Despite being responsible for creating some of the most beloved and financially successful films of all time, George Lucas's work on the Star Wars saga has generated a substantial amount of criticism from fans. Many segments of Star Wars fandom have expressed strong disdain about the work of Lucas, and this manifests itself in "Lucas bashing": comments, critiques, parodies, and discussions which display a strong negative bias against the work of the Star Wars creator.
Following is a list of several topics which have inspired considerable amounts of criticism. It should be noted that finding fault with any of these topics does not automatically constitute "Lucas Bashing", and can be (and often is) a perfectly legitimate form of critical engagement with the films. However, these contentious topics frequently inspire the Star Wars fans (and also casual moviegoers in many cases) to transcend the merely critical and launch into anti-Lucas commentary, which is defined as "Lucas Bashing".
Of course, criticism of "Greedo shot first" for example, or indeed the specific dislike of any particular element of the Star Wars franchise does not automatically constitute Lucas Bashing. For the term to apply there must be a specific targeting of Lucas as the author of the disliked material, and must indicate a general tendency by the critic to attribute only bad decisions to Lucas, but rarely any praise for "good" choices.
The earliest widespread case of "Lucas Bashing" was in response to the Ewoks in the final film of the original trilogy, Return of the Jedi. These teddy bear-like primitives featured prominently in the movie and are depicted as being essentially the major protagonists of the final ground battle. Many fans and casual viewers felt that the Ewoks were a jarringly childish addition to a franchise that had many adult fans, and furthermore that it was simply implausible that these diminutive savages could overcome the supposedly implacable Galactic Empire and their armored, high-tech stormtroopers.
Fans regarded the Ewoks as an example of Lucas's folly, and many rumors sprang up concerning their creation, most prominently speculating that Lucas had cynically invented the creatures purely for their merchandising potential, or that he was approached with the idea by merchandisers and greedily acquiesced.
The next significant event to generate a wave of "Lucas Bashing" was the 1997 "Special Edition" re-release of the original trilogy, which included many actual changes (see: List of changes in Star Wars re-releases) to the content of the film, some unobtrusive and cosmetic, but many quite obvious and controversial. Using the digital technology which would become the hallmark of Lucas's later career, these SE versions of the much-beloved original films included some actual alterations of the narrative content.
Most infamous of these was the "Han Shot First" incident, in which Lucas had the footage of a scene digitally altered so that the character Han Solo no longer fires a pre-emptive shot at the bounty hunter (Greedo) who is holding him at gunpoint. The new version depicts Greedo shooting first and Solo killing him in retaliation, a change designed to make the protagonist seem less cold-blooded.
Many fans variously derided the change as absurd, implausible, diminishing of Solo's character arc from rogue to hero, and even insulting to the intelligence of fans who were more than familiar with the original version.
Lucas Bashing only began in earnest, however, with the release of the Star Wars prequel trilogy. Although all were immensely successful in terms of the box-office, the prequel trilogy had a mixed critical response, especially Episodes I and II, and many casual and hard-core fans of the original trilogy regarded the prequels as anywhere from disappointing to appalling.
The prequels were significant in that, unlike the Special Editions of the original films, they were the first wholly original contributions to the cinematic Star Wars myth in over a decade and they were touted as being entirely under Lucas's creative control. As they were the first Star Wars films that Lucas had solely directed since Episode IV, Lucas was naturally held accountable and instantly became the target of the vast majority of fans' ire.
Despite the fact that Lucas clearly exerted significant control on both of the second and third films in the original trilogy even after handing them over to other directors, and despite the fact that it was Episode IV which was the most successful of them, "Lucas Bashers" began to express the view that the Star Wars franchise was at its weakest in direct proportion to Lucas's level of personal involvement and thus creative control. Another view in support of this is that many critics now view the fact that the greatness of Episode IV was in part a fluke, that it wouldn't be the same movie without the editing team, or John Williams' score or the cast who largely acted without direction.
One 2005 article in Australian Empire magazine argued (perhaps facetiously) that Lucas had deliberately made Episode I and even Episode II to be terrible films purely as a strategy for making Episode III appear a masterpiece by comparison, a technique compared to using a "Jedi mind trick" on the fans.
A pioneer of the use of computer-generated imagery (CGI) in filming special effects, Lucas is arguably the most prolific (some would say addicted) utilizer of CGI in films. Since the Special Editions, Lucas has increasingly used CGI to create backgrounds, sets, props, creatures, space battles, whole characters and many tiny details that escape the untrained eye. The volume of CGI effects shots have grown exponentially over the course of the prequel trilogy to the point where in Revenge of the Sith (according to DVD content) there were very, very few shots in the entire film which did not feature some kind of CGI work.
Many fans feel that Lucas overuses CGI, and that in many cases more traditional special effects or filmmaking techniques would be easier, and indeed preferable. Lucas is arguably the primary cause of the CGI backlash phenomenon, whereby many film aficionados and filmmakers themselves have come to regard CGI as inferior and only to be used whenever absolutely necessary. This has led to many recent films which proudly reclaim the use of animatronics and "man-in-a-suit" creatures in films such as Dog Soldiers, Underworld, Blade 2, and Hellboy.
In the Star Wars prequels, the main bone of contention for many fans in reference to the over-use of CGI is a sense of "fakeness". However sophisticated the process becomes, many viewers are immediately able to detect much of the CGI work, whether due to a trained eye or simply contextual logic (such as impossible creatures like Jar Jar or battle droids). In some cases, the objection stems from the use of CGI seeming to be gratuitous, such as CGI to create all of the armored clone troopers in Episodes II and III, when costumed actors served perfectly well as the stormtroopers in the original trilogy. Or in the case of scenery, when a scene calls for an actor to be outside (for example on a landing pad), George Lucas's choosing to CGI the sky in (which due to lack of light upon the actors, can be noticeable) rather than just simply filming the actors outside, adding only the necessary architecture around them later.
Another source of this objection comes from Lucas's own actors. Many of his prequel cast members have complained with varying levels of intensity over the years about the difficulty of "blue/green-screen acting", often having to perform in empty studios conversing with absent co-stars who, like the backgrounds, will be added in postproduction. Some actors who actively pursued their roles were disenchanted by the CGI requirements of the filming process, such as Liam Neeson (see entry on Episode I). However, some actors do not agree. Natalie Portman has stated in several magazine interviews that she finds the sensory deprivation of such environments to be a stimulating acting challenge (although some would say this is merely a politic response). Samuel L. Jackson has stated in interviews on The Late Show with David Letterman and Parkinson that he actively enjoys such acting when it comes to chaotic fight scenes such as in the climax of Episode II, as it allows him to fully unleash his imagination as in childhood.
It is a commonly held perception that George Lucas is a "bad" director in terms of dealing with actors. It is a partially self-perpetuated image, as Lucas has often famously quipped that his acting direction to his stars after a take is (or rather perhaps was) limited to "faster, more intense". This notion has been extended in interviews with Lucas and his staff, particularly on Star Wars DVD special features, in which Lucas frequently states (and also has said of him) that directing on set is his least favorite part of the filmmaking process, and that editing is where he really feels he is creating the film.
Many feel that the prequel films contain poor or wooden acting from elsewhere acclaimed actors such as Liam Neeson, Natalie Portman, Ewan McGregor etc, leading many to believe that the only logical cause for such performances is Lucas's shortcomings as a director. The image of a director who not only places actors in difficult, alienating blue rooms and then fails to compensate with detailed direction has very much stuck to Lucas in many viewer's eyes. Others dispute this characterization of the prequel performances, or at the very least argue that they are truly no worse than those of the original trilogy cast if one examines them without the rose-tinted glasses of nostalgia.
The perception of Lucas as an inferior director has also been fed by the aforementioned dissatisfaction voiced by some of his cast at the CGI-intensive filmmaking process, as well as the fact that Lucas did not direct the last two films of the original trilogy. Some argue this was simply because Lucas disliked directing so much that he passed off the responsibility of handling the actors while still retaining chief artistic control of the two films overall.
Harrison Ford, who played Han Solo in the original films, said in an interview "I think George [Lucas] likes people. I think George is a kind, warm-hearted person, but he can be a little… impatient with the nature of acting, that need to work until you find something."
As a working director, it is mentioned that Lucas did not encourage improvisation and did not do more than three takes even if actors demanded it. These all can explain the above.
Some consider the claim of Lucas being a bad director to be absurd, considering that Lucas has been nominated twice for the Best Director Oscar (although he has never won). Others note that Lucas does have strengths as a director, for example his keen eye for cinematography, lighting and other such visual elements that won him acclaim in his earlier work as a student and young director.
On a related note, some fans criticize Lucas's apparent tendency to keep his actors in the dark as to his creative intentions. Central actors such as Hayden Christensen apparently had no idea as to the specifics of his character's turn to the dark side until very late in the process, arguably putting his performance at a disadvantage by being stripped of adequate time to prepare. Ian McDiarmid has stated in interviews that his first inkling that his character would be involved in lightsaber duels in the final film was when he saw "fencing training" on a call sheet. Mark Hamill was only informed of the major plot twist that Darth Vader is his father in The Empire Strikes Back mere moments before his crucial reaction scene was filmed. He has stated retrospectively in the Empire of Dreams documentary on the 2004 Star Wars original trilogy DVD box set that had he known ahead of time and been given a chance to prepare, he believes he would have played the scene differently.
Vast anecdotal evidence found in various "making of" books and DVD features indicate that often even his preproduction creative collaborators will not know major elements of the films until the design and development process has already advanced considerably.
The most infamous and (comparatively) well-documented example of Lucas's tendency to be apparently inconsiderate of his actors' needs to be informed is the multiple examples affecting David Prowse, the actor who portrayed Darth Vader in the original trilogy. Prowse claims that he was never informed that his voice was to be dubbed over by James Earl Jones, and that the first time he learned this was by watching the film at its premiere, much to his embarrassment. Some fans regard not warning Prowse as an incredibly inconsiderate act, although others point out that the actor must have been fairly naïve to not realize that the fact he was presumably never called in for any ADR sessions would obviously indicate that his voice was not to be used. As seen on the documentary Empire of Dreams Prowse's voice is arguably quite comical and inappropriate for a menacing character such as Darth Vader. Several crew members state that they did not feel the Darth Vader character come alive until James Earl Jones had re-recorded the dialogue.
The other, perhaps more extreme example was that during the making of The Empire Strikes Back the aforementioned plot twist was a closely-guarded secret, never printed in the script and only revealed to Mark Hamill moments before the specific scene was filmed. However, as David Prowse was to be re-dubbed anyway, it was technically not necessary for the actor to actually be speaking appropriate lines and thus it was decided not to inform him at all. Once again, Prowse was never notified of the deception and reportedly discovered this major element of his character upon viewing the second film's premiere. However, before the film was screened to the public Prowse leaked the information to the tabloid, confessing so in interviews. This caused tension between Prowse and Lucas - who thought Prowse had ruined his great twist - and Prowse claims (Justin Lee Collins - Bring Back Star Wars, 2008) that Lucas even refused to speak to him during the entire filming of Return of the Jedi, 'it ruined my entire career if I'm honest.'
As a minor coda it should be noted that Prowse apparently lobbied to be included in Episode III, reprising his role as the fully-armored Darth Vader, but his requests fell on deaf ears. In fact, there is anecdotal evidence from some statements made by Hayden Christensen that it was never even a question of Prowse versus himself, but rather Christensen apparently had to argue to wear the suit instead of Lucas finding an anonymous tall actor. Perhaps partly in response to this, as well as the fact that most casual viewers of the films primarily attribute the Vader role to James Earl Jones, Prowse has developed the habit of signing his autographs "David Prowse IS Darth Vader".
Although Prowse continues to associate himself with his role in the Star Wars films and is involved in the convention circuit, it should be noted that he has apparently not been included in any of the recent reunions of the original cast, such as for the 2004 DVD documentary Empire of Dreams and the 2005 Vanity Fair cover featuring Lucas and all the major actors from both trilogies. It is unknown whether Prowse was invited and declined, or if he is indeed now effectively blacklisted from Lucasfilm endeavors as some Lucas Bashers contend.
The prequel trilogy's comic relief character Jar Jar Binks was greatly reviled, even inspiring websites that allowed visitors to "punch" Jar Jar in the face. Found by many adult viewers to be intensely annoying and outrageously childish (at best), Jar Jar's extremely prominent, almost centralized role in the film is considered by many to be a major creative blunder on Lucas's part. In fact, some fans who otherwise largely approve of Episode I argue that it was actually the fact that Jar Jar so profoundly aggravated many viewers that their annoyance at him colored their experience of the entire film. This line of reasoning contends that had Jar Jar been excised from the film or his role in some way significantly reduced or altered that Episode I would have had a much more universally positive reception. This argument is indirectly borne out in several fan-based re-edits and re-dubs of the film, such as The Phantom Edit.
Jar Jar is also considered by some to be a racist caricature. Although it seems unlikely that this would have been the specific intent, the character's notionally alien "Gungan" accent sounds to most people as being highly reminiscent of a stereotyped Afro-Caribbean accent. Given the foolish clumsy nature of the character and his offer to enter into servitude to Qui-Gon Jinn, some perceive the character to be a throwback to pre-Civil Rights Movement caricatures of black minstrels and African Americans in general.
Without defending Jar Jar per se, some commentators in the fan community extend a measure of sympathy to Lucas over the whole Jar Jar backlash, arguing that there was no way the director could possibly have anticipated such an unprecedented amount of negativity towards one of his creations, and that such a misstep could not possibly have been done on purpose. This argument states that essentially, Lucas was merely attempting to create a new character who would mark the comic relief in the prequel trilogy (as C-3PO and R2-D2 did in the original films), and that it was just "bad luck" for Lucas and his collaborators (to say nothing of Jar Jar's voice & movement performer Ahmed Best) that most viewers responded so badly to a character that was merely intended as such. Some believe that due to the backlash, Lucas made C-3PO and R2-D2's involvement in the new trilogy much larger to fill in where he believed Jar Jar would take part. For further discussion of the Jar Jar controversy, see the full article on Jar Jar Binks.
Although Lucas's revisionism was most dramatically evident in the 1997 Special Editions, the filmmaker's tendency to retroactively tinker with his already-released films has existed both before and since.
Most commonly known of his pre-Special Edition changes is the fact that in the original theatrical release of the first Star Wars the opening crawl did not include the now-familiar heading "Episode IV - A New Hope". This was later added to early re-releases of the film and has been present for so long ever since that many younger viewers are unaware of its original absence. For examples of the many other minor changes to the original trilogy even before the Special Editions, see the article: List of changes in Star Wars re-releases.
With fans much more aware of Lucas's revisionism since the Special Editions, subsequent changes have been far better publicized within Star Wars fandom. The DVD and subsequent digital cinematic screenings of Episodes I and II have included minor changes from their original theatrical versions. In one of the Senate scenes in Episode I the Twi'lek senator Orn Free Taa originally shared his senate pod with Humans, but for the DVD they were replaced with members of his own species. In the arena confrontation between Mace Windu and Jango Fett in Episode II the DVD added sparks and exhaust plumes to Fett's jetpack to indicate that it was damaged when he was nearly trampled by the Reek beast, thus providing an explanation for why the bounty hunter failed to simply fly away before the Jedi could behead him.
The 2004 DVD release of the original trilogy used many of the changes from the earlier Special Editions, in some cases with further enhancement to the 1997 additions, such as a revised version of the CGI Jabba the Hutt in Episode IV and altering the Coruscant skyline in Episode VI to include the prequel-era Jedi Temple and Galactic Senate buildings. However, there were various other entirely new changes, such as substituting the original Emperor (played by an unknown actress and voiced by Clive Revill) seen in Episode V with new footage of Ian McDiarmid and similarly replacing Sebastian Shaw with Hayden Christensen as the Force Ghost of Anakin Skywalker at the end of Episode VI. Both elements were shot during the making of Episode III. For other changes, see: List of changes in Star Wars re-releases
It has been officially stated by Lucasfilm (and a clip is shown on the Episode III DVD) that future re-releases of Episode I will replace the puppet Yoda with the CGI model used in the later two prequels.
The issue of revisionism which perturbs many fans and incites much Lucas bashing is a complex one, and many of the relevant issues are discussed above in the Special Editions section of this article. Some fans contend that the replacement of actors (as with the Emperor, or Anakin Skywalker's ghost) shows a lack of respect to the original performers.
On an aesthetic level, many feel that the changes are jarring, especially as the predominantly CGI additions to the original trilogy are incongruous with the more old-fashioned Special Effects techniques which dominate the films. Also, to the attuned eye CGI "dates" quite rapidly in a way which animatronics and stop-motion are generally perceived to be either immune to, or at least are stylistically consistent. It would seem that Lucas agrees, as evidenced by the aforementioned improvement of the CGI Jabba in the 2004 re-release.
Perhaps more importantly, many fans feel that Lucas altering (or, more pejoratively, "tampering with") his films is not actually his right, and that once released they "belong" to the public consciousness. This perspective is satirically but nevertheless earnestly argued in the aforementioned South Park episode "Free Hat".
A similar view holds that Lucas's continual revisionism masks the perceived "fact" that Lucas is, contrary to claims, "making it up as he goes along." A cornerstone of much of Lucas's discussion and promotion of his three, later six Star Wars films is that they follow an epic, pre-planned story arc. On numerous occasions in sundry interviews over the decades Lucas has stated that the basic plot, backstory and character arcs of the Star Wars saga were all mapped out before he made the first film, Episode IV.
Some fans, however, doubt this on the basis of deduction, intuition, anecdotal evidence and, in some cases, access to earlier drafts (or summaries of drafts) of the early scripts. This is a raging debate in some circles and this article does not presume to outline the veracity of individual claims. Here are some of these doubts, and please note that in each case there are many valid arguments both for and against:
Many fans believe that Lucas has a tendency to retroactively exaggerate or tell white lies about the extent to which these and other aspects were pre-planned. The truth of the matter is usually quite hard to determine.
Some fans dislike Lucas's tendency in the last two prequels to feature his children, himself and (generally inspiring less derision) his crew in cameo roles. Of particular note is his son Jett Lucas who plays a small but noticeable role as Zett Jukassa in both films. Detractors claim this is a form of ego-driven nepotism that robs hopeful actors of valuable exposure, while others accept in-joke cameos as a harmless and time-honored industry tradition made famous by Alfred Hitchcock.
Already partly discussed in the above section on marginalizing actors and crew, Lucas is criticized by some for being an Auteur director, a label he also applies to himself. Some argue that his apparently total creative control over his films, facilitated by his enormous success, wealth, and ownership of Lucasfilm, Skywalker Sound, and Industrial Light & Magic is not in the true collaborative spirit of film-making. Some view his method of giving vague directions to conceptual artists and then picking and altering handfuls of the thousands of suggestions produced as a form of exploitation and an appropriation of too much artistic credit. This method of working is extensively documented on all three of the prequel DVDs. Lucas employs similar techniques in most aspects of his Star Wars film-making process, and it is seen by some as being authoritarian, or even tyrannical.
By his own admission, Lucas includes various creatures in his Star Wars universe for purely whimsical reasons, such as the dewbacks of Tatooine (as he states in the Episode IV DVD commentary). Usually taking the form of cartoonish and exotic creatures or characters, these flights of whimsy are disliked and vilified by some fans as silly, childish or absurd. Some other examples are: