Tribeca Film Festival 2015: 11 Things We Learned From George Lucas' Talk With Stephen Colbert


The Star Wars Celebration may be going on in Anaheim, Calif. right now, but one of the most successful movie franchises of all time was well represented in the Big Apple Friday afternoon when George Lucas sat down with Stephen Colbert at the 2015 Tribeca Film Festival.

Of course, this wasn't the first time the filmmaker and the funnyman have met. Lucas memorably made a surprise appearance on The Colbert Report back in 2006 with an impressive entrance in the show's Green Screen Challenge. Colbert has also made his love for Star Wars apparent on a couple of other occasions.

However, this talk was all about Lucas. T-Lounge was there for the whole one-hour conversation, which began with the story of how Lucas first got into making movies. He then detailed his struggles in obtaining creative and financial control over 1973's surprise hit American Graffiti and the first trio of Star Wars films. Of course, Lucas also had some thoughts on J.J. Abrams' upcoming Star Wars: Episode VII - The Force Awakens, as well as why watching his movies on your smartphone isn't such a bad thing. We even saw some fanboying from Colbert, which was all we could have asked for.

All in all, it was a thrilling conversation between fan and filmmaker that really gave you a better sense of the kind of director, businessman and visionary Lucas is. Here are the 10 best tidbits from Lucas (and one from Colbert) from the conversation that will give you a whole new appreciation of one of the most successful filmmakers ever.

1. Growing up, Lucas wanted to be a racecar driver, not a filmmaker, until he had a near-death experience: "I was just driving. I was racing home after going to the library to do my term paper, which was a week late, and it was a week before I was going to graduate, and you know, I made a lefthand turn... Some guy plowed into me about 90 miles an hour, and by all rights, I should have been killed, but I wasn't. So I said, 'Well, maybe there was a reason I was saved, and maybe I'll go back to school.'"

2. American Graffiti was the result of a dare from Francis Ford Coppola: "He said, 'Look. Do me a favor. No more of these experimental, science-fiction, robot movies. I dare you to do a comedy.' I said, 'I can do a comedy. I can do anything.' He said, 'I don't think you can do that.' I said, 'OK. I'll show you.' So while he was off doing The Godfather, I was off writing American Graffiti."

3. A test screening of American Graffiti convinced one studio executive that the film shouldn't be released in theaters: "The audience went berserk. I mean, it was so over-the-top that in the end, the studio executive said, 'This film isn't fit to show an audience.' And I said, 'What do you mean? Did you hear the audience?' He said, 'You planted this audience. Nobody reacts to a movie like that. I've never seen that in my whole career, so you planted these people, and I think the film is unfit to show an audience.'"

4. Movement is what differentiates Star Wars from the space and science fiction movies that came before it: "The thing about Star Wars is it is kinetic. It's like a silent movie. You can be 2 years old and not understand anything that's being said, but you'll understand the movie."

5. This is Lucas' secret to getting rich: "I was sitting in [then-president of 20th Century Fox Alan Ladd Jr.'s] office, and I said, 'You know what? I've got half this movie, and I know what I'm doing for my half. You know, I'm spending three years of my life. I'm working my heart out. My whole career is at stake. I'm killing myself. I'm writing, directing and doing all this stuff. I know what I'm doing for my half. What do you do for your half?' He goes, 'We finance the movie.' I said, 'That's it?' He said, 'Yeah.' I said, 'You don't really finance the movie. All you do is write a letter to the bank and say here, give us some money. All you do is get a line of credit.' He said, 'Well, that's the way it works.' When I came back on Empire Strikes Back, and I had the sequel rights, and they said, 'OK, let's make a deal. Now we're going to do this.' I said, 'Well, look. This is the way it works. I get my 50 percent, but now I'm going to finance this, so I get your 50 percent too.' And that's how I got to be rich."

6. Lucas' friends, who also happened to be some of the best directors of all time, gave Star Wars a lukewarm reception: "I showed it to all my friends early on, but it was mostly stock footage of old war movies and all kinds of stuff. I showed it to my friends Steven [Spielberg], Brian De Palma, Marty [Scorsese], I had a giant group. There were like maybe 20 people. They thought, 'Poor George. What were you thinking?' And [Spielberg] jumped up and said, 'This is going to be the biggest movie of all time.' Everybody looked at [Spielberg] and said, 'Poor Steven.'"

7. It took Lucas a while before he realized he actually had a hit with Star Wars: "I was working all night. I finished the mix that morning, first thing in the morning. I got on a plane. Flew to Hawaii… I got a call from [Ladd] about a week in, after the first weekend. It was really in the middle of the week. He called and said, 'George, turn on the news.' I said, 'What?' He said, 'Turn on CBS. Turn on the news. Walter Cronkite...' So I turned on the news, and they did this huge story on the sensation of Star Wars and lines around the block. Everybody was going berserk about it. That was the first time I understood that it was a big hit, like a week or two into the run."

8. Lucas predicts Marvel will remake the Howard the Duck movie: "I have a feeling that Marvel is going to redo it, because with the technology we have today, I mean, I told the producer and writer and director, I said, 'You can't. This won't work.' He said, 'Well George, you're our best friend. We've worked for you. You've got to help us do this.' I said, 'OK, but this is not going to work. You can't put a dwarf in a duck suit and make it work.'... [Howard the Duck's cameo in Guardians of the Galaxy] is a digital duck, and a digital duck can do anything."

9. Colbert had a perfect response to Lucas' question about why he's replacing David Letterman and not Jon Stewart: "I love it when people say, 'Why are you going into late night? I was at 11:30. I'm moving to 11:35. I'll drink a cup of coffee and stay up five minutes later. Listen, Trevor Noah's a very funny guy. I don't want to be the guy to take over for Jon Stewart. I worked for Jon Stewart and that show. My memories will always be of him being the keenest, most intelligent, most beautifully deconstructed mind, the clearest thinker I've ever worked with or for. I would never, no matter how successful I will be, get underneath his shadow for me. Someone who doesn't know him as well and maybe doesn't love him as much might have a better time on that show than I ever would."

10. Lucas' hopes for the upcoming Star Wars film were short and sweet: "Well, you know, I hope it's successful. I hope they do a great job."

11. Lucas won't hate you if you decide to watch his movies on your smartphone: "I make movies for the big screen, that's what I do. And they work best on the big screen. If you want the full experience, you see it in a good theater with a good sound system... If you want to see it on a cell phone, that's fine with me. You just don't get the same experience. And you can't sort of tell people where to watch movies, especially in the future."

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