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George Lucas' filmmaking rooted in rebellion

Saturday - 11/3/2012, 6:49pm  ET

By RYAN NAKASHIMA, MICHAEL LIEDTKE and CHRISTY LEMIRE
Associated Press

LOS ANGELES (AP) - There's no mistaking the similarities. A childhood on a dusty farm, a love of fast vehicles, a rebel who battles an overpowering empire _ George Lucas is the hero he created, Luke Skywalker.

His filmmaking outpost, Skywalker Ranch, is so far removed from the Hollywood moviemaking machine he once despised, that it may as well be on the forest moon of Endor.

That's why this week's announcement that Lucas is selling the "Star Wars" franchise and the entire Lucasfilm business to The Walt Disney Co. for more than $4 billion is like a laser blast from outer space.

Lucas built his film operation in Marin County near San Francisco largely to avoid the meddling of Los Angeles-based studios. His aim was to finish the "Star Wars" series_ his way.

Today the enterprise has far surpassed the 68-year-old filmmaker's original goals. The ranch covers 6,100 acres and houses one of the industry's most acclaimed visual effects companies, Industrial Light & Magic. Lucasfilm, with its headquarters now in San Francisco proper, has ventured into books, video games, merchandise, special effects and marketing. Just as Anakin Skywalker became the villain Darth Vader, Lucas _once the outsider_ had grown to become the leader of an empire.

"What I was trying to do was stay independent so that I could make the movies I wanted to make," Lucas says in the 2004 documentary "Empire of Dreams." "But now I've found myself being the head of a corporation ... I have become the very thing that I was trying to avoid."

After the blockbuster sale announcement Tuesday, Lucas expressed a desire to give away much of his fortune, donate to educational causes and return to the experimental filmmaking of his youth. Still, the move stunned those who've followed him. He'd contemplated retirement for years and said he'd never make another "Star Wars" film.

Dale Pollock, the author of the 1999 biography "Skywalking," said Lucas disdained the Disney culture in interviews he gave in the 1980s, even though he admired the company's founder. "He felt the corporate `Disneyization' had destroyed the spirit of Walt," Pollock said.

Lucas said through a spokeswoman on Saturday that he never said such a thing. But his anti-corporate streak is renowned. In the Lucasfilm-sanctioned documentary "Empire of Dreams", Lucas says on camera that he is "not happy that corporations have taken over the film industry."

Growing up in the central California town of Modesto, the independent streak was strong in young Lucas. The family lived on a walnut ranch and Lucas' father owned a stationery store. But, like his fictional protege Luke, George had no interest in taking over the family business. Lucas and his father fought when George made it clear that he'd rather go to college to study art than follow in his father's footsteps.

Lucas loved fast cars, and dreamed that racing them would be his ticket out. A near-fatal car crash the day before his high school graduation convinced him otherwise.

"I decided I'd better settle down and go to school," he told sci-fi magazine Starlog in 1981.

As a film student at the University of Southern California, he experimented with "cinema verite," a provocative form of documentary, and "tone poems" that visualized a piece of music or other artistic work.

The style is reflected in some of the short films he made at USC: "1:42:08" focused on the sound of a Lotus race car's engine driving at full speed and "Anyone Who Lived in a Pretty How Town," inspired by an e.e. Cummings poem. In later interviews, Lucas described his early films as "visual exercises."

Lucas' intellectual explorations led to an interest in anthropology, especially the work of American mythologist Joseph Campbell, who studied the common thread linking the myths of disparate cultures. This inspired Lucas to explore archetypal storylines that resonated across the ages and around the world.

Lucas' epic battle with the movie industry began after Warner Bros. forced him to make unwanted changes to an early film, "THX 1138." Later, Universal Pictures insisted on revisions to "American Graffiti" that Lucas felt impinged on his creative freedom. The experience led Lucas to insist on having total control of all his work, just like Charlie Chaplin and Walt Disney in their heyday.

"In order to get my vision out there, I really needed to learn how to manipulate the system because the system is designed to tear you down and destroy everything you are doing," Lucas said in an interview with Charlie Rose.

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