Creating The Galaxy: Myth Maker And Jedi Master George Lucas In His Own Words
Special to Merge
He sees himself as a hard-working independent filmmaker constantly at odds with the powers-that-be, a man who's not above sinking his own money into his films.
Others, of course, see George Lucas a tad differently. The mastermind behind the $3.5 billion-and-counting Star Wars series almost single-handedly gave birth to the modern blockbuster. He's rich beyond belief and sure to get even richer with the release of Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith.
Lucas insists that the final chapter in his Star Wars prequel came into being for a single reason: so he could finally finish the story he's been telling since 1977 when the groundbreaking space opera first touched down in multiplexes.
Here, the filmmaking icon, who turned 61 last Saturday, talks about Darth Vader, evil empires and life after Star Wars.
Can this really be the end of the Star Wars saga?
GEORGE LUCAS: Yes. The series starts with Darth Vader as a young lad and ends with him dying. So I don't know where else I can take it.
Wasn't there talk at one time of three trilogies?
LUCAS: That was created by the media, not by me.
But can you just walk away from it all?
LUCAS: I walked away from it before, for 15 years. I thought long and hard about coming back and doing the backstory. The only reason that I did do it was because I was interested in the story, and the fact that would sort of shift the way that you look at Episodes IV, V and VI.
Can you explain that a bit more?
LUCAS: It's really a story about Darth Vader. Luke and Leia became central figures and had a strong impact. But I knew if I gave Darth Vader his due, you would understand what a tragic story the whole thing was and it would change the way you look at the other movies. So that's why I did it.
But you must be sad that it's all over?
LUCAS: Not sad, relieved. It was a 10-year commitment. That's a very long period of time. You just hope that you can get through it without anything happening and I've done that. I'm glad about the way things turned out. It's what I wanted it to be.
It sounds like you've already let it go.
LUCAS: I'm letting go of the very thing that I fear to lose the most (laughs). Not really. But I am letting go. You sort of reach a point where you have to plan your life out. I'm sort of at that point. I love Star Wars but I'm not going to spend the rest of my life doing it. There are other things that I want to accomplish before I leave.
Are they in the sci-fi genre?
LUCAS: No. They're more independent in nature. They're not like any other kinds of movies. I want to go back to the kind of movies that I made at the beginning of my career. With Star Wars, I took a path of opportunity, thinking that it would end at any moment. I thought it was a little sidetrack and it ended up being my life.
You don't consider yourself part of the Hollywood establishment. Why is that?
LUCAS: I've never been based in Hollywood. I live in San Francisco. I make movies in San Francisco. I had to go down there and beg them to pay for my first three films. Even with Raiders of the Lost Ark, the studio didn't want Steven to direct it because he had made some extremely expensive movies.
No one gives you a hard time anymore, do they?
LUCAS: When I said I was going to do The Phantom Menace, everyone was saying, 'It's a Disney film. You're going to destroy the franchise. You can't do it. The fans will revolt.' I said, 'But this is the story. I'm telling the story and this is what I want to do.'
But I know that if I'd been at a studio, they would've just said, 'Nope, we're not doing this movie. You can have Darth Vader going around killing everyone but you can't do a film about a little boy.'
You asked for the sequel rights to Star Wars rather than take a fee up front. Did you know the movie would be a huge hit?
LUCAS: Just the opposite. I wanted the sequel rights so I could make the movie myself. I thought, 'I can finance this second movie if I get my company together, if I do this right.' They never thought that in a million years I'd be stupid enough to finance the film myself. The first rule of movie-making is that you never invest in movies, especially your own. That's what I did and by doing it, I got everything.
When you first wrote Star Wars, what inspired you to take a look at the rise and fall of governments?
LUCAS: It came out of the period of the Vietnam War and then Richard Nixon wanting to run for a third term. I'm a history buff, and I was reading that democracies basically end because the senate or the people bring in a dictator. And why do they bring in the dictator? It's usually because there's some kind of outside threat. Star Wars is more about Cesar and Napoleon and Hitler than it is about anything here in the U.S.
Did anything that's happened in the world since 9/11 inform the prequels?
LUCAS: No. A lot of it I'd written already. The only weird part about it is that it's so relevant. I didn't expect it to be this relevant, with Palpatine and his growth, and the corporate guilds and all of that stuff.
Can you give us a preview of the Sith DVD? Any deleted scenes?
LUCAS: I'm not actually doing the DVD. I'm helping to set that up but other people are going to do it. I'm not going to be involved in that.
You do sound like you're ready to move on.
LUCAS: I'll never be able to cut my ties completely from Star Wars, unfortunately or fortunately. I love Star Wars and I don't mind being intertwined with it. I just don't want to spend all the rest of my days doing it. I don't want to be on the treadmill of having to deal with it every single day. So the TV shows and the books will be done by other people. They're different from the saga, which is these six films.
You didn't direct Empire Strikes Back or Return of the Jedi but you wrote and directed the latest three films. how come?
LUCAS: I've tried to get out of writing over and over and over again. It's the one thing that I don't want to do. It's strange: I don't think that I'm very good at it but I can do it better than most people. When I have an idea, I know how to express it. I know what needs to be done. I work with tons of writers on a lot of projects. I've turned things over to people, and I realize that I can pretty much do it as well as anyone can.
Can you keep all of the minutiae of the Star Wars world straight? does this stuff ever confuse you?
LUCAS: I haven't read any of the novels. That's a different world than my world. I do try to keep it consistent. I have a Star Wars encyclopedia on my shelf and when I come up with a name or something, I have to look it up to make sure it hasn't already been used.