After the mega-phenomenon of Star Wars, George Lucas has often complained about being imprisoned by the series.
However, at the same time, he keeps swearing to do the smaller movies he’s always wanted to make, like THX, but never gets around to it.
Now reports are surfacing that Lucas’s new original story, Red Tails, about the Tuskegee Airmen, is finally ready for a January 20, 2012 release, and the trailer’s already hit online. If this story seems somewhat familiar, it is probably because the The Tuskegee Airmen was done as a cable movie in 1995 with Laurence Fishburne.
You can definitely see Lucas’s influence in the trailer, except these dogfights are closer to earth than in space. In fact, when the effects weren’t finished on Star Wars, Lucas dubbed in WWII dogfighter footage, and tried to tell the Fox executives to just imagine they were in space.
So as far as the spin that Lucas has been imprisoned by Star Wars, I’ve always been of the opinion it’s a prison of his own making, because he’s one of the only directors in Hollywood who has carte blanche to make whatever he wants. Plus, the legacy of Star Wars is such if he never made another episode in the series, he’d still be raking in plenty of dough regardless.
In fact, you wonder if the recent Star Wars movies being so bad was a direct result of Lucas showing his contempt for the series all too clearly, and that he sabotaged it on purpose. Then again, what is stopping him from making other movies in the first place?
Peter Biskind, who practically built his current career as a best-selling author bashing Lucas and Spielberg, has written in his book, Easy Riders, Raging Bulls, that a lot of the directors of the ‘70’s didn’t have that much to say, which is why they couldn’t follow up their initial successes. Perhaps this is what’s happened to Lucas, but it’s obviously a little more complicated than that.
Star Wars was such a difficult shoot, he swore he’d never direct again, but directing movies was never his long suit to begin with. Lucas had the vision of American Graffiti, Star Wars, and Indiana Jones, but he’s always been very shy and uncommunicative, which is why his visions often turned out best with others writing and directing them in the case of Empire and Raiders. (Which is not to knock Graffiti, which still has a wonderful spirit to this day.) As his business acumen has proven, Lucas was always better at guiding his empires than his movie sets.
Several years ago I spoke to Steve Lisberger, the writer/director of Tron, about why we didn’t hear much from him after he made his geek masterpiece. Well, Lisberger explained he had put all he wanted to say in the one film and was basically satisfied with that.
Lucas also crammed Star Wars with an awful lot of great ideas and innovation, although he did follow up with Raiders, which had the same sense of wonder and magic his previous films did before his cynicism got the best of him.
Does Lucas still have anything left to say today? We’ll find out early next year.