I recently had the chance to watch The People vs George Lucas on Netflix. If you have the chance to see it, I highly recommend it. It is a documentary about how the Star Wars fans revolted against the changes made in Episodes IV – VI and the entirety of Episodes I – III. The producers of the documentary looked at all sides of the issue, definitely never picking one side of another. There was one part of the documentary that caught my eye, dealing with the idea of ownership. Did George Lucas have the right to do whatever he wanted to do with Star Wars?
On one side, we have the creators. The artists. The documentary interviewed Neil Gaiman as well as people who helped make Star Wars. They assert that the creator is the one who has control over the creation of the product. They are the ones who have a say. Gaiman pointed out that he receives a lot of unsolicited suggestions on how to write Sandman. But he doesn’t have to listen to any of it because Sandman is ultimately his to write for everyone to enjoy. The same argument extends to the Star Wars universe as a whole. It’s George Lucas’ vision that sculpts the universe, not the fans.
On the other side, we have the fans who aren’t happy with the direction of the series nor the changes he made to the series. First, the changes. They believe that Lucas does not have the right to make changes to Episodes IV, V, and VI. He is taking established lore and re-writing it because he’s not happy with it. Han no longer shooting first, This altered the moral ambiguity of the character, making the slow transition from a selfish jerk to noble hero far less meaningful. Jabba the Hut has colorful, cartoonish, dangers to entertain his people rather than sexual and/or brutal entertainment. Small changes to the scenes caused huge changes to the overarching narrative.
Lucas protested, claiming that Greedo shot first. The scene was shot using a close-up rather than a wider shot, so people only saw Han shooting. Han was never meant to be a cold blooded killer. Han’s journey from anti-hero to hero wasn’t dependent on him shooting Greedo first. It was dependent on his own personal journey and learning there were far more important things than his own life.
The fans could easily protest this. It doesn’t matter what the camera didn’t pick up. The scene that was there showed Han shooting and Greedo not shooting.
So, is Neil Gaiman right? Do artists have the definitive say over their own product?
Yes and no. Artists are the ones who made the product. They are the driving force. The creative mind. They definitely should have the final say with the product.
On the other hand, I doubt Gaiman would ever write Sandman (Morpheus) dressed in a pink and purple evening gown singing songs from My Little Pony. It would go against the general feel of his his series. Gaiman has a clear vision of who Morpheus is and, hopefully, would never consider something like that.
What about the fans? Fans trust the artists to make their art in such a way where it preserves the essence of the product they fell in love with. If the artist makes the product that the fans can recognize as what they fell in love with, then they will be happy with the product. But if the artist makes the product, or changes it, in a way where it doesn’t possess the essence of the product, then the fan feels betrayed by the artist. The fan purchase the product because of their expectations.
I don’t think the fans that were upset expected George Lucas to change how the original story unfolded. I don’t think the fans that were upset expected Lucas to deviate away from the space western feel of the original trilogy.