powerful that he can--and has--simply surrounded himself with individuals that will support his actions and respect his decisions.
But for fans there is another element to all of this, which is a sort of guilt. How many people, if they actually met Lucas, would bring up the subject other than casually? The fact is, if you care about the issue in the first place, you have to have a certain amount of respect and admiration for the man. For most, he is a childhood hero, even if you are among those who feel the second half of his career has been horribly misguided, and so there is a sense of guilt for being "too hard" on him, or that as someone who created something so wonderful he's "earned his peace." Journalists too probably feel similar, and Lucas comes across as such a genuinely nice guy that everyone pulls the punches.
This is probably one of the bigger issues. When Phantom Menace came out, everyone was balsy enough to call Jar Jar racist, and Lucas a hack. Why? Because everyone was commenting on the film, and not everyone is a fan. "Hard on Lucas? Don't release a film publically if you can't take an honest public reaction." But this issue is a bit different. If you want to see the original films preserved, you probably are a fan. And if you care deeply enough to actually want to speak out and be active about the cause--you probably are a very big fan. Which means--you probably have some measure of respect and admiration for Lucas. Which means--you are less likely to ask the tough questions should you meet him, and you are less likely to be too hard on him in the public sphere.
The public sphere also makes celebrities and other public figures keep quiet. It's bad form to badmouth a media giant like Lucas--and it could have consequences for your own career. It's also socially awkward since Lucas is still an active member of the film community. But things are changing a bit. James Cameron has worked with Lucas as a developer of 3D camera technology, and Cameron had persuaded Lucas to convert his trilogy to 3D. Which was why it was surprising when Cameron remarked in an Entertainment Weekly interview that it "distrubs" him that Lucas is "re-writing history" with his Special Editions. Only Cameron is powerful enough to be able to badmouth him without any consequences. But would he say that to his face? Doubtful. You don't want to pick an argument with people you work with or might bump into at some future date. It's just an awkward situation. When pressed, however, people do come clean: John Knoll, effects supervisor on the prequels and Special Edition and a real Lucas gusher as far as his usual public image is concerned, expresses regret that he was involved in the re-writing of history with his work on the Special Editions in Tom Shone's candid book, Blockbuster: How Hollywood Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Summer.
Finally, there is a growing number of fanboys who simply don't care. They like the Special Editions. They got what they wanted, and they will defend Lucas no matter what course of actions he takes--"they're his films" they will say, miming Lucas. They apparently have no sense of history, either.
So, here we are. Everyone seems complacent. Fans that would speak out don't get the opportunity to. Journalists that would get blacklisted don't either. Public figures and fans don't want to be too hard on both an admired hero and a very powerful media mogul. Lucasfilm has the whole publicity situation manipulated. And so we are left with the illusion that everything is fine. Those people on the internet, complaining in forums and website articles, they're just another faction of fanboys whining about stuff, right?