Trevor Hogg profiles the career of legendary filmmaker George Lucas in the sxith of a six part feature... read parts one, two, three, four and five.
“When I was working on Young Indy [ABC, 1992 to 1993] with Harrison [Ford], the obvious occurred to me,” recalled George Lucas who had a breakthrough idea for a fourth installment of the Indiana Jones franchise, “If I did it when Indy was older, I could have it be in the 1950s.” In order to tailor the action adventure to the period shift, the California filmmaker asked himself a particular question. “‘What is the equivalent of a 1930s Saturday matinee serial in the 1950s?’ Science fiction B-movies. I thought, ‘That’s the MacGuffin: aliens.’” Harrison Ford (Regarding Henry) was less enthralled with the concept. “I didn’t like it at all,” said Ford. “There’d always been a mystical element in the stories about an archeologist who wrestles with the mysterious of past cultures. But I felt that this new angle didn’t’ really take advantage of what we had done before.” Lucas persisted and hired a screenwriter who composed a script titled Indiana Jones and the Saucermen. “With Jeb Stuart [Die Hard] we did a draft and it did kind of work out,” revealed the creator of the series. “It had the additional element of Indiana Jones getting married – that was going to bring the father into it. Indy meets this amazing woman who deciphers codes and studies ancient writings.” The arrival of the alien invasion blockbuster Independence Day (1996) derailed the project; however, the solution to the problem arrived in the form of an abandoned small screen story. “We’d actually written an episode for Young Indiana Jones about a crystal skull, which was found in Guatemala. The series ended, so the script got put on the shelf, but we had done all this research on it. I thought it was kind of cool, because it’s a supernatural object. So we started to say, ‘Well, what if it was an alien skull? And instead of having calcium bones, it had crystal bones?’”
“The idea was, the aliens came here hundreds of thousands of years ago and set up the human race,” stated George Lucas who recruited writer-director Frank Darabont (The Mist) to compose Indiana Jones and the City of the Gods. “Then we came up with a twist. The aliens didn’t come from outer space but from another dimension. It’s an antigravity issue to get them from dimension to dimension, or at least that’s the theory. Then I combined that with the Nazca Indians. The idea was this whole cult was built around these Indians that existed in this lost city on the Amazon, which was called at one point El Dorado, the city of gold. But the gold that they were talking about is the knowledge that the aliens created the human race.” After completing three drafts and obtaining the approval of Steven Spielberg (Catch Me If You Can), the Oscar-nominated filmmaker found himself being replaced. “George Lucas had issues with the script,” remarked Darabont, “and slammed on the brakes in order to rework the material himself.” Other scriptwriters were brought in including Jeff Nathanson (The Terminal) who wrote Indiana Jones and the Atomic Ants. “Jeff was caught between Steven and me,” admitted Lucas. “He’d do my draft, then he’d go off back to Steven and do Steven’s draft.” After the departure of Nathanson, Spielberg decided to call upon a veteran collaborator David Koepp (Stir of Echoes). “George is a fountain of ideas,” said Koepp who completed the final draft which was christened Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (2008). “He knows so completely the backstory of where those ideas came from, because his research is so thorough; he reads widely and he’s interested in a lot of things. So you can have a meeting, start talking, and go for about an hour into just the background before page one – which is great, because you can’t really do anything until you know what happened before.”
“When Frank Darabont did his draft for me, he introduced the idea of bringing back Marion [Ravenwood],” revealed Steven Spielberg. “When David Keopp came in, Marion was one of the ideas I tenaciously held on to.” The actress, who originated the role, was approached to play the part. “Steven said, ‘I’m going to be in New York in a couple of weeks and I want you to sit down and read the script,’” remembered Karen Allen (The Perfect Storm). “I did that, and honestly, I was just very moved by it. The fact that Indy and Marion had created a child together and the wonderful repartee between them as they mend fences and come to realize that they still love each other was beautiful.” Initially, the story involved Marion and Indiana having a daughter, however, Spielberg felt he was repeating himself after The Lost World: Jurassic Park (1997), so the gender was changed. “Mutt comes out of the movies that era and The Wild One ,” remarked Koepp. “What I really enjoyed was writing a relationship between a father and a son who don’t know they’re father and son. To write them again after they make that discovery was great.”
The Jones family reunion had one notable absence. “I love working with Steven and George, and it goes without saying that it is an honour to have Harrison as my son,” announced Sean Connery (Dr. No) in a press release. “But in the end, retirement is just too damned much fun. I do, however, have one bit of advice for Junior. Demand that the critters be digital, the cliffs be low, and for goodness sake, keep that whip by your side at all times in case you need to escape from the stunt coordinator!” The daring academic and archeologist also has to contend with a female adversary portrayed by Oscar-winner Cate Blanchett (The Aviator). “This is a new kind of a movie for Cate,” stated Spielberg. “Her enthusiasm was childlike when she sat with me and talked for the first time about playing a Russian villain. She had thousands of ideas, right down to her costume and haircut. She read the script and she knew what this character should sound like and should look like. She basically told us what to do to make her into Irina Spalko.”
Along with Harrison Ford, Karen Allen, and Cate Blanchett, Shia LaBeouf (Disturbia), Ray Winstone (Last Orders), John Hurt (Alien), Jim Broadbent (The Gangs of New York), and Igor Jijikine (Blood Work) also star in the $185 million production. “I had never actually met Harrison,” said Cate Blanchett. “I knew him exclusively as an audience member as this character, or in the Star Wars films, so it seemed perfectly right that the first time I should meet him in real life should be in character.” Steven Spielberg was happy to see an iconic item put to use again. “The wonderful thing about a series of movies is that I was able to feel that little tickle of familiarity as soon as the property master Doug Harlocker [The Truman Show] brought the whip and put it in front of me,” said the director. “And it was pretty amazing to watch how fast Harrison still was with the whip.” Ray Winstone was awestruck once principle photography commenced. “If you want to learn what Indiana Jones is all about, you just watch Harrison,” marveled Winston. “You get on set and he can hit a fly on the wall with the whip. He can drive the vehicles. I’ve seen nothing like it.” A particular scene between him and the leading man, stands out for Shia LaBeouf. “The pressure of riding through the library with [an animated] Harrison was hard because you don’t want to lose control,” said LaBeouf, “and Harrison knew I had just learned to drive that bike about three months prior.”
Harrison Ford and his trusty bullwhip were embraced by moviegoers as Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull earned $787 million worldwide prompting speculation of a possible fifth installment. The action-adventure received a BAFTA nomination for Best Special Visual Effects and competed for Outstanding Performance by a Stunt Ensemble in a Motion Picture at the Screen Actors Guild Awards. The Razzie Awards presented the film with the trophy for Worst Prequel, Remake, Rip-off or Sequel. “When I look back at the films, I have a lot of favourite scenes,” stated George Lucas. “I love when Indy gets trapped in the cave with the spiked ceiling in Doom . I like the fight under the Flying Wing. But my favourite scene is the truck chase in Raiders  – because that is really what got me thinking about the whole thing in the first place.”
“What we finished with the features was the saga of Anakin Skywalker which is his descent into the dark side and his eventual redemption by his son,” remarked George Lucas who produced the theatrical release Star Wars: The Clone Wars (2008). “It is basically a footnote to the saga which is why I animated it so it doesn’t get confused with the saga. The only thing that happens during the Clone Wars is in Episode II, Anakin Skywalker and Obi-Wan Kenobi don’t get along. They are very standoffish with each other. By the time we get to Episode III they’re best friends and a team. In order to make Anakin more mature I gave him somebody to teach. It makes you more mature because you suddenly have to be a good example for somebody younger than you are.” The mannerism of the Jedi apprentice Ahsoka Tano was modeled on Princess Leia Organa from the original Star Wars trilogy. “I actually auditioned for the voice of Padmé originally,” revealed voice-over actress Ashley Eckstein (Sydney White). “The very first line that came out of my mouth, they stopped me and they said, ‘No, you're not quite right. You sound too young. But we have this new character, [and] we'd love you to audition for that.’ And that's all they told me.” Eckstein added, “I showed up for the first day, and then they gave me the first script, and told me all about who Ahsoka was. And they said, ‘By the way, this is a huge secret. You can't tell anyone.’ So I had to keep it a secret for over two years.” Costing $8.5 million to make, Star Wars: The Clone Wars (2008) grossed $68 million worldwide and was the first of the saga to forego the opening prologue crawl for voice-over narration.
Star Wars: The Clone Wars (Cartoon Network, 2008 to present) was inspired by the feature which shares the same name. “George mentioned that he wanted his new Star Wars series to be heavily shadowed, almost graphic with lots of epic action,” said Episodic Director Dave Bullock (Justice League: The New Frontier) who described the animation style as being “Film Noir Anime”; the design of the characters in the anthology was inspired by Gerry Anderson’s Thunderbirds (1965). “Quite often we use concept art from the original films or from the prequels, stuff that was developed but didn't make it into any of the films,” remarked Supervising Director Dave Filoni (Avatar: The Last Airbender). “The clones were a lifesaver. We’d still be making the first episode if the clones all looked different.” Time constraints have significantly affected the storytelling. “The problem with creatures like the Tauntaun is that they don’t usually do much to tell the story,” explained Filoni. “They'll get written into the script and we'll design them but then we have to say, ‘We’ve got this many hours to make this episode, what doesn't do anything for the story?’ And it’s inevitably a monster that goes.” Secrecy was paramount during the development of the program. “The biggest trick of all was not being able to discuss the project for 2 and 1/2 years while everyone worked away up at Skywalker,” stated Bullock. “Going into the job I had been a fan of the movies. I'm with the faction that was the target age when the first three came out, so I naturally enjoy those more. Looking back at them I realize the thing that most appealed to me was the actors. Whether or not the Academy thinks they are worthy, they were very honest and fun. Caring about the characters is what invests me as a viewer.” Bullock is happy to be involved with the project. “As a story oriented artist I enjoy the diversity that the weekly serial format provides. One week it's a drama, the next a comedy, and so forth. As goofy as it sounds, I would have even gotten a kick out of directing a Jar Jar episode. There are so many great characters to explore in the SW universe, it would be great fun to take a crack at them all.”
Expanding the merchandise catalogue for the space opera, which amounts to over $9 billion in worldwide sales (box office revenue totals $6.7 billion), were video games Star Wars: The Force Unleashed (2008) and Star Wars: The Force Unleashed – Ultimate Sith Edition (2009). The emergence of Star Wars parodies date as a far back as the short film Hardware Wars (1978) and later with Spaceballs (1987); while recent additions include animated TV episodes of Robot Chicken and Family Guy. The fan frenzy sparked the documentary The People vs. George Lucas (2010) which debates whether filmmaker has become his own worse enemy. “I think that a lot of what it is,” commented former Lucas collaborator Gary Kurtz, “is that George has a clear idea of what he wants and whether you agree with that or not, he goes about getting that. Anybody else in that position would do the same thing.” Regarding whether there were plans to have a third Star Wars trilogy, Kurtz replied, “It was Luke’s journey of becoming a premier Jedi Knight in the Obi-Wan Kenobi mold and his ultimate confrontation with the Emperor.” In the meantime, a live-action Star Wars television series is currently in development. “We have 50 hours of third-draft scripts,” revealed Star Wars prequel producer Rick McCallum, “but the problem we have is there is a lot of digital animation; we don’t have the technology yet to be able to do them at a price that is safe for television. Since we would be financing them, it would be suicide for us to do this [now]. So we are going to wait three or four years.” Asked about the storyline, McCallum replied, “It takes place between Episodes III and IV, when Luke Skywalker was growing up as a teenager, but it has nothing to do with Luke.” As for the tone of the proposed TV series, McCallum stated, “Basically, it is like The Godfather ; it’s the Empire slowly building up its power base around the galaxy, what happens in Coruscant which is the major capital, and it’s [about] a group of underground bosses who live there and control drugs, [and] prostitution.” Reflecting on the space opera which was initially intended to be a single picture, George Lucas said, “I expected it to take me a year, year and a half to make, and then I expected to move on to other things. Especially in the storytelling sense, it was very stylized, very much in opposition to what my natural inclinations are. It was a kind of whim which turned into my life.”
Entering the realm of print media, the native of Modesto, California released George Lucas's Blockbusting: A Decade-by-Decade Survey of Timeless Movies Including Untold Secrets of their Financial and Cultural Success (2010) edited by Alex Ben Block and Lucy Autrey Wilson. “There is a misperception that movies like Steven Spielberg's Jaws  and George Lucas's Star Wars  changed the movie business,” responded Lucy Autrey Wilson when asked why Lucas wanted to have the book published. “Looking back over 100 years of movie history, it is clear there have always been big blockbuster films. By setting successful films against each decade's major motion picture industry developments, George Lucas wanted to show that what has transformed the movie business is not the result of any individual film, but rather the result of technological advances and changes in production, distribution, marketing, and exhibition as well as changes in the social, political, and economic climate.”
Moving beyond the Star Wars universe, George Lucas commenced production in the spring of 2009 on the World War II film Red Tails (2012). The story focuses on the exploits of the legendary African-American combat pilots known as the Tuskegee Airmen. Cast in the $35 million production helmed by Anthony Hemingway (Ali) are Terrence Howard (Hustle & Flow), Andre Royo (Shaft), Nate Parker (The Great Debaters), David Oyelowo (The Last King of Scotland), Cuba Gooding Jr. (As Good as It Gets), Bryan Cranston (Drive), Method Man (8 Mile), Tristan Wilds (Half Nelson), Kevin Phillips (Pride), Daniela Ruah (Midnight Passion) and Stacie Davis (Lottery Ticket). “It was an important film to do,” declared Bryan Cranston who portrays the bigoted Major William Mortamus. “I mean this is the first feature length film about that story.” The actor found himself being immersed in visual effects. “There were green screen backgrounds, so we shot in a controlled environment set in Prague. It was fun, very educational and entertaining.” Controversy erupted when George Lucas decided to personally handle the reshoots, prompting a press release stating, "On behalf of Lucasfilm, I wanted to let you know the story that is circulating about production on Red Tails is completely inaccurate. George Lucas and Rick McCallum are very pleased with the work Anthony Hemingway did directing the film, and additional shooting that is scheduled to take place was built into production before it began, as it is on all our films.”
The project appeared to be in limbo until a recent Lucasfilm press release announced the hiring of Grammy-winning Jazz musician and composer Terence Blanchard to score the picture. “I’ve seen the movie, I’ve seen the special effects, and I can’t tell you how excited I am about that movie,” gushed Cuban Gooding Jr.. “In my career I’ve done a couple of movies that have blown up the zeitgeist of cinema and hit social consciousness, like Boyz n The Hood  or Men Of Honor  or Jerry Maguire .” Gooding Jr. carried on by saying, “We’ve done that again with George Lucas’ Red Tails. The movie is breathtaking, and the thing about it is, visually you haven’t seen the things that George is doing with these fighter sequences. It’s insane. I don’t want it to sound like it’s going to be a historical thing, which it is, but visually, I’m telling you, if you stay in your seat while you’re watching this movie I’ll be shocked.”
“I like the physical act of filmmaking,” said George Lucas. “For me it’s like sculpturing or painting. I come up with an idea that I think will make a great image or a great scene and then I go out and make it happen.” A cinematic icon offered advice on how to deal with harsh movie reviews. “Stanley Kubrick [Paths of Glory] told me he used to be concerned with what critics say. But he stopped getting upset when he realized that he spent three years developing an idea – working on it day and night – then somebody walks in and sees the film for two hours and spends half an hour writing a review of it.” Clarifying his comment, the moviemaker added, “Critics are entitled to their opinions and a lot of times what they say is true. It’s just that they don’t realize the effort, pain, and struggling that went into something.” Contemplating his cinematic legacy, the moviemaker stated, “People occasionally say I’m the new Walt Disney. But I’m not really the new Walt Disney at all. Yet one thing occurred to me when Jim Henson died, people said he was the new Walt Disney, too. But the truth is that what Walt did for animation, Jim did for puppetry and I’ve done for special effects. I took something that was not very well regarded, a kind of esoteric, technical cult enthusiasm, and recognized it for the art it is and gave it a showcase where people could really see and appreciate the artistry.” As for his own theatrical contributions, Lucas observed, “One of the main thrusts in all the films is the Horatio Alger concept – the fact that if you apply yourself and work real hard, you can get what you want accomplished. Your only limitations are your own willingness to do whatever you want to do.”
Visit the official sites of Lucasfilm and ILM.
For more on Star Wars head over to the official website, along with fansites TheForce.net and StarWarz.com, and for more on Indiana Jones check out IndyFan.com and TheRaider.net.
Trevor Hogg is a freelance video editor and writer who currently resides in Canada.