Sunday, March 4, 2012

Obsessed with Perfection

When I learned that George Lucas was re-releasing the Star Wars saga in 3D, I had a single thought—leave it to Lucas to find yet another way to disappoint me. 
Now he can offend me in the 3rd dimension, too.

The original Star Wars trilogy was awe-inspiring and exciting—kids, these were Episodes 4, 5, and 6, before anyone really considered them episodes.  Come to think of it, we didn’t really know about special effects or understand what “action figures” were back then, either.  These movies set the bar.  They spawned the nerds of a generation.

Of course, in the new generation of flat screens and iPods, the prequels were released (or perhaps, like a plague, are better described as “unleashed”).  Unlike their predecessors, the new films were nausea inspiring.

Poor dialog, racist caricatures (Jar-Jar Binks? the Trade Federation?  Come on!), thin plotlines, and lazy direction were the result of Lucas’ obsessive focus on visual effects and his unwillingness to share the writing, development, and directing responsibilities with brave souls who might speak truth to power.  If you doubt me, watch the extra features on the DVDs that show how Lucas oversees his minions who fear him.  He literally carries an “approved by Lucas” stamp around the spacious Lucasfilm studios and puts a mark on concept art presented to him when he approves it.  Creative modelers and artists tremble when he comes by.  He strikes fear into his team as he inspects their work.  Watch it.  Try not to laugh.  And then cry.

Lucas is no longer the rebel director, doing something new and risky as he did with Star Wars in 1976.  Now, he’s a mega corporation, crushing all who would oppose him.  Lucas has become Vader, hell bent on ruling the universe.

He’d find my lack of faith disturbing.

His obsession with visual effects has harmed his storytelling, not helped it.  Awesome explosions don’t make up for bad stories, bad direction, or silly dialog (look at me, giving advice to one of the most financially successful directors in history.  Dang, I’m a badass... Part of me just worried that Lucas would read this and send stormtroopers to my house to disappear me).  Remember, you read it here first, people.  If I go missing, look for me or my remains at Skywalker Ranch.

I’m neither the first nor only critic of Mr. Lucas—the guy is sorely abused by the public, particularly over “The Phantom Menace” (“The Fandom Meanness?”).  People have dedicated blogs, websites, fan-made video remakes, and full-blown edits of his films as forms of criticism.  Go surf the inter-Webs.  If you Google “Hate George Lucas,” you’ll get about 12,300,000 results.  Go see.  I’ll wait right here...  It’s truly an awe-inspiring body of handmade hatred.

Re-releasing his epic saga in 3D may further fill his already deep pockets and secure the financial futures for generations of Lucas children and grandchildren and great grandchildren to come.  Am I too old to be adopted?  Herb Lucas?  Nah.

But, finances aside, on some level I have to admit, I sorta get his obsession with doing things over and over until he’s happy.  He wants everything to be perfect.  An illness?  Perhaps.  But the little George Lucas inside him just wants it all to be perfect.  My northern European father built that into my DNA.  The force is strong in my family.  What’s Lucas’ deal?

Maybe this is the same thing Joan Rivers struggles with, too.  She felt so unhappy her whole life, she had a face do-over; and over; and over...  I love Joan, but I’m not sure she got the face she wanted.

Or Priscilla Presley.  She, too, had some special effects wizardry on her face.  Is it me, or does she look like Jack Nicholson’s version of Batman’s “The Joker?”  What would Elvis say?   He’d probably kick my ass and sing “Don’t Be Cruel.”

In truth, I shouldn’t throw stones.  I have a little obsession with perfection, too—though clearly, I don’t care about my face.  Sorry, people and mirror.

About a year ago, I got myself a Lego keychain—a miniature model figure of Woody, the cowboy from Pixar’s “A Toy Story” trilogy (a superior trilogy that does not forget to put story above everything, though still offering breakthrough special effects.  Pay attention, Mr. Lucas.  Pixar’s schooled you!).

Two months into my proud ownership of the keychain, my son dropped my keys and one of Woody’s little Lego legs broke off.  Like a scene from the actual “Toy Story” movie, my toy was dismembered.

There was something oddly sweet about my one-legged cowboy.  He reminded me of the Hans Christian Andersen story, “The Steadfast Tin Soldier” where a one-legged tin soldier falls in love with a one-legged paper ballerina.  Read it sometime.  Here’s a spoiler—both the soldier and ballerina die horribly in the end.  Hans Christian Anderson was a disturbed dude.  Did you realize Anderson was the author of the original “Little Mermaid?”  Perhaps you didn’t know in his version, the little mermaid dissolved into sea foam at the end?  No pretty Disney wedding there!  And no special effects to make it look like Greedo shot first.  Wait, wrong story...

Anyhow, happy with my one-legged Lego cowboy keychain, I tucked away the disembodied leg in my desk and went on with life, proud to have a battle-scarred Toy Story veteran in my pocket.  Then, the unthinkable happened last month:  the second leg broke off.  This incident and my reaction to it revealed a prejudice I didn’t realize I had.  While I found my one-legged cowboy charming, my no-legged cowboy was a problem.

True confessions—when I originally bought my Woody keychain, I was so excited I bought TWO.  Woody #2 has been residing in my desk drawer, tags still attached, ready to be deployed in case of just such an emergency.  Now that I think of it, he’s probably horrified to be lying in a drawer next to a severed leg identical to his own....

Like another episode from the original “Toy Story” movies, I had a toy horror show with parts and pieces in a drawer (like Toy Story 1), and a doppleganger to my hero (like Buzz Lightyear’s “twin” in “A Toy Story 2?”).  Life imitating art?  Toys imitating life?  Herb imitating a grown man?

Now, let’s pause a moment.  If you’ve seen neither the Star Wars saga nor the Toy Story trilogy, you’re probably annoyed with me for the onslaught of cultural references. If you have no idea who Woody, Buzz, Greedo, or Vader are or what I mean when I say “Lego keychain,” your probably lost.  Then again, if you’ve seen neither Star Wars nor Toy Story, or have never seen Lego, you’re probably a Unabomber living in a tree house or you’re so countercultural that you don’t read blogs anyway.

Let me help you catch up:  Pixar is great; Star Wars was great and now isn’t; and I’m struggling with a broken cowboy-shaped key chain, having endowed the entire broken keychain event with some sort of existential importance.  If you’re still behind, that’s where I’m leaving you.  Moving on.

At first, I tried gluing the legs back on.  They were originally designed to move, but when glued, they would not.  I could live with that (and if my cowboy could talk or think, I figured he’d agree).  Of course, the glue didn’t take.  Then, I taped them.  That lasted a month, and then the legs fell off again.  I barely heard the sound of plastic hitting the pavement and it took a moment for me to realize what had happened, but once again, I’d saved the legs.

Now, the dilemma.  Do I try a third time to affix the legs or, do I deploy “Plan B” Woody—the doppleganger in the drawer?

Like Lucas, I’m plagued by the need for perfection.  Part of me just wants to continue forward with my original, broken, pieced-together, keychain.  Broken is sort of perfect in its own way, isn’t it?  I feel a poem coming on...

Another part of me wants to stop fretting, stop accepting a broken keychain, replace Woody 1 with Woody 2, and move on.  But somehow I know, one choice will make me a rebel and the other will make me an evil overlord.  I refuse to become Vader, but what kind of keychain cowboy has no legs?

Maybe the answer is just to get another keychain altogether.  Not a Woody, but some other Lego guy... The best choice could be to make no choice at all.  Then again, what kind of cowboy, what kind of Jedi, would bow out when the going gets tough?

Let’s leave it to you, my honored readers.  Using the poll on the sidebar, tell me what YOU would do!

Most votes wins!  And you won’t need 3D glasses!

© 2012, Herb Williams-Dalgart


Erik said...

Great one, Herb. I wonder, though, is Lucas a perfectionist or a control freak? Seems like anyone who would put his stamp on that amount of bad dialogue is more concerned with personal control than getting it just right. And let's be honest, episode four has some of the worst dialogue of 'em all. The long desert walk of R2 and C3PO? Someone stop the clanging! For me...I guess I'm less of a perfectionist, we're going to see it this weekend!!

Herb said...

Yes, an argument could be made that Lucas is merely a control freak vs. a perfectionist. But I think he also suffers from bad judgement. Even when he gets it wrong, he thinks he's got it perfect. Don't even get me started on Indiana Jones 4. I waited almost 20 years for that? Wish I could erase that one from my brain!

Anonymous said...

Regarding Woody - I'd say those keychains may last like what, 2 years? So, he's in middle age. (like us!) Let him deteriorate in peace. Leave him on there till he's just a head. He'll be happy he can still make a contribution to your stylish keychain. Maybe add another one for company? I'm happy with my Princess Leia. She's still got her legs, but thats not surprising since women tend to be tougher than men all around.