Part II of the interview I did back in December with Polish media (Part I is here.)
After all those years you can say something new about George Lucas? Was there any new topic you discovered during your research that maybe surprised you?
Well, again, I think part of what’s new here is simply the fact that his story has never really been told in a comprehensive manner before. We read about Star Wars, or Indiana Jones or even the godawful Star Wars Holiday Special and we think, aha! There is George Lucas. He’s the Star Wars guy, or the Indiana Jones guy. But he’s so much more than that. He’s an extraordinarily good businessman, even as, at times, he’s extraordinarily reckless with his own money. He’s constantly pitching projects – and, to my surprise, constantly running up against opposition, even with a project as terrific as Raiders of the Lost Ark. He’s generous, loyal to his friends, and stubborn as hell. He considers himself ‘the little guy’ even as he’s building a gigantic do-it-all-himself film empire. He’s really a wonderfully complex guy who has made some really astonishing contributions to culture and film – and that, I think, is something readers may not truly appreciate until they get everything in context.
I often read comments from journalists and normal viewers that prequel trilogy would be better if Lucas would oversee everything like with Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi. What are your thoughts about that? Do you think that being director, screenwriter and overseeing everything was too much for him?
Back in the 1980s, it was definitely too much for him. He stopped directing right after Star Wars, for example, because it actually took a physical toll on his health. He had little patience with actors, and the daily grind of being on-set really kind of annoyed him. He was much better suited to producing, where he could still oversee and control everything without having to actually run the set – though with Empire and Jedi, he still practically parked himself on the shoulders of his hand-picked directors anyway. Lucas can really never not be involved.
Maybe that was the part of a problem with prequel trilogy. Lucas always has bold ideas but he thinks too much about technology and special effects and not about plot, actor’s performances and dialogues. What do you think about that?
That’s probably true to some extent – but the prequel trilogy likely wouldn’t have been made at all without Lucas at the helm. For him, it had become personal – not just Star Wars, but digital filmmaking. Lucas really wanted to make certain the prequels were done right – or, at least, as close to his vision for them as possible. The only way to do that, really, was to control as much of the process as possible, from production and design all the way down to the actual directing of the film. I don’t think Lucas would have been ready to relinquish control of those gigantic films.
What do you think about Lucas relationship with Star Wars fans? Some see him as god other as a devil so probably it is difficult for him.
Lucas’s relationship with Star Wars fans is like a writer’s relationship with reviewers. We pretend we don’t care what they say, and then we still read every word. Lucas, to his credit, has always made the kind of movies he wants to make, critics and fans be damned. I think the fan nit-picking did bother him enough that he scaled back whatever plans he might have had for Jar Jar Binks – that character was an absolute and unexpected disaster for him – but other than that, I think hearing the fans complain was just like listening to Ned Tanen at Universal all those years ago trying to tell him what was wrong with American Graffiti and then arbitrarily editing four minutes out of it. To Lucas, what do the suits know about filmmaking? And I think he’d say the same about fans: what do they know about filmmaking? He’ll make the film he wants and isn’t inclined to worry about your emotional well-being!
His curse, of course, is that he’s created this wonderful mythology that we all feel we own a piece of. We all feel entitled to Star Wars, we all have opinions, sometimes strong opinions, on Star Wars. When we hear Lucas liked Rogue One, for instance, half the fans think, “Great! They must have gotten it right!” while the other half think, “Rats, it must really suck.” It’s a love/hate relationship, and one that Lucas and his fans will wrestle with in perpetuity.
Would you say that Lucas passion for cars and motor racing influenced some set pieces in Star Wars or his other movies?
Absolutely. Lucas is fascinated by man’s relationship with machines – it informs his work all the way back to college in films like THX-1138 4EB or 1:42:08, which features race car driver Allen Grant putting a racecar through its paces. His own experiences as a gear head and a cruiser in high school are up there on the screen in full force in American Graffiti. And in Star Wars, his ships tend to move and dive and scream by like cars at a race track. Heck, the podracing scene in Episode I is practically the drag race in American Graffiti! Even a ship like the Millennium Falcon is really just a spaceship hotrod, souped up for speed and with a lot of special modifications that the driver made himself. Even Darth Vader himself is a man struggling with machine – “he’s more machine than man now” Obi-Wan tells Luke.
Lucas was criticized for directing quality of prequel trilogy but he was great with smaller movies like “THX” and “American Graffiti”. What do you think? Why there is so huge difference?
Lucas had a great, big story to tell with the prequel trilogy – and I think, partly, the story got away from him. But more than anything else, I think Lucas was really excited about finally playing in a completely digital universe. For the first time, he had the technology behind him to put practically anything up on the screen, and he was determined to use as much of it as he could, opening up new worlds and cities, and creating wild new characters that could only exist in the computer. Lucas, I think, really loves the world building – his first drafts of Star Wars, for example, get somewhat bogged down in it as well, but the costs of putting those enormous worlds on screen were too cost-restrictive in 1977. Lucas had to scale everything back. He didn’t have to do that in 1999, or 2003 or 2005. It’s all there on screen, for better or worse.
Do you know how George Lucas feels about being remembered only as Star Wars creator?
I think he’s accepted that the first line of his obituary will always read “Star Wars creator George Lucas…” But really, I don’t think he’ll ‘only’ be remembered for creating Star Wars. I think – I hope – he’ll be remembered as an innovator in filmmaking, as one of the Founding Fathers of digital cinema. Lucas also changed the way we as fans relate to films and filmmakers. Lucas turned film-going into a true experience, from being excited about these little two-minute sneak previews, to waiting in line for hours or days or weeks, to watching a great movie with great sound in theater with a spectacular sound system, then buying all sorts of great merchandise afterwards. Directors are rock stars now – we look for “A Tim Burton Film” or “A Film By the Coen Brothers.” George Lucas did that.
Up next in the final part of the interview: Willow! The Expanded Universe! Rogue One!