This topic has swirled around the corners of the internet for a while but once again, with the way WWE has been split recently – it’s worth mentioning yet again. Especially as WWE Chairman Vince McMahon continues his slide into the same murky waters that George Lucas resided in during the creation of the “prequels” for his popular Star Wars series. Where Star Wars fans got an “out” from the mire they found themselves in – specifically Lucasfilm and the Star Wars Franchise being sold to Disney – it appears pro wrestling fans will be at the mercy of McMahon for the duration. So, let’s look at specific ways that Vince McMahon has become the “George Lucas of pro wrestling”.
They were both brilliant…
I’m not going to lie, both George Lucas and Vince McMahon are innovators in their respective fields. The original Star Wars film, love it or hate it, is a groundbreaking piece of celluloid and redefined the science fiction genre – for better or worse. Likewise, after buying out many of the territories, early to mid 80s WWF with the “Rock n’ Wrestling Connection” brought wrestling to the mainstream and reinvented what pro wrestling could be. Stepping back and looking at their accomplishments, both Lucas and McMahon are largely considered geniuses, and rightly so. To varying degrees, popular culture in 2016 would be very different if WWE or Star Wars were not a part of it. Lucas is often credited with a special effects revolution that blew away the types of special effects that were standard at the time. Likewise, McMahon integrated popular music during the “Hulkamania” era and his current WWE Network was an early adopter to the “a la carte programming” concept. In both cases, when these men were “on”, they were really “on”.
… until they weren’t
The downward trend of both George Lucas and Vince McMahon seemed to come when both tried to make their respective products more “kid-friendly” and palatable to a wider audience. In Lucas’ case, this largely began with the introduction of the Ewoks in “Return of the Jedi” when many fans believe that the furry characters were introduced solely to sell dolls to children. The softening of the Star Wars brand continued during the Lucas produced “prequel trilogy” which was mass marketed to the moon and included more “wacky” characters, like the much maligned Jar Jar Binks; clearly geared towards a younger audience. In the case of the WWE, the product moved from the risqué “Attitude Era” into the more tame “PG Era”. McMahon’s WWE was now a publicly traded company and he had investors and Wall Street to think about. Clearly much more was on the line with his “sports entertainment” company, so things has to be toned down to appeal a wider, and younger, audience. Some would argue the move to TV-PG has allowed the ushering in of a more compelling women’s division, however, the majority of outspoken fans online would like to see a compromise between the outrageous “Attitude Era” and the squeaky clean “PG Era”. Much like how Star Wars fans felt about Lucas at the end of the “Prequel Trilogy”, many wrestling fans feel McMahon is “out of touch” with what modern fans want to see on their screens.
They’ve both been accused of racism
Racial stereotypes are no stranger to the world of pro wrestling. One only has to look back a few decades to see caricatures of “Wild Samoans” and “Ugandan Giants” being the norm. While WWE has advanced a little with the times, we’ve still seen very few minorities able to grab McMahon’s theoretical “brass ring”. One group, current WWE Raw Tag Team Champions The New Day, were able to tweak an assigned gimmick into something positive. When The New Day debuted, as a stereotypical “Gospel group” of three African-American men – it went over like a ton of bricks. The gimmick, as written by McMahon, failed on multiple levels in 2014 America. The New Day were able to take this doomed gimmick and twist it into something that has turned them into one of the longest reigning tag team champions in the company’s history. A story like The New Day’s is an exception and not the rule. Likewise, George Lucas was raked over the proverbial coals for the ways that his characters Jar Jar Binks, Watto, and the Neimodian race spoke in “Episode I: The Phantom Menace”. Go back even further and in the very first Star Wars film there are a race of people referred to as “Sand People”, who wear garb that closely resembles stereotypical Arab clothing. While some of the “Star Wars is racist” accusations may be reaching a bit, it’s not hard to look back at early pro wrestling and find characters and angles that would never happen in modern times.
They both took big risks
The first Star Wars film was a massive gamble. 20th Century Fox had dumped all of their promotional muscle into the film “Damnation Alley” and hoped that the little film they dropped in the summer of 1977, “Star Wars”, wouldn’t lose too much money. Lucas stretched himself thin getting the money to film Star Wars and kept running over budget. Clearly, if not for Star Wars becoming a cultural juggernaut, it would have been a “one and done” like so many other 1970s sci-fi flicks. Doesn’t this sound a little bit about the story behind the first WrestleMania? McMahon himself has stated that the first WrestleMania was a huge gamble and had people not bought in, the WWF could have fizzled out in the aftermath. McMahon put his company on the line in the hopes that riding the wave of Hulkamania would pay off – and just like with Lucas and Star Wars in ’77 – it did. If people weren’t willing to shell out their cash for WrestleMania I tickets, the WWF could have ended and we’d be watching some dark timeline version of WCW Nitro right now. Or worse yet, no pro wrestling at all. From a financial standpoint, both Lucas and McMahon took massive risks early in their careers and both were fortunate enough to have those risks not only pay off, but pay off in spades.
Now, I’m not advocating for the wholesale purchase of WWE by Disney. I think that would be a terrible idea. However, it would be interesting to see what WWE could become without having everything filtered through one man. Star Wars fans got to see that potential recently with the “George Lucas-less” “Star Wars: The Force Awakens”. I imagine the possibilities will get even more interesting as other writers and directors are brought in for the Star Wars spin-off films. It would be interesting to see what could happen with a WWE not beholden to the whims and desires of one man. We’ve gotten a glimpse of that with the decidedly more “hands off” approach Vince McMahon has taken with the NXT brand, but even NXT does not run autonomously. While many fear McMahon will rule on the iron throne of the WWE until he draws his final breath, I’m hopeful that newer blood will eventually gain influence and can take the universe that Vince McMahon created to places he’d never have even dreamed it could go.