George Lucas Talks 'Star Wars' Fluke & Early Career at Tribeca Film Festival

Few were dressed in Star Wars costumes at the George Lucas/Stephen Colbert event, but there were one or two lightsabers in hand...
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George Lucas Tribeca Film Festival Photo

George Lucas at the Tribeca Film Festival.

Like Han and Chewie, George Lucas and Stephen Colbert sent the Tribeca Film Festival in New York into hyperdrive with an honest, free-wheelin' conversation in front of hundreds of fans lucky enough to get a ticket. Few were dressed in Star Wars costumes, but there were one or two lightsabers in hand. Hopefully, they weren't too disappointed, as most of the conversation, oddly, was about Lucas's early work like THX-1138 and American Graffiti. Despite Lucas's genuine discomfort in front of an audience (he wore sneakers and saggy jeans), there were a few high points. And that doesn't even include Colbert offering him a “may the Force be with you” after Baron Papanoida (the blue-skinned character Lucas “plays” in the background of Revenge of the Sith) busted out an ear-blasting sneeze.

He'll Know When We Know

Even though this December's newest entry in the Star Wars saga, The Force Awakens, will have his company's name Lucasfilms before the title, he is in the dark as to what the movie is about. All he knows is that it will keep in with the theme of “the father, the children and the grandchildren.” Does that mean Daisy Ridley's Rey is Han and Leia's daughter? Or Domhnall Gleeson is playing a fils-de-Skywalker? That information remains frozen in carbonite. At the time of the Tribeca event, Lucas still hadn't seen the second teaser trailer, which debuted at Star Wars Celebration and was front page news on every paper. “I'll wait to see that on the big screen,” he said.

Some Movies Can't Be Fixed

Some hardcore sci fi buffs love Lucas's first feature from 1971, THX-1138. Others think it is a befuddling, overlong mess. The studio execs certainly thought so, to the point that they felt they couldn't release it the way Lucas delivered it. “There's nothing you can do, it's meant to be this way!” Lucas recalled with a laugh. “Yes,” Colbert joked, “it's an unpolishable turd!” The suits decided to cut five minutes out of the movie “because they could,” but it wasn't like it made a difference one way or the other. When he later gained industry clout, he put those five minutes back in.

Odd Jobs

THX-1138 was made in conjunction with Lucas's old pal Francis Ford Coppola. When it was a box office bomb, the studio pulled its stake out of their production company. The pair found themselves in debt of the development money for scripts they had – projects that eventually became classics like The Conversation and Apocalypse Now. In need of fast money, Coppola agreed to take a job he didn't really want, an adaptation of someone else's book, a tawdry best seller about the mafia. That movie became The Godfather, one of the most respected pictures ever made.At the same time, Coppola dared Lucas to write something that wasn't a “robot movie.” He taunted him to see if he could write a comedy. That became Lucas's smash hit American Graffiti which, at the time, was one of the most profitable movies ever made.

Lucas Colbert Tribeca Film Festival Photo

Lucas and Stephen Colbert at the Tribeca Film Festival. (Photo: Tribeca Film Festival)

Dialogue Doesn't Matter

Again and again Lucas emphasized that the importance of cinema is movement. He frequently compared his work to silent movies. When Colbert asked if that meant sound effects, he quickly back pedaled. “No,” the head of Skywalker Sound said. “Sound is 50% of the movie.” But dialogue, he offered, was meaningless. “Star Wars can be understood by a two year-old.”

Lucas then joked about some of the lines in his own films. “'Here they come!' I mean, you have to say it, okay, but it's not important.”

George Lucas: Experimental Filmmaker

George Lucas never intended to make studio movies. In fact, he wanted to be a race car driver until an accident scared him straight. In a weird way, the impression you get is that he was somewhat trapped by the success of Star Wars. This led to him being the CEO of a major company (and becoming stinking rich) but now that those prequels (which were never discussed at this talk) are over, he considers himself retired. He claims he will be making oddball experimental films in his garage that no one will ever want to release and that his friends will come over to watch and then laugh at him.

This sounds really cool and all, but if you look at this article in Time Magazine you'll see he's been banging this drum for 25 years. It's true that Lucas lent his name to Godfrey Reggio's non-narrative film Powaqqatsi, but that was in 1988. He also brought Akira Kurosawa's Kagemusha to American audiences. That was in 1980.

The Duck Knight Rises

As a favor to friends, Lucas has frequently acted as a producer. Sometimes he was very involved. Other times, not. One of the “nots" is the now oft-mocked Howard the Duck. “I knew putting a dwarf in a duck suit wasn't going to work. Now, with a digital duck you can do anything!” he said.

To that end, Lucas is convinced that Marvel will surely be reviving Howard the Duck at some point, and he'll get another feature film. When Colbert mentioned that Howard the Duck was a hidden easter egg in last summer's Guardians of the Galaxy, Lucas nodded, but it's unclear if he knew what Colbert was talking about.