Is George Lucas leaving “Star Wars” behind? It sure seems that way, as the writer, producer and director behind the biggest sci-fi franchise of all time and — no matter what you think of him — a massive influence on a generation of filmmakers and pop culture in general, is ready to draw down and take some risks.
In an extensive, fascinating profile in The New York Times, in advance of the release of the Lucas-produced “Red Tails,” the bold claim is made that this will be his last multiplex hurrah. “Once this is finished, he’s done everything he’s ever wanted to do,” said his longtime producing partner Rick McCallum. “He will have completed his task as a man and a filmmaker.” The article goes on to state that moving forward, Lucas will be putting his attention toward films that are “..small in scope, esoteric in subject and screened mostly in art houses. They’ll be like the experimental movies Lucas made in the 1960s, around the time he was at U.S.C. film school, when he recorded clouds moving over the desert and made a movie based on an E. E. Cummings poem.”
“I’m retiring,” Lucas said. “I’m moving away from the business, from the company, from all this kind of stuff.” Of course, this isn’t the first time he’s said this. The director made similar statements years ago, only to return to the comfortable and lucrative well of the “Star Wars” franchise, knocking out three prequels in the process. And it was only a few years ago that he threw his pal Francis Ford Coppola under the bus for taking exactly the same approach, saying “Did you see it?” Lucas asked rhetorically. “Uh, no. Did you even know it came out?”
And even now, he’s leaving a clause open to work on a fifth “Indiana Jones” movie. But now more than ever, Lucas has the ample financial freedom to do whatever he wants. But we wonder if he’ll be able to park decades worth of franchise thinking.
As the Times notes, “Red Tails” has been in development for years, and the first scripts were grand in scope, with a film that would’ve tracked the development of the Tuskegee program, the dogfights in World War II and a bitter ending, with the pilots returning home to a south still ruled by Jim Crow. But Lucas knew his own limitations.
“I can’t make that movie,” Lucas said. “I’m going to have make this kind of…entertainment movie.” And thus, the focused shifted, with Lucas taking inspiration from the John Wayne film “Flying Leathernecks” (directed by Nicholas Ray) for the direction he wanted to go in. He also, quite boldly, says he wanted to make a patriotic movie for black teenagers, and thus, a big piece of entertainment would probably be the most engaging way to do it. And while he waits to see how his expensive gamble pays off, where he goes from here will be fascinating to see.
Saying that he’s “retiring, in a way, from my past” it seems he’s ready to take the kind of risks that projects that have $100 million budgets or legions of fans can’t allow him to afford. But as for any other “Star Wars” movies? “Why would I make any more, when everybody yells at you all the time and says what a terrible person you are?” he asks rhetorically.
You’re not going to have George Lucas to kick around any more.