The Phantom Menace: Lucas' Bottom Line

I would have been about the age of the young Anakin Skywalker in the current installment of Star Wars when the fourth episode of the series swept into my life the way the mysterious Qui-Gon Jinn appears in Anakin's life: it was an enigmatic, ferocious, irresistible presence. I grew up in the full sway of its "Force", and I suspect that my implicit worship of its two lone guns (Han and Luke) probably helped to engineer my own rather independent nature. Since that time, I've become a certifiable culture snob, with two liberal-with-a-big-L arts degrees to prove it. And yet, now at the age of Han Solo, I've paradoxically become more of a member of the fabled Senate (a corporate raider observant of the political process) than a lone, rebellious Qui-Gon Jinn. Yet whatever my mixed cultural-spiritual credentials, I feel moved by the Force (or perhaps by this Liberty Ale) to pronounce my pretentious opinion on what is thus far the biggest pop-culture event of my lifetime.

Perhaps that is Lucas' biggest legacy: the ability to mix high-brow intent with low-brow delivery. If we were to place ourselves momentarily in the dualism of Lucas' own brand of philosophy, he himself is certainly Anakin/Vader. Like the young Anakin who brashly declares that he will be the first ever to visit all the solar systems, Lucas had absolutely no evidence to support the idea that his first installment, back in 1976, would do anything but seal his fate as yet another failed, ambitious film maker. Thus, his motives at the outset could hardly be labeled commercialistic (or "dark"): making Star Wars was more of a formula for commercial disaster by the standards of the time. And Lucas' potential swan song is incontestably the most mythologically charged movie since the genre's inception.

But then, after the most wildly successful cinematic trilogy ever, the rest is history. One can almost see it scrolling at an angle in orange text across a backdrop of stars: "Episode II: The commercial instincts of Hollywood have prevailed upon myth maker George Lucas, who, in releasing multiple boxed-sets and new theatre runs, succumbs to the urge to indulge in the cheapest of marketeering ploys, nostalgia mongering." And the pre-release merchandising madness of more recent history needs no chronicling. It is in this manner that it is easiest to foresee the plot lines of the next two episodes: the young maverick technician blessed with an overabundance of spiritual energy gradually turns away from his calling to serve a less benevolent purpose: domination.

And yet, Lucas, like Anakin, the "chosen one", might paradoxically be the one who brings "balance to the Force" in movie-making circles. Several critics have speculated hopefully that this, the biggest independent film ever (Lucas now operates almost entirely outside of the Hollywood financial-logistical system), will somehow pave the way for viable alternatives to Hollywood's current cinematic hegemony, which manifestly obeys only the laws of the market.

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