It seems like every time someone in the press talks to George Lucas he
reiterates how much he wants to get back to his small film roots, how
he wants to make an art film. He points at what Francis Ford Coppola is
doing today as what he’d like to be doing. And yet he never does it.
Even after finishing the Star Wars prequels Lucas sidestepped the
personal, arty films in favor of yet more Star Wars.
When I got invited to the Big Rock Ranch (home of Lucasfilm Animation)
for the press junket for the animated movie Star Wars: The Clone Wars, I accepted for one
reason: I wanted to ask Lucas about this. I never write out questions,
but I wrote this one out because I wanted to give him no wiggle room.
Too many other journalists simply ask when he’ll be doing an art film –
I wanted to ask why he hadn’t done one yet.
My only shot at Lucas came in a press conference, where he shared* the
spotlight with director Dave Filoni and producer Catherine Winder. We
had to get on a list to ask questions; I submitted my name and waited
my turn. Annoyingly enough, the press conference was ended just as it
was my turn to ask my question. Undaunted, I took my recorder up to
Lucas and asked him my question.
What was interesting was how dismissive his answer was. He has been
talking about doing small movies for possibly decades, and yet he just
essentially brushed it off when I asked him why.
“I just don’t have time,” he said. “Opportunities present themselves. I wanted to
do an animated manga TV series, so I said, ‘Oooh, I want to do that.’ I
have about 50 projects sitting here and I have say ‘Which one works
now?’ It makes sense to do these TV things now. I love television. It’s
a lot more fun than doing the giant movie things.”
Really? After a decade of playing in the Star Wars sandbox again, Lucas was more interested in retreading that same old ground in a cartoon rather than explore his supposed artform?
If I had to guess I’d say that television has replaced the ‘art movie’
for George. ‘”I’ve sort of moved from features to television,” Lucas said. He talked about the challenge of making a live action Star
Wars TV show – the movies are 50 million dollars an hour, he said,
while the show has to be ‘only’ two million an hour. Listening to him
talk I got the impression that the art movie represented a challenge,
not an opportunity for expression. The man is an engineer first and
foremost, and what gets him excited is solving problems, not telling
In fact, Lucas almost said as much when answering another reporter’s question: “Art is a technological medium,” he said. “All art is. A lot of it has to do with
engineering; trying to figure out how to create what you imagine.”
Many other artists would tell you that it’s not about the medium or the technology – a writer doesn’t demand the highest tech to tell his stories, and many filmmakers work under primitive conditions, sometimes purposefully. I imagine that Lars von Trier or Steven Soderbergh might have a different opinion about how vital technology is to telling stories in film. But if telling stories is secondary to your love of gadgetry and the whiz bang…
*technically. The press folks asked us to make sure we had questions
not only for George but also for director Dave Filoni and producer
Catherine Winder. Lucas, however, hogged all the questions, even the
fairly generic ones that he could have punted to Winder of Filoni. It
was a fascinating look at the ‘Great Man’ in action.