The Roger Ebert interviews: #1 George Lucas

George, can we begin?
Hello, Roger.
The questions are welling up behind my eyes, like a froth. Has this ever happened to you, George?
George? I'm frightened, George.
Well, I must say, Roger, I must say first how much of an honour it is to be here.
Hold me.
I'm not holding you, Roger. We discussed this earlier.
It is a pleasure. Extremely pleasurable.
Roger, let go.
It is extremely pleasurable, George.
Wait a minute... Wait, our necks are caught.
Roger, this is intolerable.
Do you have a stick? I could prise apart the necks.
I'm not really sure...
Hang on... There!
Thank God. Can we start now?
Yes. Now, we begin at the end, with your first film, Dinosaur Attack 4 (1971). This was a student film, I believe?...
[aside, to the producer] We can edit that all out, right? Replace it with something else?
...Yet you were 58 when you made it
George, are you building up to some sort of attack?
Actually, it wasn't a student film at all. It was an independent film, made while I was a student. This is an important distinction, as saying it was a student film sounds as if this film was part of a learning curve for me, which just isn't true. You see, I already knew how to make films perfectly.
George what were you studying as a student?
I have never been in a position where I needed to learn. Amateurs learn, hacks learn, but geniuses, well, they know...
Roger, your lips have become detached. Maybe you should sit still.
Yes...yes...hang on...
I've got some gum.
This is as still as I can be.
Will that help? The Gum...?
No. Where's that stick?
I... never saw a stick.
Its here, under my chair.
Do you mean that wooden Lightsaber? That's a wooden Lightsaber.
I invented that.
Yes, to help the mobility of crips, isn't that right?...
Actually, no, that isn't a wooden Lightsaber at all. Its a stick.
...and of course it changed the face of America... Oh...
Roger, you know how much I hate sticks. We discussed this as well, earlier.
I use it to prop things up. George...
I'm not sure what you're trying to do. Are you trying to frighten me?
I thought it was an interview?
That's what my agent said.
Stop trying to frighten me.
Where is my agent? Is this telephone working?
Its not plugged in.
Maybe... maybe if you hide the stick we can continue. Can you hide the stick?
I think if I sat on your lap I'd be more comfortable.
You hold the stick... Here...
No, Roger. Urgh!
Its... Its wooden...
Wait, I'm on the floor now a puppet. Or a prop. I can't stand it. [George throws the stick away]
This is what would happen if you pulled Stephen Hawking out of his chair. Of course, he'd run your hands over first.
Roger, what are you doing down there? Can... Roger, can you get up?
I shall continue from down here.
The lino is cool on my cheeks.
It does look quite nice.
Now your first commercial film was, of course, THX 90210. I'll confess, George, that I didn't understand it at all.
[laughs] Well, Roger, I'm not surprised. It is a very difficult film. Very demanding.
The decision to use puppets instead of people, for instance. Address this point, George.
Well, you see, the film itself, one of the central premises of the film - of ALL film - is the artificiality of existence, of reality, and, of course, on a post-modern level, of film itself.
So, from realising that, it was a simple logical step to replace all the humans with puppets.
I'm a bit frightened of most puppets.
Of course, to heighten the unreality of it all, the puppets of course, as we revealed a few years later, weren't puppets at all, but people. People, Roger!
I'd say 40% frightened of 80% of puppets.
Which is another reason we used puppets, Roger. It makes the future seem so much more terrifying than people could ever convey.
George I'll be honest, I never saw the film. I was invited to a press screening in NY but I couldn't get my car to reverse out of the garage. It would only go forwards. Later I realised it wasn't a car.
Roger, I don't care about you car. Unless, of course, I was in your car. Was I in your car, Roger?
I'm not sure. It may have been a puppet.
No, Roger, I wasn't. I wasn't in your car.
I see...
Can we talk about something else now? Perhaps, another one of my films?
Yes. Now your next film, Phantasm (1994), moved in a very different direction [citation needed]. Apart from anything else, amongst a cast of unknowns, you had David Bowie...
Indeed. David was a joy to work with. And so tall! We just had to cast him as the tall man. Of course, [laughs] because the rest of the cast members were so short, we made David sit in a chair, and then, in post-production, elongated him out. It is amazing what you can do with computers these days. Amazing, and astonishing. It allows us to really put everything we want on screen. Everything.
I'd like to talk about some of the themes. Of David Bowie
Which themes, exactly, Roger?
Like Let's Dance (1994). Also his face, and the fact that you replaced him with a puppet, in post-production.
Well, Let's Dance was the song which turned Bowies public profile from "weird art rocker" to "global megastar" almost overnight. It was quite sensational.. After that we decided that he became, well, too famous, almost.
People don't like to see famous people in films. It distracts them from the core experience of movie going, which is story, and the visual element of stories.
So we replaced him with the puppet you see now...
++ROTATING++ ... upright! There! I'm sorry, I wasn't listening to a word you said.
...And I must say that Phantasm benefitted greatly from our decision to remove Bowie and replace him with a puppet. Even computer effects could not really make Bowie as tall as we hoped the tall man would be.
I'd like to ask what David thought? I'd like you to answer this.
I don't know. I didn't really speak to him again.
I never spoke to him, actually. I'm not sure I approve of his lifestyle.
Do you mean Judaism?
I think this industry would be better off without his sort.
No, Roger. I mean that... that... the way he sings... I don't like singing, Roger. Not.. I don't like the way peoples mouths move when they sing.
It can be very confusing. And frightening.
It can.
I'll be honest when I say that I don't understand it at all.
That is why we used puppets to sing, in Return of the Jedi, and then later we computer generated a further singer, when we felt the technology was there to help us complete our vision.
Now, if I can say one word to you, George: BLOCK BUSTER. In two parts. I'm referring, of course, to Star Wars (2010). I'm not allowed to refer to the original film sequence, because, of course, you famously had them withdrawn, and now, legally, they don't exist. Which is why I'm not talking about them. Re-issuing them as the 're-imagined' single film (with a 20-hour running time) was a very interesting decision. Let's talk about that. You talk about that. I'll watch.
Well, you see, as a I mentioned earlier, we, well I, always had a unified vision of what Star Wars was. And it was always a twenty hour film.
But initially the technology wasn't there. For example, in 1978, a single reel of film weighed 700 pounds. Imagine that, Roger, 700 pounds. And the reel of film could only show 12 minutes of film. So, if we had tried to make a 20 hour film then, the cinemas would literally have exploded, and THEN imploded, as they tried to contain all that film, all that weight...
Do you also mean intelligent computers? I'm thinking of Stephen Hawking, of course.
... So we had to wait.
Wait for Hawking?
I don't really know who this Stephen Hawking is. What films has he made?
Sometimes it takes him a long time to select the words he's going to say. You should be more sensitive, George. Wait...
I think I have my notes mixed up.
I think you must do, Roger.
I can't reach them, though. They're on the desk. Can you reach the desk?
Can I resume talking about Star Wars now, while you wisp your way across the room? Roger?
Imagine me wisping. It will be more graceful than the real thing. So you must close your eyes.
Maybe you could get your assistant to fetch your notes. You do have an assistant, Roger?
I can't see her. Is she behind me?
I do not know.
Anyway, I will continue to talk, while you, you, while you carry on doing whatever it is you are doing. Until you have found your notes. Is that acceptable?
I have a question. Will you answer the question?
Oh, yes.
That is what I'm here for, after all. [Laughs]
Is it true that Harrison Ford during filming said "You might be able to write this shit, George...and it's completely brilliant".
It is true. Well, almost true. What he actually said was "George, you might be able to write this shit.. and it's completely brilliant".
The "George" came first.
I see.
I don't respond to my actors unless they say my name first. It is policy.
Why wasn't Harrison included in the earlier sections of the film?
Considering you planned it.
Well, he would have been too young. I mean, you have to consider that the first half of the film is set hundreds of years before the second section of the film.
Also, I hate him.
You wouldn't believe the things he would do. One day he stole my hat.
I have to say, the final segment of the film, depicting Anakin's fall from grace, was very powerful, and convincing. Although very, very confusing.
It WAS powerful, wasn't it?
I'm glad you said that, Roger.
My daughter wept uncontrollably. And blacked out, at one point, I think.
People have often critisicised these films for being infantile and childish, and what they forget is that they are children's films. For children.
I couldn't rotate my head far enough to view her. My daughter... my daughter...
But, within that, we also succeeded in making a very serious, deep and powerful film, which treated delicately, over 20 hours, about the fall from grace and then redemption of a sensitive and quite beautiful man.
When you compare the scenes where Anakin, taking a series of small steps, each one at first seeming like they are the only moral choice you can make, until finally he realises how far he has come, and how much he has been corrupted... Well, let's just say that Francis Ford Coppola immediately burned Al Pacino for failing him, 30 years earlier.
"One of the key characters in this film is Anakin (played by Toby Froud). Toby is a midget who has been given a Muppet head to wear." This is what I said in my original review, and I stand by it.
Yes. There is a slight inaccuracy there, Roger.
Roger, also, I remember you saying you were unsure of how Lightsabers worked?
No. I understood how they worked (magic). What I couldn't understand is how they were able to shield their bearers from attack.
Ah, I see. This also was to do with magic. Not just magic of course, but the scientifically derived powers that the force allows. SCIENCE.
How do you feel when you see a film like 2001: A Space Odyssey (2001) doing so well with the critics? A film which has obviously plundered your film for ideas. Or Krull? What about Krull?
Well, with Krull, it was just...
Or the Sinbad films from the 60s? What about them? What about all films, ever made? What about watching films? In a cinema? A young man watches the films... He starts to review them... Eventually he grows up to be Roger Ebert (63)
Well, I had already used Mark Hamill, and then, a few years later, Mark Hamill appeared in Slipstream, and Liam Neeson was in Slipstream, and he was also due to appear in the later sections of the complete Star Wars, which I had already envisioned, and so, well, Krull, which also contained Liam, and really, it was like we had seen it all before... Like I had MADE it all before, and they were just following in my slipstream, if you will.
Slipstream was an incredible film. One of your best
Yes. It also allowed me to work with Coltrane, which was one of the greatest moments of my working career. Just incredible. Robbie Coltrane is just... Well, he is incredible. Incredible.
Of course, he was also in Krull.
I especially liked the scene where Mark Hamill (55) was flying a futuristic cross between a helicopter and an aeroplane, and a man is in the engine, for some reason, and he c-l-a-w-s his way out of it, and Mark is just trying to fly the aerocopter. Actually, that is the only scene from it I have seen. But it was very powerful.
Yes, Mark is, well, he is one of the most focused actors I've ever worked with. That entire scene was improvised by him. There wasn't even supposed to be a man in the engine, he just imagined it all. It was incredible. A few days later he was dead.
Going back to Star Wars: one scene that sticks in the mind (my mind) is the final battle between Yoda and Palpatine. During this scene Palpatine doesn't stop laughing, not even for a moment. It sends a chill down my spine just thinking about it. Additionally, towards the end, the laughter is like the laughter of a Down's.
Did you notice that Yodas cloak falls off, and then, later, when Luke meets him again on Dagobah, he doesn't have a cloak, because he lost it 20 years before?
I was just about to mention that!
That was why the Emperor was laughing.
[nods] When I saw that in the cinema I started shrieking. Just shrieking and shrieking. Like a battered woman.
That was a common complaint, and many people, like yourself, attributed this to the laughter, but it wasn't. In fact, to make that scene as unsettling as possibly we added subliminal flashs of The Devils, starring Oliver Reed. It was inhuman. I apologise unreservedly for this.
I don't think anyone could argue that Star Wars depicted a chilling (and extremely portentious) vision of the future. One where people are addicted to a drug called 'Prozium', which supresses all emotion.
Yes. I have heard many people say that, if it were not for the light hearted scenes with the dog this future would have been so oppressive that they literally would have suffocated as they watched it. Luckily, there was the scene with the dog. I... I love dogs.
I think a dog is one of the most important cinematic devices. The 'most important cinematic device', if you will.
Yes. I have called it that myself many times. Dogs, and also computer generated willowing future cows.
Let's just think about the future for a minute... [nods]'s completely terrifying, isn't it?
Just think, in the future, on my ranch, I can watch any film I like in my own private earthquake-proof cinema. I don't find that frightening at all. Also, I'm a billionaire. Is that frightening?. Of course it isn't.
If we're thinking about the future, now, I've thought about this, it leads us onto thinking about THE future, the future of YOUR films! I am, of course, talking about the long-awaited next installment of the Indiana Jones movies, Indian Jones And The Pangranisation Of The Ethnic Temple.
I wish you wouldn't call them "films", Roger. They are "works".
Also, yes, the new Indiana Jones film is going to be incredible. Incredible.
Unfortunately I'm not facing you, because I would have loved to have seen the expression on your face as you said that.
Roger Moore, who has replaced Sean Connery for this one, finds himself in this Ethnic Temple... People might criticise it as racist, but I assure you it isn't. I mean, how can characters in a film be racist? They are just characters, not people.
The most common criticism coming out of the "Critic's House" is: surely Harrison Ford's face looks too melted now?
Yes, but when you see the film Harrison Ford's face will be explained.
(I burnt him with some fire)
We laughed about it afterwards. He said it was just like being a carpenter again.
(I used to set fire to his tables)
George... is that blood? Coming out of your mouth?
Yes. Isn't it beautiful?
George. There are hands grasping round me. I think they may be my assistants...
It is time.
...but I can't rotate far enough to be sure
Roger, it is time.
I am being pulled from the room.. which I think... means...
[End of interview]

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