There’s suddenly a storm of outburts about a week-old interview that George Lucas had with Charlie Rose. It’s the one where he compared selling Lucasfilm to Disney as selling his children to “white slavers.” This was a stupid thing to say, but not really a new note for Lucas to hit.
There’s been tension in the relationship between Lucas, Disney, and Star Wars almost since the beginning. Lucas had treatments for episodes VII-IX, but refused to show them to anyone at Disney. Lucas told Bloomberg:
Ultimately you have to say, “Look, I know what I’m doing. Buying my stories is part of what the deal is.” I’ve worked at this for 40 years, and I’ve been pretty successful. I mean, I could have said, “Fine, well, I’ll just sell the company to somebody else.”
Once Disney and Lucas had worked out the shape of the deal which would sell Lucasfilm to Disney, he allowed exactly three executives at Disney to see the treatments. Disney Chairman and CEO Bob Iger was diplomatic about the stories, saying, “We thought from a storytelling perspective they had a lot of potential.”
For a while, word had it that Lucas was going to be consulting on The Force Awakens. His son, Jett Lucas, said back in 2013 that Lucas created a set of guidelines for the sequels and was “constantly talking” with J.J. Abrams. But then, according to Lucas, Disney “decided they didn’t like” his plots for the new trilogy, and he walked away.
Which was totally fine with Lucas. He wasn’t upset at all! At least, that’s what he said in January of 2015, telling ScreenRant that he was excited to know nothing about Episode VII:
I haven’t seen anything; I mean I saw the trailer, it looks great, it looks interesting. But as I’ve said before: one thing I regret about Star Wars is that I never got to see it, you know? I never got to be blown away by the big ship coming over the thing, or anything. But this time I’m going to be, because I have no idea what they’re doing.
That was optimistic and nice George, who faded away the closer The Force Awakens got to actually being released.
In a Vanity Fair interview published on November 18, Lucas gave his reason for stepping away as “You go to make a movie and all you do is get criticized. And it’s not much fun. You can’t experiment.” He already seemed concerned that someone else just wouldn’t “get” Star Wars, adding that there was more to it “than just spaceships.”
The issue was, ultimately, they looked at the stories and they said, “We want to make something for the fans.” So, I said all I wanted to do was tell a story about what happened.
It’s called space opera, but people don’t actually realize it’s actually a soap opera and it’s all about family problems—it’s not about spaceships. So they decided they didn’t want to use those stories, they decided they were going to do their own thing so I decided, “Fine.... I’ll go my way and I let them go their way.”
Lucas seems under the apprehension that making a film fans would love necessarily means that it wasn’t going to tell the story.
In addition to the jab about spaceships and fans, Lucas’ other motif was to compare it all to a divorce, saying later in that same Rose interview:
When you break up with somebody, the first rule is no phone calls. The second rule, you don’t go over to their house and drive by to see what they’re doing. The third one is you don’t show up at their coffee shop and say you are going to burn it . . . You just say “Nope, gone, history, I’m moving forward.”
In another interview, this time published in The Washington Post on December 5, Lucas said that you either have complete control or you don’t, and looking over J.J. Abrams’ shoulder was going to make them all miserable. “So I said ‘I’m going to get divorced,’” Lucas explained.
He then extended the metaphor in a curious way:
“Now I’m faced with this awkward reality, which is fine,” Lucas says. Extending the metaphor, he says it’s like when a grown child gets married. “I gotta go to the wedding. My ex will be there, my new wife will be there, but I’m going to have to take a very deep breath and be a good person and sit through it and just enjoy the moment, because it is what it is and it’s a conscious decision that I made.”
Which all sounds very much like Lucas was regretting the whole endeavor, but had no choice but to try to enjoy it now. Or, at least, not ruin it for everyone.
Once he had actually seen The Force Awakens, Lucas managed a very backhanded compliment, telling Vulture at the Kennedy Center Honors Gala on December 6, “I think the fans are going to love it. It’s very much the kind of movie they’ve been looking for.”
Given that Lucas hasn’t been a fan of fan reaction in a long time, it’s hard to read that as a good thing. And note that he didn’t actually say that he liked it.
And so we return to the to the Charlie Rose interview that aired, in full, on Christmas Eve. The short version from CBS This Morning was focused on how and why Lucas backed away from Star Wars. The long version includes much more of Lucas defending his vision over Disney’s. Lucas says that Disney “wanted to do a retro movie. I don’t like that.” And then talked about how he was constantly innovating in Star Wars, “I worked very hard to make them completely different, with different planets, with different spaceships. You know, to make it new.”
Which brings us back to the comparison that everyone’s noticing now:
Lucas: These are my kids.
Rose: All those Star Wars films.
Lucas: All the Star Wars films.
Rose: They were your kids?
Lucas: Well, they are. I loved them, I created them. I’m very intimately involved in them. And, obviously, to sell them off—
Rose: And you sold them.
Lucas: I sold them off to the the white slavers who take these things and...[laughs]
How incredibly offensive. Yes, selling your film and production company for four billion dollars—especially when you already had buttloads of money—and then not liking what the new owners do is exactly like being forced to sell your children into slavery.
Besides the deeply stupid way he phrased it, this seems like the most honest description of his feelings George Lucas has ever given. Until this moment, every other quote has been passive aggressive about fans and Disney and the movie. He’s insisted that he has made the decision to move on and put it all behind him. He even told Rose, “It’s like talking about your divorce or something. It’s just awkward, but it’s not painful.”
That’s not really how it seems. It seems like, with the comparisons to a divorce and children and, you know, slavers, Lucas does find it all painful. And he’s grown more pissed about it over time, not less. In a weird way, people liking Disney’s Star Wars is the worst possible outcome for him.
No one’s ever made the case for a giant corporation taking over for the original artist as well as George Lucas. Which probably isn’t what anyone had in mind.
Update: Lucas has now apologized for the “white slavers” thing and said some very nice things about Disney.
Photo: Joel Ryan/Invision/AP
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