Well, George Lucas has been in headlines again. No, it’s not good news this time either.
Between the disappointing critical reactions to Strange Magic (I haven’t seen it yet) and the news that Abrams and Disney pretty much jettisoned his input on the new Star Wars movies, it’s safe to say there’s no sort of post-Prequel credibility boost to the guy. At least, not yet.
Which is a shame, really, because Lucas has always been the sort of maverick-y independent personality the film industry could use more of, not less. His entire career is a testament to that, if nothing else. And honestly, it’s not hard to find times where he was one of the more insightful people in the room, either. For instance…
That Time He Invented Indiana Jones
This story of how Indiana Jones was born as a franchise is relatively well-known, but it’s still one of my favorite Lucas moments. The story goes that Lucas and Spielberg were on vacation, recovering from the relative stresses of Star Wars and Close Encounters of the Third Kind. Spielberg mentions an interest in making a James Bond picture; Lucas’s response is that he’s got an idea that’s even better than Bond. He proceeds to sell Spielberg on his idea for Indiana Smith, and they make Raiders of the Lost Ark (after a quick surname switch). The rest, as Dr. Jones might say, belongs in a museum.
Like I said, a familiar story these days, but I just love the idea of this guy sitting on a beach, idly shooting the breeze with the best filmmaker on the planet. And then he casually tosses off the statement that he has a better idea than one of the most iconic, long-lasting franchises in movie history. And he’s right.
Sticking to His Guns on Red Tails
Red Tails, that throwbacky action flick about the Tuskegee Airmen, almost never saw the light of day. In fact, it didn’t see the light of day; Lucas finally got the thing released in 2012 after 23 years of failing to get it made.
What was the holdup? By all accounts, the issue was that the cigar-chomping (I assume) studio execs of Hollywood didn’t know how to market a big budget, all-black action movie. Low-dollar family drama? Sure. But not this thing. They were worried about the domestic audience, the international audience, the marketing — everything, basically. Regardless of what you think of the movie, it’s admirable to see Lucas fighting the thing through to completion. He’s shared the struggles he faced along the way, and it’s genuinely bizarre to hear the creator of Star Wars outline how hard it was to get a likable (if flawed) movie made.
Unfortunately, Red Tails seems doomed to fade into obscurity. The actors in it largely won’t, though, and regardless of how the movie was received I think its ultimate release shows Lucas to be a man of real principle and determination.
During this Discussion of Education
I’ve actually mentioned this video before, but it hasn’t exactly gotten less relevant with age.
In it, he basically outlines what he sees as the problem of visual illiteracy amongst kids. They’re taught grammar and reading for years on end, but rarely instructed in how to interpret a film or piece of classical music. As the production and consumption of various media becomes more and more ubiquitous in our lives, the importance of visual literacy grows with it.
If you ever go digging into what Lucas does with his spare time and spare change, you’ll discover that he’s deeply interested in education. Far as I know, that’s where the profits from the Disney sale are going. It only makes sense that he would be concerned about rampant illiteracy in film and music, and it’s hard to argue that he doesn’t have a point about how important that is.
Who knows, maybe if more people could talk about this stuff coherently we could have an actual productive conversation about certain movies of Lucas’s.
Towards the End of this Inspirational Speech
Though he doesn’t do it just a ton, it’s always a pleasure to find George Lucas giving straight-up life advice. The dude is thoughtful, and he’s been around longer than most of us. Now, if you’re at all familiar with his wry, low-key speaking persona, you’ll know not to expect anything emotionally shattering here. His speech here is just as unadorned as it ever is — but that doesn’t prevent the ideas contained in it from being thoughtful, mature, and the type we should probably hear more often.
Most of it sees Lucas tracing the path that led him to Star Wars — finding a lesson along the way that basically reads as his own riff on the “follow your heart” mantra that you’ll find in so many other speeches. It’s the last couple minutes that move into “must hear” territory, though. There, he closes out by describing the difference between two kinds of happiness: pleasure and joy. It starts at about 8:15.
I won’t say it half as good, so I’ll just let him explain it himself.