This is the final part of an extended interview with Polish media on George Lucas and Star Wars. The first part is here and the second is here.
I’m very curious about his relationship with Steven Spielberg. Can there be a situation that Spielberg jokes about Lucas not having an Oscar for directing a movie?
Lucas and Spielberg have one of those wonderful fraternal relationships where, as brothers do, they both admire and compete with each other. Would Spielberg ever make such a joke to Lucas? I don’t think so – that one might be a little raw; you can see it in Lucas’s face when Charlie Rose mistakenly says that Lucas has won an Oscar, and Lucas says with a slight grimace, “No, I’m too popular for that…”
Now, Spielberg has joked about Lucas and all his talk about going back and doing the kind or small, arty films he used to do in college. “We’re still waiting, George!” he says.
Of course everyone want to know about Lucas and Star Wars, but he also created great stories for Willow and the Indiana Jones movies. Sometimes people forget that he did that–they only remember the directors. Why is that? Do you agree that those movies are crucial to understand Lucas as a storyteller?
Do people forget that Lucas was involved with those movies? Maybe for Willow, though I think people now remember it more as a George Lucas film than Ron Howard one! I think the point, anyway, is that Lucas had a great knack for story concept – or, at least, how that story should look at 20,000 feet. In the best instances – Star Wars, Raiders – it then took some really great writers (Willard Huyck, Gloria Katz, Lawrence Kasdan) to pull the final story and script together. The main ideas – the characters, the concepts – behind Willow and at least some of the Indiana Jones movies are really good ones, but the execution can be tricky. With Raiders, I think, it’s done about as well as it has ever been – that’s one where Lucas is content to light fuse and stand back and let Spielberg put Kasdan’s script to work.
I think the Indiana Jones films and Willow do help one to understand Lucas as a storyteller, ecause both of them are him using everything that’s important to him as a storyteller and mythmaker, whether it’s old Saturday morning serials and comic books or fairy tales and the Bible. But it’s not what Lucas has, necessarily, but how he uses it. The Indiana Jones movies made a lot of those old tropes look new and exciting. With Willow, it’s slightly different – it’s an intentional and obvious nod to Lucas’s love of fairy tales, to the point where one critic called him “the Great Regurgitator.” But I think Lucas was right about Willow, though at the wrong time. It’s got a bigger following today than it did back when it was made and, I think, has aged pretty well.
I often read very different views about Lucas opinion about Expanded Universe, especially books. Did he ever read any Star Wars books? Do you know something about that?
I can’t answer that with authority. If I had to guess, I’d say I’m fairly certain he’s read the Timothy Zahn novels, and he loves comics enough that I’m willing to bet he’s gotten his hands on a lot of what Dark Horse has put out. At the beginning, Lucas had firm ground rules for the Expanded Universe: no killing off characters he hadn’t killed himself, no bringing back any who were already dead, and no mucking about in Episode I-III territory. Those rules became fungible as time went on – hence the death of Chewbacca – and Lucas eventually felt the need to ‘catalog’ what, exactly, would be considered canon and what would be considered expanded universe. Which shouldn’t be at all surprising, given his constant need to control his own universe.
Star Wars without George Lucas in now a reality. Do you think that he really will ever let go of his “baby” emotionally and will never try to do something with Disney maybe? Probably they would let him if he asks and it will be good idea.
I think Lucas’s relationship with his franchise will always be complicated. There’s good reason he compared the entire experience to divorce, as his own divorce was one of the most painful times in his personal life. I think he’ll let go of Star Wars as much as any of us let go of our own children, which is how he regards the franchise: we watch them grow up and go off into the world to do their own thing, and sometimes they make decisions we don’t necessarily agree with – they marry someone we don’t like, or they live too far away – but we still love them anyway, even if we can no longer tell them what to do. Will Lucas ever really return to a Star Wars film? I don’t think so. They paid him very well to hand over the keys to the car. While they’ll let him sit in the back seat – the films still bear the Lucasfilm, Ltd. Imprint – I don’t think they’ll let him drive it again.
Your book about George Lucas is in bookstores only few days before new Star Wars movie and Christmas. It’s like perfect timing. How you would recommend your book to Polish readers? Why they should check it out?
First, it’s always fun to read about Star Wars – and I think this book will give you a better understanding of the kind of blood and sweat that Lucas put into getting the first Star Wars made and marketed. It really is a David and Goliath story, with Lucas using sheer force of will to get a movie on screen that very few people understood or believed in. More than that, however, it’s the story of the birth of modern cinema. All those things about film that we take for granted these days – sequels, action figures, great previews, waiting in line, soundtracks, eagerly anticipating the release date, great sound, convincing special effects – George Lucas either did it first, or laid the foundation for others. His contributions to film, I think, can’t be understated. He’s so much bigger than Star Wars (which is already pretty big!), and I think this book will give you a better understanding of his accomplishments beyond the galaxy far, far away. And it might also remind you of how much you love some of his other smaller projects, like American Graffiti, Willow, Tucker, or even Captain Eo.
Finally, it’s ultimately a great story about being absolutely true to yourself and committed one thousand percent to your own vision. Lucas constantly invested his own money in his company and in his films, even as his accountants fretted. Lucas was and is absolutely committed to getting the vision of the artist up on the screen in its purest form, and has worked his entire career to give them the tools to do that, whether it’s developing the gold-standard in special effects with ILM, creating groundbreaking digital technology (part of which became Pixar), or encouraging theaters to install earth-rumbling sound systems – like THX – to ensure a movie sounded in the theater the way it did in the editing room. The word ‘no’ isn’t in his vocabulary. If you’re a creative person – or a businessperson! — looking for a bit of inspiration, I think you’ll find that in George Lucas’s story as well.
Last final question… so “Rogue One” is new Star Wars movies with real connection to the first one George Lucas directed. What are your expectations as a viewer and a person who know so much about Lucas work with previous movies?
Star Wars is one of the real gifts Lucas has given us culturally – and it’s due in no small part to the fact that he’s given us a great big universe, with almost infinite places to play, and infinite stories to tell. I think there are plenty of talented people and talented storytellers we can hand the franchise to, who will manage it wonderfully. It’s easy to be cynical about Disney, but I think Disney really does ‘get it.’ I think they’ll take great care of the franchise. I think the story being told in Rogue One is an exciting one – and when I first heard that it was the story being told, it was one of those head-slapping moments where you think, ‘Of COURSE! What a great idea!’ And after seeing the movie, I can see why Lucas gave it his approval. It’s full of all sorts of affectionate little nods to his ideas and concepts – the Whills, Kiber crystals – while still taking the franchise in an exciting direction. I’ve got great hopes for Star Wars in Disney’s care, so don’t blow it! To quote Han Solo: “Great kid! Don’t get cocky!”