The Time George Lucas Warned Congress About the Dangers of Altering Classic Movies

Getty Images
Getty Images

Long before the “Special Editions” of the Star Wars trilogy littered George Lucas’s blockbuster franchise with computer-generated lounge singers and haunted fans with the question of "Who shot first?," the director appeared before a United States Senate subcommittee to warn Washington—and, in the process, the public at large—about the dangers of altering classic films.

Lucas and his directorial fraternity brother, Steven Spielberg, were in Washington in March of 1988 to push the country toward adopting the Berne Convention, which protects a work’s copyright across all the countries that participate in the agreement (there were 76 at the time), and defends an artist against having his or her work defaced or altered after it’s completed. This last part was of special concern to Lucas, and was the main driving force behind his trip to D.C.

The film industry’s renewed effort for copyright reform was born in opposition to the colorization and forced editing that classic films were enduring on television. This was highlighted by Ted Turner’s recent acquisition of classic film libraries, such as MGM and United Artists. Though it was seen as sacrilege among film historians, Turner sought to maximize his $1.2 billion investment in MGM by bringing the mostly black-and-white films into the modern age through colorization.

"The last time I checked, I owned the films that we're in the process of colorizing," Turner said in 1986. "I can do whatever I want with them, and if they're going to be shown on television, they're going to be in color."

The “moral rights” of the Berne Convention state that the artist “shall have the right to claim authorship of the work and to object to any derogatory action in relation to the said work which would be prejudicial to his honor or reputation." When Lucas stepped in front of the committee, he urged Washington to bring those rights to the United States.

“People who alter or destroy works of art and our cultural heritage for profit or as an exercise of power are barbarians,” he said. “[And] if the laws of the United States continue to condone this behavior, history will surely classify us as a barbaric society.”

Lucas even took a thinly veiled shot at Turner directly, saying, "There is nothing to stop American films, records, books, and paintings from being sold to a foreign entity or an egocentric gangster who would change our cultural heritage to suit his personal taste."

Lucas also had a prescient warning about the growing dangers of digital effects that could completely alter the content of classic movies: “[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.”

The efforts of Lucas and Spielberg helped push the U.S. to adopt the Berne Convention the next year, but the country took a much narrower view of the "moral rights" aspect of the agreement [PDF], ignoring many of the director's most important points. The entire speech can be read over at Save Star Wars, but his point is clear: To Lucas, the alteration of classic films is akin to the destruction of culture and an act of barbarism. Of course, this was 1988—a mere nine years before the release of the Star Wars Trilogy Special Edition, which saw the addition of new characters, special effects, and entire scenes to the original films.

Since that time, Lucas has added numerous other changes to the first three Star Wars movies, with the last round of alterations coming in 2011, right before the director sold the franchise to Disney. To this day, the original versions of the first three Star Wars movies have not made their way to Blu-ray or any sort of legal digital download.

Though Lucas’s impassioned speech may seem hypocritical to some, his focus at the time was aimed at protecting artists from having their work changed without their permission. As the director himself, and the copyright holder of Star Wars, Lucas’s alterations fall well within an artist’s “moral rights.” Well, from a certain point of view.

The Elder Wand from Harry Potter Will Be Surprisingly Important in Fantastic Beasts 2

Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc.
Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc.

For about a year now, Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald has been using an image of the Elder Wand in promotional teases, as pointed out by The Ringer. You surely remember the instrument—which is said to be the most powerful wand to have ever existed in JK Rowling's Wizarding World—from the original Harry Potter series. So just how important will it be to the Fantastic Beasts sequel? Extremely.

According to Pottermore, the Elder Wand (also known as the Deathstick or "The Wand of Destiny") is the most sought after of the three Deathly Hallows. According to "The Tale of the Three Brothers," a fairy tale often told to wizard children, the Elder Wand was given to Antioch Peverell by Death himself. Whoever was able to reunite the wand with the other two Deathly Hallows—the Resurrection Stone and the Cloak of Invisibility—would become the Master of Death.

As such, the Elder Wand is extremely dangerous—and can be made even more so, depending on the intentions of the wizard who possesses it. As Dumbledore once ​said in The Tales of Beedle the Bard, "Those who are knowledgeable about wandlore will agree that wands do indeed absorb the expertise of those who use them."

So how does all of this connect to Fantastic Beasts? While in disguise in the first Fantastic Beasts movie, Gellert Grindelwald didn't carry the Elder Wand—though we know from previous installments that he had acquired it by the time the first movie takes place. Grindelwald stole the wand from Mykew Gregorovitch, stunning the wizard to gain the allegiance of the Elder Wand, sometime before 1926. But while promotional stills indicate that Grindelwald will have physical possession of the wand in this second movie, which witch or wizard has the wand's allegiance is less clear—after all, Newt Scamander captured Grindelwald at the end of the first film, and Tina Goldstein disarmed him.

However, we know from the Harry Potter series that Dumbledore takes possession of the Elder Wand after a duel in 1945, which is the same year the Fantastic Beasts series will end (so it's pretty safe to assume that Dumbledore and Grindelwald will face off in the series' fifth and final film). And Dumbledore's own words about how he came to possess the wand in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows are also particularly telling. "I was fit to own the Elder Wand, and not to boast of it, and not to kill with it," he stated in the novel. "I was permitted to tame and to use it, because I took it, not for gain, but to save others from it."

We'll have to wait until this weekend to see how it all plays out in The Crimes of Grindelwald, but this is one story that will take several more installments to tell.

Simon Pegg Says New Star Wars Films Are Missing George Lucas's Imagination

John Phillips, Getty Images for Paramount Pictures
John Phillips, Getty Images for Paramount Pictures

While many Star Wars fans were unimpressed with the most recent film in the Luke Skywalker saga, The Last Jedi, even those viewers would likely agree that the most recent slate of entries into the Star Wars franchise are much better than the prequel series ... right? Well, it might not be so black and white.

Simon Pegg, who appeared in The Force Awakens as Unkar Plutt, had previously slammed the prequels, specifically ​calling The Phantom Menace a "jumped-up firework display of a toy advert." But now he seems to have come to a new conclusion: Star Wars needs George Lucas.

"I must admit, watching the last Star Wars film [The Last Jedi], the overriding feeling I got when I came out was, 'I miss George Lucas,'" Pegg confessed on The Adam Buxton Podcast. "For all the complaining that I'd done about him in the prequels, there was something amazing about his imagination."

Pegg also shared the story of how he once met Lucas at the premiere of Revenge of the Sith, and that the legendary filmmaker gave him some advice.

"He was talking to Ron Howard and I think he'd seen Shaun of the Dead  because he immediately went, 'Oh hey, Shaun of the Dead!,' and shook my hand," Pegg recalled. "And George Lucas immediately changed his demeanor."

"Don't be making the same film that you made 30 years ago 30 years from now," Lucas told Pegg, according to the actor.

Of all the complaints about The Last Jedi, from Rey's parentage reveal to Luke abandoning the Force, the lack of George Lucas is not quite a popular criticism. But we are glad to know his influence is missed—by at least one person.

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