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George Lucas is throwing in the flannel towel

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According to a NY Times article, George Lucas is retiring from blockbuster filmmaking. Yes, these are assertions that we’ve heard before from the man behind some of the biggest movie phenomenons in history, but this time he certainly seems like he means it.

It’s a very lengthy piece (which I still recommend that you read), but the largely overwhelming feeling you get from reading the article is that Lucas has taken a huge personal affront to the negative criticism he’s received for the Star Wars prequels and last Indiana Jones film. Fanboys also continuously rage at his changing of certain of the original Star Wars film’s details since the “Special Editions” released in 1997, which he has not taken well at all. According to the article, with regards to probably the most infamous changed scene, Lucas viewed Han Solo shooting the alien Greedo first as “cold-blooded murder” which to him was “a violation of his own naïve style.”

For most of us fanboys, him changing that scene was taking away from Han’s “cool” anti-hero status, and we sure as hell made ourselves heard about it. But Lucas didn’t take it as constructive criticism. To him it was a throwback to the studio meddling he had to endure when making his first major films, THX 1138 and American Graffiti.

“On the Internet, all those same guys that are complaining I made a change are completely changing the movie. I’m saying: ‘Fine. But my movie, with my name on it, that says I did it, needs to be the way I want it.’ ”

And that perfectly sums up Lucas’ problem. His style of naive filmmaking – as he wants it – is almost archaic. Never before was this made clearer to Lucas than when he was shopping around for a studio to make his latest film, Red Tails. The film tells the story of the Tuskegee Airmen, a group of young African American fighter pilots that bravely fought for their country in World War 2 in Europe, despite being treated as second class citizens back home. It’s a story that’s been told before, but not the way Lucas is telling it. He looked to the puff-chested patriotic war films popularized by John Wayne for his inspiration, and decided to make that same type of corny, inspirational and lighthearted film. But it was going to be a movie like that for young black kids, something that’s never really been done before.

“We made movies like this during the war, and everybody just loved them. I said, ‘There’s no reason why that idealism, that kind of naïveté, can’t still exist.’

Yet, every studio turned him down, some without having even met with him. Lucas ended up having to finance the entire film himself (a cool $100 million), and despite having the support of a veritable who’s who in the black filmmaking community, he still does not seem convinced that he will make his money back. That’s a telling sign for a man that’s responsible for 2 of the biggest film franchises in history.

So what’s next for Lucas? He’s not leaving film entirely, but like his mentor Francis Ford Coppola, he wants to step away from the grand scaled stories he has become known for and instead start making small-scoped, esoteric personal films, that is probably not going to see any mainstream success or exposure. The type of films he originally intended to make when he first left film school, and before he got caught up in the commercial tsunami that is Star Wars. 

Of course he is still possibly open to the idea of returning for Indiana Jones 5 though.

If he doesn’t, and Red Tails is his final big hurrah, then I salute him. Irrespective of what you may think of Lucas as a director or writer, it’s hard to deny the indelible influence he has had on the technical aspects of film as well as pop culture in general. His long time producer, Rich McCallum, summed it up perfectly:

“Once this [Red Tails] is finished, he’s done everything he’s ever wanted to do.”

Last Updated: January 18, 2012

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