Commentary: George Lucas Vs. The Stormtroopers

America's highest-grossing movie series continues to reflect the culture—this time, with alarming implications. Because the pictures were changed to suit George Lucas, Mr. Lucas' Star Wars trilogy, which premiered on DVD this week, has unleashed a storm of controversy.

The opposition to Mr. Lucas' changes shows how far America has slipped off its foundation—the idea that the individual has inalienable rights—and is teetering on the brink of the sort of evil Galactic Empire that he imagined for the silver screen.

Before the DVD's release, there were signs of hostility—not merely to the esthetics of his changes, a legitimate grievance—but primarily toward the concept that the creator owns his work.

Foes had mobilized long before the trilogy hit the market, circulating an online petition demanding that Mr. Lucas reverse what he considers improvements. During the Hollywood DVD premiere, one reporter indignantly told a Lucasfilm executive that Star Wars does not belong to the man who created it.

When the DVD went on sale, a newspaper columnist's headline commanded: "Stop messing around with our Star Wars." Another dubbed Luke Skywalker's creator "Darth Lucas." When Mr. Lucas' detractors oppose his right to change Star Wars, they mean it; they oppose the artist who dares to regard his work as his own. They do not recognize rights.

Freedom is based on rights. Without the right to property, one has no rights. With generations being taught that stealing software, music and movies is acceptable, many no longer acknowledge private property. One Star Wars fan told a newspaper: "Each and every one of us thirtysomethings that spent our allowance on multiple showings of Star Wars, The Empire Strikes Back and Return of The Jedi are now the true owners of this work of art."

Another fan, writing in her Web log, declared: "Star Wars does not belong to [George Lucas]. Any movie that is that huge a phenomenon ceases being the vision of one man. Star Wars belongs to everybody." Practically waving the hammer and sickle apparently made one of her readers a bit uneasy, though no less reluctant to the idea of stealing Mr. Lucas' property. The reader replied: "It is his work, but if some video pirates somewhere put out the original versions on DVD, I'd buy them."

Not surprisingly, intellectual property thieves have found their champion in a Libertarian, who wrote: "As far as the morality of [stealing] Lucas' movie goes … [i]f destroying art means making more of it available in more pleasing versions, then I say let the destruction begin."

There is a word for this philosophy—fascism.

The oppressive state depicted in Mr. Lucas' Star Wars—the dreaded Empire—has already had its day on earth. In fact, they had the last century, the bloodiest known to man, dominated by National Socialists and Communists. As witnessed in Germany and in Russia, tyranny typically begins with censorship. And censorship begins with the extermination of the individual's right to create, speak and write.

The evidence is unmistakable and it is everywhere, from government intervention in speech on talk radio, politics and the Super Bowl to efforts to eradicate sex, guns and cigarette smoking from music, television and movies. The assault on George Lucas' right to Star Wars is the latest example; it demonstrates that, when the state restricts speech, the mob will not only oblige—it will offer suggestions.

The assertion that Mr. Lucas has no right to add Gungans, Greedo's first shot and Hayden Christensen as Anakin Skywalker's ghost amounts to advocating censorship. Those who lay claim to Star Wars share the same premise as the thug who acts on that notion: force.

Audiences have the right to reject what George Lucas creates—and recreates—and, as the creator and owner, Mr. Lucas has the right to change his movies—whether he puts Chewbacca in pantyhose, recasts Ewan MacGregor as an Ewok singing "Your Song" to Jar Jar Binks or smashes Artoo Detoo into a thousand pieces. As one lone fan put it, when asked why he does not object to Mr. Lucas' changes: "It's his story."

He is right, which is why anyone who holds rights as inalienable ought to defend George Lucas against today's intellectual stormtroopers in a battle which looms larger—and more urgent—than any crusade depicted in his Star Wars.

Originally posted on Box Office Mojo on September 26, 2004.

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