Tuesday, January 18, 2011
Tolkien and Lucas are two of the great modern storytellers. Both have influenced generations of new storytellers. Their lasting mark on world culture will be remembered by future generations like The Odyssey of Homer is remembered today. Tolkien and Lucas are at once so similar and so incredibly different.
On receiving a screenplay for a proposed movie adaptation of The Lord of the Rings in the late 1950's by Morton Grady Zimmerman, Tolkien wrote:
"I would ask them to make an effort of imagination sufficient to understand the irritation (and on occasion the resentment) of an author, who finds, increasingly as he proceeds, his work treated as it would seem carelessly in general, in places recklessly, and with no evident signs of any appreciation of what it is all about."
Tolkien was adamant about the methodology by which his mythology was created. He spent over ten years organizing the pieces of history and lanquage that gives the Lord of the Rings it's "impression of depth". He was absolutely determined to give his story a life of it's own through a thickly woven tapestry of myth.
Lucas started out just as adamant. During the writing and filming of A New Hope, Lucas was in constant contact with Campbell. He was checking up on his myth, making sure all the pieces fit into Campbell's theory of the Heroes Journey.
So what happened with the Prequels? We have the Silmarillion and the New Trilogy. Tolkien had this to say:
" I am afraid that the presentation will need a lot of work, and I work so slowly. The legends have to be worked over (they were written at different times, some many years ago) and made consistent..."
There is quite a bit more to that quote, but this part speaks to what I feel is the greatest failure of Lucas' Prequels. No consistency. This is in part due to the the fact that Tolkien was working nearly alone on his great work. Where right from the beginning, Lucas allowed many writers to tell many stories about Star Wars. Before the 90's there wasn't a lot of talk of canon. Then all of a sudden authors had to follow a relatively strict set of guidelines, including that almost no one was allowed to even mention what would become Prequel history.
I have spoken about this many times. I am disappointed that so many authors were discredited when the Prequels were released. These stories had laid down the basis of who major characters were and why they acted the way they did. Only to be, in some cases, completely erased, and then replaced with Jar-Jar Binks, Qui- Gon Jinn, and Jango Bango Fett.
Some say Lucas had every right to tell the story the way he wanted to because it is his story. I say I would agree with this, had he not allowed so many others to imbue the myth of Star Wars with their own creativity. When that happened he passed the torch to them, and became one of many who would be an influence to the myth. This may have been his biggest mistake.
Tolkien had the sense of mind, and maybe the neurotic need to complete his myth the way he, and he alone saw fit. Had he been alive to see Peter Jackson's vision of his myth, I believe he would have been disappointed. He probably regretted till the day he died selling the movie rights at all. Tolkien would probably be disappointed in general to see the way that storytelling has progressed since he laid down the first history of the Children of Illuvatar.
Much of today's storytelling uses mythology in a bastardized way. The pieces are all there in many cases, yet only as a surface to cover for the marketing of merchandise.
The relative opposite of this is J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter. Considering this is a post about Tolkien and Lucas I won't get too far off track, but bear with me. Rowling's genius is in the fact that the story ends. As of now there is a supposed 8th book that was written for a charity event, but is not an actual part of the Potter myth. Otherwise it is a contained story, no unnecessary T.V. shows or expanded universe garbage, other than fan fiction. Hopefully it will stay that way. Because Rowling seemed to know that to go beyond, would be to stretch the story too thin.
Which is what exactly has happened to Star Wars. There is no way to keep up with the amount of comics, games, T.V. shows and other spin-offs that are constantly created. So much so that there are people today who don't know that there was an original Star Wars trilogy!
The saddest part about this is that the majority of the creators of these spin-offs do not care about Star Wars, or mythology, or storytelling. It is all about the money. Therein lies the true difference between Tolkien and Lucas.
Tolkien refused the initial screenplay offer from Zimmerman. Why? Because he knew it would destroy the myth he had worked so hard to create. Lucas apparently is the one who "showed no sign of appreciating what it is all about". I hate to say it, but it certainly shows in the Prequels.
How many lightsabers, lunchboxes and t-shirts can we sell with this thing? A lot, and people won't even know that they have been duped into buying all this crap. George should have known better. He should have treated his myth with the same sensitivity as Tolkien and Rowling. Why he didn't is something we fans will probably never understand.
That is why it is up to us. It is why I am so glad to see so many Prequel Rewrites out there. That fact shows that Campbell's belief that myth springs from within is true. We knew that it was wrong and now we are doing our best to put it right.
Hopefully, the rest of the world will see this and start to think with more sensitivity themselves. Probably not, but there will always be rebellion in the empire.