George Lucas didn’t make the latest Star Wars movie, but it provided my first opportunity ever to meet him. The Clone Wars begins a new chapter in Star Wars, an animated TV series beginning with this month’s feature film. Up at his own private ranch, Lucas spoke about the future of Star Wars in film and television.
George Lucas: You need people available every week and you can’t really afford multimillion dollar actors to do a television series. The license fee on your average television series is about $200,000. It’s nothing. So those guys make more during their coffee break. When we decided to do the feature, when I said, "Hey, this is great. Let’s do a feature." Then we went back to the actors and we said, "Okay." We told them we were doing the TV series just so they knew, as a courtesy, but then we said, "Look, we’re doing a feature. Would you like to do the voice in the feature?" Some of them said yes, some of them were off doing features because this all was done, again, fairly rapidly. It wasn’t like we said, "Okay, next June we’re going to do this." Its like, "Could you come in in a month, in four weeks and do this? Can we have two days?" Some of them were all over the world and some of them said, "Yeah, it would be great, I’ll come in and do it" and some of them couldn’t. What happens in new animation, it used to be animation, you just had actors play the parts. The secret is a lot of people, especially in television animation; they didn’t hire really great actors. Even in features they didn’t. So the idea of hiring a really good actor, a Tom Hanks to play the thing, was a really revolutionary idea. That was mostly Jeff Katzenberg who said, "You know, we need really top actors." Partly they did it because they were great actors. Partly they did it because they wanted to use them for publicity, so they could sit up here and talk to you. To be very honest with you, much as I love you guys, I don’t really think I need to hire an actor, a big movie star to go and publicize my movie. If the movie works and you like it and you love it, that’s fine. But I don’t need Angelina Jolie here to have you guys come and say, "I’m only going to this press conference because Angelina’s going to be there and I want to get her autograph." That’s what it comes down to in the end and that’s what they do. They simply use them, they have two days in the studio or three days in the studio and then they have like two weeks doing press. So they’re mainly paid for the press stuff. They’re not really paid for doing the movie. I’m sure I’m going to hear from Jeff about that.
Crave Online: What was the inspiration behind our new main character, Ahsoka?
George Lucas: I wanted to develop a character that would help Anakin settle down. He was, at the end of Episode II, is kind of a wild child. He and Obi Wan don’t get along. So the idea was to see how they become friends, how they become partners, how they become a team. Then one of the ways to do that, because when you become a parent, you become a teacher. You have to sort of become more responsible. It sort of forces you into this adulthood thing. So what I wanted to do was take Anakin and force him into this kind of "now I have to teach somebody and now I have to be slightly more responsible and I have to…" So it was that juxtaposition. I happen to have a couple daughters so I have a lot of experience with that particular situation and I just said, rather than making it another guy, why don’t we make her a girl because that’s fun. I have a lot of girls and they’re just as hard to deal with in their teenage years as boys are. That’s really how that.
Crave Online: Star Wars is full of action, intrigue and drama. What do people do for fun in the Star Wars universe?
George Lucas: Well, they like pod races, they like gambling, they like card games. They go out and shoot at womprats in the canyons with their local tractors.
Crave Online: Does the mythology have an entertainment industry?
George Lucas: There is an entertainment industry but you won’t find that out until you get to the live action show in a few years. I mean, there is. They go to the opera.
Crave Online: What mythological territory will the Clone Wars series travel into?
George Lucas: Well, the mythological arc of the saga doesn’t really continue in these other things because that is a story. It has a beginning, a middle and an end. It’s the story of one man’s struggle against evil and redemption by his son and that sort of thing. This is more like, I don’t know, it’s more episodic. It’s more like Indiana Jones actually. You have themes and things that still go through it, and there are issues like that but it’s not what it’s based on. This is bigger and we get to go more places. The fun part about animation especially in the Clone Wars in particular, is that we’re allowed to go and do stories about clones. We get to know them and find out what they do for recreation and what Jabba the Hut’s family is all about; do all kinds of things that don’t have anything to do with the main character. The film itself, the series itself, the epic itself is basically about one man, so it’s very, very narrow. You pass through a lot of things and you look, what’s that over there, but you never get to look at it. So this allows us to go and look at all that stuff which means we’re not encumbered by this mythological uberstory of the psychological underpinnings of why somebody turns to be a bad person.
Crave Online: Why an animated movie now, after you’ve done six live action ones?
George Lucas: Basically, I started out in animation. I studied animation when I was at college and produced some work that was a lot of fun, had a lot of animated films and stuff in my career and I’ve always been interested in it. When we did Revenge of the Sith, I lamented the fact that I had to jump over the Clone Wars. I jumped over the Clone Wars because it had nothing to do with Anakin Skywalker. He’s just another player. We had a very narrow focus on talking about him personally. So I couldn’t do that. I said, "Gee, it’s too bad because there’s a great, it’s like World War II. It’s a huge canvas there to be mined." So we decided we would do a little five minute animation series for Cartoon Network using anime and manga and those kinds of ideas that I’ve always wanted to work in. We hired a really great director, Gende, to do it for us. But that sort of got me going and saying, "You know, we could do a regular TV show, a big one, a half an hour show and it could really be great. We could use all the new techniques we developed in CGI animation and that sort of thing." And I said, "When I finish Star Wars, I’m going to go and start this and I’m going to do it." So that’s basically what happened. I got to fill in a blank and go around in a universe that is not restricted and therefore not quite as dark and we can have a lot more fun with it. We can enjoy it. It’s a little bit more lighthearted.
Crave Online: That’s the TV series. How did it become a movie?
George Lucas: We ended up doing the TV series. The first few shots came back and I looked at them on the big screen. I said, "This is fantastic. This is better than we ever imagined it would be and this is so good it could be a feature." So I said, "Why don’t we make a feature?" We have Ahsoka, one of our main new characters, I said, "Why don’t we just make a picture that introduces her, that actually introduces one of the main characters?" So we did that but it’s purely something I wanted to do in terms of exploring animation and doing something that I enjoy doing. I sort of moved from features to television. Again, I’m in this position where if we’re doing something, even as television, and it turns out to be good enough to be a feature, then we just switch it over. We don’t sort of have a business plan while we’re doing it; things are pegged to do one thing or another. So a lot of the techniques and things that we used, because we wanted to make the best television series that had ever been created, and it ended up being good enough to be a movie.
Crave Online: Why the stylized approach instead of photorealistic?
George Lucas: I will say photorealistic is what live action movies are. Animation is an art. This is an art philosophical discussion. You either like photorealistic art that looks exactly like a photograph and you like to hang that in the museum of modern art. Or you like something that actually tries to find the truth behind the realism. To me, animation is an art. It’s all about design, it’s all about style. It’s not about making it look photo real. I’ve been making photo real movies all my life and they have a lot of animation in them but they’re still photo real. And that’s not what animation is. Animation is something else entirely. It’s a completely different medium. So that’s why we didn’t do it photo real.
Crave Online: Was this film a bigger challenge or pressure than the previous films?
George Lucas: Well, it’s challenging. Art is a technological medium. All art is so a lot of it has to do with engineering, trying to figure out how to create what you imagine. It is also a medium that is dictated primarily by any amount of resources you have available to you. If you’re a pharaoh you can build pyramids. If you’re a shaman, you really only have a few pieces of chalk and a wall of a cave and you have to work within that. Probably the most daunting thing we were trying to do, because we wanted to really push the limits and make, what just started out as a TV show that was really beyond anything you’ve ever seen on television, to take feature animation, which costs 20-30 times what TV animation costs and do that for television, something that actually looked like feature animation for television, that was a challenge. Given enough time and money, anybody can create anything but given a very, very restricted budget and very, very restricted resources, it’s a challenge so we had to build studios. We had to build a studio from scratch, train people from scratch, artists, develop new techniques. We did not make this in the normal way you make an animated feature. I said, "We’re not doing that anymore. Now you’re entering the world of live action features and we’re going to treat this like a live-action feature. We’re going to rely on editing rather than storyboarding" and there’s a lot of techniques we used that completely shifted the paradigm. It makes a different kind of animated film that relies more on cutting an editing than it does on storyboards and longer shots and that sort of thing. That was a challenge and we still have a challenge. Everybody wants to go to what they know and to change is really hard and to create something from scratch with new technology is really hard and to try to do something, we’re trying to do the same thing in live action. We’re trying to do a live-action TV show. Well, the biggest challenge like here, this was a test for that: if we can do something that’ll stand up to a feature and we did. I put it on screen and said, "This is a feature." I said, "We did it. It’s much better than we thought it would happen." And so now I’m trying to take Star Wars, which is a $50 million an hour adventure and do it for like $2 million an hour. That’s a trick. That’s a hard thing to do and have them look the same.
Crave Online: When are you going to make those indie movies you keep talking about?
George Lucas: I just haven’t had time. Opportunities present themselves. I wanted to do an animated Clone Wars TV series and I said, "Oh, I want to do that." So I’ve got about maybe 50 projects sitting here and I have to sort of say, "Well, which one works now." It makes sense for me to do these TV things. I love television. It’s a lot more fun than doing these giant movie things so I’m doing some television. This is one of them. That’s why you’re here. I mean, you’re really here for the feature but of course that goes over into the TV show.
Crave Online: What are the prospects for Indy V?
George Lucas: Well, that’s one of those things. That sits on the shelf there as one of 50 projects that I have to deal with. If I can come up with a story, it’s very hard to come up with stories for that thing. It’s really impossible because it has to be real. It has to be something that actually happens, it has to be something people know about and it has to be supernatural. It’s a really difficult research project which they’re researching now. Last time it took us 14 years.