Beginning with the release of the original STAR WARS: EPISODE IV – A NEW HOPE in 1977, the franchise has become a global phenomenon. The themes resonated because they were universal, examining the conflict between good and evil and between technology and humanity. In 1999, Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace opened a new prequel trilogy revealing the background of the original saga. In 2012, the force comes back again, in 3D this time. The rest five episodes will be made in 3D over the next few years.
I'm really excited about the new big screen release of the film. We’ve worked very hard to get the best quality 3D we could. The film was designed to put you in the environment and surround you with the sound and the picture. There is nothing like it. This will be the third generation that will be able to see it on the big screen and when you're young, it’s an overwhelming and powerful event.
STAR WARS is about generations, about one generation having to try to improve on what the generation before it did.
The first three movies were made very carefully with limited sets, costumes, aliens and spaceships. But when I went to do PHANTOM MENACE and the subsequent two movies, I was free because we had developed the visual technology by that time. I could basically do anything I wanted. I went from essentially doing frescoes and paintings on the ceilings of churches, to working out in the field with oil paints and watching the sun hit the leaves, and seeing a whole different world.
Originally I was not a big fan of 3D. I really thought 3D was a gimmick. Later on I was trying to get digital projectors into the theaters. I was doing a presentation in Las Vegas. Bob Zemeckis and Jim Cameron came up to me and said: ‘We want to get 3D into the theaters. Would you join us in showing the theater owners that you can do 3D?’ And I said: ‘That’d be good because in order to do 3D you have to have digital theaters. So it would promote my idea of digital theaters.’ When I saw the test that we did of STAR WARS in 3D, I realized how exciting it was to watch. I got fascinated with the idea of converting STAR WARS into 3D, which was easier said than done. It took us a long time to develop a structure in which we could actually do a really good conversion of a 2D film into 3D.
I got into the film business in a crazy kind of way, which is what happens in life. Originally I just wanted to build cars because I like working on cars. I was a carpenter and my father wouldn’t let me go to art school, so I started to learn photography. I went to a film school, USC (University of Southern California) and realized that it was a cinematography school. At the time I didn’t have any idea that you could learn to make movies in college. I didn’t know much about movies. But then I discovered that I loved to make films and I was extremely good at it. I found my passion.
When trying to get a film off the ground, you just have to be persistent and persevere, no matter what. You have to act as though your life depends on it and do everything you possibly can to get the movie made under any circumstances whatsoever.
I’d always been a big fan of the visual side of films and was an advocate of silent movies at school. I like to tell my stories with motion and graphics. All my films have been done that way. You can just play the music and watch the movie and it works just as well as if you understand the dialogue.
My films have what has been described as an effervescent giddiness. I’ve never done really dark movies. I’m just not interested. Ultimately a movie has to have a good story and great characters. That’s the bottom line. They also need a strong psychological underpinning that people can relate to in their own lives, in their own psychology. It has to have a strong psychological core and deal with primal issues. Those are the kinds of movies I make.
I think up stories and then actually make them into movies.That’s what artists have done throughout history. But whenever you do that, there are a lot of problems. If you only have black chalk to scrape on a wall, you eventually want to put some color in there. So you go out and try to find some color and you move the medium forward. Film is the most technical of all the art forms. In order to do fantasy and science fiction or anything that’s not contemporary, you’re forced to go beyond the technological ceiling. I’ve had to broaden the medium so that we could do things that just couldn’t have been done before.
I’ve always been finding better ways to get my vision on the screen. What they call ‘visionary’ is really just being frustrated with the medium and trying to make it better. I don’t know if that’s being a visionary or somebody who can just see clearly.
As a young director I was inspired by Akira Kurosawa, Federico Fellini, Jean-Luc Godard, Richard Lester and John Ford. Now that I’m an old man, I guess I do more inspiring than I am inspired.
I’ve finished a film called RED TAILS, which is about African-American fighter pilots during World War II. This is a project I’ve been working on for 23 years and it’s a labor of love.
I keep telling everyone I’m sort of retiring. But I’m really going to go back to where I started, which is to more avant garde, experimental filmmaking. I’ve made enough money so that I can finance it all myself. I don’t have to worry or answer to anybody and I can just do whatever I want. If they don’t get released, they don’t get released!