George Lucas is a genius. Let’s get that out of the way right up front.
But his genius isn’t about movie making, it’s one of Empire Building. He has created, or at least been a crucial player in, several multi-billion dollar industries that have continued to grow and change the way we think not just about movies but about entertainment and culture generally. Skywalker Sound and Industrial Light and Magic have both revolutionized their industries. The toys and other products that support the Star Wars ecosystem have driven billions of dollars in revenue for thousands of companies worldwide.
But I think I hate George Lucas.
For 30+ years, nearly as long as I’ve been alive, Lucas has had to deal with fanboy rage and love. He’s been a celebrity, but one primarily associated with only one thing. Even Paris Hilton has moved past the sex tape debacle that brought her initial infamy. The irritation and desire to move on must be overwhelming. Many people ask me how I could possibly leave a job as cool as LEGO Community Manager, but after 5 years, I was ready to move onto new challenges and new topics. Extend that six times and that’s what Lucas has been facing.
It’s no damn wonder his movies suck.
I didn’t realize how off the mark Episodes I-III were until I watched the first Clone Wars cartoon on Cartoon Network. That 5 minute cartoon had more “Star Wars spirit” than the 2 hour Star Wars: The Phantom Menace movie. Funny thing, Lucas barely had anything to do with their production. Same goes for the incredible Star Wars: Clone Wars movie that opened on Friday. Again, as IMDB indicates, Lucas was only slightly involved in the production. (I’m sure he had a heavy hand in overseeing the project)
Kids who grew up on Star Wars in the 1970s created the Clone Wars cartoons. Lucas cast Hayden Christensen.
Let’s dig a little deeper. Look at how Lucas talks about his franchise (from Vanity Fair cover story):
And maybe after five years people will accept it.
Well … the motivation for the whole thing, to go more than three, was to have a good time. We had fun making those movies, they were fun movies, we liked them, and … of course it’s hard to go home again. Things change. But the eerie part of this movie—I call it the Motion Picture, the Movie of Dorian Gray, because nobody changed. Everybody looks exactly as they did, Steven is directing exactly as he did, and everybody had a wonderful time. And I think we got a great movie. I know the critics are going to hate it. They already hate it. So there’s nothing we can do about that. They hate the idea that we’re making another one. They’ve already made up their minds. And all they’re going to do is go to the movie to say they saw it, but they could already write their review today. The fans are all upset. They’re always going to be upset. “Why did he do it like this? And why didn’t he do it like this?” They write their own movie, and then, if you don’t do their movie, they get upset about it. So you just have to stand by for the bricks and the custard pies, because they’re going to come flying your way. You know it’s gonna come. Will this be Titanic? Probably not. Will this do O.K.? I think, yes, it will. So there’s not much to worry about.
Or worse, take a look at what Lucas says about Indiana Jones (Entertainment Weekly, issue #988):
Entertainment Weekly: So why resurrect Indy after all these years?
George Lucas: We’re doing it to have fun. We’re not doing it to say, Oh we’re gonna get an Academy Award, everybody’s gonna love us… We don’t need the money. We’re only going to get aggravation. The fans think it’s gonna be the Second Coming. And it’s not the Second Coming. They’ve already written the story [in their heads], and lemme tell ya, it’s not that story. So they’re going to be very disappointed. I went through this with Phantom Menace. Believe me, I’ve been there, I’ve done it, I know exactly the way they react. And they’re very vocal about these things. We’re not gonna have adoring fans sending us e-mails saying how much they loved the movie. We’re gonna have a bunch of angry people saying “You’re a bunch of a–holes, you should never have done this. You’ve ruined my life forever. I loved Indiana Jones so much and now it’s ruined.” And all that kind of stuff.
Steven Spielberg: Uh, he needs to speak for himself there. [Laughter all around] You need to put in parentheses “George Lucas is totally speaking for himself.” And I absolve myself of any connection with that last statement about fans not liking it.
Compare that tone with what David Duchovny said about X-Files (same issue of EW):
“If you try to anticipate an audience, then I think you get into trouble. We’ll make it, you enjoy it. And if you don’t enjoy it, then we didn’t hold up our end of the bargain.”
Basically, Duchovny and Lucas are saying the same thing: you can let fanboy run your life. But Lucas has long ago forgotten the bargain.
The new generation of Star Wars content producers are coming to the show with less baggage and therefore a far better approach:
Dave Filoni: There’s really not much difference, to be very honest with you. There’s a sense of immense responsibility coming from sitting in the audience to sitting up here. I felt it was really important that the whole crew who was going to work on Clone Wars felt the same way I did, which is we grew up on Star Wars and we really believed in it. It was something that inspired me creatively, and it’s something that inspired many generations. I think that’s important. I respect everybody out there and their opinions. Everybody comes up to me to talk about Star Wars, and I listen because I want to make sure when we do this, that we do it right and this will be the Star Wars that we all love.
Is it any wonder that Star Wars: Clone Wars was an absolutely amazing movie? (I know others have railed on it, but this movie is the first two episodes of an running Cartoon Network serial, not a new trilogy for crying out loud!)
The sad truth is that passion does wan over time. Businesses that interact regularly with fans (and thankfully the number of these businesses is increasing daily) run the risk of falling into the same trap George Lucas has. Even the best community management team will eventually get sick of being beat up by external (and even internal) forces.
A good community strategy includes a community manager, but a great community strategy includes plans for how to rotate and promote community staff to avoid the same kind of fanboy saturation and burn out that has effected George Lucas’ output.