Monday, March 14, 2005

In George We Trust!

No, not that George. I'm talking about George Lucas. I watched last night's interview with him on 60 Minutes, and as ever, he's a fascinating man. And if he is, as Drew Vogel calls him, "a washed-up hack", well -- I hope that when I am a washed-up hack I'm as successful as George Lucas, with his multimedia empire. Of course, I don't admit for one second that Lucas is a washed-up hack, but that's neither here nor there.

("Washed-up hack" seems a bit strong, in any case. You may not like his recent films, but "washed-up hack" seems like a phrase one might apply to, say, David Lee Roth or Piers Anthony, not a man who continues to be a filmmaking giant.)

Lucas spoke a bit about the strong possibility that Revenge of the Sith may draw a PG-13 rating, and that it may be too strong for children. I plan to see it first, before I make any attempt to take The Daughter to see it. (I wanted to take her to Attack of the Clones, when she was three, but the execution scene at the end pretty much ixnayed that idea.) She has seen all of the Lord of the Rings movies, but only on video, at home. While her favorite scene is the fight with the Balrog at the beginning of The Two Towers, I doubt she'd have the same opinion had she seen that on the big screen. Ditto the encounter with Shelob.

Also in the same interview, Lucas himself insisted that Episode VII will not happen and the cinematic Star Wars saga will end with the release of Revenge of the Sith. (Strangely, no mention was made at all of persistent rumors that a post-Episode III Star Wars television series is in development. I can't believe Leslie Stahl didn't ask Lucas about that.)

Now, as luck would have it, just last week in comments to this post of mine, Jayme Lynn Blaschke had this to say:

Supposedly last Star Wars movie ever. Lucas changes his mind like other people change underwear. I'll not completely write off 7, 8 and 9 until he's pushing up the daisies.

What Jayme is referring to is that back in the day, the Star Wars saga was always referred to as being nine films, not six -- although George Lucas has maintained in more recent interviews (and by "more recent" I mean, in the last ten years or so) that his real original idea was just to do six films. So I did a bit of research last night, looking into my incredibly-frayed copy of the book Once Upon an Empire: The Making of The Empire Strikes Back, which is basically an on-set diary kept by the unit publicist of The Empire Strikes Back. The book also includes interviews with just about every major person involved with making the film -- including George Lucas. And toward the end of the book, I find this exchange (on page 247, for anyone who owns a copy of the book):

AA [Alan Arnold, the book's author]: Tell me more about the overall concept of the Star Wars saga.

GL [George Lucas]: There are essentially nine films in three trilogies. The first trilogy is about the young Ben Kenobi and the early life of Luke's father, when Luke was a little boy. This trilogy takes place some twenty years before the second trilogy which includes Star Wars and Empire. About a year or two passes between each story in a trilogy and about twenty years pass between the trilogies. The entire saga spans about 55 years.

So there we have it: there were supposed to be nine films originally, so Lucas is wrong when he says he always intended just six.

Or, so we would have it, if the interview ended there. The very next exchange goes as follows:

AA: How much is written?

GL: I have story treatments on all nine. I also have voluminous notes, histories, and other material I've developed for various purposes. Some of it will be used, some not. Originally, when I wrote Star Wars, it developed into an epic on the scale of War and Peace, so big I couldn't possibly make it into a movie. So I cut it in half, but it was still too big, so I cut each half into three parts. I then had material for six movies. After the success of Star Wars I added another trilogy but stopped there, primarily because reality took over. After all, it takes three years to prepare and make a Star Wars picture. How many years are left? So I'm still left with three trilogies of nine films. At two hours each, that's about eighteen hours of film!

So, there we have it. Yes, there were once ideas for a total of nine Star Wars films, but when Lucas maintains that his original, core idea for Star Wars involved six films, he's telling the truth. Or at least, he's sticking to the story he's been telling since 1979, when this interview was conducted. His original story, the one which he wrote first and with which he is still emotionally invested, constituted six films. The seventh, eighth and ninth episodes were basically "afterthought".

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