In hindsight, it’s no surprise that Lucas would become known
as an influential presence in the history of movies. This is the same artist
who started out in San Francisco directing cinema verité-style avant-garde
films, then worked around the studio system to create a worldwide phenomenon.
Early on, the filmmaker realized that if he wanted to maintain creative control
of his work, he had to get out of Hollywood. In the San Francisco Bay Area,
where his mentor Francis Ford Coppola also worked, Lucas found less pressure
and interference from studio executives. The years of his movie ideas being met
with aggressive skepticism had clearly left a mark -- American Graffiti
and Star Wars weren’t exactly “sold in the room,” as they say.
“People think of them now as very conventional, but at the
time I couldn't get them made, because they said they were too experimental,” Lucas
told ET’s Leonard Maltin at Skywalker Ranch, a monument to his success as a
commercial filmmaker as well as a special effects hub for multiple blockbusters
each year. “We don't understand it. What is this 7-foot-tall Wookiee? I don't
Lucas continued, “But you can really only have breakthroughs
like that when you are able to take the risk on something that isn't obviously
commercial or gonna be socially accepted.”
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What Lucas needed to sell people on for Star Wars was his vision of an immense cinematic experience. He
wanted to make a movie that you had to see in the theater on a big screen,
surrounded by speakers that could magnify sound effects and a John Williams
score. For the audiences’ hearts and minds, he would do the work of adapting
the universal monomyth for a grand space opera. The true and authentic “Star Wars experience” to Lucas came down
to watching the movie in a theater. While Laserdiscs and home video cassettes
allowed fans to enjoy the movies at home, he insisted there were several
aspects you couldn’t replicate on a small screen.
“You can get the story and you can get the characters on
television, but with a film like Star Wars, it was meant to be kind of
an environmental experience,” Lucas told ET in 1997. “Which is it's big. It's
space. It's overwhelming. That's part of the thrill of being in that movie.”
He added, “If you do want to see it with the emotional
impact that it was meant to have, you have to see it on a big screen.”