When an essentially unavoidable piece of pop culture such as Star Wars is heavily discussed, parodied and referenced throughout media and in everyday conversation, it can begin to lose the unique appeal that initially drew people in and made them fans. That’s why some people refuse to engage in things that are popular; if you hear about something enough, even if it’s in a positive manner, you feel like you’ve already experienced it and don’t need to delve any deeper. It’s also difficult to separate a franchise from its fanbase, especially when they’re notoriously opinionated and passionate. Neither qualities are inherently bad, but passion can easily become possession and, therefore, a fan can be made to feel like the franchise belongs to them. Star Wars is a series that multiple generations have grown up with and have strong feelings about, inspiring countless debates and passionate pleas for those creating new stories in the extended universe (films, TV, comics, etc) to focus on certain storylines/characters more than others.
Even if you’re not the biggest fan of the franchise, it’d be difficult to avoid seeing the criticism of how non-white characters were marketed as being important to the new trilogy of films but were underdeveloped, or how the actors portraying those characters – John Boyega and Kelly Marie Tran in particular – were victim to racist and misogynist remarks by people claiming to be dedicated fans of the series. Some fans have lost faith in Star Wars altogether, citing the direction J.J. Abrams decided to take the story in The Rise of Skywalker (2019) as “disappointing” or “unsatisfying”.
At a time when it’s hard not to be at least a little bit cynical of Star Wars, fans are having to remind themselves why they loved the series so much in the first place. Perhaps nothing is doing a better job of helping with this than the creators and talent behind The George Lucas Talk Show, an online weekly talk show broadcasted live on the independent network Planet Scum (via Twitch). Adapted from its original format as a live stage show at the UCB theater in New York (which closed in April of this year due to the global pandemic), The George Lucas Talk Show features comedians Connor Ratliff and Griffin Newman as “Retired Filmmaker George Lucas” and his sidekick Watto, respectively. Yes, the junk dealer character from The Phantom Menace (1999) who bought and enslaved Anakin Skywalker on Tatooine. Along with appearances by their producer Patrick Cotnoir (who is often playfully exasperated at the two hosts), George and Watto interview celebrity guests, reference obscure moments from George Lucas’ career, and attempt to see how long they can stay in character while maintaining the same level of absurdity for hours at a time.
Watto is determined to keep the show at an “Irishman+” runtime, meaning that it has to go on for at least 3 hours and 30 minutes (the approximate runtime of the Martin Scorsese film The Irishman (2019)) plus 60 seconds. In their first live-streamed show from their respective homes, the duo committed to watching all of the Star Wars films and reacting in real-time to help raise money for the UCB theater employees who lost their jobs. By the time the films were over, and their guests dropped in and out, George and Watto had clocked in over 30 hours, raised $21,000, and had managed to stay in character and stay (somewhat) awake. Since their initial fundraiser, they have also raised money for charities such as Water.org; a non-profit organization that helps communities around the globe gain access to clean drinking water. On September 20th, George and Watto will be watching the short-lived Aaron Sorkin sitcom Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip with special guests from the show to raise money for Broadway Cares, which helps fund HIV/AIDS research and treatment.
Taking into account all of the money they’ve raised for charitable causes, and the silly ways they respectfully poke fun at the Star Wars franchise, The George Lucas Talk Show is clearly not a vehicle for cynicism. More than anything, it comes from an earnest place of admiration that we don’t often see at this point in time in pop culture (at least with major franchises). Ratliff manages to portray the creator of Star Wars in a thoughtful way that never ventures into being a caricature of a person, finding a balance between the public perception of George Lucas and the actor’s personal fabrication. It’s apparent that he has studied Lucas’ mannerisms and dialect, and feels comfortable delivering stories and bits of Star Wars trivia in a dry-humored fashion. Newman compliments Ratliff’s performance with his own zany, comical take on the gruff character of Watto – taking this often-forgotten side character (who is objectively horrible – he literally buys and sells people) and making him entirely his own.
A large part of the charm of the show is how they embrace facets of Star Wars that sometimes go overlooked or may be considered widely unliked. They praise the character of Jar-Jar Binks and the prequel trilogy, show off pieces of their individual merchandise collections (Newman’s of course includes an elaborate Watto drinking cup he often uses onscreen that was sold at Taco Bell in 1999 to coincide with the release of The Phantom Menace), and happily reference the quirkier aspects of the Star Wars universe. It’s endearing to watch such a hilariously weird celebration of a film franchise and everything that makes it silly and exciting, through the eyes of people who genuinely love it but still recognize its flaws.
Their celebrity guests seem to have such a fun time being interviewed by “Retired Filmmaker George Lucas” that they appear more comfortable in conversation than they sometimes do in traditional talk show settings. They lean in
, and the fans that eagerly participate weekly in the live chat feature as the show airs. Filmmaker Kevin Smith even stayed on the show for over two hours, interacting with fans and talking in depth about his history with Star Wars.
The George Lucas Talk Show has found a somewhat niche but wholly delightful corner of the internet where fans of comedy and Star Wars are actively combating the toxic culture that others have created, finding hope in something that welcomes them in and says “hey, let’s unapologetically love this sci-fi saga and embrace all the silliness of what’s going on here.” It’s adapting to the change from live stage show to web show in the midst of unpredictable and worrisome times, creating a new kind of show that offers accessibility and silly, entertaining moments you won’t likely see anywhere else (what other show has Lea Thompson showing off her Howard the Duck costumes from her house?). It may not be their primary goal, but The George Lucas Talk Show is reminding some of us why we loved Star Wars in the first place.