Thursday, July 29, 2010

Amateur Friday - The Assassination Of George Lucas

On the last Friday of every month, I choose an amateur script submitted by you, the readers of the site, to review. If you're interested in submitting for Amateur Fridays, send the genre, the title, the premise, and the reason I should read your script to Note that your script will be posted online and that you shouldn't submit if you're allergic to criticism. :) This month's script is The Assassination Of George Lucas by Aaron Michael Thomas.

Genre: Comedy
Premise: When George Lucas announces a third trilogy, Mac and his group of ragtag friends hatch a plan to assassinate him in the name of preserving the purity of Star Wars.
About: This is the third amateur script in my monthly Amateur Script review series.
Writer: Aaron Michael Thomas
Details: 105 pages

So why did I choose The Assassination of George Lucas over all the other entries for Amateur Friday? Well duh, because the title is “The Assassination of George Lucas!”

But seriously, the title made me smile. And the premise made me laugh. Sometimes that’s all it takes. When you read a lot, there are periods when you want to get away from the serious stuff and just rattle the belly a little bit. I needed some belly-rattlin.

The Assassination Of George Lucas is about four friends: Mac, our conflicted hero, Sarge, the result of a one night stand with a nameless army Sargent, Casey, a home schooled Star Wars nut, and Joanna, who became a lesbian after seeing Princess Leia in Return Of The Jedi.

These childhood friends endure the same devastating disappointment all of us went through when we sat through the debacle known as the prequels. With cinematic perfection forever ruined, the group tries to come to terms with their favorite movies ever never being the same.

And then the unthinkable happens. At Comic-Con, George Lucas makes a surprise appearance to announce that he will be making a third trilogy – episodes 7, 8 and 9. Within minutes, Star Wars costumed geeks are staging a protest. But Mac is so sickened by the announcement, he’s thinking of something much more dire. If Lucas were to make a third trilogy, it would destroy the memory of Star Wars forever, and Mac can’t risk that. Hence, the only way to save Star Wars…is to KILL GEORGE LUCAS.

The only actor in the world who can turn the word "course" into two syllables.

So he and his buds draw up a flimsy plan to drive up to the Lucas Ranch and poison the goitered one. Along the way they run into a slew of people, including a real life bounty hunter, a frantic Mark Hamill, and a long in hiding Lawrence Kasden. In the meantime we see that Lucas has become so reclusive and paranoid that he can’t even go to the bathroom without body guards. This is a man who will be hard to kill.

There’s some funny stuff in this script. My favorite character was Casey, who’s the only person on the planet who loves the prequels (the guy incorporates Jar-Jar quotes into everyday conversation). In a world where hating on the prequels has become as ubiquitous as pictures of Zac Efron on Perez Hilton, it was funny to watch a character who unapologetically loved them. I also loved the Lawrence Kasdan stuff, as it’s well-known that Lucas didn’t exactly flip over Kasdan getting so much credit for Empire Strikes Back. Seeing him holed up so that Lucas can’t get to him was pretty funny.

The rest of the stuff is hit or miss. There’s a trivial recurring joke about gummy bears, a random scene dedicated to observations about Super Mario Brothers, and probably my least favorite bit, George Lucas being an alienated asshole.

When you write a comedy, you want the jokes to be fresh. And Lucas being a reclusive dickhead has been done to death. I think there's even a South Park episode dedicated to it. I was hoping for a more complicated original take on the character, not unlike what's done with Casey. For example, what if Lucas was actually the nicest guy ever? What if they got there and were all ready to kill him and he made coffee for them and sat them down and started telling them stories? How are you going to assassinate the nicest guy ever? That’s a butchered “off the top of my head” idea and I’m not saying it’s great, but the point is, we needed something fresh here.

But the real problem with The Assassination of George Lucas runs much deeper, and that's the characters. None of these characters have any substance. They have no flaws, no problems, nothing they’re trying to overcome. Each character is exactly the same at the ending as they are at the beginning. And that’s not going to cut it in a comedy spec.

Take the characters in the recently reviewed “Crazy Stupid Love,” for example. Jacob (the womanizer) is emotionally incapable of opening up to women so he engages in an endless streak of one-night stands, not realizing that it's making him miserable. Watching him resist conquering that flaw is what made his character so interesting. Or take Cal (Steve Carell’s characer), who’s trying to come to terms with his wife leaving him. He doesn’t know whether to embrace the singles scene or fight to get his wife back. In both cases, the characters are fighting an inner battle. None of the characters here are battling anything. In fact, three of the characters are built on a joke. Casey is home-schooled, Sarge is a one-night stand, and Joanna turned into a lesbian after seeing Princess Leia. That’s as deep into the characters as we get. And Mac, our protagonist? His big problem is that he wants to preserve Star Wars. I’m sorry but that’s just not deep enough to keep us engaged for 2 hours.

Instead, what if Mac had a choice tugging at him? What if he’s at a point, 26 or 27, where he has an opportunity to take a job, to start being an adult with responsibilities, or continue this arrested development lifestyle where he's obsessed with a children’s movie. Now there’s something actually going on with Mac. He has a choice. He has depth. If you want to see this exact flaw in action (and done well), rent The 40 Year Old Virgin and pay attention to Steve Carell’s character.

Another problem I had was that the script didn’t take advantage of its premise. If you look at a movie like Fanboys, which covers similar terrain, there were all these moments where Star Wars serendipitously intruded upon their journey, leading to a lot of funny in-joke situations. The Assassination Of George Lucas is actually about a piece of Star Wars – the prequels - that hasn’t been explored in cinema extensively. There’s a TON of funny situations Thomas could’ve drawn from these movies but instead we keep focusing on the old stuff. For example, why are we bringing in Mark Hamill, who’s already been done to death? Instead, what if they run into Ahmed Best, the actor who played Jar-Jar? Let’s look at how that role ruined his life and how he hates Lucas as a result. What the hell is Jake Lloyd doing nowadays? Maybe he’s a drugged out misfit who actually thinks he’s Darth Vadar. There’s a moment here where our characters walk into a car dealer. Why not make the dealer like annoying nonsensical Watto? In other words, let’s make their journey to kill Lucas turn into their own Prequel Hell. The current comedic choices here are too obvious and deal with territory that we've already seen. Let’s explore something new.

The final issue here is that The Assassination of George Lucas probably couldn't get made. It paints Star Wars and Lucas in a negative light and even though Lucas would whore out the Star Wars brand to flesh lights if it added to the bottom line, the one thing he does still care about is his personal image, which The Assassination of George Lucas…well…assassinates. That would mean you’d have to make this movie without any Star Wars paraphernalia whatsoever, which I don’t think is possible. That’s not to say all is lost, however. Pretty much all scripts are calling cards anyways, so if this made the right people laugh, it could open the door to a career.

The Assassination of George Lucas was a cute script. But if it's going to compete in the ultra-competitive spec comedy market, it will need to dig deeper.

Script link: The Assassination Of George Lucas

[ ] What the hell did I just read?
[x] wasn’t for me
[ ] worth the read
[ ] impressive
[ ] genius

What I learned: Your comedies, even the goofiest ones, should contain some sort of theme - some sort of statement you're trying to get across with your story. When I finished The Assassination of George Lucas I felt…empty. Without a larger statement, the story experience dissolved as soon as it was over. One of the reasons Toy Story 3 was so great (and all of Pixar’s movies – which put a heavy emphasis on theme) was that it kept harping on the theme of “moving on.” That there are phases in your life where you have to move forward, even if you don’t want to. In Liar Liar the theme was obviously “truth” and the consequences of not telling it. Even in the seemingly depth-less Dumb and Dumber, the theme is “taking a chance.” Refusing to be held back by the rules and restrictions of society. There’s an opportunity in The Assassination of George Lucas to write a movie about people who are afraid to grow up. Had that been explored here, this script would’ve lingered in the reader’s mind, instead of disappearing into space like the opening crawl.