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Feature: Star Wars
Back to the Beginning
George Lucas finally comes clean about how many Episodes there will be, and tells us why he returned to Star Wars after 10 years...
In 1994 when Variety ran the words ‘Lucas the Loner Returns to Wars’, the majority of the 30-something generation and Sci-Fi geeks around the world immediately started to get a buzz which had long since diminished. After 10 years, Star Wars was returning.
The first sign that this first movie might not be everything that fans had hoped it would be didn’t arrive until September 1998, when Lucas finally revealed the title of Episode I. While some were expecting something akin to ‘The Balance of the Force’, the dubious heading of The Phantom Menace made many cringe with disappointment. This didn’t stop an Internet gridlock on November 19th of the same year as Lucasfilm released the first trailer on the Internet, buckling their servers under the strain of hits from the legion of fans.
The opening weekend figures for Phantom in the US were good ($64.8 million) but there weren’t the record breaking attendance results that everyone had thought they would be. The critics were anything but buoyant about the film itself. Variety believed, ‘The Phantom Menace can scarcely help being a letdown on some levels, but it’s too bad that it disappoints on so many.’ The lack of coercion between box office and public opinion became something of an anomaly. Surely if the fans were so disappointed, how did the film make as much money as it did?
“People will not go see a film over and over again if they don’t love it, I will tell you that for sure,” Lucas explains of the phenomenon. “You can make a sequel and not have it work. I made More American Graffiti. When I made Phantom Menace I knew that I was basically not going down the commercial route that everybody expected. I knew that I was doing it with a nine-year-old kid, and everyone said ‘You can’t do that. It’s got to have Jedi fighting and all this kind of thing everybody wants to see? I knew I was doing it without the cast from the other films, and everyone was saying, “You’ve got to work Harrison Ford into it somehow.’ I said, ‘It’s a prequel. How can I do that?’ And if I’d been doing it in Hollywood they would have done all their market research and said, ‘This is the kind of movie you’ve got to make.’
“I’m telling a story. I’m telling a story I wrote 30 years before. So I wasn’t going to change it. I said, ‘If it doesn’t work we’ll deal with it. It will be harder to get the other two made, but somehow we’ll manage to do it.’ That’s the way I was thinking when I finished the first film. I said, ‘We’ll get these other two done somehow. But I’m not going to suddenly make some other kind of movie just because it seems to be more marketable? I’m more interested in the story, not in whether or not the film is a commercial success. That made everybody in marketing very nervous, but they did the best. Since we have to finance the advertising of our films, they do their best to get tie-ins and do all kinds of things to make sure the film doesn’t fail.”
by Richard Grant
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