PANDEMONIUM. That’s what erupted at the Star Wars Celebration at the Orlando Orange County Convention Center this August 14, when to cap the exuberant four-day celebration of all things Star Wars, the legendary filmmaker George Lucas appeared to join The Daily Show’s host Jon Stewart for a wide-ranging conversation about the Star Wars saga.
Stewart quickly demonstrated he was as an authentic fan, who “actually watched the films a few times,” with a quick flurry of informed Star Wars-related jokes. Stewart said that the humid weather in Florida reminded him of the “atmospheric conditions on Dagobah,” he jested that the white drapes that adorned the stage were “just a lame version of Hoth” (the snow Planet in The Empire Strikes Back), and he drolly noted that the popularity of Star Wars is “the reason all of you are not at a Star Trek convention.”
The convention was of course jam-packed with fans dressed up as their favorite Star Wars characters, with a life-size TIE Fighter (space ship) and more than a few working replicas of R2D2 (the diminutive droid).
Lucas marveled at the ingenuity of the fans who built their own working R2 units when his team of experts had so much trouble creating a workable model for his multi-million dollar films: “One of the great ironies of life [was] trying to get a droid to get 10-feet and put its leg out.” His prop was so “inadequate” that they had to pull it on a string. He added that Star Wars buffs built “the best R2 units that you could ever imagine.” He paused slightly before teasing the audience: “If only I could make another Star Wars film.” Naturally, the place exploded, as if by its collective will the assembled fans could induce another epic from Lucas.
Lucas discussed his creative process — how, for example, he came up with the countless names for the various characters, planets and robots. “Ewok,” the name of the little teddy bear like creatures from Return of the Jedi came from the native American “Miwok” tribes. He writes down possible names in a small notebook that he carries with him at all times as they randomly occur to him.
While on the subject of names, Stewart asked why Luke Skywalker didn’t change his name to conceal his identity from Darth Vader who was pursuing him. Lucas bantered that in the Star Wars cosmos the name Skywalker is fairly common, “You should see the phone book,” before responding more seriously that Darth Vader didn’t know that his wife had children, so he wasn’t aware that Luke is his son.
The filmmaker also illuminated some of the ideas that inform The Force. He explained that he compared “the God idea” in diverse religions and he discovered “a commonality to them. It’s all religions.” He didn’t want to base the force on one particular religion or a single religious figure (like Jesus or Buddha, for instance); he wanted the force to represent an all- encompassing ”higher power.”
Lucas explained that Jedi were similar to “monks.” He added that these “monks are not warriors, they are negotiators. They negotiate disputes between planets with a big stick. With a big lightsaber. If you don’t settle the dispute, they will settle it for you.”
The six films wrestle with the notion of what power does to people. Lucas believes: “Once you get power, it corrupts you.” While in the prequels there are many Jedi, there are only 2 Siths — one Sith lord and one apprentice (as Yoda said in The Phantom Menace, “No more, no less.”) If there were more than 2, the apprentice would conspire with the other Sith to depose the master.
Lucas elucidated his concept of starting Star Wars (which was only later renamed Star Wars: Episode 4: A New Hope) in the middle of his story. “The idea is that you’re seeing a Republic Pictures serial and you’ve missed the first few episodes. In order to tell Episode 4 he had to write a back-story to clarify it in his own mind – but he hadn’t originally intended to film those stories as he eventually did by making the prequels.
Early on, Lucas thought his movie was based on a slightly “wacky” idea about a “guy and his dog who fly spaceships and a little kid who is lost in the desert.” At the time the “idea that this would be commercial seemed far-fetched.”
He said that he was less interested in the money than in owning the rights, and thus creative control, for the sequels. He said he did it because he was determined to make the movies as he envisioned them, and without studio interference.
He thought of the entire story as “the tragedy of Darth Vader: the core of the story is that [the protagonist’s] main adversary is his son, and the son redeems him.”
Though the Star Wars saga became massively successful, Lucas recalled that getting the first two films made required a Herculean effort. When Stewart asked how Lucas stayed “positive when things are going against you,” Lucas replied, “You have to be stubborn and say, ‘I’m right. I don’t care what the rest of the world thinks… And you must keep going forward no matter how formidable the odds are against you… I believe in this completely and I will sink with the ship if that’s what it comes down to.’ If you don’t’ have that kind of commitment, it won’t happen.” Then Lucas added: “It helps to be nuts.”
Lucas said that as he was developing and planning to reveal the critical plot point in The Empire Strikes Back — that Darth Vader is Luke’s father — he consulted with a psychologist because he was afraid that the revelation could be fairly traumatic to a child under 10. He intuited that young children would simply reject the notion altogether and tell themselves that Vader was lying. He believes their conclusion provided “a built in safety net”
Before shooting a frame of Episode One Lucas readied himself for criticism. “I’m starting when Anakin Skywalker is a ten-year old boy and you’re never going to see Darth Vader.” He said Twenty Century Fox executives were convinced that no one would want to see a film about a ten year old and that this approach would “destroy” the legacy of the franchise. They wanted to see a ruthless Darth Vader in the lead and wanted him to “kill a bunch of people.”
From Lucas’s perspective “anyone over forty loves [Episodes] Four, Five and Six and hates One, Two and Three. But kids under forty love One, Two and Three and hate Four, Five and Six. The under-Ten-Year-Olds don’t know Four, Five and Six, but they love [the animated series] The Clone Wars.” Stewart teased Lucas by asking if he was “working on anything for the ‘fetal’ fans.”
Stewart asked if the back-stories’ details were all planned in advance? Ostensibly, it was a joke, but perhaps the comment also reveals an insightful understanding of Lucas’s working methods. Lucas replied “No, I just make it up when someone asks.”