Monday, February 8, 2016

Losing Creative Control: The Fall of Sci-Fi's Titans

Last month I mentioned in my mini-reviews segment that I watched Bill Shatner's "Chaos on the Bridge" about the turmoil involved in the first few seasons of ST: TNG.  It was made pretty clear that probably the biggest hurdle to the show's success was the creator of Star Trek, Gene Roddenberry.  And it's painted as no surprise that the show didn't really start to connect with fans until Roddenberry's failing health (and ultimate demise) forced him off the show.

It's interesting that pretty much the same thing is perceived to have happened with that other huge sci-fi franchise, Star Wars.  Pretty much every fan after the lame prequels was howling for George Lucas's blood.  Most of us pinned the failure (or perceived failure as they still made money) on Lucas maintaining too much control over the writing and directing, duties that had been given to other people for the last two segments of the original trilogy.  Then every disgruntled fan got their wish in 2012 when Lucas sold Star Wars to Disney and they immediately announced plans to make new movies that wouldn't involve Lucas.  And in many opinions (including mine) the new movie is much better than the prequels.

I guess of the two Lucas is luckier in that he got a golden parachute of about $4 billion and has lived to spend some of it.  Though after Star Wars was released in December, Lucas let slip some nasty comments about it being a "retro movie" and selling the property to "white slavers."  Roddenberry didn't have much of an opportunity for those kind of sour grapes; maybe he was better off that way.  But it is interesting that the two creators of these beloved sci-fi franchises basically had to be forced out in order to save those franchises.

In comparison the common factor to the downfall of Lucas and Roddenberry is they ended up sticking too rigidly to their "vision."  If anyone had had the balls, they could have told Lucas that fans didn't want prequels; they wanted Han and Leia and Luke and Chewie back.  But even after the relative failure of the prequels Lucas wouldn't consider doing sequels to the original trilogy.  Instead he kept focusing on the prequels with the "Clone Wars" show, which was a good series, something snarky fans (like me) would attribute to Lucas not writing or directing the scripts.

For Roddenberry the problem talked about on "Chaos on the Bridge" was that he was fixated on this idea that the Federation was this great utopia and no one should fight or argue or be racist or evil or anything.  Which obviously created problems for the writers, because how can you create conflict in a universe where everyone is supposed to get along?  The series picked up in the third season when Roddenberry pretty much tapped out because of his health and the showrunner he had hired was replaced with Michael Pillar, who let the writers do more character-oriented stories.

Just to throw another name out there, Stan Lee is "The Man" who put Marvel Comics on the map, but while he created (or co-created) a lot of Marvel's characters, a great many of them like the X-Men or Daredevil didn't really achieve success until after Lee had left the title.  And it was really because again someone else came along and changed things up.  With X-Men it was introducing new characters like Wolverine while with Daredevil it was Frank Miller's grittier stories.  You can say the same for Batman, Superman, and a lot of other properties where their greatest eras came after the original creators were gone.

I guess then the main point here is sometimes with a franchise the person who originates it gets too stale or rigid or out of step with the times or whatever the case might be.  Probably someone could do all my various franchises better than I can if anyone gave a shit about said franchises.  But I suppose too we need to be mindful that it's easier to fix something that's broken than to create it from scratch.  Maybe JJ Abrams could have invented Star Wars, but I doubt it.  Maybe Rick Berman and Michael Pillar could have invented Star Trek, but again I doubt it--and not just because they would have been kids when the original Trek aired.

We should probably keep that in mind with all these reboots.


  1. It's also much harder today to create anything new as we've been kind of hurtling toward a singularity of sorts in Fantasy and Science Fiction with all bases accounted for and all plots accounted for. So rather than try and create something new that no one has seen before, it's much easier to reboot and retool ideas that you know are working.

  2. The main problem with the Star Wars prequels is that they never had a chance because the premise is terrible. A Jedi, Anakin turns to the dark side, kills most of his other Jedi and then causes the death of his wife. Followed by Obi Wan slicing Anakin in half. The end.

    How dismal is that? Even before the prequels were made the premise was mentioned, and I wondered how that could even be a story anyone would want to watch. When it comes to Star Wars, people want the little guy defeating the odds against enormous bad guys...not tragedies.

    However, I will always admire George Lucas and Gene Roddenberry for what they have created. Perhaps when you reach that level it’s hard to see that your next idea might not be that great.

  3. That's a very interesting analysis. I used to be a huge Star Trek TNG fan back in the day, but I was still in high school when the series came to its conclusion, so I wasn't aware of what was going on with Gene Roddenberry and all that. I've seen some people on online forums demanding the return of George Lucas to the Star Wars franchise, but these are probably the same people that criticized him for the prequels, it's all quite curious...



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