It's odd but we are way beyond being shocked when someone attacks George Lucas' involvement in the Star Wars movies. In fact, it's now considered contrarian to defend Lucas. I saw further evidence of this in my Twitter feed after a story broke that J.J. Abrams has yet to speak to George Lucas about Episode VII.
First, let's back up a second. When I say this is "odd," I mean that if we did a smash cut (or, since we're talking about Star Wars, a screen wipe) from 1983 to today, this sort of attitude would seem preposterous. Of course, 30 years have passed, which is quite enough time for a director to erode his relationship with a fanbase -- and, yes, that's exactly what Lucas accomplished with the prequels.
Since selling Lucasfilm to Disney, Lucas has stated publically that he will be a "creative consultant" on the upcoming sequels. And let's be honest: This could mean something or this could mean nothing. I do think the new, Disney-owned Lucasfilm wants to distance itself from the prequels, judging from its decision to cancel The Clone Wars, a show that just won an Emmy. And a good way for Disney to distance itself from the prequels is to distance itself from the man who is responsible for the prequels, George Lucas.
If that's what the new Lucasfilm is doing, it's making a huge mistake.
George Lucas doesn't get enough credit for The Empire Strikes Back. I was fortunate enough to conduct the last interview with its director, Irvin Kershner, and I'm well aware how much credit Kershner deserves for making Empire the highest regarded of the six Star Wars movies.
But let's remember that Lucas was smart enough to hire Kershner, who was far from a traditional choice. (Lucas was also smart enough to at least attempt to hire David Lynch to direct Return of the Jedi.) I truly believe Lucas' biggest mistake with the prequels was directing all three movies himself. He was rusty and out of practice. Before taking on 1999's The Phantom Menace, Lucas hadn't directed a movie since the original Star Wars, 22 years earlier.
But Lucas' failures as a director in no way detract from his prowess as a storyteller.
Lucas wrote The Empire Strikes Back, even though he gets pretty much zero credit for it. The credited screenwriters for Empire are Leigh Brackett and Lawrence Kasdan. Leigh Brackett submitted her first draft, then, sadly, passed away from cancer. Brackett's first draft looks nothing like what The Empire Strikes Back would become. (You can read it here; if you're a fan of the movie, it's pretty fascinating.)
From here, Lucas took over. Lucas is the one who shaped Empire into the movie that we know today. Then, Kasdan came in to finish up what would become the final script.
It may sound like I'm trying to discount Kasdan's role in Empire. I'm not, I'm just pointing out that it was Lucas who did the heavy lifting here and that Empire certainly isn't Kasdan's movie the way Raiders of the Lost Ark and Return of the Jedi are Kasdan's movies.
To illustrate this, Film.com's Jordan Hoffman had a conversation with Kasdan about the infamous bounty hunters that appear in Empire. As Hoffman tells it, "During press for Darling Companion, Kasdan confessed that he came on late to the scripting of Empire and was hardly fluent in its lore. I was rather deflated to learn that not only would Kasdan not take a side over whether Bossk was cooler than Zuckuss, he didn't even know who they were."
George Lucas never accepted a screenwriting credit for The Empire Strikes Back. It's easy to say, "Lucas didn't direct or write Empire, so that's why it's the best," but this isn't telling the whole story.
Look, I know the prequels were disappointing. And I realize that Disney (wisely) wants to create as much distance as possible between those movies and the forthcoming sequels. But shutting out Lucas himself is a mistake. Nobody knows these characters better than Lucas, and he's still a brilliant ideas guy. Whatever you think of him now, he's still the guy who made Star Wars and deserves the most credit for the story of The Empire Strikes Back, even though he doesn't admit it.
Mike Ryan is senior writer for Huffington Post Entertainment. You can contact him directly on Twitter.