The Acolyte showrunner Leslye Headland used Star Wars creator George Lucas as an example of the misogyny of the auteur myth in an unearthed podcast.
Appearing on IndieWire’s Filmmaker Toolkit podcast, Headland was asked by the host about a piece she wrote in The Hollywood Reporter where she allegedly challenged the auteur theory.
She was asked, “This concept less of a voice or author of more that they do it by themselves. Am I wrong about that? Is that in that sense of it’s one thing to have vision, it’s one thing to have an author, but there’s an element of how that comes to life?”
Headland responded, “I think it’s also just my experience in the hiring world of being a female writer/director the number of jobs that I have not gotten infinite and the amount of work that I have done to get them is enormous. And, listen, no one said to my face, ‘We don’t think you can do this because you are girl,’ but I do think there is an idea of what a director looks like.”
She continued, “And a lot of people will say, ‘No, it’s what you do and the cream rises to the top, and just the best person for the job.’ And the only reason I disagree with that is partially because the auteur myth is so strong that it is really what they want to see is a guy come in there who will do everything himself. Who basically can say, ‘I will do all of this by myself and it will be perfect and you don’t need to worry about everything.'”
Headland went on, “And it justifies some crazy behavior. It justifies like… I remember somebody telling me something about a male showrunner/creator type person and their behavior. And listen, I’m not perfect by any means, by any means, but I think if you set yourself up that way, male or female, you are setting yourself up for failure. You are setting yourself up to fail because there is no way to do something like Russian Doll by yourself. There’s no way to do something like any of the films that I mention in [that The Hollywood Reporter article].”
She then shifted the conversation to Star Wars, “One of the things that I just did recently is I bought all of the concept art for Star Wars for the original Star Wars by that great guy, I’ve forgotten his name. I just bought that two-volume book about him and… Ralph McQuarrie, that’s his name, Jesus.”
“So I’ve just recently got his two-volume set of Star Wars concept art from Ralph McQuarrie. And I’m like this is insane,” she remarked. “This guy created Star Wars. Like really, like you see the evolution of the idea from what George is trying to express to him, to what he puts down on the piece of paper, to what it eventually becomes, to why he makes particular decisions, like why he decides to take things in one direction and not the other.”
Headland then asserted, “This is like what we understand to be Star Wars. The idea that like that only came from George Lucas. That only George Lucas holds the key for what we understand to be Star Wars is just untrue. And I think the prequels are an excellent example of that.”
“But you look at McQuarrie’s work and you realize what an indelible mark this man has made on culture via this one role he played on this film,” she continued. “And the idea that like when you are hiring a director that everyone is sitting in there waiting for George Lucas and not for the person who is going to know to hire Ralph McQuarrie. That’s the problem. That’s the misogyny and the problem with the auteur myth as it stands today.”
“Because they are not thinking this is the person that will hire the right people, and this is the person that will be able to create the look books and direct people to get them to that place. They’re just thinking, ‘Do you have all the answers?’ And the truth is that nobody does and anybody that says they do is lying,” she said.
Headland would later state, “Whether it’s an editor like Thelma or Marcia Lucas, whether it’s an editor or production designer like Polly Platt, or if it is an actor, it is a Gwen Verdon or Mia Farrow, the idea that that person is replaceable and the writer/director is not is something I would challenge. And I would challenge that to myself as well. I would take myself to that task. I am not anymore indispensable than my crew is.”
Ironically, Headland’s example makes absolutely no sense given Lucas hired McQuarrie to help pitch Star Wars to Fox.
In an interview from the Lucasfilm vault, McQuarrie detailed, “George [Lucas] talked about Star Wars and he didn’t have a title yet, but the concept for a film that was going to be a big galactic war. And then when he started to talk to Fox it seemed to him a good idea to have some illustrations to show the scope of the visuals that he planned, which I think in George’s mind was a big part of the movie. And I told him that I’d love to do it.”
McQuarrie continued, “He and Gary [Kurtz] came over one day with the script. I started on it the same day, I think. I really got into it right away, working on those original paintings that were really done to sell the film.”
“George and Gary went off, left me doing more paintings, Fox wanted me to do more paintings. Gary and George went to England and started scouting this whole thing from a budget point of view, came back three or four weeks later saying, ‘Looks like they’re going to do this film.'”
McQuarrie then shared, “I never really thought it would be a film while I was working on those original paintings. It seemed so vast a project to me. There was quite a few things set up by George and I felt I was drawing what he wanted things to look like. I don’t think that either of us thought that the way the movie was going to look necessarily. These were just sketches that were the best we could do in terms of how we felt it should look, but not necessarily the end product in the sense that this was really going to be it.
But it sort of turned out to be it in the end, for the most part. Some of those paintings were virtually rendered intact onto the screen in Star Wars for certain scenes,” he concluded.
As for Headland’s claim that anyone is replaceable, Marcia Lucas would probably agree with her as she made it clear she did not like what Kathleen Kennedy, Rian Johnson, J.J. Abrams and Lucasfilm did to the property.
In Howard Kazanjian: A Producer’s Life, by author J.W. Rinzler, she told him, “Now that [Kathleen Kennedy’s] running Lucasfilm and making movies, it to me that Kathy Kennedy and J.J. Abrams don’t have a clue about Star Wars. They don’t get it. And J.J. Abrams is writing these stories— when I saw that movie where they kill Han Solo, I was furious. I was furious when they killed Han Solo. Absolutely, positively there was no rhyme or reason to it.”
She added, “I thought, You don’t get the Jedi story. You don’t get the magic of Star Wars. You’re getting rid of Han Solo? And then at the end of this last one, The Last Jedi, they have Luke disintegrate. They killed Han Solo. They killed Luke Skywalker. And they don’t have Princess Leia anymore. And they’re spitting out movies every year. And they think it’s important to appeal to a woman’s audience, so now their main character is this female, who’s supposed to have Jedi powers, but we don’t know she got Jedi powers, or who she is. It sucks. They storylines are terrible. Just terrible. Awful,” Lucas concluded.
Lucas also noted she was not the heart of Star Wars, “I wouldn’t think so. I definitely made scenes work. I made the end battle work.”
“I definitely had a lot to do with making it work, but I wasn’t the writer and I wasn’t the director, and I didn’t come up with the creative names, Darth Vader, Luke Skywalker. All those names are classics. George came up with all of it using his amazing imagination,” she said.
What do you make of Headland’s claims?