Fandango: George Lucas Faces Jon Stewart — A Report From Star Wars Celebration

Written by Film

To some, he is the Flanneled One. The Bearded One. Baron Papanoida. The Maker.

To others, he is a former mythmaker who has since surrendered any pretense of creative integrity in a fool’s quest to sell toys, or maintain absolute control, or whatever he really wants deep beneath his plentiful chins.

To most of you, he’s just the guy who made the Star Wars movies, George Lucas.

The faithful, recent converts, and lapsed followers alike gathered in Orlando, Florida, this past Saturday for what was billed as “The Main Event”–an hourlong sitdown with Lucas, hosted by The Daily Show‘s Jon Stewart. It was part of Star Wars Celebration V, a four-day party for Star Wars geeks, the kind of thing where if you’re into it, no explanation is necessary, and if you’re not, no explanation will suffice.

I don’t know who was the driving force behind recruiting Stewart as interviewer; it could have been an idea hatched by the show’s organizers, Reed Exhibitions, or something concocted by Lucasfilm. It was a masterful idea, as Stewart is a great interviewer, and he set exactly the right tone. He focused on fan questions, but not in a way that paid pure fan service; whether you own albums from Figrin D’an and the Modal Nodes or you wouldn’t recognize a mynock if it slapped you in the face, you could relax and enjoy the conversation. He also stirred in many moments of welcome humor, and if there’s anyone who can always take themselves a little less seriously, it’s geeks.

For his part, Lucas was as honest and forthcoming as he ever is, which is to say that he still won’t admit that Episode I sucks, but aside from that glaring lapse in his own judgment, he’s got an affable self-awareness that makes it hard to hate him in person, regardless of how much you happen to hate every creative decision he’s made since 1980. He seems to have finally come to terms with his unique spot in the pop culture universe, and while he still insists on playing the “humble storyteller” role when it’s clear he’s a far more calculating businessman, he gets points for being willing to come out and spend some time among the great unwashed who have put his kids through college sixty thousand times over.

Some highlights:

Star Wars will hit Blu-Ray in 2011, with deleted scenes and more new extras. By now you’ve probably read this news and are either excited for the new transfers and new material, or refusing to buy these movies yet again on another new format. Mark Hamill appeared to introduce a sneak peek deleted scene from Return of the Jedi, set near the film’s opening, which showed Luke Skywalker building a new lightsaber as Darth Vader attempted to contact him via the Force.

The Clone Wars cartoon series proceeds apace, with appearances in season three slated for Lucas’ Papanoida character from Episode III and the brother of Darth Maul, Savage Opress. (That’s what I’ve always hated about this expanded universe nonsense; no matter how good it may be, it always boils down to someone’s brother/cousin/secret lover that we already know, or what I like to call the “Boba Fett was Dengar’s Best Man” school of plotting.) “The show is getting better and better,” Lucas said. “We’re already at year 5 on the scripts.”

Seth Green and his Robot Chicken production team are working on another Star Wars animated series, this one aimed at a far younger set and with a far stranger vibe. “I thought Robot Chicken was so funny that I convinced Seth Green to do a litle cartoon show like Spongebob Squarepants for four-year-olds,” Lucas said. “Yet he still thinks it’s for 21-year-olds. It’s still coming together but it will be funny.”

Obi-Wan Kenobi is from the planet StuJon, in honor of Jon Stewart himself. This prompted Artoo to roll out onto the stage with a custom “Stuart Trooper” action figure for the host, with swappable heads, one with goatee, and one without.

Carrie Fisher loved Star Wars Celebration. “I got proposed to yesterday,” she said. “I said, you want children? That will be rugged.”

On the dark tone of Empire Strikes Back: “You have to remember, when Star Wars was first released, it was a wacky idea…it’s a guy and his dog flying in a spaceship. But because I believed in it, instead of taking a big chunk of money, I only wanted the rights to the sequels. At the end of Empire, as we were putting it together, I remember thinking, this is a little rough. So we brought in a few child psychologists and asked, if you show this to a ten-year-old boy, will this mess them up? They said, it won’t hurt kids, because Darth Vader is the bad guy. The kids who can handle it will accept that he’s Luke’s father, and the kids who can’t handle it will think Darth Vader is lying. It had a built-in safety net.”

Jar Jar is the prequels’ version of C3P0. He actually said this, Lucas did, which seems to me a great understatement: “Jar Jar is the same sort of fussy bumble character as Threepio.” Yeah, George, sure…except that Threepio doesn’t have the whole Stephen Fetchit issue of emulating characters not seen in film since the days when blacks used separate water fountains. Or were the British offended by Threepio back in the late seventies, and I missed it cause I was only a year old?

But then he said some cool stuff as well. Like “I make movies for fans, I make movies for people who like to go to the movies. It’s great to be appreciated,” and “My dream is that when the first man walks on Mars, he says, ‘I’ve wanted to do this since I saw Star Wars.”

I’ve had what can best be described as a (needlessly?) complicated relationship with Star Wars and George Lucas. I even wrote a book about it*. This is the first time I’ve seen him speak and answer questions in this way, and while I still hate many of the decisions he’s made, and believe he’s not exactly the most honest or forthright man with his fans, he seems decent enough. I’d probably have a beer with him.

Call me, George.

*I did indeed write a book about Star Wars; it’s called Poodoo, and it’s a collection of all the various articles I wrote about the films and my relationship with them over ten years (1999-2009). It is available as a free PDF.

Check out my pictures from Star Wars Celebration V, from Friday and Saturday.

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