MARIN COUNTY — George Lucas didn't have to travel far to talk to the media about "Star Wars: Episode II Attack of the Clones." The filmmaker opened the gates of his Skywalker Ranch here to journalists last week, where he spoke candidly about a number of issues relating to this latest chapter in his "Star Wars" saga which opened nationwide Thursday.
On the disappointing response to "The Phantom Menace": I knew when I made the film that a lot of fans weren't going to like it, because I wasn't making the movie they wanted me to make. [Nevertheless,] "Phantom Menace" became the most successful "Star Wars" film of all time. But [fans] wanted this to start in Episode II. They wanted to see Jedis fighting, they wanted to see battles, they wanted to see "The Matrix."
But I had to start in the beginning and do all the groundwork, which means you have to lay all the pipe for the characters and for the world that you're creating.
On the grim nature of the new episodes: I'm basically [going] against the marketing wishes of what you would normally do in a film like this. But I've got to tell the story, and I knew when I started that this was going to end badly. I see this as one movie in six parts, and if you see it from the very beginning to the very end, the father is redeemed by the children, and it all works out. You just have to accept the fact that the middle is pretty grim.
On building a better Yoda: We had created digital dinosaurs [for "Jurassic Park"] and made them look real in a real environment, and we also accomplished that [in "Phantom Menace"]. But creating a digital character from scratch and having it fit in is one thing--having to replicate an existing character and make it look real and like that existing character that people knew was a huge challenge. We tried to do it for "Phantom Menace," but we were going too far too fast. It didn't work, so I went to the puppet again.
We have a couple of wide shots with the digital character running around, but I couldn't really do a digital Yoda [then]. We kept that crew working and struggling. When we started production [on "Attack of the Clones"] I had to commit to a digital Yoda because I couldn't get the end scenes with a puppet. It just wouldn't work with throwing a puppet around. So we put extra energy into it, and about nine months after we finished shooting we saw the first Yoda, and it was a great thing.
On the decision to make the second trilogy: When I got to the end [of the first trilogy] and everyone said, "Are you going to do more?" my feeling was, probably not, because I couldn't tell the back story. And that was the only other thing I had written. At that point I really wanted to go off and raise my family and do a lot of other things. [Later] I was thinking--my kids are old enough, the companies are all established, I'm independent, I can do any kind of movies I want to do.
And I thought, do I finish "Star Wars"? I love the story of how Anakin became Darth Vader, and obviously I like the world, and I also liked the idea of working in a medium where I wasn't constantly banging up against the technology all the time. This was after "Jurassic Park," and we now had the technology, if I did it digitally. The idea of being free to let my imagination loose in this world I'd created was exciting to me.
On his role in creating the blockbuster approach to filmmaking: This whole notion that somehow "Star Wars" or even Steve's [Spielberg] films invented the blockbuster is a complete misconception. If you were to go back in the history of cinema, you will discover that blockbusters existed right from "Birth of a Nation" and "Intolerance." The biggest blockbuster of all time was "Gone With the Wind." If you go to what we might call the modern age, it really started with "The Godfather," [which] was the first film to actually break out and be a giant hit. And "Jaws" was the first film that opened in multi-screens all at once. I opened ["Star Wars"] in 35 theaters.
Blockbusters existed at Christmastime, and they existed at the 4th of July. What I did was, I moved that day to May. I was told that you can't release a film in May, because kids are still in school--especially when it's a kid's film. And I said that I want them to be in school, because I want them to talk about the movie, and if they're all together, they'll talk about it. Then people started releasing their films in May, and they realized they could actually have hits all summer.
In defense of digital: I think ["Attack of the Clones"] is the movie that will stop a lot of the rumors and gossip that it's terrible, it doesn't work, you can't use it. We've been struggling to get the theaters to go for digital. They've locked arms and said, "We aren't going to do it." And the studios have done the same thing. They're both basically stalling, and the reason is, they're figuring out, "How can we control this thing? How can we make the money on it?" But you don't make money at this. That's the whole point. Sometimes you have to put aside your greed and decide [that] it's actually a better presentation for the audience.
On when the first trilogy will come out on DVD: It'll probably be after I finish the next film, because that takes a lot of work and there's not as much material to work with. I want to get these done [first]. You can't just put the film out; a DVD is now a whole different world.