Lucasfilm and the class action lawsuit against George Lucas
If you would love to hear an interesting and well-presented history of animation in Lucasfilm, I highly suggest the podcast Skytalkers. Their 2020 summer series is about the history of Star Wars animation covers the first Boba Fett cartoon in the Holiday Special up until the return of Clone Wars on Disney+. Charlotte and Caitlin source all the references and it’s a wonderful listen.
The reason I bring up this podcast is that animation has always held an important role in Star Wars history and Skytalkers seamlessly lays out all of these points in their episodes. The first television series for the franchise was animation with Ewoks and Droids. Genndy Tartakovsky’s Star Wars: Clone Wars was a connecting thread in the prequel era as well as the first terrifying appearance of General Grievous. After the prequel films, the only Star Wars on screen for a decade was the 2008 Clone Wars. Animation was some of the first projects in the Disney era with Rebels. Season seven of Clone Wars was one of the flagship shows of Disney+.
Animation has always had a special place for George Lucas. It’s part of the reason he reached out to Nelvana to produce his early series because Nelvana is a staple company in the animation business. Look up their list of shows. They more than likely had their hands in something you watched from the 60s to the present. Nelvana’s employees have gone on to help form DreamWorks and work in Disney to create movies like The Lion King. As much as George wanted to push technology in live action, he also wanted to push and innovate the medium of animation as well. He even created and funded the entirety of season one of Clone Wars out of his own pocket before ever approaching Cartoon Network to pitch the show to them.
But innovation comes with a cost and George Lucas, while a creator, has also made some serious mistakes.
It’s almost ironic as he speaks in an interview with Charlie Rose about how capitalism stifles creativity. He talks about how studios are afraid to take chances, which he is right about as has been outlined in this article. Money is the killer of a lot of creativity and innovation.
So then it makes me wonder why he hurt his own animators under him. In 2014, a class action lawsuit was filed against multiple animation companies including Lucasfilm. In the court documents, George Lucas was named as one of the ring leaders who came up with a conspiracy that violated antitrust laws and involved wage theft for his animators. Other companies involved were Pixar, DreamWorks, and even Apple’s own Steve Jobs was in on it.
The lawsuit claims that when Lucasfilm sold its computer animation division to soon-to-be named Pixar in the 1980s, George Lucas and Ed Catmull, who would be president of Pixar, agreed not to poach each other’s artists. Over time, the other companies joined in on this. As computer-animated content exploded, the conspiracy took a turn to maximize profits. Cartoon Brew explained:
"“The plaintiffs claimed that the defendant studios conspired to restrict competition by exchanging sensitive compensation information, fixing compensation ranges of their employees, and most crucially, refraining from solicitation of each other’s employees, in violation of federal antitrust law and the California Business and Professions Code. The plaintiffs claim that the defendants’ actions injured the plaintiffs and members of the class by “lowering their compensation and depriving them of free and fair competition in the market for their services.” Further, the plaintiffs claim that the studios fraudulently concealed their conspiracy, preventing the plaintiffs from filing their complaint in a timely manner. Federal antitrust law prohibits such actions as restrictions on competition.”"
Pando Daily also covered the lawsuit and stated that:
"“It was George Lucas himself who first initiated the illegal conspiracy to suppress tech workers’ wages by secretly coordinating recruitment and salaries with competing VFX film companies. Lucas later justified his actions by claiming that had he not secretly suppressed employees’ wages, the small movie studios would’ve gone bankrupt and everyone would’ve suffered. Stealing workers’ wages and their opportunities to protect Lucasfilm’s bottom line may have been an act of selfless benevolence, but it also turned Lucas into a multibillionaire when he sold out to Disney in 2012 and pocketed over four billion dollars for himself.”"
Pando Daily also has records from George Lucas testifying on the stand and, I say very sarcastically, they’re “fun” to read. He has no remorse for his actions. So apparently capitalism is only bad for George Lucas’ creativity. He had no problem hurting his own workers for decades.
Way to be a hypocrite, George.
And the animators won their case after being able to prove this not only affected thousands in the industry but these companies also stole millions of dollars from employees. Lucasfilm, Pixar, and Walt Disney Company paid out $100 million in the settlement.
It’s absolutely disgusting behavior. The gross thing to top it off is that George apologized to Disney, not to the people he hurt.