George Lucas in conversation with James Cameron: Star Wars, science fiction and drugs

The two legends of modern cinema come together for AMC's must-see series: James Cameron's Story of Science Fiction.

Influenced by the writing of mythologist Joseph Campbell, the cinema of Japanese master Akira Kurosawa, and the movie serials of his youth, George Lucas created the most popular and enduring science fiction saga of all time, Star Wars.

[Read more: All you need to know about James Cameron's Story of Science Fiction]

The initial film, simply titled Star Wars (1977), was Lucas’s third feature—following his debut, the dystopian sci-fi feature THX 1138 (1971) and 1973’s Oscar-nominated coming-of-age comedy American Graffiti.

George Lucas

The UK premiere of James Cameron’s Story of Science Fiction will be on Tuesday, June 19th – exclusive to BT customers.

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Following the immense pressures of bringing Star Wars to the screen, Lucas brought in other filmmakers to direct the sequels Empire Strikes Back (1980) and Return of the Jedi (1983), but took a strong hand in overseeing the creation of both films.

Having founded the legendary visual effects company Industrial Light & Magic (ILM) during the making of the first Star Wars film, Lucas would become a pioneer of digital effects, pushing the boundaries of technology in a way that would have an indelible impact on the future of filmmaking.

In 1999, Lucas returned to the director’s chair for his Star Wars prequel trilogy, writing and helming each of the three installments: Star Wars: Episode I -The Phantom Menace, Star Wars: Episode II - Attack of the Clones, and Star Wars: Episode III - Revenge of the Sith. In 2012, Lucas ended his hands-on involvement with the saga, selling his company Lucasfilm to Disney for $4 billion and marking a new era for the franchise.

Here, Lucas - who, with Steven Spielberg, created Raiders of the Lost Ark - explains how his personal passions for history and anthropology helped shape the worlds of Star Wars, the precise relationship between midi-chlorians and the Force, and the importance of compassion and empathy as humanity prepares to navigate an increasingly complex future.

James Cameron and George Lucas

JAMES CAMERON: I would submit that you single-handedly revolutionized science fiction in pop culture with Star Wars in 1977. It had been three decades of downer stuff, dystopian stuff, apocalyptic stuff, and science fiction was making less and less money every year. You came along with a vision of wonder and hope and empowerment—and boom.

GEORGE LUCAS: I come out of anthropology. In college, I was going to get a degree in anthropology, in social systems. That’s what I’m interested in. In science fiction, you’ve got two branches. One is science and the other is social. I’m much more of the 1984 kind of guy than I am the spaceship guy. . . . I like spaceships, but it isn’t the science, aliens, and all that kind of stuff that I get focused on. It’s the, how do the people react to all of those things? And how do they accommodate them? That’s the part that really fascinates me. I’ve already said that Star Wars is a space opera, it’s not science fiction.  It’s one of those soap operas, only in space.

JC: Yeah, but it’s more than that and you know it is. It’s a neo-myth. It fulfills the role that myth played in society.

 

 

GL: It’s mythology and mythology is the cornerstone to a society. In order to have a society, you start out with a family. The dad’s the boss, and everybody obeys the rules. Then as you get bigger, it comes to a few hundred people when you start adding in all the aunts and uncles and brothers-in-law. . . . Then you have two or three families together, which is a tribe. Once you’ve got a tribe, you got this problem that you have to get a social mechanism by which you can control them. Otherwise they just kill each other.

JC: You’re taking these ideas of social structure and blowing them up on this vast canvas.

GL: But at the same time in society, you have to have a reason why thou shalt not kill. We believe in the same gods. We believe in the same heroes. We believe in the same political system. Once you got those, then you can actually put a whole bunch of people together and have cities and have civilization. That’s the thing that drove me: Why do we believe the things [we do]? Why do [we] move on the cultural ideas that we have? It gets more complex as we get older. I thought we had reached a stable point after World War II, which is when I grew up -

JC: And through the ’60s.

GL: [The] ’50s and ’60s. Well, [the] ’60s we finally came to the conclusion that the government wasn’t all that it said it was. [It’s like] The Wizard of Oz. They open the curtain, and we looked and said, “Oh my god. This is terrible, and I’m going to get sent to Vietnam and die. Well, I’m not going to do this.” So, that changed a huge covenant we had with our government and with ourselves and with our society and what we [thought] we were. But we still believed that we were right, that we were saving the world from Communism. They were terrible and Stalin, at least, was terrible. So, it’s easy to see the good guys and the bad guys. [Our shared] mythology, the last step that it had taken was the Western. The Western had a real mythology—you don’t shoot people in the back. You don’t draw first. You always let the woman go first.

JC: It was a code of honor.

GL: A code of honor. Then [the genre] got very psychological, and the Western went out of favor. It was really that that led me to Star Wars. But before that I [was], I don’t know, an angry young man who was saying, “This is terrible. We’re living in the future.” Everything you say is bad about the future, 1984, it’s all real. It’s right now, and I’m going to make a movie about right now.

JC: Which was THX 1138.

GL: Which was THX. It looked like the future, but it wasn’t.

JC: So, you weren’t a child of the ’60s. You were a touch before that. But your maturation as a filmmaker, as an artist, came in the late '60s, so it seems to me THX 1138 was a direct response to these ideas of oppression and the rise of technology as a means of oppression.

GL: Well, yeah, and it was also based on a concept - again, a lot of things that are in those movies are based on social concepts - but the main theme of that movie, which also goes over into American Graffiti and Star Wars, is one that I learned early when I was in high school. I didn’t do well in high school. I was in a car crash, and I reconsidered my life, how I was going to handle myself. Well, I’ll go to college. I didn’t think anything was ever going to come of it. But what happens is you start going in a particular direction and opportunities present themselves. You just keep pushing forward. And if you push forward, you realize that the only limitations you have are in your mind. That’s THX. You’re in a white limbo. You can go out anytime you want, you just won’t. You’re afraid to.

JC: So, your metaphor [is] the prison of your own mind.

GL: Right. You’re imprisoned by your vision - you can’t imagine it, you can’t do it. So, use your imagination. And think outside the box. It’s the same thing in American Graffiti: “I’m just going to go to school here and go to junior college. I’m not going to go to all those big schools because I could never do that.” If you say, “I can, I’m going to try,” you can succeed. It’s the same thing - “Oh, I can’t make movies.” I wasn’t going to make theatrical films. I was going to make artistic, tone-poem kind of things. [Experimental filmmaker] Stan Brakhage stuff. But whatever opportunity presented itself, I wasn’t so single-minded, which a lot of the kids at school were.

JC: You broke out of the pack early right in film school.

GL: I was very fortunate. When we were there, everybody was pretty liberal. I mean, there were some people [who said], “I want to do art films [like] Godard.” [Or], “You like Kurosawa? Go do Kurosawa. And then John Ford.” They were very open-minded. At some of the schools - I won’t mention names -it [had] to be artistic. My feeling when I was in film school is I’ll do anything. Give me commercials. I can do commercials. I love the medium. I love to play with it.

JC: That’s what it was like working for [legendary B-movie director] Roger Corman when I started out. We didn’t care if it was a night nurses film or a science fiction movie with giant maggots. As long as you got to make a film, it was cool. There was no Cahiers du Cinéma in the discussion.

GL: I love Godard and I love Kurosawa. Kurosawa especially. And Fellini. It’s funny because we don’t have that milieu anymore. It’s funny the way it’s dissipated. But you find, just as you do, say in the Renaissance or in Paris in the ’20s, a group of talented people who were outcasts come together for whatever reason. They all find themselves in the same place at the same time, and they all meet each other because it’s a small world. Then all this stuff comes out of that. It’s like, oh, the ’70s, that was such a great [time]. That was just us. We weren’t doing anything special.

JC: But there was a rebel spirit, an antiauthoritarian spirit. To me, THX 1138 was a science fiction manifestation of that kind of counterculture zeitgeist. I saw it in ’71. I think I was a senior in high school at the time.

James Cameron's Story of Science Fiction

GL: The only people who really saw it were hallucinating.

JC: No, I was straight. I didn’t do drugs until later.

GL: THX fell into the beginnings of the 2001 syndrome, which is people go around saying, “Man, that film was so great if you’re stoned.”

JC: It also fell into the 2001 syndrome in the sense that it wasn’t recognized in its time. It was recognized later.

GL: They said, “It’s not a space film. It’s a hallucinogenic movie.”

JC: When I saw it, I saw the through line from Brave New World, 1984, all of the dystopian classics just elevated into a more technological setting. The chrome cop in Terminator 2 is a direct outgrowth of the chrome cops in THX. But I think it’s interesting when you think of Star Wars, which is a very mythological end of the spectrum in action/adventure and heroism, and THX on the other end of the science fiction spectrum, on the dystopian side. The through line is that you’ve got a rebel main character who comes to a kind of enlightenment or a different view of the world.

How to watch James Cameron's Story of Science Fiction

The UK premiere of James Cameron’s Story of Science Fiction will be on Tuesday, June 19th – exclusive to BT customers.

AMC is available free of charge in the UK to BT TV customers on channel number 332 and to BT Sport Pack subscribers on Sky channel 192.

AMC is also available in HD on both BT TV and Satellite with an HD subscription.

AMC is the exclusive home of critically acclaimed shows such as The Terror, Fear the Walking Dead and Snatch.

New to BT? Get BT TV today >
Got BT Broadband? Add BT TV >
Got BT TV? Watch AMC now on channel 332 and catch up on the BT Player >

Excerpt provided by Insight Editions from James Cameron’s Story of Science Fiction. © 2018 AMC Network Entertainment LLC. All rights reserved.

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