When I mention “George Lucas” and “ridiculous” in the same sentence, your thoughts likely turn to The Phantom Menace, Jar Jar Binks, or a warehouse chock-full of of plaid shirts.
But Lucasfilm’s antics also extend to the legal realm. Inspired by news of a lawsuit brought against Star Wars prop designer Andrew Ainsworth for selling supposedly-unlicensed Stormtrooper costumes, I uncovered five of my favorite ridiculous lawsuits involving Lucasfilm and/or George Lucas.
5) TRADEMARK DISPUTE WITH DIGG.COM
Ok, I can get behind Lucasfilm protecting itself against blatant rip-off artists, but… getting into a trademark dispute with social news Web site Digg over a computer game released in 1995 called “The Dig“?
That’s a bit of a stretch.
Lucas dropped its “notice of opposition” after an out-of-court settlement.
4) LAWSUIT OVER X-RATED ANIME MOVIE STARBALLZ
Starballz–available on VHS(!) from Amazon–is a pornographic cartoon movie that parodies films including The Full Monty, Die Hard, The Matrix, The Silence of the Lambs and Titanic. Think of it as the Scary Movie of the cartoon porn world. (I know… quite a distinction.)
As indicated in the lawsuit, Lucasfilm thought that consumers could be confused into thinking that Lucasfilm sponsored or produced the X-rated film. Right. Heh.
The producers of Starballz thought that was pretty funny, too. They filed a $140 million countersuit against Lucas for libel.
The judge ruled against Lucas in the original case–because, yeah… no one in their right mind is going to associate a pornographic cartoon parody of Die Hard with LucasFilm–and I’m guessing the big countersuit made its way to wherever frivolous lawsuits go to die.
3) COPYRIGHT LAWSUIT AGAINST COPYRIGHT CRUSADER DR. DRE
Dr. Dre made quite a stink over mother-effin’ Napter users stealing his mother-effin’ music.
Oh, delicious irony when–exactly one day after Dre had issued a warning to Napster to remove all of his songs from their service–Lucasfilm sued the good doctor for copyright infringement of their THX “Deep Note” sound in one of his tracks. He ended up paying them a settlement.
2) LAWSUIT OVER PRESIDENT REAGAN’S “STAR WARS” STRATEGIC DEFENSE INITIATIVE
“Hey, Government? It’s me, George Lucas. Yeah, with the beard. Anyway. I’m calling to let you know I’m filing a lawsuit against you for, um… let’s call it a bazzillion dollars.”
Ok, he didn’t actually sue the government. He sued two ad agencies running political TV ads referring to the “Star Wars” program. A judge decided against him, ruling “that ‘Star Wars’ had entered the public lexicon and could be used for social criticism.”
1) STAR WARS SUES BATTLESTAR GALACTICA FOR BEING WAAAAAY TOO SIMILAR
George Lucas meets with Douglas Trumbull, the director and special effects chief on 1972’s Silent Running, and is all, “Hey, I like those two-footed robots you’ve got, there.” Four years later, the world gets R2-D2 and other biped ‘bots in Star Wars. In other words, Star Wars blatantly rips off Universal’s Silent Running. Universal Studios is all, “Hey, no copycats!” And sues 20th Century Fox.
Then, in a fit of irony, Universal promptly releases the dogfights-in-outer-space series Battlestar Galactica in 1978. 20th Century Fox–owner of the relevant Star Wars rights–promptly counter-sues Universal for borrowing way too much from its own outer-space epic. Among the 34 similarities cited between the properties:
- The original working title for Battlestar Galactica (BSG) was Star Worlds. Ahem.
- The original script drafts for BSG featured a character named “Skyler.” (Sound familiar?)
The creator of BSG, Glen Larson, claimed he was working on his show long before Lucas’s film came along. He even met with a Star Wars producer during production and agreed not to use “laser streak” effects, supposedly to avoid claims of similarities between the two properties.
The presiding judge probably ultimately realized that every sci-fi book/movie/etc. is just a variant of another sci-fi book/movie/etc. (Universal even cited copyrighted material in the 1930s Buck Rogers serials.) However, when judgement in the case was finally made in 1980 in favor of Battlestar, the show had already been cancelled. (Sad trombone.)
Important note! George didn’t actually participate in this particular lawsuit, since he didn’t own the rights that were supposedly getting infringed-upon.
Looking for more info on George Lucas litigation and other hi-jinx that has made him such a polarizing, love-hate figure for Star Wars fans? Check out these two incredible resources:
- How Star Wars Conquered the Universe: The Past, Present, and Future of a Multibillion Dollar Franchise – You will not get any more “behind the scenes” of the building of the LucasFilm empire than you will in this deeply-researched and entertaining book by a veteran media journalist.
- The People vs. George Lucas – A hilarious and heartfelt documentary featuring pointed questions–and answers–about Lucas’s legacy.