The Mythology of ‘Star Wars’ with George Lucas

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The struggle between heroes and villains and the influence of a higher force are the essence of mythology and resonate within all cultures, providing storytellers with a natural framework for spinning tales. George Lucas discusses his efforts to tell old myths in new ways, the role of faith in his own life, and the influence of his mentor, Joseph Campbell. Using extensive film clips from the Star Wars saga, the discussion explores how the continuing battle between the forces of light and darkness is best waged when we believe in a force greater than ourselves.



BILL MOYERS: Nestled into a rolling hillside north of San Francisco, Skywalker Ranch is the command center of George Lucas’ filmmaking empire. I first came here to interview Joseph Campbell, a friend and mentor to George Lucas. Twelve years later I came back, this time to interview the protégé. After a 22-year hiatus, George Lucas is back in the director’s chair with a new episode in his “Star Wars” epic, “The Phantom Menace.” I wanted to know why he thought the “Star Wars” saga had grasped such a hold on our collective imaginations. Over the course of an afternoon, we talked about myths and movies, fathers and sons, fantasy and imagination.

Joseph Campbell said that all the great myths, the primitive myths, the great stories, have to be regenerated if they’re going to have any impact, and that you have done that with “Star Wars.” Are you conscious of doing that? Are you saying, ‘I am trying to cre — recreate the myths of old? Or are you saying, ‘I just want to make a good action movie?’

GEORGE LUCAS: Well, when I did “Star Wars” I consciously set about to recreate myths and the — and the classic mythological motifs. And I wanted to use those motifs to deal with issues that existed today.

(Excerpt from “Star Wars”)

GEORGE LUCAS: What these films deal with is the fact that we all have good and evil inside of us and that we can choose which way we want the balance to go. “Star Wars” was made up of many themes. It’s not just a single theme. One is our relationship to machines, which are fearful but as — also benign and they’re — they’re an extension of the human, not mean in themselves. The — the issues of friendship and your obligation to your fellow man and to other people that are around you, that you have control over your destiny, that you — you have a destiny, that you have many paths to walk down and — and you may have a great destiny. If you decide not to walk down that path, your life might not be as satisfying as if you wake up and listen to your inner feelings and realize what it is that you have a particular talent for and what contributions you can make to society.

BILL MOYERS: One of the appeals of “Star Wars” originally was that it — it satisfied our craving to resolve our ambiguities.

(Excerpt from “Star Wars”)

BILL MOYERS: The good guys were good guys, the bad guys were bad guys. You used color to suggest some of this philosophy.

GEORGE LUCAS: Yeah. I use color a lot in — in my films. I’m very conscious of — of the design of my films.

(Excerpt from “Star Wars”)

GEORGE LUCAS: Tatooine is — is usually our home planet and there isn’t much there except a lot of brown sand. A very, very clean place.

(Excerpt from “Star Wars”)

GEORGE LUCAS: Death Star, the Empire, has been painted black or white or gray. There’s a lot of gray, but it’s colorless. The Emperor, I put in a splash of red. I mean, red is a — an aggressive color.

BILL MOYERS: When you were writing, did you have all of this in your mind before you got the pencil to the page, or were you making it up as you…

GEORGE LUCAS: Well, some artists — they see the picture whole, you know, completed. I see the picture in a fog. know sort of what it looks like, I know what’s there and so what I do is I say, ‘I want something — I want a costume that is very regal, very grand, very different from anything we see, but has a lot of cultural history behind it.’ So I don’t want to make something up. I want to use something that is from a — a living human culture. And in this particular case, I was looking for an Asian influence for the planet of Naboo, and so I go to the research library and I said, ‘Look allover Asia, even into the Middle East, all the way across into the islands to find me unique and interesting ceremonial costumes.’ I kind of had a rough idea of what it was, but not until I actually — we finished with it is it clear. It’s not like I’m working from a finished thing. I’m working from something where you have a lot of pieces and it’s vague and you try to put it together.

BILL MOYERS: Where do these rough ideas come from?

GEORGE LUCAS: Now that I don’t know. That’s a mystery.

BILL MOYERS: But 25 years ago, when you cast the original plot, you didn’t see these costumes? You didn’t see these characters, did you? That’s all. ..

GEORGE LUCAS: No. No. This is something I didn’t really do until I started to sit down and write this script.

(Excerpt from “The Phantom Menace”)

GEORGE LUCAS: I knew the basic story, how Darth Vader got to be Darth Vader.

(Excerpt from “The Phantom Menace”)

GEORGE LUCAS: But I didn’t have any details about what anything looked like. I knew there would be a — a slave owner. I didn’t know that he would actually run a junk shop and be blue and fly around on funny little wings.

BILL MOYERS: Are you conscious when you’re doing that of — a little bit of David and Goliath here, a little bit of Buck Rogers there, a little bit of Tarzan or Wizard of Oz here?

GEORGE LUCAS: What happens is that no matter how you do it, when you sit down to write something all other influences you’ve had in your life come into play. The things that you like, the things that you’ve seen, the things — the observations you’ve made. That’s ultimately what you work with when you’re writing. And you — you are influenced by the things that you like. Designs that you like, characters you like, moments that you remember, that you were moved by. It’s — it’s like trying to compose a — a symphony in a way.

BILL MOYERS: And do you have any sense of where that comes from in you. I mean, your own creative precincts?

GEORGE LUCAS: You know, the psychology of developing fantasies is a very interesting and delicate thing. I’ve come across people that have no imaginations at all and it’s a very interesting… .

BILL MOYERS: They become journalists.

GEORGE LUCAS: Well, it’s — it’s — it — I was shocked the first time I came across it. And — because I just assumed everybody had an imagination. And when you — you confront somebody who doesn’t, especially a child, it’s a very interesting and profound thing to me. It — an imagination is a — is a trait, you know. It’s like anything else. It’s a — it’s a — it’s a talent, or it’s an ability you have to cope. Like dreaming.

BILL MOYERS: The underwater world, for example, in “The Phantom Menace,” looks as if it’s a dream.


BILL MOYERS: Where did that idea come from? Out of your own fantasy?

GEORGE LUCAS: You know, part of it is where can I go that I haven’t been before? And underwater was one of those places I hadn’t been before, but I wanted to create a very special, sophisticated but organic kind of a society down there.

(Excerpt from “The Phantom Menace”)

GEORGE LUCAS: We were using a kind of technology which had to be completely worked out. How do these bubbles exist under there? Where do they come from? What do they use for energy? The whole culture has to be designed. What do they believe in? How do they operate? What are the economics of the culture. Most of it doesn’t appear in the movie, but you have to have thought it through, otherwise there’s — something always rings very untrue or phony about what it is that’s going on. And one of the things I struggle for is to create a kind of immaculate realism in a totally unreal and fantasy world. It’s a science that I can make up. But once I make up a rule, then I have to live with it.

BILL MOYERS: Such as? The world according to George.

GEORGE LUCAS: Well — I mean, one of the rules is that there’s sound in space.

(Excerpt from “Star Wars”)

GEORGE LUCAS: So there’s sound in space. I can’t suddenly have spaceships flying around without any sound anymore because I’ve already done it. I’ve established that as one of the rules of the — of the — of my galaxy and I have to live with that.

(Excerpt from “Star Wars”)

GEORGE LUCAS: The technology of laser swords, what they can cut through, what they can’t cut through.

(Excerpt from “Star Wars”)

GEORGE LUCAS: In the past, when I originally wanted to do “Star Wars,” I had this idea for this really fantastic world and fantasy world. But I realized very quickly that I couldn’t pull it off, that it was just impossible. I could make spaceships fly, and I could make them fly in ways that nobody’d ever done it before, but to get to the next level of creatures and — and — and all these fantasy characters, I couldn’t do it. And it really wasn’t until we created sort of digital cinema that I was able to suddenly have my imagination go wild and …

BILL MOYERS: And this enables you to do what, digital?

GEORGE LUCAS: It allows me to create sets that I could not have otherwise.

BILL MOYERS: Right there on the computer screen?

GEORGE LUCAS: They’re on the computer screen. I can create backgrounds. And since I have a — a scene that takes place on a landing platform in the middle of a city — well, before digital technology, you just couldn’t shoot a scene like that. It was just impossible. You couldn’t build a set big enough. You couldn’t create that reality. It’s the same thing with characters. Jar Jar or Watto. You couldn’t have a character like that. I mean, Watto is a short little blue character that flies around. You couldn’t put a man in a suit and accomplish that.

BILL MOYERS: The mesmerizing character for me is — is Darth Maul.

(Excerpt from “The Phantom Menace”)

BILL MOYERS: When I saw him, I thought of Satan and Lucifer in “Paradise Lost.” I thought of the devil in “Dante’s Inferno.” I mean, you’ve really — have brought from — it seems to me — from way down in our unconsciousness this image of — of — of evil, of the other.

GEORGE LUCAS: Well, yeah. We were trying to find somebody who could compete with Darth Vader, who’s one of the most, you know, famous evil characters now. And so we went back into representations of evil.

(Excerpt from “The Phantom Menace”)

GEORGE LUCAS: Not only, the Christian, but also Hindu and Greek mythology and other religious icons and, obviously, then designed our own — our own character out of that.

BILL MOYERS: What did you find when you went back there in — in all of these representations? There’s something …

GEORGE LUCAS: A lot of — a lot of evil characters have horns. It’s very interesting. I mean, you’re trying to build a icon of evil, and you sort of wonder why the same images evoke the same emotions.

BILL MOYERS: What emotion do you feel, George, when you look at Darth Maul?

GEORGE LUCAS: I think the first thing you’re supposed to react to is fear. You’re supposed to go, ‘Ooh.’ You — you wouldn’t want to meet him in a dark alley. And I’m not creating a monster. You know, that’s like — I — I didn’t want to create some ugly — you know, this — somebody ripped out their intestines and threw them all over their head — and it’s — you can’t watch it. This is something …

BILL MOYERS: It’s actually mesmerizing.

GEORGE LUCAS: This is something that is more — it works in a different emotional way. It’s not repulsive, it’s just — it’s — it’s something you should be afraid of.

BILL MOYERS: Is the emotion you wanted from him different from the emotion you wanted from Darth Vader?

GEORGE LUCAS: It’s essentially the same in a different kind of way. Darth Vader was a — a composite man. I mean, he was…

(Excerpt from “Star Wars”)

GEORGE LUCAS: …half-machine, half-man. And that’s where he lost a lot of his humanity is that he — you know, he has mechanical legs. You know — and he has mechanical arms possibly and he’s hooked up to a breathing machine. So there’s not much, actually, human left in him. This one is all human. And I wanted him to be like an alien, but I wanted him to be human enough that we could identify with — with him, because he’s not a — a — a sort of a monster we can’t identify with. He’s…


GEORGE LUCAS: …he’s — yeah. He’s the evil within us.

BILL MOYERS: I’ve had psychotherapists tell me that they use “Star Wars” sometimes to deal with the problems of their child patients. And they’ve said that the most popular character among the children is Darth Vader.

GEORGE LUCAS: Well, children love power because children are the powerless. And so their fantasies all center on having power. And who’s more powerful than Darth Vader, you know? And, some, you know, will be attracted to Luke Skywalker because he’s the good guy. But ultimately, we all know that Darth Vader’s more powerful than he is.

BILL MOYERS: Did you feel pow …

GEORGE LUCAS: And as time goes on, you discover that he is more powerful because he’s the — he’s the ultimate father who is all powerful.

BILL MOYERS: This is where I disagree somewhat with our friend Joseph Campbell who said that the young man has to slay his father before he can become an adult himself. It seems to me, and I think you’re right on here, that the — that the young man has to identify — has to recognize and acknowledge that he is his father and is not his father.

GEORGE LUCAS: You know, Joe used to talk about the — the basic issues that — that — that create the mystery of life. Of, you know, birth and death, and I like to always add, you know, your relationship with your parents. (Excerpt from “Star Wars”)

BILL MOYERS: Do you know yet what is going to be the transforming of Anakin Skywalker into Darth Vader?


BILL MOYERS: You already know that?

GEORGE LUCAS: Yeah, I know what that is. And it’s — it’s — it’s sprinkled throughout this episode. I mean, it’s — it’s all of the — the groundwork’s been laid in this episode. And the — the film is ultimately about the Dark Side and the light side, and those sides are designed around compassion and greed. And we all have those two sides of us and that we have to make sure that those two sides of us are in balance.

BILL MOYERS: I think it’s going to be very hard for the audience to accept that this innocent cherub almost of a — of a boy, who’s playing Anakin Skywalker, can ever be capable of the things that we know happen later on. And I’m sure you’ll take care of that but, you know, I look at Hitler and wonder what did he look like at eight years old, or Stalin …



GEORGE LUCAS: Well, there are lots of — there’s a lot of people like that. I mean, you just — you see them all the

time and you — that’s what I wonder. I wonder, how can those people possibly exist? How could they live with themselves? How could they — you know, what is it in the human brain that gives us the capacity to be as evil as human beings have been in the past and are right now.

BILL MOYERS: Well, you’ve been probing that for a good while now.


BILL MOYERS: Twenty-five years. Have you come to any conclusions?

GEORGE LUCAS: I haven’t. (Excerpt from “Star Wars”)

BILL MOYERS: This movie is very much about a mentor and an apprentice. And — and I’m wondering, did you have

such a mentor when you were growing up? Is this — is this part of — of — the movie — an extension of what happened to you?

GEORGE LUCAS: Obviously, my first mentor was my father, but then you progress with either, you know, people that are more skilled in a particular area than you are. In film, Francis Coppola became my mentor and — and taught me how to write screenplays, taught me how to work with actors. I was much more of a — a cameraman and a film editor, much more on the technical side of things. And, you know, I think my last mentor probably was Joe, who …

BILL MOYERS: Joseph Campbell.

GEORGE LUCAS: Joe Campbell, who asked a lot of the interesting questions and exposed me to a lot of things that made me very interested in a lot more of the cosmic questions and the mystery. And I’ve been interested in those all my life, but I — I hadn’t focused it the way I had once I got to be good friends with Joe.

BILL MOYERS: A professor I know said that he recently asked his freshman class how many of them had seen all three of the trilogy, and everyone in the class raised his hand. And he said to me, ‘I hope Lucas knows he’s mentoring an entire generation of — of — of young Americans.’

GEORGE LUCAS: I — I have a philosophy that we all teach, and we all teach every day of our lives. And it’s not necessarily what we lecture. I’ve discovered kids don’t like lectures at all. But it is really the way we live our lives. And what we do with our lives and — and the way we conduct ourselves. And once in a while they listen to the lectures. So when I make the films, I’m very aware of the fact that I’m teaching on a much larger scale than I would just as a parent or somebody walking through life. Because I have this megaphone. Anybody in the media has a very large megaphone that they can reach a lot of different people, and so whatever they say, whatever they do, however they conduct themselves, whatever they produce has an influence and is teaching somebody something. And I try to be aware of what it is I’m saying.

BILL MOYERS: What do you make of the fact that so many people have interpreted “Star Wars” as — as — as being profoundly religious?

GEORGE LUCAS: I don’t see “Star Wars” as profoundly religious. I see “Star Wars” as — as taking all of the issues that religion represents and trying to distill them down into a — a more modern and more easily accessible construct that people can grab onto to accept the fact that there is a greater mystery out there. When I was 10 years old, I asked my mother — I said, ‘Well, if there’s only one God, why are there so many religions?’ And over the years — I’ve been pondering that question ever since. And it would seem to me that the conclusion that I’ve come to is that all the religions are true, they just see a different part of the elephant. A religion is basically a — a container for faith. Faith is the — the glue that holds us together as a society. Faith in our — in our culture, our — our world, our — you know, whatever it is that we’re trying to hang on to is a very important part of, I think, allowing us to — to remain stable. Remain balanced.

(Excerpt from “Star Wars”)

BILL MOYERS: And where does God fit in this concept of the universe? In this cosmos that you’ve created? Is the Force God?

GEORGE LUCAS: I put the Force into the movies in order to try to awaken a certain kind of spirituality in young people. More a belief in God than a belief in any particular, you know, religious system. I mean, the — the — the — the real question is to ask the question, because if you — if you — having enough interest in the mysteries of life to ask the questions, is — is there a God or is there not a God?, that’s — that’s, for me, the worst thing that can happen. You know, if you asked a young person, ‘Is there a God?’ and they say, ‘I don’t know. ‘ You know? I think you should have an opinion about that.

BILL MOYERS: Do you have an opinion, or are you looking?

GEORGE LUCAS: Well, I think there is a God. No question. What that God is, or what we know about that God I’m not sure. The one thing I know about life and about the — the nature of the human race is that it — the human race has always believed it’s known everything. Even the cavemen thought they had it all figured out and they knew everything there was to know about everything. Because that’s what — that’s where mythology came from. You know, it’s constructing some kind of — of — of context for the unknown. So we figured it all out and it was fine. I would say that, you know, cavemen had, you know, on a scale — and understood about one, you know? Now we’ve made it up to about five. The only thing that most people don’t realize is the scale goes to a million.

BILL MOYERS: The central epic of our culture has — has been the Bible. And it’s about fall, wondering, redemption, return. But the Bible no longer occupies that central place in our culture today. More and more people today are — young people, in particular, are turning to the movies for their inspiration, not to organized religion.

GEORGE LUCAS: Uh-huh. Well, I hope that doesn’t end up being the — the course that this whole thing takes because I think there’s definitely a place for organized religion and it’s a very important part of the social fabric. And I would hate to find ourselves in a completely secular world, where, you know, entertainment was passing for some kind of religious experience.

BILL MOYERS: One reason when critics said that “Star Wars” has been so popular with young people, it’s religion without strings attached, that it becomes a very thin base for theology. In fact…

GEORGE LUCAS: Well, it is a thin base for theology, that’s why I would hesitate to call the Force God. When the film came out, almost every single religion took “Star Wars” and used it as an example of their religion and — and were able to relate it to young people and saying, ‘This is what’ — and relate the stories specifically to the Bible and relate stories to the Koran and, you know, the Torah and things. And so it’s like, you know — if it’s a tool that can be used to make old stories be new and relate to younger people, that’s what the whole point was.

BILL MOYERS: We downloaded something from your Web site the other day and there you were talking about how you wanted the Jedi to be more than just fighters. You wanted them to be “spiritual,” but you didn’t say what you meant by that?

GEORGE LUCAS: Well, I — I guess they’re like ultimate father figures or negotiators. And — and at this point in time they are — they’re sent out to negotiate a — a deal.

(Excerpt from “The Phantom Menace”)

GEORGE LUCAS: They help to put forth answers where people are in the middle of a dispute.

(Excerpt from “The Phantom Menace”)

GEORGE LUCAS: They’re aren’t an aggressive Force at all. They try to — conflict resolution, I guess, is what you might — intergalactic therapists.

BILL MOYERS: Have you been influenced by Buddhism, because “Star Wars” came along just about the time there was this growing interest in America in Eastern religions, and I — and I notice in “The Phantom Menace,” the new Episode One, that they discover this slave child who has a — an aura about him. And it reminded me of — how the Buddhists go out to look for the next Dalai Lama.

GEORGE LUCAS: Mm-hmm. Well, there’s a — again, a mixture of all kinds of — of mythology and religious beliefs that have been amalgamated into the movie, and I’ve tried to take the ideas that seem to cut across the most cultures, because I’m fascinated by that and I think that’s one of the things that I really got from Joe Campbell, was that — what he was trying to do is find the common threads through the various mythology, through the — the religions.

BILL MOYERS: One of the comparisons that came to mind just when I was re-watching the series recently is when Darth Vader tempts Luke to come over to the Empire by offering him all that the Empire has to-offer, I was taken back in my own youth to the story of Satan taking Christ to the mountain and offering him the kingdoms of the world if only he would tum away from his mission.


BILL MOYERS: Was that conscience in your mind?

GEORGE LUCAS: Well, yeah. I mean, that — that story also has been retold; the temptation. I mean, Buddha was tempted in the same way. It’s all through mythology. I didn’t want to invent a religion. I wanted to try to explain in a different way the religions that have already existed.

BILL MOYERS: You’re creating a new myth.

GEORGE LUCAS: Well, and I — I — I’m telling an old myth in a new way. I’m just taking the — the — the core myth and I’m localizing it. As it turns out, I’m localizing it for the planet. But I guess I’m localizing it for the end of the — of the millennium more than I am for any particular place. This is the — the — you know, this is — this is — again, part of the globalization of the world we live in. The average human being has much more awareness of the other cultures that exist — co-exist with them on this planet, and that certain things go across cultures, and entertainment is one of them. And film and the stories that I tell cut across all cultures, are seen all around the world.

BILL MOYERS: So what lessons do you think they’re taking away from watching “Star Wars” in — in Italy and Malaysia and South America?

GEORGE LUCAS: One of the main themes in the film is having organisms realize that they must live together and they must live together for mutual advantage. Not just humans, but all living things and everything in the galaxy is part of a — a greater whole.

(Excerpt from “Star Wars”)

BILL MOYERS: How do you explain the power of film to get inside us?

GEORGE LUCAS: Well, I think film is a very modern art form. It — it takes all of the — you know, all of the aspects, the senses, really, of other art forms, be it painting, music, literature, you know, drama, theater, and puts them into one — one art form.

BILL MOYERS: There’s something that happens in a darkened theater when the right moment occurs.

GEORGE LUCAS: You know, when you’ve seen a picture, it connects with you in a particular kind of way. A good novel operates — again, you have this little voice going on and you’re saying, you know, ‘This has something to do with me in my life.’ Art is a — is a very human thing because it — it relates, I think, to the issues of beauty, and not just visual beauty but intellectual beauty. Why — what is beauty and what does beauty trigger in our brain? And why do we — why do certain colors and things mean certain things to us, and certain sounds? Certain chords make us feel happy or sad. And how — you know, how is it when you take all these things together and recreate reality in a way that you can evoke sadness or crying, or laughter, or, you know, it’s a — it’s a very interesting human experiment. And I’m fascinated by it every day. I mean, I’m just completely amazed at how the thing works. I don’t — you know, I know quite a bit about it, but I know I know very little about it.

(Excerpt from “Star Wars”)

BILL MOYERS: I found an unforgettable part of it being that emphasis of Kenobi on intuition, on, you know, urging Luke Skywalker to feel what he sees, to depend on this second sight, this insight which is a very powerful Buddhist notion.

(Excerpt from “Star Wars”)

BILL MOYERS: Why is it so important to you, as it is in your films, to listen to your inner feelings?

GEORGE LUCAS: It’s an issue of quieting your mind so you can listen to yourself. And as Joe would say, ‘Follow your bliss.’ It’s — to follow your talent is — is one way to put it. That’s the way I see it. I went — when — you know, the hardest thing to do when you’re young is to figure out what it is you’re gonna do. And you’ll never know what it is you’re gonna do. But if you follow the things that you enjoy — I’m not sure anybody really enjoys making money. They may enjoy what they do after they’ve made it, but they don’t enjoy the process. If you can find something that you actually enjoy the process, then you found your bliss.

BILL MOYERS: When did you know what it was for you?

GEORGE LUCAS: When I discovered movies.

BILL MOYERS: Which was?

GEORGE LUCAS: But I — which was when I was in college, where I could be in a psychology class or be in a anthropology class. Suddenly I loved being in school, I loved learning this stuff. I was either going to go to one college where I was going to be basically an anthropology major, I was going to go to another college and be an art student, and then I ended up going to another college and being a film student. But I truly believe that no matter which of those routes I’d have taken, because I was interested in all those things, I would have ended up right back where I am now. Because I certainly had no intention of making theatrical films when I went into the film business. I loved making documentary films and I loved making sort of avant-garde non-story films. And here I found myself — and I hated writing. So now I found myself writing. I find myself running three companies, which is the last thing in the world I wanted to do. I enjoy it, but I’ve walked down a path — I’ve just — I followed the things that I thought inside were the things I should be doing.

BILL MOYERS: You make it sound so easy. You’re so relaxed and so laid back. But was there a struggle?

GEORGE LUCAS: Well, I didn’t — I — there wasn’t really a — a struggle because I think when you stumble — it’s like falling in love. You know, when you — and — and falling in love is tricky. Because sometimes you can — you can be infatuated with that somebody or you can be sexually aroused by somebody, but that isn’t falling in love. And you sort of have to move away those momentary things that come and go within, you know, days or hours, and try to say, ‘This is the real thing.’ When you fall in love, you pretty much know it. And when I fell in love with movies, I definitely knew it.

BILL MOYERS: How did you know it?

GEORGE LUCAS: I was just in a place where I was very happy. When you get into something that you like and you say, ‘This is great,’ you know. ‘This is something that I want to do,’ you just — it — it takes a lot of strength to stick with it because a lot of the times it’s not what society deems as a worthy thing to do. And not what a — your parents particularly want you to do. You know, my father wanted me to go into the stationery business and run an office equipment store.

BILL MOYERS: Was that a struggle not to do …

GEORGE LUCAS: That — it wasn’t a struggle because I knew immediately that that wasn’t — that wasn’t what I wanted.

BILL MOYERS: Is that what he did? Run a stationery store?

GEORGE LUCAS: Yeah. And he was — you know, he built it up for me and for me to take over, and he was pretty much devastated when I refused to get involved in it.

BILL MOYERS: What’d he say?

GEORGE LUCAS: Well — he said, ‘Well, you’ll come back and, you know, you’ll — you’ll see that making your way in the world isn’t that easy, and … ‘

BILL MOYERS: How did you tell him?

GEORGE LUCAS: Well, I basically got — it was probably the biggest disagreement we ever got into, and I got really mad at him and just basically said, ‘You know, I’ll never work at a job where I have to do the same thing over and over again every day.’ And he just didn’t want to hear that. And I knew that that wasn’t my — you know, he said, ‘You know, there’s a lot of — you know, it’s a good job, it’s a good business, you can make a lot of money, you’ll be successful.’ And I said, ‘I don’t want that. I just don’t want to do it.’ You know, he worked very hard to be able to give this to me, and so for me to refuse it was a big deal. And he thought that I would go off and starve to death as some kind of artist somewhere living in a garret.

BILL MOYERS: Is he still living?

GEORGE LUCAS: No. No, he — he died a number of years ago. But he did — he died after I did “Star Wars,” so he — he was very proud of me at the end and he — you know, I did the only thing you have to do in the end. You only have to accomplish one thing in life, and that is to make your parents proud of you. If you’re healthy and you can take care of yourself and you’re a good person — I mean, you contribute to society and not take away, that’s all your parents want in the end.

(Excerpt from “Star Wars”)

BILL MOYERS: I’m not a psychologist, I’m just a journalist, but it does seem to me that the scenes of Luke and his father — there’s something of George Lucas in there. Some memory trace there.

GEORGE LUCAS: Oh, yeah. No matter how you write, you write from your own emotions and your own feelings. There’s two sides to the redeemer motif that I’ve got in the “Star Wars” films, which is that ultimately Vader is redeemed by his children. And — and especially having children. I believe that. I believe that you are redeemed by your children. And — because that’s what life is all about, is procreating and raising children. And it should bring the best of you out.

BILL MOYERS: Are you going to be prepared for that moment when your daughter says-~your older daughter is about to go off already and — and say, ‘This is the way I want to go, Dad.’

GEORGE LUCAS: I think there is a point where, even though you love your children a great deal, you must let go, which is actually what “The Phantom Menace” is about.

BILL MOYERS: “The Phantom Menace” is about letting go?

GEORGE LUCAS: It’s about letting go.

BILL MOYERS: In what sense?

GEORGE LUCAS: In the sense that you have this young boy, who’s 10 years old, who has to leave his mother and go off on his own and the mother has to let him go because otherwise he would be a slave the rest of his life.

(Excerpt from “The Phantom Menace”)

GEORGE LUCAS: At some point you do have to become an independent person. And it’s about learning to let go of your — your needs, so to speak, and — and think of the needs of others.

BILL MOYERS: So “Star Wars” is — yes, it’s about cosmic, galactic, epic struggles, but it’s at heart about a family. The large myth set in a local family.

GEORGE LUCAS: Well, in most — most myths center around characters and — and a hero, and it’s — it’s about how you — how you conduct yourself as you go through the hero’s journey, which everyone goes through. It’s especially relevant when you go through this transition phase. Most societies it’s when you’re 13 or 14. In our society it’s sort of 18 to 22, somewhere in there, that you must let go of your past and must, you know, embrace your future and — and in your own self, by yourself, figure out what it is — what — what path you’re going to go down.

BILL MOYERS: Is it fair or accurate to say in effect that “Star Wars” is — is your own spiritual quest?

GEORGE LUCAS: Well, I would say there’s part of that. I’d say part of what I do when I write is ponder a lot of these issues. I have ever since I can remember, and, obviously, some of the conclusions I’ve come to are, you know — I — I use in the films.

BILL MOYERS: Yes. Well, some critics scoff at this whole notion of a deeper layer of meaning to what they call ‘kids’ stuff.’ But I come down on your side, on Joe Campbell’s side, when he says, ‘Kids’ stuff is the stuff dreams are made of. ‘

GEORGE LUCAS: Yeah, it’s much harder to — to actually write for kids than it is to write for adults.


GEORGE LUCAS: Well, because they’re — they’re more — they’re more susceptible to anything that doesn’t ring true, and the~-~on one level, they will sort of accept — they don’t have constraints so they can open their minds up and they’re not, you know, locked into a particular dogma. And at the other side, if something doesn’t make sense to them, they’re much more critical of it. They also don’t like to think of things as being right and wrong. It’s — it’s too difficult for them to rationalize their own behavior in that kind of a world.

BILL MOYERS: So when you write, do you see your audience and do — do you see a 13-year-old boy?

GEORGE LUCAS: I don’t — I — I see my audience and my audience is me, you know? I make these films for myself more than I make them for anybody else. I mean, I’m lucky that the things I believe in, and the things that I enjoy and the things that entertain me entertain a large population. Sometimes they don’t. I mean, I’ve made a bunch of movies that nobody’s liked so that doesn’t always hold true. But I certainly wasn’t out to become successful, it — it happened.

BILL MOYERS: You are financing your own movies.

GEORGE LUCAS: I’m financing my own movies and it allows me the freedom to have my own — my own vision be accurately portrayed on the screen, and I will, you know, be successful or unsuccessful based on how people relate to that vision. But I don’t have a lot of other people coming and telling me really what to do. So I have” bought my freedom, but I’ve also bought the freedom for everybody that works for me because I think the core issues that I’m dealing with are — if they were valid 2,000 years ago, they’ve got to still be valid today, even though they’re not in fashion.

BILL MOYERS: Why are they out of fashion?

GEORGE LUCAS: Because I think it’s harder — you know, the world we live in is more complex, and — and I think that a lot of those moralities have gotten to be grayed to the point where they don’t exist anymore. But those issues are still there in most people’s minds.

BILL MOYERS: What do you mean?

GEORGE LUCAS: The importance of, say, friendship and loyalty. You know, and most people look at that and say, ‘How corny.’ But, you know, the — the issues of friendship and loyalty are — are very, very important to the way we live our lives. But it’s not common knowledge among young people. You know, they’re still learning. They’re still picking up ideas. They’re still using these ideas to shape the way they’re gonna conduct their life. And you need to tell the same story over and over again every generation so that generation gets it. And I think we’ve gone for a few generations where a lot of the sort of more basic stories have fallen by the wayside.

BILL MOYERS: And what do stories do for us in that sense? What do myths …

GEORGE LUCAS: They try to show us our place. Myths help you to have your own hero’s journey, find your individuality, find your place in the world, but hopefully remind you that you’re part of a whole, and that you must also be part of the community, and — and think of the welfare of the community above the welfare of yourself.

BILL MOYERS: I hear so many young people today talk about a world that’s emptied of heroism, where there are no noble things to do. What do you say to them?

GEORGE LUCAS: I mean, everybody becomes — everybody has the choice of being a hero or not being a hero every day of their lives. And you can either help somebody, you can be compassionate toward people, or you can treat some people with dignity or not. And — and one way you become a hero, and the other way, you know, you’re part of the problem. And it’s — it’s not a grand thing. You know, you don’t have to get into a giant laser sword fight and blow up three spaceships to become a hero. I mean, it’s a very small thing that happens every day of your life.

BILL MOYERS: Essentially, isn’t “Star Wars” about transformation?

GEORGE LUCAS: Well, it is about transformation. And — and ultimately it’ll be about transformation of how young Anakin Skywalker became evil and then was redeemed by his son. But it’s also about transformation of how his son came to — to find the call. Luke works intuitively through most of the movie until he gets to the very end.

(Excerpt from “Star Wars”)

GEORGE LUCAS: Everything up to that point is very intuitive. He goes back and forth with his emotions about fighting his father or not fighting his father.

(Excerpt from “Star Wars”)

GEORGE LUCAS: Finally he comes to that decision to say, ‘No, this is — this is what I have to do. I have to simply throw my weapon down.’ And it’s only that way that he’s able to redeem his father, which ultimately is the issue. It’s not as apparent in the first three movies, but when you see the movies I haven’t made yet, that — the issue of how do we get Darth Vader back is really the central issue. How do we get him back to that little boy that he was in the first movie? That good person who loved and was generous and kind?

BILL MOYERS: Ultimately …

GEORGE LUCAS: And had a good heart.

BILL MOYERS: Had a good heart. Ultimately, doesn’t it take, particularly in religion, a — a leap of faith? What — Kierkegaard’s leap of faith?

GEORGE LUCAS: Yes. Yes. Definitely. And that’s — that’s — you’ll notice Luke uses that quite a bit through the films. Not to rely on his senses, not to rely on — on the computers, not to — but to rely on faith. That is what ‘Use The Force’ is, is a leap of faith. That there are mysteries and powers larger than we are, and that you have to trust your feelings in order to — to access these things.

BILL MOYERS: Your friend Joseph Campbell called it ‘the perfect eye to see with.’


BILL MOYERS: How do you develop that eye?

GEORGE LUCAS: Well, I don’t know. I mean, I don’t know whether I have that eye. But…

BILL MOYERS: Oh, you do. People — your colleagues tell me you’re always making quick decisions, good or bad. You’re making intuitive decisions very quickly.

GEORGE LUCAS: I’m making intuitive decisions because I — I’m — I — I can see the picture in my head even though it’s foggy …

(Excerpt from “Star Wars”)

GEORGE LUCAS: … and I know instantly whether this fits in there or doesn’t.

BILL MOYERS: Do you have to work to keep nurturing your imagination, to keep feeding that interior pool from which these ideas and images …

GEORGE LUCAS: I’ve — I’ve never had a problem with that. I mean, my imagination runs wild. It’s — it’s — you know, people say, ‘Well, you’re gonna run out of stories, you gonna … ‘ I — I don’t think I’ll ever run — I have more stories than I can possibly do in my lifetime. And more — and I’m interested in more things to do than I can possibly do in my lifetime. And I’m now beginning to confront the fact that the — the amount of time I’ve got is less and less, that I — more and more things are going to have to go by the wayside, and I’m going to have to focus more on the things that really are meaningful to me, you know, ’cause even if I have 30 or 40 years left, it’s not enough.

This transcript was entered on July 31, 2015.

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