Farewell, Star Wars

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Dear Sirs,

I’m shaking. I’m sitting here, shaking.

I just returned home from seeing the latest Star Wars movie, and I am physically shaking due to a mixture of anger, resentment, disappointment, and a desperate feeling of opportunities lost. I’ve never had such a visceral negative reaction to a movie or any sort of entertainment. Undoubtedly the reaction I’m experiencing is proof positive of my level of commitment and love for the amazing story that took place a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away.

Now, that commitment and love has been called into question, and it’s rocked me to my core.

Before I continue, allow me a moment to prove my credibility. I saw Star Wars in the theater 26 times back in 1977, three times in one day at one point. I had every toy Kenner released, including the Boba Fett mail-in action figure. I read every comic and novel, multiple times. I’ve even written a series of my own Star Wars stories, imagining what happens to our heroes as they branch out in their fight against the evil Empire.

I sent a couple of my best stories to Lucasfilm, and how I wish they would have incorporated my ideas into this movie rather than sending me a condescending “thanks but no thanks” letter. If they would have listened to me, then this could have been a much different review. As it is, I have to say goodbye to what was a wonderful entertainment experience for the past three years.

And it’s all because of the travesty that was The Empire Strikes Back.

I slept outside of the Hollywood Paramount with about five hundred other suckers for three nights to see this abomination. And it started out as such a positive experience! The atmosphere was festive, joyous, and full of life. People dressed as their favorite characters, showed off their homemade light sabers, and hypothesized about what we would see when the movie rolled. You could almost feel everyone bound together by the light side of the Force. But when it was over, it was as if the dark side had won, taking everything good in the world with it. At first I felt numb, but that numbness quickly gave way to anger.

That’s where I am now, thus the shaking.

[If you haven’t seen this movie yet, understand that I’m going to be talking about specific details. But even still, I encourage you to go ahead and read it and find out why you shouldn’t see The Empire Strikes Back. Save yourself three dollars. Trust me, you don’t want to contribute any more to the degradation of Star Wars.]

1. Darth Vader is Luke’s WHAT?

Has there been a movie villain that has provoked more fear and awe then Darth Vader? And what an incredible set up when Ben Kenobi tells Luke that Vader was responsible for the death of his father. It gave Luke such motivation to go after the Dark Lord and show him the power of the light side with the business end of a light saber.

But no, that’s not good enough for the hacks that made this movie. They completely screw it up by having Darth Vader claim to be Luke’s father.

Yes, you read that right. Darth Vader, the Dark Lord of the Sith, is apparently the father of the hero of the Rebellion, Luke Skywalker.

Image-0-Header-1536x864-863587051769Did the filmmakers even read Splinter of the Mind’s Eye? Vader is pure evil. Evil personified. He murders people without thought, including Luke’s father, and that’s not just conjecture… it’s what Luke was told by the only known Jedi Knight. Are you seriously telling me that Ben Kenobi would lie to an innocent kid like Luke? It calls into question everything that happened in the first movie, and that is an inexcusable betrayal. “For over a thousand generations, the Jedi Knights were the guardians of peace and justice in the Old Republic”, and now they are a bunch of liars?

“Maybe Darth Vader is the one who is lying!” Of course that is an option, but if that is what Lucas is getting at, it MAKES NO SENSE. What would be the point of Vader telling Luke such a lie? How does it help him to defeat the Rebellion? Unfortunately, we don’t know, and that’s because of my second criticism.

2. The Movie Doesn’t End

When the screen went black and the credits started showing, everyone in the Paramount sat stunned. What? They didn’t save Han? We don’t know if Darth Vader is lying? What kind of a movie doesn’t end?

What should have happened (if this were a good movie) is that Luke arrives at Cloud City in time to save Han, and then they all get away from the Empire, maybe injuring Darth Vader or killing Boba Fett in the process. It’s such an easy concept! But these morons decided to end without giving the audience a resolution. We DON’T learn what Darth Vader was really up to, and the good guys are just continuing to run from the bad guys like they did all movie. No victory, no climax, no ending.

I’m no screenwriter or movie director, but that is just bad filmmaking. The cynical side of me thinks that it’s just their way of making sure people come back to see what happens in their next movie, to make sure that we throw away even more of our hard-earned cash. Nice try, Mr. Lucas, but you can bet that I won’t be anywhere near your theaters when you come back to betray us once again in 1983.

Speaking of being betrayed, my third criticism is about an unfulfilled promise.

3. Luke and Leia

One of the greatest things about Star Wars was the idea that an average boy could rescue a princess, fall in love, and maybe get married one day. [Once again, read Splinter of the Mind’s Eye to see the correct direction this story should have taken.] It’s what the audience wants! The boy and the princess! Not what The Empire Strikes Back gives us – the princess and the pirate.

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Ignoring what the audience obviously wants, Lucas tears the boy and the princess apart in the first twenty minutes, and then has the princess fall into the arms of the pirate while the boy flies across the galaxy to talk to a frog in a swamp. I’m sorry – I know Han Solo is cool, but he IS NOT SUPPOSED TO GET THE PRINCESS. It doesn’t make any sense!

At least we left the theater with a hope that Luke might get Leia back. I have to admit that one of the good things about the terrible cliffhanger idea was that Han is out of the picture, giving Luke the opportunity to properly woo his princess. However, even as I write that, I know that this is not what Lucas and company will do, because it’s WHAT HIS AUDIENCE WANTS HIM TO DO. It’s like he made this movie with the intention of angering the very people that made Star Wars the biggest box office hit ever (almost $300,000,000! Can you imagine?).

This brings me to my third criticism.

3. The Swamp Frog

To understand this next bit of criticism, you have to remember what happened in Star Wars. The only person who could teach Luke about The Force was Ben Kenobi (our “only hope”), but he dies at the end of that movie. Yes, Luke hears Ben’s voice in the Death Star trench, but he doesn’t offer to teach Luke as a disembodied voice. In The Empire Strikes Back, we find that he has NOT been teaching Luke, which seems odd since Ben can appear as a ghost. Why hasn’t he been ghost-teaching him for the past three years? We don’t know, but that sort of plot hole apparently doesn’t matter to Lucas.

00muppstarsWhat Ben does do is tell Luke to go find Yoda, supposedly a great jedi, on a faraway planet, and so as soon as Luke is able, he goes. So far, so good. Luke (and the audience) expects to find a powerful warrior on this faraway planet, but instead he finds a frog in a swamp. And not just a frog, but a Muppet frog with a speech impediment. Seriously – a Muppet frog! And to underline this ridiculous turn of events, Lucas even brought in the voice of Miss Piggy and Fozzie the Bear to provide the Muppet frog’s voice! I kept expecting him to put on a tie and fedora and do a stand-up routine, or sing “Easy It’s Not Being Green” while playing a space banjo.

Speaking of color, this brings me to final critique.

4. Politics in Space

Apparently, some people complained that Star Wars wasn’t diverse enough (did these people not see all of the aliens in the cantina? How is that not diverse?), and so of course, Lucas bowed to pressure and included a token black character in this movie. Was this really necessary?  What’s next? Women fighting stormtroopers? Asian or Hispanic generals running the Rebellion?

George Lucas, Star Wars shouldn’t be about politics, it shouldn’t have to worry about representing every different kind of person onscreen. No, Star Wars should be about light saber fights, space battles, and the boy getting the princess. Again, it’s what your audience WANTS.

mpvGpMgBut he won’t listen. He’ll just continue doing these kinds of things in his next movie. I’m certain Star Wars 3 will show us that the notorious gangster Jabba the Hutt is actually a cute little space puppy voiced by Mel Blanc. Boba Fett will take off his mask to reveal that he’s actually Farrah Fawcett, and then she and Han will fall in love. Princess Leia and Chewbacca will turn out to be brother and sister from different mothers, and Lando Calrissian will be their father.

One thing Lucas has proven with this trash heap of a movie is that anything is possible, that we should not try to guess what will happen, because whatever we think, it’ll be something we didn’t anticipate, want or need.

But I won’t be around to find out, and I beg you to join me! Let’s show Lucas that we are done with his manipulations and disappointments by refusing to support any of his work until he apologizes for The Empire Strikes Back and pledges to put Star Wars back on track! For example, word is that Lucas, Stephen Spielberg, and Harrison Ford are working on an action movie set in World War Two, but I say we sit this one out! Show Lucas and his friends that we aren’t going to have any more of it! DO NOT SEE THEIR NEW MOVIE, and that will show him that we mean business.

Speaking of business, you’ve probably seen in your TV Guide that the stars of Star Wars are making the rounds of the talk shows right now, talking up the movie. I want to organize a mass effort to let the sponsors of those shows know that we will boycott their products if they let the movie be promoted on their programs. No Hamill on Carson! No Ford on Mike Douglas! No Fisher on Donahue! But if they persist, I’m currently compiling a list of the scheduled appearances, so I’m going to have like-minded die-hard Star Wars fans gather en masse to protest, holding up signs that say “Not Our Star Wars!”, “Keep Space White!”, and “Vader Would Be A Terrible Dad!”

Join me, and together we can make it so that Lucas can’t show his face in public without our reminding him of his failure! Join me, and we can be the spark that’ll light the fire that’ll burn Star Wars down!

Sincerely,
Jedi Master Marvin S. Lymphburg,
Keller Der Mutter, Minnesota

This fictional letter from a really disappointed fictional über-fan is fictionally from the real August 1980 issue of the very real Starlog magazine. But not really.

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The Last Jedi Trailer • Finally UP!

DLvF7e3X4AIiZTMWe’re almost two months away from the premiere of the eighth film in the Skywalker saga, and we finally get our second look. First, the powers that be at Lucasfilm dropped this amazing new poster, which has a stark white and red theme going.

This is interesting, considering that The Force Awakens poster was splashed with all the colors of the rainbow, as films do these days. But The Last Jedi looks to be a much darker film, and as The Force Awakens harkened back to Episode 4, it appears that The Last Jedi will have similar dark themes as Episode 5. Hopefully just similar themes, and not such a similar storyline!

But these days, a trailer drop is nearly as big an event as the film itself, especially when we’re talking about a Star Wars movie. So without further ado, I give you trailer #2 for Star Wars: The Last Jedi.

 

Are Christian Filmmakers Being Tapped To Direct Future Star Wars Stand-Alone Films?

A long time ago in galaxy close, close by…

The church had abandoned Hollywood. Then, THE PASSION OF THE CHRIST struck box office gold, studios created FAITH-BASED DIVISIONS, and little Christian films made BUCKETS OF MONEY. Now Christian films have earned over a BILLION DOLLARS for investors and studios over the past thirteen years.

With the recent successes of Dr. Strange, directed by Christian filmmaker SCOTT DERRICKSON and Rogue One, the first Star Wars standalone film, are the forces behind Star Wars hopping on the faith-based bandwagon? Are budding Christian filmmakers being considered as the new hope for the venerable space-based franchise?

Only time will tell….

“The Erwin brothers, Harold Cronk, Kirk Cameron, they’ve all been discussed, especially for a movie about Yoda, which would involve all kinds of spiritual mumbo-jumbo,” an anonymous source told us. But this source, who met with us in a nearby Starbucks dressed in a stormtrooper costume and calling himself “TR-3R”, went on to say that the Christian filmmakers who have risen to the top are veteran brother team, Alex and Stephen Kendrick, creators of the Christian film hits Facing the Giants, Courageous, Fireproof, and 2015’s War Room.

tr3r“The big dogs at Lucasfilm like the Kendrick’s grass-roots style of filmmaking, as well as their overt handling of spiritual issues,” TR-3R said. “They think the Kendricks could take a Yoda standalone to some really interesting places, exploring the spiritual aspects of the Force, maybe telling about how Yoda became converted to the light side in the first place. Me? I imagine it happening in a golden field with lots of sunlight. The Kendricks like to do that. It’s their lens flare.”

Considering the Kendrick’s focus on family issues such as parenting and marriage, we asked the source the odds that a Kendrick-directed standalone film would also explore something of Yoda’s homelife.

“They never tell me the odds, but this is something fans have been clamoring for,” TR-3R said enthusiastically, trying unsuccessfully to sip his coffee through his stormtrooper helmet. “They’ve seen Yoda living as a crotchety old single dude, but was he a good husband? A good dad? He helped train all those force-sensitive kids, but what about his own kids? The big dogs think that the Kendricks could really explore a domestic side of Yoda that we haven’t seen before.”

The source went on to say that a successful Kendrick-directed Star Wars film would also open the door for other filmmakers of faith to step in, as the studio hopes to release a new Star Wars film every year from now until the apocalypse.

When we pressed TR-3R for more details, he grew noticeably agitated and began muttering something about seeing the new VT-16. Then, saying he had to get back to the office, TR-3R quickly slid a folded piece of paper across the table and bolted outside without another word. He jumped into a black 1976 Corvette and drove away.

Incidentally, the Corvette’s license plate read THX-1138.

Unfolding the paper, the first thing we noticed was that it was written on Lucasfilm stationary. It had been stamped multiple times with “TOP SECRET” in bright red letters, and the paper had the heading: “Potential Future Faith-Based Star Wars Projects.”

Then, the following items were listed:

forceThe Force’s Not Dead – set between Episode 3 and 4, a young Luke Skywalker attends Mos Eisley Agricultural College only to find that his moisture farming professor doesn’t believe in the Force. Luke stands up to him, determined to prove that the Force is real. The film ends with an extended Figrin D’an and the Modal Newsboys concert in the cantina while the professor gets run over and killed by a landspeeder outside. Potential director: Harold Cronk. Potential producer: David A.R. White. Release date: December 2019.

Ben Hutt – set in the time between Episodes 3 and 4, Ben Kenobi, masquerading as a Hutt prince, is falsely accused of treason by his adopted brother (a clone soldier in the Republic Clone Army). After spending years exiled in space, Ben returns to Tatooine to seek revenge, but ultimately finds redemption. Possible roles for Ewan MacGregor and Morgan Freeman. Potential producers: Mark Burnett and Roma Downey. Release date: May 2020.

I’ve Got A Bad Feeling I’ve Been Left Behind – also set in the time between Episodes 3 and 4, this film would explore the chaos and mayhem resulting when the Jedi vanish in an instant, leaving behind smoking piles of clothes and lightsabers. Possible starring role for Nicolas Cage as a force-sensitive sceptic. Potential director: Paul LaLonde. Release date May 2021.

Droid’s Night Out – set in the time between Episodes 4 and 5, R2D2 decides to take C3PO out on a night on the town, leaving Luke, Han, and Chewie to take on all of the etiquette and protocol responsibilities at the rebel base. Of course, mistaken identities and disastrously hilarious mayhem results. Potential director: The Erwin Brothers. Release Date: December 2022.

Lumpawarrump’s Saving Life Day – set in the time between Episodes 5 and 6, Lumpawarrump is enjoying the annual Life Day extravaganza thrown by his sister until he realizes he needs to help out his visiting father, Chewbacca, who blames himself for Han Solo’s abduction by Boba Fett. Lumpy’s fresh look at Life Day provides Chewbacca the chance to see that the universe is bigger than his little problems, and that he needs to pull up his Wookie panties and go save his friend from the clutches of the vile gangster, Jabba the Hutt. The film ends with an extended wookie dance-off. Potential director: Kirk Cameron. Release Date: Life Day 2023, or perhaps Festivus.

star-war-roomStar War Room – set in the time between Episodes 6 and 7, Han Solo and Princess Leia’s marriage is in trouble, and it will take the efforts of the strange, wizened old Miss Maz to help Leia learn to tap into the force and save her marriage. The film ends with an extended force-enabled jump rope competition. Possible roles for Sadie Robertson as a young Leia and Alden Ehrenreich to continue playing young Han. Potential director: The Kendrick Brothers (if the Yoda movie is a success). Release Date: December 2024.

 

Thimblerig’s Spoilerific Thoughts on Star Wars Episode 7: The Force Awakens

Star_Wars_Episode_VII_The_Force_AwakensI never thought being in Kazakhstan could give me a pop culture advantage. In this case, I was able to enjoy a most surreal experience: seeing Star Wars Episode 7 in English in a cinema in Almaty, Kazakhstan, a full day before most people in the United States. And it was a treat to be sitting in the audience with my 12 year old daughter and my 14 year old son, a multi-generational viewing experience that I’d not had before with a Star Wars movie.

After the lights came up, and the credits were rolling, I desperately wanted to write four words on my social media. Four small words that would have been the spoiler of spoilers. I actually laughed, thinking about how many friends I would lose with that little stunt.

And so I didn’t do it. I resisted the dark side.

Because I like my friends.

That, and I didn’t want to wake up some night with a lightsaber buried in my chest.

But be warned. Now, that I’m home, writing on my blog, I will write those four words. Not now, but very soon.  So, if you have not seen Star Wars Episode 7 yet, and you are trying to steer clear of spoilers, then steer way clear of this review. Because it will be chock-full of spoilers.

***SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS***

Having gotten that out of the way, I’ll start my review with four other small words, not spoiler words, but important words nonetheless.

Star Wars is back.

If the prequels showed us anything, they showed us that it was easy to lose sight of the feel and the energy of the original trilogy. It was easy to set out to make original trilogy prequels, but to make something else altogether. While each prequel episode had something redeeming, there was quite a bit more that sent them spiraling off into space.

The prequels were not terrible movies in and of themselves, but they were terrible Star Wars movies.

But now? Star Wars is back.

J.J. Abrams brought it back.

Yes, with this film, Abrams managed to restore several of the things that made the original trilogy great.

Star Wars is about people

harrison-ford-han-solo-xlargeEpisode 7 works because it is a movie that is primarily about people, not trade federation blockades or secret clone armies. Yes, big events are playing out in this film, but they are the backdrop, not the focus. People are what matter in this film, and not just the good guys – both sides. Not only do the people matter, but they also act like real people. They relate. They argue. They emote. They struggle. They risk everything for each other, and for bigger things. They live, and they die.

Oh, boy, do they die.

But I’ll get to that.

Star Wars is about risk

In this new/old universe that J.J. Abrams has given us there is risk. Risk that someone may not make it out alive. Risk that someone may run away from their destiny. Risk that the darkness is much too powerful, and that the light side will never be able to defeat it. Even risk that the bad guy might fall to the light.

In this new film, everything can be questioned, the outcomes are not a given, and power is found in the strangest of places.

Star Wars is about fun

finn-new-star-wars-teaser3-xlargeThe movie also brings back the fun. We loved the original trilogy because they were fun rides they didn’t get bogged down in bureaucratic proceedings, or endless scenes of people sitting in chairs talking about things. The movies were about people in motion, taking us along with them as they lived on the brink of disaster. Episode 7 is a fun ride from start to finish. People do talk about things, but usually while taking deep breaths after just escaping one catastrophe, and right before plummeting into another.

And it’s not just roller-coaster fun, it’s also laugh-out-loud fun. This is a movie that is brimming with wit and humor. Not in a silly way (ala Threepio in Attack of the Clones), but in a real way. People say the kinds of things that people might really say in an attempt to blow off steam, or reacting to the madness around them, and you can’t help but laugh.

Finn and BB8’s interaction on the Falcon…

Rey and the stormtrooper in the interrogation room…

When the two stormtroopers come around the corner as Kylo Ren is destroying the interrogation room…

Finn suggesting to Han that they use the force, and Han’s reaction…

Han using Chewie’s crossbow for the first time…

And on and on…

Star Wars is about the mysteries of the universe

ew_21-xlargeSpecifically, the force – and the nature of the force. The prequels got all bogged down trying to make the force into a science. Episode 7 turns it back into a mystery. In this movie, the force is something that is unknown but not unknowable, and we get to see a new generation start to learn about it.

And there’s nary a mention of a single midi-chlorian, thank the Maker.

Ultimately, I walked out of the cinema feeling like I had just read a love letter. A love letter written by J.J. Abrams to all of us who loved the original trilogy. This was the movie we wanted the prequels to be, and then some.

Given, just like the films in the original trilogy, this is not a perfect film. The dialogue might be light years ahead of both trilogies, but it is still sometimes a bit corny. And in his attempt to make an homage to the original trilogy, Abrams veered dangerously close to just plain copying some pretty big ideas, situations, characters, and settings.

But it worked. Even with the flaws, the movie worked in spades.

All of that said, here are some bite-sized spoilerly thoughts:

share_1200x627There is no creature resembling Jar Jar in this film.

I now have some new favorite images of the Millennium Falcon, which still kicks butt.

X-Wing fighters are cool once again, especially when being flown by Poe Dameron.

Apparently, stormtroopers are now trained to duel with swords, and by extension, light sabers.

J.J. Abrams kept the sex out of Star Wars.

Kylo Ren is not nearly menacing enough, even with the heinous act he commits, but he has potential to grow into something pretty menacing.

Enough with the doomsday devices with kill-switches, already. An homage is great, but again with the one weak spot on the big space station? Please, no more.

Han Solo said “I have a bad feeling about this”, but Admiral Ackbar did not say, “It’s a trap.”

What happened to Wedge Antilles?

Teasing Luke before running the credits definitely answered the question of why he wasn’t in the trailer or the poster, and it’s because he’s really not in this movie. In fact, if this had been a Marvel movie, the scene with Luke would have been an end-credits scene – a tease about what was to come.

But the film worked. On all different levels, for this lifelong Star Wars fan, it worked. I am fully re-invested in the franchise, and will be there on opening night for Episode 8, if I am able.

And oh – I almost forgot. The four small words I really, really wanted to post on social media as soon as the lights came up? The spoiler of spoilers? The “I am your father” moment of this film?

Abrams killed Han Solo.

And while I may never forgive Abrams for doing this, I do have to admit that it was the perfect death for the old scoundrel – dying trying to save his son from the dark side, and then Chewie’s chilling reaction?

A tear-inducing moment the likes of which we haven’t had since Nicholas Meyer killed Spock.

hqdefaultBut one point that I feel I should point out – in this case, Han most definitely did not shoot first.

 

 

 

 

 

How George Lucas Helped Shape The Christian Film Industry

A long time ago, in a cinema far, far away…

Episode 1:  A New Resource

It is a period of spiritual war…

war-roomWar Room opened up last weekend in 1,100 theaters around the country, and made an impressive 11 million dollars. Not bad for a movie made with a 3 million dollar budget, and the movie’s just getting started.

Made by filmmakers Alex and Stephen Kendrick, who also made Facing the GiantsCourageous and Fireproof, War Room is the latest offering in the burgeoning Christian film industry (read my thoughts on that idea here), and stands to turn a healthy profit, as all Kendrick-made films since Facing the Giants have done, thanks to good grass-roots style marketing and the legions of loyal Christian fans who consistently turn up to support their films.

Christian filmmakers, Kendrick brothers included, have been learning quite a bit from their secular counterparts these past few years – how to make a film look and sound better, how to help actors act better, and even (on the rare occasion) how to write a better screenplay.

But the thing that really stands out? How to turn a profit.

And this is what has gotten the attention of the big boys in Hollywood.

Of course, making money from art is not a new thing for Christians. Back in the days of Bach and his contemporaries, musicians and artists were commissioned by the church to create, giving us beautiful and important work that continues to be cherished today. Locally, churches have been paying artists for ages to minister as organists, choir masters, worship leaders, and praise band members.

And it’s also not a bad thing. “Don’t muzzle the ox while it is treading out the grain,” Paul said in the book of Timothy. In other words, when people work hard, they should be able to enjoy some of the benefits of their labor. In filmmaking, that means if someone makes a movie, and it earns buckets of money, that filmmaker should be able to have a few buckets for themselves to do with as they please – even if the film is being made as a “ministry” or an “outreach”, and not just as typical profit-grabbing entertainment.

Of course, there are more and more potential buckets available for successful films. We have the obvious box office buckets, but if the film has been distributed in the traditional way, the majority of those buckets go back to the studios and distributors. So another option is the bucket of merchandizing.

And there are lots of buckets in movie merchandizing, even with Christian-made films.

Warrom-DisplayUnlike secular movies, where the merchandizing can run the gamut from video games tie-ins to kid’s meals at fast food restaurants, Christian-made movie merchandizing primarily means the creation and selling of what the Christian marketing world calls resources.

What are resources? One kind of resource is the study guide. These are written so that Christians can watch the film with their Sunday school or small group and then engage in a Bible study inspired by the film, and it’s something that is particular to the faith-based film genre. For example, Marvel doesn’t typically mass produce study guides to the MCU movies, nor does J.J. Abrams write study guides for his films, although they’d probably sell if they did.

[Undoubtedly they’d sell. Note to self: pitch study guide idea to Kevin Feige and J.J. Abrams]

But resources can also mean many other things, from church campaign kits, books inspired by the film, and original soundtracks featuring favorite CCM artists.

And then there’s the typical kitsch and tchochkes – baseball hats, coffee mugs, t-shirts, notepads, plush dolls, little wooden crosses, and the like. I would imagine secular companies have to be impressed by how effective the Christian Corporate Machine has become at taking films from idea to screen to marketplace.

For example, long before it ever bows onscreen, a film like War Room has been so incredibly well-strategized, planned, marketed, and produced, that I’m surprised the ever-popular Chick-fil-A wasn’t signed on for some product placement.

I can see it now… Ms. Clara goes into her War Room to pray, but when she’s sure nobody’s looking, she pulls out a bag of waffle fries and a white styrofoam cup of sweet iced tea emblazoned with that curly red chicken head…

Yeah, maybe that wouldn’t have worked.

Regardless of how they do what they do, it’s interesting to see how Christian filmmakers have joined their secular counterparts in mastering the business of movie marketing cross promotion and tie-ins.

And do you know who we have to thank for the overabundance of “resources” being produced for Christian-made films?

George Lucas.

star-wars-george-lucas-alec-guiness

Episode 2:  The Merch Strikes Back

It is a dark time for movie merchandizing…

Yep, George Lucas.

That George Lucas.

You read it right, dear reader. I’m making the claim that George Lucas is the reason that every time a new faith-based film opens, the Christian bookstores and websites fill up with all sorts of movie-themed “resources” that help bring in more buckets of money for Christian retailers, publishers, filmmakers, producers, marketers, and everyone else involved in making and promoting Christian-made movies.

Most people under the age of 30 probably don’t realize that prior to Star Wars, movie marketing cross promotion was pretty insignificant. Yes, you had the occasional attempt to take advantage of the buzz created by a movie by making a strange toy version, like the odd “for ages 6 and up” shark game made by Ideal Toys when Screen Shot 2015-09-01 at 6.48.53 PMJaws became such a monster hit. Certainly, toys and merchandise and even Christian-produced resources had been made based on movies and television programs, but usually with fairly limited success.

And then, when George Lucas took us to that galaxy far, far away, things changed.

The key is found in one of the biggest blunders in movie studio history. Because Star Wars was seen as such a risk, Lucas made a deal with Twentieth Century Fox that he would take a cut in directing fees in return for having all the rights to licensing and merchandising, and then he sold the toy rights to Kenner for a flat fee of $100,000 per year.

Kenner was so unprepared for the popularity of Star Wars that they didn’t make near enough toys for the demand. If parents wanted to buy their child a new Star Wars toy for Christmas in 1977, they were forced to give the child a voucher for Star Wars toys that would not be manufactured and released for months, and Kenner went on to sell a staggering $100,000,000 worth of Star Wars toys during the first year alone.

That’s one hundred million dollars.

Worth of little plastic action figures and such.

For a movie that nobody had wanted to make.

In one year.

Since that time, the franchise has gone on to make well over 27 billion dollars, with only about 4.3 billion coming from the movies. That means around 23 billion dollars of revenue has come from merchandizing alone.

And with Lucas’s innocuous little space opera, not only was a merchandizing juggernaut born, but a new way of making movies as well. Suddenly, films started being greenlit based on how much peripheral material could be marketed alongside it, as well as potential box office.

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The Star Trek Happy Meal.

It’s hard to imagine, but there was actually a time when McDonalds and other fast food places didn’t sell Happy Meals connected to movies. In fact, McDonald’s first Happy Meal was an attempt to cash in on the space craze created by Star Wars, and it was based on 1979’s Star Trek: The Motion Picture.

Read this article for more information on the way the Star Wars marketing phenomenon evolved over time, impacting the majority of movies being produced, both then and now, both secular and Christian.

Episode 3: The Return of the Faith-Based Filmmakers

The Kendrick Brothers have returned to their home in Albany, Georgia…

And so now we live in a time where it is standard operating procedure for potential merchandizing to play a heavy role in the making of movies. And while Christians may not yet be at the place of the summer blockbuster, where merchandizing often seems to lead the film, we are definitely at the place where merchandizing is being utilized to bring even more profit to those who made the faith-based film.

And profit is important, even in the Christian film industry.

But I want to end this blog post with a pretty radical suggestion.

If we must have a Christian film industry, what if that industry did things differently? What if the movers and shakers made the decision to not be swept away by dreams of big box office and profit, like all the other film industries are, and like many of the other Christian media industries seem to be? What could be done, if we determined that we were going to be a counter-industry industry?

What if our Christian film industry – as a whole – pulled a Keith Green?

keith-green1Keith Green was a very popular but quite radical Christian singer in the 70’s and early 80’s, who famously (or infamously) gave away his records, telling people to pay what they were able, and he required Christian retailers to give away a copy of his cassettes for free with each one they sold, all to help spread the Gospel. Green’s giveaways reportedly sent shockwaves through the Christian music and retail industries at the time, but Green was known to be an uncompromising person when it came to his convictions.

And if today’s successful filmmakers of faith started insisting on doing something similar, imagine the modern day shockwaves!

What if many of those resources developed for movies made on a shoestring budget, but movies that turn out to be popular enough to go on to rake in ten or twenty or even forty-five times that in box office, were just… given away?

The study guides, the bible studies, the church campaign kits, the prayer journals, the baseball hats, and the little wooden crosses all available for whatever potential customers could afford to pay, even if it is nothing at all.

All to help spread the Gospel.

I know, I know… it’s a crazy idea.

I know Christian producers have to pay salaries, and I’m not suggesting they don’t. I know that Christian filmmakers want to be able to afford to plan out their next projects, and they should certainly do what it takes to do that. I know that some – like the Kendrick brothers – pour much of their film profits back into their home churches, and they should obviously continue to do that as they feel led.

And I know that they all need to put bread on their own tables, and provide for their families, and they certainly shouldn’t be muzzled while they are treading out the grain.

But I’m so frustrated that too many of the other Christian industries appear to be too much industry and not enough Christian. And since the film industry is the youngest of them all, and it’s the industry closest to my heart, why can’t it be the one to change course and do something different, and radical, and refreshing – even if it seems crazy, and unindustrial, and unprofitable?

After all, they thought Luke Skywalker was crazy for switching off his targeting computer when he was making that infamous trench run.

And Luke wound up saving the rebellion.

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God bless, and may the force be with you…

Always.

Update 1:  I just found out that the producers of the upcoming movie, Captive, are giving away a ton of resources on their website.  All the sorts of materials that are being sold on the War Room website are free for the Captive folks. I was already looking forward to seeing Captive, and now it’s even moreso!  Good job, Captive!

Update 2: I’ve heard some encouraging news.  Apparently, Giving Films – the production company behind the upcoming film, 90 Minutes in Heaven, have committed to giving all the profit they make from the film to charity.

That’s what I’m talking about.  Way to go, Giving Films!