George Lucas interview
Complete transcript of Ty Burr's interview with the legendary filmmaker
George Lucas sits in a function room hidden away in Boston's Museum of Science, looking out at the gloaming of a cold autumn day. In half an hour he'll put on a tuxedo and stand in front of a phalanx of Imperial Stormtroopers, the creator with his creations.
The opening gala of the museum's new exhibit, "'Star Wars' -- Where Science Meets Imagination," is about to unfold on the floors below and all of haute Hub is set to celebrate that galaxy far, far away and the man who invented it. This is the calm before the storm -- literally, since rain clouds are poised to break over Boston Harbor in the distance -- and Lucas is in a quietly talkative mood. He spoke with Ty Burr about "Star Wars" closure, his lack of scientific expertise, about God and man, and plans for the future.
Ty Burr: How much input did you have on the new exhibit?
George Lucas: Well, [Industrial Light and Magic] helped put together some of the models, but basically this is done by the museum. They're the science partner, we're the activity partner.
TB: It's impressive to note the number of times in the exhibit that scientists say they themselves were inspired by "Star Wars" as children.
GL: The original film was designed to allow young people to think outside the box. It was designed for 12-year-olds, adolescents, kids who were starting to think outside the box anyway, as a way of saying, "Let your fantasies run free, because this is the time to do it." That was one of the original purposes of "Star Wars."
TB: When you created this world, were you scientifically curious about it, or was it mostly about the plot and characters?
GL: I'm not much of a math and science guy. I spent most of my time in school daydreaming and managed to turn it into a living. When I was making "Star Wars," I wasn't restrained by any kind of science. I simply said, "I'm going to create a world that's fun and interesting, makes sense, and seems to have a reality to it." And a lot of it came from our literary history, our social history, like robots and whatnot. Part of it's based on mythological motifs, the politics are based on history. There's a lot of cultural reality to it that isn't necessarily scientific but is more social.
TB: Did you find as you were making it that you had to address certain physical realities? Did you ever say, "Oh, we can't do that"?
GL: Well, I created a reality, and then I had to be true to that reality. So once I designed the science and the physics of the world I was in, I had to stick with that -- I couldn't suddenly decide to change it. That's against the rules of literature. But I kept away from certain things, like teleporting. I didn't want it to be like "Star Trek" so I said, "Well, I'm not going to have teleporting in my world." That's a science-fiction given in television for a reason -- it's a fast way to get people on and off planets. Or hyperspace -- hyperspace was invented to get you from one side of the galaxy to the other in a very short amount of time. Like a cut.
TB: Some of those rules go against scientific reality, such as explosions in space that make noise.
GL: That's a cinematic reality. Those are the conceits you do for poetic reasons because you want it to have a visceral experience. I was telling a story. I wasn't doing a documentary on science.
TB: Where have these costumes and props been all this time? Out at the ILM ranch?
GL: Yeah, we have a storage facility. We've had museum shows from time to time, for "The art of 'Star Wars,' " "The costumes of 'Star Wars.' " This one's more fun, I think. To sit and see the speeder that Luke went around in and then to turn and see real speeders that actually exist in the world -- and to see how people are trying to solve that problem -- is really fascinating.
TB: Do you have any nostalgia for these things? You don't find yourself wandering down to storage late at night and rummaging through the props?
GL: Well, they're in crates, and they're mothballed away. You can't just go and look at them.
TB: Does walking through the exhibit call up memories of making the films?
GL: Well, I finished the films. It's all in the past now. A show like this I don't really relate to the film.
TB: You've had closure.
TB: Do you have plans to make other movies?
GL: Oh, yes. Not "Star Wars" movies. The saga of Anakin Skywalker started when he was 10 years old and ended when he died.
TB: But are there other stories you want to tell -- ones set on earth?
GL: Lots of them. I'm working on another "Indiana Jones," then I've got another film about African-American fighter pilots in World War II that I've been working on, but I'm producing that, not directing it. And then a bunch of TV series, and then I'm going to go off and make my own feature films, which are more about exploring the aesthetics and conventions of cinema. They'll be about something, but they'll be different than what I've done. That kind of moviemaking I haven't done since I was in college, so I'm looking forward to getting back to the basics of cinema.
TB: Here's an oddball question: This exhibit plays off the science of "Star Wars" and its physical underpinnings, but what's your stand on "intelligent design"? After all, you're the god of this particular universe.
GL: (laughs) It's obviously a very hot-button issue. I find that it's a matter of definition. The way I define "intelligent design" is that when people started out we wanted to make sense of the world we lived in, so we created stories about how things worked. The end result, obviously, was to create spirits or gods of one form or another that functioned beyond our knowledge -- that would explain why the sun went down at night, why babies were born, and that sort of thing. You didn't have to explain it yourself. You just had to say, "Well, there's something there that explains all that, and if you just have faith in that, you'll be fine."
That's always the way it's been. But I think that God gave us a brain, and that it's the only thing we have to survive. All life forms have some advantage, some trick, some claw, some camouflage, some poison, some speed, something to help them survive. We've got a brain. Therefore it's our duty to use our brain. Because we have an intellect, part of what we do is try to understand the "intelligent design." Everything we don't know is "intelligent design." Everything we do know is science.
In other words, evolution is a product of "intelligent design." There's absolutely no conflict between Darwinism and God's design for the universe -- if you believe that it's God's design. The problem for me is that I see a very big difference between the Bible and God. And the problem they're getting into now is that they're trying to understand intelligent design through the Bible, not through God. Our job is to find all the "intelligent design," and figure out how He did everything, and I think that's consistent with science.
All we're doing in our own fumbly, bumbly, human way with our inadequate little brains is trying to figure out what He did. And once we figure it out, we say "Ooh, that's great!" And then we just continue on. Will we ever figure out everything? I don't know. There'll always be that faith there that there's something more to figure out.
TB: When you're in there creating the nitty-gritty of the "Star Wars" universe, figuring out how an inhabitant of a given planet might evolve a given way, do you feel like you're playing god?
GL: Well, I started out in anthropology, so to me how society works, how people put themselves together and make things work, has always been a big interest. Which is where mythology comes from, where religion comes from, where social structure comes from. Why are these things created? Now we're getting into more of the social sciences side of the things, but the biological side is starting to float into that. I'm looking forward to the evolution of neuro-anthropology, because I want to see our genes affect how we build our social systems, how we develop our belief systems in terms of our social beliefs and cultural beliefs. We're at an exciting time.
TB: What's neuro-anthropology? I'm not familiar with the term.
GL: It doesn't exist. [laughs] It's sort of an extension of neuropsychology, which does exist. But the next step is neuro-anthropology.
TB: The nervous systems of social groups?
GL: Yeah. A friend of mind is writing a book on the social interactions of people based on brain research and how the way we interact with other people is affected by the development of our brains in terms of how the synapses and neurons work. You know, like how married couples influence each other just on a neurological level. What I'm interested in is what happens when you take that to the next level. How do the social institutions reflect the neural activity of the individuals. But that's an outgrowth of how, in the case of "Star Wars," I've taken psychological motifs from 4,000-year-old stories and put them into a modern vernacular. The reason they worked then is that they were told verbally over and over and over and handed down from father to son. Because they were tested by an audience for thousands of years, they have a certain emotional integrity to them, and you can take those little modules and stick them into a story as they are. They work well because emotionally we have not shifted all that much in the last 4,000 years, whereas intellectually we have.
TB: Are you saying that motifs like the lone hero coming to grips with his father are encoded into our cultural DNA?
GL: I see mythology as a kind of archeological psychology, in which you take psychological fossils that sit in our brain and test to see if they're still working.
TB: Does your penchant for painting detailed pictures of entire societies come from these interests?
GL: Yes. Also, I love history, so while the psychological basis of "Star Wars" is mythological, the political and social bases are historical. I like to take things and strip them down, then use the model and build a different story on it. You can put in a motif of Saturday-afternoon serials to make it relevant to kids of today, but the political situation of the Empire and the Republic -- that's a scenario that's been played out thousands of times over the years and that never seems to change much.
I had an interesting discussion when I was doing publicity in Europe for the final "Star Wars" movie. I was sitting around with a dozen reporters, and the Russian correspondents all thought the film was about Russian politics, and the Americans all thought it was about Bush. And I said, "Well, it's really based on Rome. And on the French Revolution and Bonaparte." It's shocking that these things get repeated through history. The same mistakes get made and the tension between democracy and tyranny is always the same. And we haven't figured out any way around it.
Ty Burr can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.