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What Does the Future Hold for George Lucas?

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The announcement yesterday that the Walt Disney Company had bought Lucasfilm Ltd. from sole owner George Lucas for $4.05 billion in cash and stock was accompanied by the news that a seventh “Star Wars” film would be completed by 2015. The studio intends to release a “Star Wars” entry every two or three years, and – on top of acquiring Industrial Light & Magic, Skywalker Sound, and LucasArts – also now has the Indiana Jones franchise to rejuvenate. Kathleen Kennedy will be president of the company under Disney. (For more see Variety.)

Whither Lucas now? The 68-year-old mogul (who is Disney’s second largest stockholder) indicated in June that he wants to divest himself of moguldom altogether. As he told the British film magazine Empire:

“I’m moving away from the company, I’m moving away from all my businesses, I’m finishing all my obligations and I’m going to retire to my garage with my saw and hammer and build hobby movies. I’ve always wanted to make movies that were more experimental in nature, and not have to worry about them showing in movie theatres.”

This raises the following questions: What exactly will he build? And having been a hands-on producer, executive producer, and über-wizard of special effects for over three decades, will he be able to narrow his vision? Can he truly exchange the Skywalker Ranch for his garage? And can he ever let go of “Star Wars?”

Earnest Cavalli, writing in Digital Trends, hedges his bets: “The perceptive among you will notice that neither Lucas’ statement nor the press release ever state that Lucas will be completely hands-off with his company,” he wrote. “Given the man’s endless perfectionism (read: desire to add new CGI to films that are arguably better off without it), it would be surprising if he completely removed himself from the production of upcoming ‘Star Wars’ properties, but then again, it’s also equally likely that he’ll get so wrapped up in creating his experimental ‘hobby movies’ that he might forget to monkey around with his decades-old classics.”

It’s remarkable that in his 41 years as a feature director Lucas has helmed just six films – “THX1138” (1971, developed from his student film and perhaps his best work), “American Graffiti” (1973), “Star Wars” (1977), and the three “Star Wars” prequels (1999, 2002, 2005). Of these, only “American Graffiti,” which offered a utopian dream of teen nostalgia, isn’t sci-fi.

So far the rough and tumble, the terror and corruption in contemporary America hasn’t engaged Lucas, nor has anything remotely adult: as a director, his is a sexless cinema. (To his lasting credit, he has backed such worthy projects as Akira Kurosawa’s “Kagemusha,” Paul Schrader’s “Mishima,” and his friend Haskell Wexler’s “Latino.”)

There is such a weird lack of personality in the Star Wars films, such a preoccupation with bleeping robots and odd creatures (Jar Jar Binks being unforgivable), and such overarching solemnity in them, that one wonders if the idea of depicting sweaty human dilemmas and rollercoaster emotions appalls Lucas.

He was always a maker of myths rather than of dramas. His appreciation of Joseph Campbell and his conscious use of Jungian archetypes in “Star Wars” were interesting – more interesting than R2-D2 and C-3P0, unless you were a kid – and shows how deeply the impulse to tell mythic stories was ingrained in Lucas. J.R.R. Tolkien’s “The Lord of the Rings” may have predated “Star Wars” by 23 years, but in cinema Lucas’s Darth Vader paved the way for Peter Jackson’s Sauron.

Lucas shouldn’t, of course, be underestimated. He can now do anything. And it shouldn’t be forgotten that he was once impressed by Stan Brakhage, the French New Wave, and the films made by the National Film Board of Canada – he may not be using the word “experimental” lightly. If his experience of enormous technocratic power hasn’t anesthetized him to the daily struggles of the ordinary people he has entertained with escapist fantasies, it’s entirely possible he may want to investigate feelings that are unfiltered through computers. Who knows? We just shouldn’t expect any of his future films to show up at Sundance.

Images from top: “American Graffiti,” Lucasfilm; George Lucas, Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

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