Lucas Is No Michelangelo

The original Star Wars trilogy, which began in 1977, concluded in 1983 with “Return of the Jedi.” In 1999, fans of the franchise were delighted (and disappointed) with “The Phantom Menace,” the first new Star Wars film in 25 years.

It was during the production of that film, that Lucas began experimenting with making a digital film. Not only did the filmmaker create scenes out of whole (albeit blue screen) cloth, but he also believed the emerging technology could be used to improve the original three films.

So, timed for the 20th anniversary of “A New Hope,” Lucas released the then-characterized “Special Editions” of the trilogy. The changes Lucas made ranged from subtle to highly controversial.

And although Lucas sold Lucasfilm (and therefore Star Wars) to Disney in 2012, he continues to defend his overhaul of our beloved movies and assure us that we will not see the unaltered versions released digitally.

Well, last week, at the 77th Cannes festival, Lucas was honored with a Palme d’Or for his remarkable contribution to cinema. Prior to receiving the award, Lucas sat for an interview about his career. When asked about the divisiveness of the Star Wars special editions, Lucas restated his belief that the film belongs to the filmmaker, and then tied the logic of his 20th century alterations to a 16th century master.

“It goes all the way back, you know, Michelangelo. He worked on a scaffolding. It took him six months to a section. Then, he finally came down and they removed the scaffolding and they looked at it. ‘Nah, we’re going to redo that.’ I mean, the whole ceiling in the Sistine chapel. I don’t think I was that outrageous.”

Michelangelo was commissioned by Pope Julius II to paint the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. It took him a little over four years, from July of 1508 to October of 1512, to finish the paintings. Prior to the project, which he accepted reluctantly, Michelangelo had never painted frescoes before and was learning the craft as he worked. What’s more, he chose to work in buon fresco, the process of painting on freshly laid plaster, the most difficult method, and one normally reserved for true masters.

Unfortunately for Michelangelo, around the time he completed his work, depicting nudity in art became taboo. Although for hundreds of years the naked form had represented purity, in the 16th century the Catholic Church decided it was obscene. (This was in an effort to compete with the puritanical views of the Protestant church that was luring parishioners to their pews.)

So, Pope Julius II forced Michelangelo to repaint the religious figures and cover their nakedness. This gave rise to the fig leaf campaign. The Council of Trent hunted for all the nude sculptures in Rome and started the campaign of carefully placing metal fig leaves to cover the genitals.

Then, in the 1700s, a Nannerist artist named Daniele da Volterra added a loincloth and camouflaged the nudity in the painting to suit the Vatican’s then-current censorship standards.

Since then, Michelangelo’s “Last Judgement” has been restored and the fig leaves have been removed. In fact, the conservation and restoration of the Sistine Chapel began in 1980 and concluded 1994.  One of the most significant art endeavors of the 20th century it was not without its controversies.

But unlike the scandal created by Lucas, the concern raised by the opponents of the project was that the work was being changed using new media and not restored to its original form. Not that we finally had the technology to see Michelangelo’s vision through.

Regarding Lucas’ justification for an artist being permitted to change his work in perpetuity, close examination of Michelangelo’s frescoes convinced some restorers that Michelangelo worked exclusively in buon fresco, as I mentioned earlier, which again is on freshly laid plaster, and did not come back and add details a secco (that is, once the plaster had dried).

If Lucas’ continuing assault on Star Wars fans doesn’t sufficiently frustrate you, when asked whether Disney would ever release a 4K/Bluray version of the unaltered trilogy, Lucas said:

“We did release the original one on Laserdisc and everyone got really mad and they said, ‘It looked terrible’ and I said ‘I know it did.’”

Wikipedia: Restoration of Sistine Chapel

Thoughtco: The Sistine Chapel

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