Looking forward to George Lucas' next installment

The moviemaker reflects on his art, career and coming attractions


June 19, 2005|By Michael Sragow | Michael Sragow,SUN MOVIE CRITIC

George Lucas is frank, reflective and still energized four days after receiving the AFI Life Achievement Award on June 9 at the Kodak Theatre in Los Angeles. (The ceremony airs at 9 p.m. tomorrow on the USA network.)

Over the phone from his home in Marin County in Northern California, the creator of American Graffiti, the Indiana Jones movies and Star Wars sounds eager to embark on his own second career of directing experimental movies.

The Star Wars movies are over - Lucas says the idea that there would be three trilogies stems from a joke that he once made about doing a sequel when he and his first cast (Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher and Mark Hamill) were 70 or 80.

At age 61, the man friends and critics call "a born moviemaker" wants to look forward. But sprawling adventures are not entirely out of the picture at Lucasfilm. Lucas will still produce the fourth Indiana Jones movie; Steven Spielberg, as usual, will direct.

Q: Since you just received an American Film Institute award, let's start with education. Are you concerned about changes in film schools like your alma mater, USC, which turned out revolutionary talents in the 1960s?

A: No, I'm not. Obviously, the only people who went to film school when I did were people who loved movies, because they had no chance of working in the business - most of USC's graduates went on to teach. Then, between 1965 and 1975, we broke through. But there wasn't anything amazing about that. We were just in the right place when the reigning generation in the business was ready to give way to a new one.

You did a half-dozen experimental shorts and documentaries at USC. Is that the source of your experimental bent?

It's the desire to use the moving image to tell stories. Commercials, industrial films, documentaries - I would do anything just to see if I could do it. Really, it was Francis Coppola's influence that sent me into theatrical films - his prodding me to work with actors and become a writer and do things that weren't in my nature. I didn't expect to keep doing it for 30 years.

With student documentaries, you got used to shooting tons of footage and finding the film in the cutting room. Your advances in digital production allow you to do that now with special-effects features. But before you achieved total independence with Star Wars, is that what got you in trouble with the studios?

Definitely. I can't do a floor plan and follow instructions. I like to work with the medium itself and create as I go. It's an exercise in moving images - not an exercise in putting words together and then shooting people saying those words. I'm not into cinema as a recording medium. I come out of editing; to me, that's where you create a movie. My focus has been to make the editorial process more malleable, easier to work with.

THX-1138 (1971) was fascinating both as an anti-corporate anti-utopia, and as a melding of an imaginary future with contemporary locations. Was that an early obsession with you?

The thing of it is, when I started out I was doing street films - underground, very low-budgety, almost like large student films.

Don't I see the influence of Fellini's I Vitelloni (1953) on your next street film, American Graffiti (1973)?

When I saw Fellini's film, I thought that's probably the way Italian kids grew up - I believed it. So he had an influence. I was trying to be as truthful as he was about the way things were. Rebel Without a Cause and all those juvenile delinquent movies were nice movies, but they were Hollywood movies. American Graffiti was a movie for all the kids who weren't juvenile delinquents: just regular kids on their way out of high school.

I was interested in documenting the mating rituals of American kids, which happened uniquely in cars from the 1920s and 1930s through the early 1960s. Instead of strolling through the town square, they were driving around town. There was also my fascination with 1962 as a pivotal year before the escalation of the Vietnam War, the Kennedy assassination, and the invasion of the Beatles. So it was about accepting change and making the most of it. Yoda's "train yourself to let go of everything you fear to lose" applies to American Graffiti and THX 1138 as well as Star Wars.

Why the leap to Star Wars?

I wanted to try something on a stage - to build sets and have costumes that you actually design and have made for you. I wanted to be able to say, "I made a movie like that once." My matrix for the storytelling and the way it was put together was what you'd see in a 1935 Saturday-matinee serial, along with other stuff from the 1930s and 1940s, whether it was John Ford, William Wyler, or Billy Wilder. I was trying to be slightly melodramatic in terms of dialogue and acting and even conservative visually.

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