Countdown to 'Star Wars'

Happy birthday to ‘Star Wars’ creator George Lucas

George Lucas attends a special screening of "Strange Magic" hosted by The Cinema Society and Lucasfilm in New York. The animated musical fantasy about a fairy kingdom and true love began as a pet project while Lucas was working on the Star Wars prequels.
George Lucas attends a special screening of "Strange Magic" hosted by The Cinema Society and Lucasfilm in New York. The animated musical fantasy about a fairy kingdom and true love began as a pet project while Lucas was working on the Star Wars prequels. Charles Sykes/Invision/AP

George Lucas, the man who created the “Star Wars” universe, was born 71 years ago in Modesto. That’s where his interest in film started, an interest that would grow into one of the biggest enterprises in movie history.

I’ve had two opportunities to talk with over the years. The first came during a television critics tour in Los Angeles for “The Adventures of Young Indiana Jones.” He was a producer and writer for the series.

The second opportunity came during hat can only be described as a geek’s dream. I was invited to travel to Skywalker Ranch in 2005 to sit with Lucas to talk about “Revenge of the Sith,” the last film he directed in the “Star Wars” series.

It was a chance to talk to him about the numerous rumors, myths and legends surrounding the franchise. Since the first light saber duel, “Star Wars” fans and film critics have talked about how Lucas had nine movies in the “Star Wars” series written and just waiting to be produced.

Lucas offered a slight laugh at that suggestion. At the time, he wasn’t certain if the original “Star Wars” movie would even be completed. That left him little time to think about sequels and prequels.

“Years ago, I didn’t have this series in my head at all. Originally, I was making one movie. It was one episode of a Saturday matinee serial, episode four. If you think of four, five and six and push them down into one movie, that was the movie, “ Lucas says.

Starting with what is now Episode 4 in the “Star Wars” series, “A New Hope, “ made perfect sense to Lucas. He has never liked to start any project at the beginning. The reason is simple, Lucas doesn’t enjoy the process of writing. He has developed his own style of creating his films.

Almost every major studio turned “Star Wars” down. Studio executives didn’t think anyone would want to see a movie about a deep-breathing villain, a spunky hero, a guy in a hairy suit and a lovable rogue.

But 20th Century Fox officials agreed to make the movie despite believing it would be a flop.

“A New Hope, “ made for a scant $13 million, has taken in almost $800 million to date worldwide, easily making it one of the highest-grossing films of all time.

So, other than that original script, all Lucas had for future movies were a few pages of descriptions of characters and a general plot outline.

“I never thought that outline would be made into a movie. It was never designed to be made into a movie, “ Lucas says. “Then when I finished ‘Return of the Jedi, ‘ I figured that was the end of it.

“I was going to go and raise my kids. One day I would come back and direct my little artsy movies that I had always wanted to do.”

Lucas took 15 years off to be with his three adopted children, Amanda, Katie and Jet.

Part of the reason Lucas thought the “Star Wars” saga was over was that he didn’t have the technology to make the prequels. Lucas always wanted to be able to have the green-skinned Yoda be able to fight. That was not possible when the character originally was portrayed as a puppet on the arm of Frank Oz.

“It was a painful experience because what I wanted to do, I couldn’t do, “ Lucas says of making the fourth, fifth and sixth films in the series without all of the high-tech equipment currently at his disposal.

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