George Lucas – Change and Unrealistic Expectations

George Lucas is a difficult man to get your head around. For those of us who have only known a world changed by his movies and influence I would imagine it is not possible to have an unbiased perspective concerning him. That being said most of what I know about Mr. Lucas comes either from his movies or second-hand comments made by those who have worked with him. Why is this? Mr. Lucas provides the following answer:

Honestly, everyone feels you have to talk about yourself all the time. They say I’m introverted because I don’t give many interviews. But I don’t give many interviews because I don’t make many films.

After reading this quote I realized how little I know about Mr. Lucas. This naturally led to a search for interviews. The first is interesting because the interview itself is not the most illuminating part. Published in 2006 this interview with Time Magazine has an introduction that provides an excellent (and succinct) summary of how Mr. Lucas’s films changed the American film industry. I am posting the first three paragraphs below but you should read the rest here.

Movie history can be divided, without much forcing of the issue, into two eras: before Star Wars and after. The landscape before the first Star Wars film, in 1977, was a very different terrain. The best Hollywood directors, freed from censorship and the nagging sense that they were cranking out movies while their European brethren were hand-crafting films, had begun to forge a distinctive adult American cinema. Few thought in terms of box office megamillions. The idea was to earn enough to entice someone into financing your next picture. (Jean-Luc Godard had done this successfully in France in the 60s; Robert Altman adopted that model for his pioneering 70s works.) Most films by the most gifted Americans were present-day dramas that picked at some social scab until, in the last reel, it burst.

In the larger marketplace, the most popular films were the ones that were made for everyone, and that everyone wanted to see once: you, your kids, your mom. That’s the broad, if thin, constituency that made blockbusters out of The Love Bug, Airport, The Poseidon Adventure, The Godfather, The Sting—and Jaws, by Lucas’ contemporary Steven Spielberg. The majority of these pictures made their money slowly, playing first runs, then gradually reaching the smaller towns and theaters; the theatrical life of one of these crowd-pleasers might be a full year. There were genre movies, of course, but not many science-fiction films. Those were kids’ stuff; movies of the 70s were for adults. Besides, special effects weren’t sophisticated enough to open viewers’ eyes to the fantasy worlds its makers might be dreaming. Even Jaws, which broke a few rules by opening in a thousand or so theaters, and by reviving the monster-from-the-deep subgenre of Atomic Age s-f, was bound to rely for its special effects on a hydraulically operated shark that kept short-circuiting off the coast of Martha’s Vineyard waters.

Star Wars changed everything. It quickly became the top-grossing movie in the 65-year history of feature films (replacing The Sound of Music, if you need evidence of how much things had changed). With its then-wizardly special effects, and the cheerleading use to which they were put, it cued a revival of the s-f genre, which had been a B-movie fad in the 50s. Back then, the kids who gorged on s-f were a Saturday matinee minority. Star Wars arrived just as teen culture was taking over movies. Lucas’ film proved that a movie could be a smash by creating a textural density that lured a part of the audience back through the wickets a dozen times. This wasn’t your uncle’s, and aunt’s, hit movie; but if they didn’t get it, who cared? The kids (mostly boys) were pouring all their disposable income into return visits. Thus Star Wars became the first cult-movie megahit.

So much of what Mr. Lucas has said or made since has been far from game-changing. It is hard to not feel disappointment over his most recent works, a point that he addresses directly and I think well in this interview. Sequels, prequels or any other form of follow-up films to the Star Wars or Indiana Jones movies cannot avoid unreasonably high expectations. Combine this with Mr. Lucas’s greatly empowered position as a producer and director and many of the factors that kept him grounded with his early works seem to largely be missing now.

In an interview with Jon Favreau, Harrison Ford briefly discussed working with Mr. Lucas and the collaborative process that allowed those films to become the successes they are.

This clip paints a kind portrait of George Lucas, not what so many fans and fan sites tend to put forth about his character. Rather than try and summarize what I think he’s like (curse you second-hand speculation!) I thought I would post this interview Mr. Lucas had with Seth MacFarlane.

The more I read and see the more he seems to be a pretty decent, agreeable guy. Not only does he strike me as being grounded but his attitude is ultimately enviable. His secret to success? He and his people (and we know how impressive they all are) love movies. They make movies that they themselves would like to see. His attitude toward his fans is respectful but not deferential, something of a rarity today when fans have increasingly direct access to filmmakers. While all of this is refreshing and positive it still leaves us with that ugly elephant in the room: the prequels.

To be fair Mr. Lucas made the point in his interview with Jon Stewart that each generation has their own take on his works. The younger generations, according to Mr. Lucas, greatly prefer the prequels or even the television show, Clone Wars. There is no accounting for taste (or my own bias against these prequels) but to conclude I leave you with a clip that addresses what I believe to be the major flaw with the prequels. Patton Oswalt, as usual, is not safe for work.

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