Even though he had nothing to do with the actual production of the movie, as Star Wars: The Force Awakens draws ever closer, George Lucas has been at the forefront of the minds of many people. We want to know if he’s seen the film, we want to know what he thought, we want to know if he’ll come to our holiday party. But it’s not just fans who are thinking about Lucas, contemporaries like Francis Ford Coppola are also reflecting on their peer, and the Godfather director has one big issue with the Star Wars universe, namely it’s impact on Lucas as an artist.
In a revealing talk with Screen Daily, the Apocalypse Now director talked about the future of filmmaking and how the next leaps and bounds can’t be made without experimentation, taking chances, and daring to fail. He then lamented that Lucas, once a boundary pusher, got caught up in the machine, saying:
George Lucas was a very experimental crazy guy and he got lost in this big production and never got out of it. I still hope that he made so much money out of it that he will just make some little movies. He promises me that he will.
After graduating from the University of Southern California, Lucas and Coppola founded American Zoetrope together (before he eventually started Lucasfilm) with the idea of working outside of the Hollywood system they viewed as oppressive. During the early stages of his career, Lucas was definitely more into making abstract, daring films, experimenting with cinema verite, visual tone poems, and other artistic endeavors.
Though he started off in this realm, it didn’t take long for Lucas to fall into a more straightforward narrative realm. His first feature, THX-1138 is a dystopian science fiction film, but his next effort, 1973’s American Graffiti, was specifically written to appeal to more mainstream audiences—it was a challenge from Coppola. From there he never really looked back, and though Star Wars pushed what you could do with special effects, it definitely helped usher in the era of blockbuster filmmaking.
This is kind of the nature of the industry. Hollywood is prone to finding new, exciting filmmakers working independently and bringing them into the realm of big budgets and all the cinematic bells and whistles. Hell, it may even be more pronounced today than ever. It used to be that a filmmaker would have to make at least a couple of movies before being brought up to the cinematic equivalent of the major leagues, but now studios are hasty to hire any hot young director. Colin Trevorrow only had one indie feature under his belt, 2012’s Safety Not Guaranteed before being handed the reins on Jurassic World; and Gareth Edwards went from 2010’s Monsters, which had a budget of under $500,000 dollars, to Godzilla in 2014, a movie that cost $160 million.
Sometimes the results are positive. Ryan Coogler went from indie drama Fruitvale Station to the studio-backed Creed with fantastic results. On the other hand, sometimes they aren’t, as is the case of Josh Trank, who went from the low-budget sci-fi flick Chronicle the mega disaster Fantastic Four, which didn’t work out well for anyone.
Since he sold Lucasfilm for north of $4 billion, Coppola is right, George Lucas can do just about anything he damn well pleases at this point. Maybe we’ll see something totally off the wall and boundary pushing from the filmmaker again in the future.