.: Do As I Say, Not As I Do: George Lucas Quotes on Film Preservation 

Presented here is a modest collection of George Lucas quotes pertaining to film preservation and the public's right to their own cultural heritage. I present this collection in order to demonstrate the hypocrisy of George Lucas, but also his own admirable stance towards film preservation--a stance which he demands of everyone but which he does not apply to himself. I believe these quotes are important to highlight that George Lucas, by his own views, is violating the ethics of both the responsibilities of copyright holders but also the ethics of United States law. Unfortunately, motion picture law has many holes in it--which is why Lucas legally gets away with his suppression, neglect and destruction of the original Star Wars trilogy. I will also provide greater context to the quotes, so as not to be accused of picking them out of context or distorting their meaning. This collection will proceed chronologically, beginning with the 1970s, into the 1980s, through to the 1990s and up until the 2000s of our present day.

Our first rendezvous is 1979. In an interview with journalist Alan Arnold for the book Once Upon a Galaxy: A Journal of the Making of Empire Strikes Back, Lucas expresses the importance of letting future audiences see films as they were, that films are historical documents which give insight into the tastes and technologies of the time they were made, comparing it to the sociological value of vintage comic strips. He states on page 222:

"To me, film is historical document and therefore it has practical value. People 500 years from now will look at our films and be able to figure out what we were like...They are technological extensions of, a derivation from, the comic strip."

Our second rendezvous is the year 1988. In that year, filmmakers, preservationists and businessmen were fighting a fierce battle to enact legislation which would give motion pictures protection from being altered from their original form. This battle went all the way to Congress, where such high profile filmmakers as Jimmy Stewart, Steven Spielberg and George Lucas himself testified on the importance to preserve the past. Lucas and company tried to enact this law through entering the Berne Convention for Moral Rights, which would prevent filmmakers from having their work distorted without their consent--however, this also extended to, not only allowing them to alter their own works in derivative copies if they so wished, but also protecting those historical films as well, so that future generations could continue to view them in as high a quality as possible (as by that point, Eastern Bloc countries were being scoured for better sources than the neglected American vaults). This is part of what Lucas had to say about the issue:

"A copyright is held in trust by its owner until it ultimately reverts to public domain. American works of art belong to the American public; they are part of our cultural history.

People who alter or destroy works of art and our cultural heritage for profit or as an exercise of power are barbarians, and if the laws of the United States continue to condone this behavior, history will surely classify us as a barbaric society. The preservation of our cultural heritage may not seem to be as politically sensitive an issue as "when life begins" or "when it should be appropriately terminated," but it is important because it goes to the heart of what sets mankind apart. Creative expression is at the core of our humanness. Art is a distinctly human endeavor. We must have respect for it if we are to have any respect for the human race.

These current defacements are just the beginning. Today, engineers with their computers can add color to black-and-white movies, change the soundtrack, speed up the pace, and add or subtract material to the philosophical tastes of the copyright holder. Tommorrow, more advanced technology will be able to replace actors with "fresher faces," or alter dialogue and change the movement of the actor's lips to match. It will soon be possible to create a new "original" negative with whatever changes or alterations the copyright holder of the moment desires. The copyright holders, so far, have not been completely diligent in preserving the original negatives of films they control. In order to reconstruct old negatives, many archivists have had to go to Eastern bloc countries where American films have been better preserved.

In the future it will become even easier for old negatives to become lost and be "replaced" by new altered negatives. This would be a great loss to our society. Our cultural history must not be allowed to be rewritten."

"The public's interest is ultimately dominant over all other interests. And the proof of that is that even a copyright law only permits the creators and their estate a limited amount of time to enjoy the economic fruits of that work."

Unfortunately, because protection was sought through Moral Rights, Lucas and company failed in their crusade. They failed because, as was rightfully pointed out by people such as MPAA head Jack Valenti, it is simplistic to argue that the collaborative nature of films should be controlled just by one person, since in real life producers and studio executives can tell a director what to do. For that matter, with Moral Rights, the other artists involved, such as editors and cinematographers, should also be protected from having their work distorted after release, and so the argument fell apart. Had they framed the issue purely in terms of preservation of the past--cultural heritage protection law--the legislation may have gone through. Cultural heritage protection law exists for all other art forms, such as landmarks, paintings and buildings, but because of the fallout from 1988, this has not been extended to films, and so they are vulnerable to destruction by whomever owns the copyright. Which, in the case of the Star Wars films, is Lucasfilm.

The next rendevzous we have with Lucas is five years later, in 1993. In that year, he wrote a message on the Star Wars Trilogy boxset in which he expresses hope for the continued long-term, generation-spanning viewing of these films:

"Star Wars was my elaborate fantasy, but its popularity has gone beyond anything ever I had imagined...I hope that you, your children, and your children's children will enjoy experiencing this saga as much as I have."

Our next rendezvous point is 1996. Lucas was by then working on the Special Edition of Star Wars, which presents a dilemma, and one which Lucas himself recognized: he would be altering a culturally significant film. Lucas, in this quote, is uncomfortable with his own actions, expressing some reservations that he is going against his own philosophy--even that he fears this practice could become common. In this example, he even acknowledges that what he is doing is wrong, the only time he would own up to what the Special Edition represents. He states to Cinefex in 1996 (issue 65) on the ongoing construction of the Special Edition:

"On your special edition, do you expect any backlash from fans who might resent your tampering with a classic?

I don't know. It's my classic. On the one hand, I'm doing this, while on the other hand I'm on the Artists Rights Board, a foundation that's trying to protect films from being changed--which I feel very strongly about, because with the technology we have today, anybody can go back and do this kind of thing. I can sort of see the future, and I want to protect films as they are and as they should be. I don't want to see them colorized, I don't want to see their formats changed, I don't want to see them re-edited, and I don't want to see what I'm able to do now, which is add more characters and do all kinds of things that nobody even contemplated before."

With rendezvous five we arrive in 2004. Lucas by then had resolved his earlier dilemma by simply going into denial about it. He states in 1997: "There will only be one. And it won't be what I would call the 'rought cut', it'll be the 'final cut.' The other one will be some sort of interesting artifact that people will look at and say, 'There was an earlier draft of this.'...What ends up being important in my mind is what the DVD version is going to look like, because that's what everybody is going to remember. The other versions will disappear. Even the 35 million tapes of Star Wars out there won't last more than 30 or 40 years. A hundred years from now, the only version of the movie that anyone will remember will be the DVD version [of the Special Edition]". He further states in 2004: "The special edition, that's the one I wanted out there. The other movie, it's on VHS, if anybody wants it...To me, it doesn't really exist anymore." And here is where the hypocrisy is truely bewildering. That very same year, Three Stooges shorts were released on DVD in colourized versions, which Lucas protests. His protests were a bit inflated, however, as the DVD contained the original black and white versions in identical quality, and so the issue of the past being distorted was slightly overstated. But what is bewildering, however, is that he still insists that the public ought to be able to see films as they originally were released! He states to the Associated Press:

"I am very concerned about our national heritage, and I am very concerned that the films that I watched when I was young and the films that I watched throughout my life are preserved, so that my children can see them."

This goes hand in hand with his continued distortion of the history of Star Wars itself: starting in 2005, he began to claim that Star Wars was really "The Tragedy of Darth Vader", and that this was what his earliest story material was about--which, as I have demonstrated in my book The Secret History of Star Wars, is not only factualy untrue but also a little absurd.

Of the Three Stooges issue is a comparitively rarer quote (see: here) where he may be suggesting, as the shorts were availble in black and white as well, that the very idea of having an alternate version in existence is distasteful and dangerous, since audiences may be exposed to the alternate version and not the original.

"Would color distract from their comedy and make it not as funny anymore? Maybe just the fact that they're in black and white makes it funny, because their humor is dated. By putting it in black and white, it puts it in a context where you can appreciate it for what it was. But you try to make it in full, living color and try to compare it to a Jim Carrey movie, then it's hard for young people to understand."

Our final rendezvous point is the year of this writing, 2011. In his introductory letter for the Profiles in History catelog featuring Debbie Reynolds collection of memorabelia (PDF link), Lucas speaks about his respect for film history:

"As a filmmaker and a lover of cinema, I have always appreciated the many disciplines that go into making a film-- the props, the costumes, all the aspects that come together to make the whole as great as the sum of its parts. I have archived all the important pieces from my own films, and I am a staunch believer it's important that we all make an effort to preserve our cinematic heritage-- before it's too late."

So, why does Lucas speak out about the suppression of film history, when he has been the biggest theft of it? It is quite puzzling, to such extent that some online critics have wondered about what sort of psychological profile Lucas' mind would yield. Perhaps it is total egomania, an inflated sense of entitlement or simply denial--but I will leave any armchair psychology out of this. It would be interesting to see how he justified his actions when confronted with such excerpts. I hope these quotes demonstrate the hollowness with which Lucas has insisted that he has the right to deny and suppress the cultural heritage of you and I.