George Lucas is clearly one of the few filmmakers who needs very little to no introduction. To some, he’s revered as a God, and maybe rightfully so, because let’s face it, few of us would be such big movie fans if not for the “Star Wars” saga and its geek-level of fandom has spilled over into other realms while growing by leaps and bounds due to the internet. If not for the work done by Industrial Light & Magic (ILM) to bring Mr. Lucas’ vision to life in the six “Star Wars” movies, filmmakers like Sam Raimi and Peter Jackson would never had been able to bring their own creatures and characters to the screen in such a realistic manner. There would never have been movies like Robert Rodriguez’s Sin City and Zack Snyder’s 300 if not for the way Mr. Lucas pioneered the use of computer-generated background environments for films made on green screen.
Yes, a world without George Lucas and “Star Wars” would be a grey and dismal place for fans of science fiction, action and effects movies, because over thirty years after the big screen debut of the first Star Wars, the characters and worlds created by Lucas continue to find new and younger fans, all of whom will be happy to see him continuing the “Star Wars” saga using the latest technology for many years to come only this time, on television.
Mere weeks after the announcement that Warner Bros. would be releasing the feature film Star Wars: The Clone Wars in theaters this summer, Mr. Lucas was on hand in Las Vegas at the annual ShoWest Convention to present an extended clip from the movie at the studio’s “The Big Picture” presentation. The feature film and animated series fill the gaps between Episodes II and III, but it will also be the first “Star Wars” movie to appear on the big screen in three years. While the feature film looks to be very much in line with the recent movies, the animated series promises to introduce new characters we haven’t seen in the previous films and cartoons with stories that will be short episodic mini-movies.
Flanked by six Clone Troopers from the 501st Legion, Lucas introduced the extended clip, which begins with two Jedi carriers departing from a larger Republic starship. Inside one of them, Anakin briefs his young liege Ahsoka on the upcoming battle, telling his young apprentice to stay close because it isn’t practice although she’s very cocky and self-assured, snapping back that she’ll try not get him killed. The battle scene is quite impressive as we get to see Ahsoka in action against a large armored vehicle that’s able to climb up a vertical cliff-face, followed by a scene of Count Dooku relaying his plans to his own dark apprentice Asajj Ventress via the normal Jedi hologram communication, their plans interrupted by the entrance of Ben Kenobi, leading to a short lightsaber fight between them, Ventress disarming Kenobi with her advantage of two lightsabers to his one. The animation looked somewhat primitive compared to what else is out there with the characters not being as detailed as some might like, but the battle sequences are still very exciting and impressive.
ComingSoon.net had the rare opportunity to talk to Mr. Lucas briefly before the presentation and then we had more time to sit down with him in a more casual atmosphere afterwards. While there are millions if not billions of bigger “Star Wars” fans, being one of the few online writers who was actually old enough to have seen the original Star Wars when it first played in theaters in the ’70s, it was nice to finally meet and talk to such an influential filmmaker.
ComingSoon.net: How much overlap will there be between Genndy’s “Clone Wars” animated series and the new feature film and television series?
George Lucas: Well, the Genndy show was an experiment that we did with Cartoon Network that was 5 minutes each, they went sort of where commercials normally go, and it was an experiment, not only in doing five-minute shows, but it was an experiment in trying to translate “Star Wars” into an animated medium, and we felt very good about that. We thought it turned out really well, and we then took it to the next level, which was to do a full-out animated series of “The Clone Wars.” There’s not much overlap. Genndy did most of the animation and most of the stories for the first experimental series, and this one I’m pretty much following the mythology and the rules of the features, so it’s a little bit different, but it’s very much like the features except it’s in animation. We decided to do it in a slightly different style than Genndy did, still in the anime genre, but we took it a little differently.
CS: Do you see the show going on for a long time? It obviously takes a long time to produce computer animation.
Lucas: We’ve been doing this for three years. We have one year finished, we’re in the middle of the second year. I’ve written the third year. We expect this to go on for at least five or six years.
CS: And the live action show will go on at the same time?
Lucas: The live action show probably won’t start until 2010. We’re working on it now, doing the scripts and everything, but it takes too long to get it up and organized, but I think this is a chance for the fans to see the animated series on the big screen. It works great on the big screen and it’s kind of a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to see it big.
CS: Since the feature is being done specifically for the big screen, where is the movie going to end and the series begin?
Lucas: It’s not that episodic. This is a movie but we started doing the episodes and some of the episodes are stand-alone and some are two, some are three, some are four, and there’s no cliffhangers. It’s not like the current vogue of “24″ and “The Wire” and stuff where you actually have to watch the entire series in order to understand what’s going on. This is an old-fashioned episodic show. We looked at it on the big screen and it looked so beautiful and great that we said, “Gee, we can make a feature just like this.” So we did and got all the people, got all the stuff and said, “Let’s make a feature.” So we did.
CS: There won’t be a “To Be Continued” at the end of the movie teasing those who see it to watch the television show?
Lucas: Well, no, but the show starts in October… October 1st… no, in the fall. They haven’t decided yet. We just made our deal.
CS: That’s pretty tight for a show starting in the fall.
CS: I assume the series will continue the same kind of scope and scale that we see on the big screen like the clip you showed earlier?
Lucas: Yeah, and it’s still in widescreen even on television. It’s got the same production value, it looks the same. Everything is exactly the same.
CS: You’ve always been such a big proponent of doing things in movies, so why did you decide to enter the TV world after all this time?
Lucas: Well, I love TV. “Young Indiana Jones” was one of the happiest times I ever had, so I love television. It’s great to be able to do a lot of work. There’s not as much pressure as there is on film. Film is a very tight little box. If you don’t fit in that box, you’re gone. Television, there’s more room to move around. There’s certain issues that if you don’t fit in the box, you don’t get on certain networks, but eventually, you can always find a place, whereas a movie, it’s much harder.
CS: But there’s also an issue with television where the networks are always looking at the ratings before deciding whether to keep a show on the air. You’re already doing so much work towards the future of the show…
Lucas: Yeah, well I’m going to do a hundred shows. I’m going to do it no matter what they do, so obviously, I want it to stay on the air a long time.
CS: I know Anthony Daniels is returning to voice C3PO, but might there be anyone else from the movies that might voice their characters in the animated movie or show? I know that everyone loves Frank Oz as Yoda. Will we see some of them?
Lucas: No, no. I mean, because it’s a TV show, it’s something that goes on and on and on and on, so it’s not really designed to have a lot of the old actors back.
CS: It’s harder for scheduling.
Lucas: Yeah, it’s impossible, ’cause TV, it’s very hard. You have to basically be on-call every day.
CS: There’s been a lot of talk about where this animated film and series fit in to the “Star Wars” mythos. We know that “The Clone Wars” takes place between “Episode II” and “Episode III” but there’s only a certain amount of time that can be fit in there. Do you know how many years this war takes place?
Lucas: I don’t know. I’m not the expert in that field, but a couple years, two or three years, so it’s not… if we did every minute of every day, we would be able to go on for a hundred years. (He then laughs heartily at that idea.)
CS: That would be fun to keep it going for that long.
Lucas: No, I think we got plenty of stories. It’s an indefinite amount of time. I mean, we know what the time is. We got “(Episode) II” and we got “(Episode) III” so we saw the start of the war, we saw the end of the war, but you don’t know all the adventures that went on in between.
CS: What are your plans for theatrical films in the future? You have “Indiana Jones” with Steven, but are you going to continue making movies, even if you’re producing other directors?
Lucas: Probably. I mean, what I’m doing is I’m doing a film called “Red Tails” I’ve been working on for years, and then I’m working on a live action “Star Wars” TV series, and we’re in the script stage. That probably won’t come out for a couple of years, then I’m going to do my own films. I’m basically… you might say “retire” and just work on “hobby movies” after that.
CS: It’s funny you should mention that because it leads to a question I’ve always wanted to ask you. Anyone who works at the same job for thirty years must wake up somedays and think, “You know what? I don’t want to do this job today.” You’ve been so invested in “Star Wars,” creating so many worlds and characters, but you must wake up some days and say “I want to do something else today.”
Lucas: Yeah, well that happened actually right after I finished the first trilogy. I said, “Look, I expected to do one movie and it turned into three and I expected to be done in a year and it ended up being ten, so I’m ready to move on now.” It was later when I realized that it was so big that no matter what I did, it was going to be linked to me and that was basically what I am no matter what I do, so that’s when I said, “Okay, I’ll finish the whole saga” and then once I came to that, I said, “Well, gee, it would be fun to do an animated film.” I love animation. The idea of CG anime is something I’ve been interested in for a long time, and it’s a chance to explore other things and then train a lot of people and let them take off and use their imaginations.
CS: Do you think you’d have other people continue the “Star Wars” saga past “Episode VI” or turn some of the other material into films?
Lucas: But there’s no story past “Episode VI”, there’s just no story. It’s a certain story about Anakin Skywalker and once Anakin Skywalker dies, that’s kind of the end of the story. There is no story about Luke Skywalker, I mean apart from the books. But there’s three worlds: There’s my world that I made up, there’s the licensing world that’s the books, the comics, all that kind of stuff, the games, which is their world, and then there’s the fans’ world, which is also very rich in imagination, but they don’t always mesh. All I’m in charge of is my world. I can’t be in charge of those other people’s world, because I can’t keep up with it.
CS: What’s going on with “Red Tails”? Is that something you’re going to be working on soon?
Lucas: Well, as a matter of fact, I’m working on it tomorrow. We’re getting toward a script, and probably start shooting before the end of the year, and it should come out next year maybe.
CS: So the TV stuff isn’t taking away from you making movies.
Lucas: Well, that’s probably going to be the last movie I do just because… I mean, apart from my own movies, but my own movies are going to be more esoteric and probably will come and go in a week and be in one or two arthouses here and there. You can get the DVD.
CS: Kind of what Francis Ford Coppola has been doing in recent years?
Lucas: Yeah, it’s basically the same as what Francis is doing.
(At this point, Bonnie Burton from StarWars.com, who had been sitting in on the interview, jumped in with a couple questions of her own.)
StarWars.com: A lot of new fans will be watching this new animated series and seeing “Star Wars” for the first time, so what do you think of this new generation of kids that are going to be introduced to the “Star Wars” saga.
Lucas: What do I think of them? The poor kids have to grow up in this crazy world that’s been created! Gosh!
SW: It’s obviously a different tone but still has the drama and the characters.
Lucas: The TV series is exactly like the movies, exactly. I mean, you can see it in the clip. It’s basically just the movies only with cartoon characters. It’s basically a dramatic series, there’s a lot of action, a bit of humor. It runs along at the same level. It’s unusual for an animated film, because it’s not really hardcore like say “Beowulf” and it’s not a Pixar movie, so it kind of falls in between in this funny world where “Star Wars” is, which is kind of hard-edged but not really, sort of on the verge of PG-13, flips over once in a while, but sort of the high end of PG.
SW: It also seems to show a little bit more of the clone characters as well.
Lucas: Yeah, now we get introduced to the clones, which we didn’t get in the movies. Now, they’re like main characters and they really are central to the whole thing, and you can identify them and know who they are, and it’s sort of like “Band of Brothers” only with Jedi. (laughs)
As we wrapped up, we asked Mr. Lucas about the plans for “Star Wars Saga” on Blu-ray Disc as I took the picture above, but we got sidetracked by that and never got a response about a timeframe.
Star Wars: The Clone Wars opens theatrically on August 15 with the animated show due sometime in the fall.
Special thanks to Orna “Vader” from Warner Bros. for arranging this, Bonnie Burton from StarWars.com for her questions and support (she also took the picture above from the ShoWest presentation), and Mr. Lucas himself for taking the time to talk to us.