With the release of Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald, it is clear that author and screenwriter J.K. Rowling is at risk of becoming the George Lucas of the Harry Potter franchise. Set fifty years before the events of the Harry Potter saga, The Crimes of Grindelwald depicts a troubled wizarding society, where the power of sinister revolutionary Gellert Grindelwald is growing.
The foregrounding of this somewhat fateful affair in Fantastic Beasts mimics the core story of Lucas’s Star Wars prequel trilogy. This series is set decades before the beloved Original Trilogy, and charts the tragic fall of Anakin Skywalker against a backdrop of intergalactic political unrest. Based on these premises, both the Fantastic Beasts movies and the Star Wars prequels have the potential to tell a highly captivating story. Yet for all that promise, The Crimes of Grindelwald has become the most divisive movie set within the Wizarding World. Readers will no doubt be aware of just how contentious the Star Wars prequels remain to this day, and there are fears that the Harry Potter precursors will suffer the same maligned fate.
Fans and pundits have begun to question Fantastic Beasts writer J.K. Rowling, as they did George Lucas. Indeed, both figures hold a huge amount of creative control over these films since they are effectively the overseers of these sagas (or at least, Lucas was, until he sold Star Wars to Disney in 2012). But this is not to say that the Fantastic Beasts series has failed, or that it will suffer the same levels of vitriol as the Star Wars prequels.
Certainly, numerous comparisons can be drawn between the makeup of Star Wars and Fantastic Beasts, and their progenitors as well. But history can explain why the Star Wars prequels turned out the way they did, and why J.K Rowling is transitioning into the kind of complicated figure that George Lucas became.
- This Page: The Problems With Fantastic Beasts & The Star Wars Prequels
- Page 2: How J.K. Rowling Can Avoid Going ' Full Lucas'
Fantastic Beasts Has The Same Problems As The Star Wars Prequels
Firstly, there are more similarities between Fantastic Beasts and Star Wars than their singular controlling figures, and the heartbreaking pasts of Darth Vader and Albus Dumbledore. But to notice them, we need to take stock of their place within their respective franchises.
The first sections of these sagas – Harry Potter and the original Star Wars trilogy – fixate upon relaying their hero’s journey. From Han Solo to Rubeus Hagrid, they contain many lovable side characters. But Star Wars and Harry Potter follow their protagonists as they mature and negotiate the wizarding world and that galaxy far, far away. As Harry and Luke Skywalker learn the magical arts and the ways of the Force, respectively, we see the sprawling and endearing fictional worlds that they inhabit through their eyes. The protagonist serves as both an anchor for the audience’s focus, and the stories’ endearing, emotional core.
But when it comes to the Star Wars prequels and Fantastic Beasts, there is not that same kind of central pull. Sure, the prequels tell us how Anakin came to the dark side of the Force, but that’s not all that they’re about. They also tell of the corruption within the Senate and the Jedi, and how Palpatine takes advantage of the situation. Correspondingly, Fantastic Beasts is not just Newt Scamander’s story. It’s also about the rivalry between Dumbledore and Grindelwald, and of Credence Barebone finding his place within the wizarding world. Other characters and side plots are all very well and good, but when these encroach upon the main character’s time, the story/film feels trackless and abstracted.
Indeed, one may even perceive parallels in the rendering of these periphery characters in Star Wars and Fantastic Beasts. Well-intentioned additions they may be, but Jar Jar Binks and Nagini are racially insensitive creations. And those that are successful – such as the cannily cast youthful iterations of mentors Obi-Wan Kenobi (Ewan McGregor) and Albus Dumbledore (Jude Law) – are lost in the mix.
There is serious potential that has been squandered within Fantastic Beasts and the Star Wars prequels. Tales about the rise of Grindelwald and the fall of the Galactic Republic could have captivated viewers, as could new or lesser-known characters. So why have they tended to underwhelm and frustrate even the most passionate of fans? Well, there’s more to this than Lucas and Rowling simply losing their way.
Why Rowling Has Followed Lucas' Path
When George Lucas began writing and directing the Star Wars prequels in the late 1990s, things had changed since he had formulated the Original Trilogy. Lucas was no longer had the same group of collaborators and supporters. Producer Gary Kurtz had tempered many of Lucas’ more outlandish ideas – and heavily contributed to the concept of the Force - yet he departed due to creative differences whilst deep into the disastrous production of The Empire Strikes Back. Lucas’ then-wife, Marcia, had divested herself from Star Wars long beforehand. Today, her editing skills are widely recognized as being key to the success of not only A New Hope, but its two sequels as well.
Time was also a factor. The Phantom Menace entered production a decade after Return of the Jedi, and though Lucas had collaborated on other movies in that period, Lucas’ film-making had not been tested since the last Star Wars. Certainly, Lucas openly admitted that he was weak at writing character dialogue, particularly for romantic scenes.
For other filmmakers, this might not have mattered because such issues could be corrected under constructive criticism. But this was not the case for George Lucas and Star Wars. Between Return of the Jedi and the Prequel Trilogy, Lucas and his creations had become cultural touchstones that had changed the movie industry forever. Since Lucas and his output had proved to be monumentally inspirational (and profitable), it is clear that neither the creator or his creation were held under the same kind of scrutiny as they had been before. Thus, some ill-conceived ideas that could have been stymied were allowed to flourish.
The circumstances of George Lucas’ work on the Prequel Trilogy are hugely significant. Moreover, we can note similar elements in Rowling’s making of the Fantastic Beasts series. In the same way that Lucas lost many of main colleagues from the Original Trilogy, Rowling has correspondingly shed hers by firing her first literary agent Christopher Little.
Furthermore, Rowling may have maintained her close-knit partnership with David Heyman – and director David Yates from the latter Harry Potter films – but its possible that they are likewise unwilling to challenge her. After all, it is through Rowling that the Wizarding World has become a blockbusting behemoth of literature and cinema. And whilst Rowling has continued to divulge details about the Harry Potter universe on Twitter, there is a considerable time difference between The Deathly Hallows novel and the first of the Fantastic Beasts movies.
Like Lucas, Rowling is also at a disadvantage when it comes to her writing. A great novelist she may be, but screenplay writing is a different form of scripting altogether. Large sections of expositionary dialogue can adequately function in the confines of a book. But as Leta Lestrange’s explanation of her family tree shows in The Crimes of Grindelwald, it is hard to accomplish without it hampering the movie’s pacing and structure. Despite these worrying factors, there is a clear route for Rowling going forward.
- Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald/Fantastic Beasts 2 (2018) release date: Nov 16, 2018