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George Lucas never figured on a 30-year career as a space pilot. Once “Star Wars” shot into hyperspace, though, he found it hard to come back down to Earth.
Making its DVD debut Tuesday, Lucas’ original sci-fi trilogy — “Star Wars,” “The Empire Strikes Back” and “Return of the Jedi” — began as an experimental foray into old-time studio moviemaking for Lucas, whose first two films had been far removed from usual Hollywood sensibilities.
Lucas’ sci-fi satire “THX 1138” had been a commercial dud, but the energetic “American Graffiti” with its driving soundtrack and multi-character point of view scored with audiences, giving the director clout to try something bigger that had been on his mind.
“I’d already started this other idea, which was to do a kind of a classic action adventure film using sets,” Lucas said over lunch at his 2,600-acre Skywalker Ranch. “I’d never worked on a set, I’d never worked at a studio. Never made a traditional movie. So I said, ‘I’m going to do this once, just to see what it’s like, what it’s like to actually design everything, work on a soundstage, do an old-fashioned 1930s movie.
“And I’ll do it in that mode from the 1930s Saturday matinee serials, using kind of 1930s and ’40s sensibilities, and I’ll base it on sort of mythological motifs and icons. I’ll just put it together in a modern form, and I’ll have fun. That’s how I got into that. I did it because it was an interesting move into an area that I thought I’d never go into.”
Three decades later, Lucas is preparing to launch the last of his six “Star Wars” films. Next summer brings “Star Wars: Episode III — Revenge of the Sith,” completing the prequel trilogy that tells the story of young Anakin Skywalker’s metamorphosis into the villainous Darth Vader of the original three films.
Fans have eagerly awaited the first three “Star Wars” films on DVD, a release Lucas initially intended to delay until he finished “Episode III.”
Some will be miffed that the original theatrical versions are not included in the “Star Wars” boxed set, which features only the special-edition versions Lucas issued in the late 1990s, with added effects and footage, including a scene between Harrison Ford’s Han Solo and crime lord Jabba the Hutt in the first “Star Wars.”
AP: Why did you change your mind and decide to put the original three movies out on DVD now?
Lucas: Just because the market has shifted so dramatically. A lot of people are getting very worried about piracy. That has really eaten dramatically into the sales. It really just came down to, there may not be a market when I wanted to bring it out, which was like, three years from now. So rather than just sit by and watch the whole thing fall apart, better to bring it out early and get it over with.
AP: Why did you rework the original trilogy into the special-edition versions in the late 1990s?
Lucas: To me, the special edition ones are the films I wanted to make. Anybody that makes films knows the film is never finished. It’s abandoned or it’s ripped out of your hands, and it’s thrown into the marketplace, never finished. It’s a very rare experience where you find a filmmaker who says, “That’s exactly what I wanted. I got everything I needed. I made it just perfect. I’m going to put it out there.” And even most artists, most painters, even composers would want to come back and redo their work now. They’ve got a new perspective on it, they’ve got more resources, they have better technology, and they can fix or finish the things that were never done. ... I wanted to actually finish the film the way it was meant to be when I was originally doing it. At the beginning, people went, “Don’t you like it?” I said, “Well, the film only came out to be 25 or 30 percent of what I wanted it to be.” They said, “What are you talking about?” So finally, I stopped saying that, but if you read any interviews for about an eight- or nine-year period there, it was all about how disappointed I was and how unhappy I was and what a dismal experience it was. You know, it’s too bad you need to get kind of half a job done and never get to finish it. So this was my chance to finish it.
AP: Why not release both the originals and special editions on DVD?
Lucas: The special edition, that’s the one I wanted out there. The other movie, it’s on VHS, if anybody wants it. ... I’m not going to spend the, we’re talking millions of dollars here, the money and the time to refurbish that, because to me, it doesn’t really exist anymore. It’s like this is the movie I wanted it to be, and I’m sorry you saw half a completed film and fell in love with it. But I want it to be the way I want it to be. I’m the one who has to take responsibility for it. I’m the one who has to have everybody throw rocks at me all the time, so at least if they’re going to throw rocks at me, they’re going to throw rocks at me for something I love rather than something I think is not very good, or at least something I think is not finished.
AP: Do you pay much attention to fan reactions to your choices?
Lucas: Not really. The movies are what the movies are. ... The thing about science-fiction fans and “Star Wars” fans is they’re very independent-thinking people. They all think outside the box, but they all have very strong ideas about what should happen, and they think it should be their way. Which is fine, except I’m making the movies, so I should have it my way.
AP: After “Episode III,” will you ever revisit “Star Wars”?
Lucas: Ultimately, I’m going to probably move it into television and let other people take it. I’m sort of preserving the feature film part for what has happened and never go there again, but I can go off into various offshoots and things. You know, I’ve got offshoot novels, I’ve got offshoot comics. So it’s very easy to say, “Well, OK, that’s that genre, and I’ll find a really talented person to take it and create it.” Just like the comic books and the novels are somebody else’s way of doing it. I don’t mind that. Some of it might turn out to be pretty good. If I get the right people involved, it could be interesting.