Film

‘The Power of Branding’: Fake George Lucas Tells Us Why He Cried During “The Last Jedi”

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Since 2014, Connor Ratliff has hosted “The George Lucas Talk Show” at UCB East. It’s a role that the improviser and actor (also seen, among other places, on Search Party, The Chris Gethard Show, and UCB’s “Stepfathers” and “ASSSSCAT” shows) has spent much of his life preparing for. He’s just old enough to have caught the originals in theaters and to have grown up inspired by them. In the late Nineties, fascinated by the toxicity of a strain of Star Wars fans in the early days of online rage, Ratliff launched one of the first websites for Star Wars prequel rumors — but he made them all up, fooling some media orgs into reporting his fantasies about a forthcoming film titled Star Wars: Trinkies Go Home. Eerily, he penned that nonsense under a made-up name that he thought might fit an angry fanboy: Ryan Johnson.

Ratliff’s Lucas impersonation has love in it. It’s the creation of a comic who commits imaginative effort toward understanding his subject, an examination of Lucas as an artist, a marketer, a man, a crank, and an often sweet but confused old gent still stung over the world’s response to the prequels.

Now that the real Rian Johnson has unleashed the dazzling The Last Jedi, we plumbed the mind of Ratliff’s Fake George Lucas about porgs, moofs, marketing, and what he would have done differently. You can hear his thoughts in person at the next “George Lucas Talk Show,” on January 5 at UCB East. Also: spoilers, duh.

I was surprised to learn in The Last Jedi that people in the Star Wars universe know what it means to be put on hold. Does that fit with your original vision?

Well, yes. The technology doesn’t always work. That’s one of the great lessons of the original trilogy and the prequels, which is you can have the best technology in the world and still be defeated by teddy bears with sticks.

I read that you submitted a treatment to Disney for this post–Return of the Jedi trilogy but that they didn’t use it.

That’s correct. In hindsight, they should have just directed me to the nearest paper shredder. That’s fine. They want to do their own thing, and I want to do my own thing, too. I’m still making films that I’ll show to no one, ever. I’m trying to stay positive. I’m coming to terms with the fact that they’re going to keep doing these movies that — well, for lack of a better word, we’ll call what they’re doing “Star Wars.

As I’ve said on the record, Disney tricked me fair and square. They gave me $4.05 billion, and I assumed I would be paid all that money and still get to decide what would happen in Star Wars. I wanted to make the films telling what really happened, and they wanted to make films that would be pleasing to audiences. That’s a legitimate choice, but it’s not the road that I would have chosen to take.

Does it feel to you like a rebuke that not one character in the new movie says, “I got a bad feeling about this”?

To me, you’re leaving money on the table. That joke is the most financially successful joke of all time. There is no single joke that has made more money because if you add up the grosses to all of the Star Wars movies, the Indiana Jones movies I’ve used it in — you could even throw in Radioland Murders, though you don’t get a lot of extra money. There were so many things characters could have had a bad feeling about over the course of this movie. I saw at least twenty times you could have used that joke. And obviously you don’t want to use it all twenty, but I think you could have used it ten or eleven times.

What kind of thing would you have done differently?

I certainly wouldn’t have killed off as crowd-pleasing a character as Admiral Ackbar.

He didn’t even get a goodbye.

He could at least have looked at the camera and said, “I know what this is.”

Was there anything in The Last Jedi that you liked?

I thought the climax was a wonderful depiction of the benefits of working from home. It’s nice sometimes to get a contemporary message into a fantasy film, and I think more and more people are avoiding commuting and finding ways to work remotely from a home office. This is the most exciting cinematic depiction of that I’ve ever seen.

But by far the most thrilling scene, the one that really spoke to me, was the final one, which is essentially a re-creation of any of the Kenner toy commercials for the Star Wars action figures. I teared up. The hope for the Resistance is in the specific kind of ancillary marketing and profit stream that built the Lucasfilm empire. I thought it was brilliant of Rian Johnson to fold into the world of Star Wars itself the power of merchandising, the power of licensing, the power of branding.

Do you get a cut of the new merchandise? For example. do you get porg money?

I’m doing fine. The money doesn’t matter to me, whether it’s porg money or droid money. At this point I’m more focused on my museum. I will say this, though. I’ve been skeptical of these new Star Wars films, but the second I saw porgs was the first time I thought, “I wish I’d thought of that.” I’m pro-porg.

If you had thought of porgs, would they have been more involved in the narrative, like the Ewoks?

Having the Ewoks play a central role in the story of Return of the Jedi allowed us to do two Ewok movies afterward. I don’t know whether we’ll see porg movies. I hope we do. I’d love to see it happen. Porg Wars would be a great title. Porg Wars: A Star Wars Story. Or A Star Wars Porg Story. Star Porgs would be good. Or Porg, Porg, Pitiful Me — you could get the Warren Zevon song. Basically, because “porg” sounds like “war” and also sounds like “poor” there’s a multitude of fun titles you could use.

Have any of the other new creatures or characters impressed you?

I don’t know if that creature that we see Luke milking is a moof, but I sure hope it was. In Episode Seven, Han Solo uses the disparaging term “moof milker.” I remember watching that thinking, “What’s a moof?” Han used to always give Luke a hard time, razz him about things, so it only makes sense that the thing we see Luke milking would be a moof. I don’t know this to be true because I can’t keep track of all the new characters they’re making. But I’ll say this: If that isn’t a moof, what is? I’m willing to say if that’s not a moof, shame on them, because that looked like a moof-milking to me.

Have we ever seen anyone pull the ears off a gondar?

I don’t know if people want to see that. That’s a horrific thing to witness.

Maybe one of the spinoff films will be about nerf herding.

There should just be a whole movie about someone going to pick up some power converters. Just a slice of life. If they were to let me make a Star Wars movie now, I would make Tosche Station: A Star Wars Story. It would be my revenge on Kevin Smith for doing Clerks and all of his jokes about Star Wars. I would also like to do a silent film comedy about Walrus-Man.

The new films are admirably diverse in their cast. Your prequels were criticized for some alien characters that suggested racial stereotypes.

I never really understood that. People say the Neimoidians are offensive. I say, “Why?” They say, “Because they’re Asian.” They’ve never even been to Asia. Asia didn’t exist when they were around — these movies took place a long time ago.

I love the cast of the new movies, but I also think there’s room in the world for puppets that make people uncomfortable. Those puppets started a dialogue and a conversation.

The merger between Disney and Fox has some fans excited at the prospect that they might finally see the original versions of the original trilogy released to home video, rather than the 1990s “special editions.”

I’m doing everything in my power to prevent that from happening. At my show at UCB East, I encourage people to bring me the original versions so that I can destroy them onstage. I will be destroying at least two VHS copies of non–special edition Star Wars at my next show. We will rid the world of these rough drafts that people have an irrational affection for.

There’s debate online about in what order first-time viewers should watch the films.

They’re numbered for a reason. One, two, three, four, five, six, and then they stop. Then if you want to watch some Ewok movies, you can do that. If you want to watch the Saturday-morning cartoon show Droids you can do that. You have a lot of options. Nobody’s asking how to count to six, are they? Nobody’s come up with a new “Machete Order” to six.

I see the things about Machete Order. It’s aptly named, because a machete does a lot of damage to something. Viewing order is no exception.

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