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Tribeca 2015: George Lucas just wants to make experimental films

George Lucas appeared with Stephen Colbert at Tribeca, espousing his desire to make experimental films

George Lucas has made known he’s put his “Star Wars” days behind him, and in a conversation Friday with Stephen Colbert at the Tribeca Film Festival, he made clear just how done with the franchise he really was—so done he’d like to spend his time making experimental films.

“That is exactly what I'm going to do,” he said to an audience question of whether he’d go back to the ambitions he harbored in his very early, pre-1971 career.  “I'm tired of all the people saying you're going to go back. I’ve always wanted to do it.”

Lucas didn’t say—and Colbert didn’t ask—what projects he had in mind, when he would do them, or  are on what platform one might see them, but did outline why he was so motivated.

There are two ways, he told Colbert, to make experimental films in the entertainment business. One is on the credit card-maxxing cheap. “And the other way to do it is to become very rich, and take that money—you know, a lot my friends have yachts. And people say, build a yacht.” He doesn’t want to, he said. Instead, he wants to make experimental films.

Lucas has been closely watched for his reaction to “Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens,” which had given the talk an extra charge, especially given the material-yielding Star Wars Celebration taking place across in Anaheim. If Lucas had opinions about the movies or director J.J. Abrams, though, he wasn’t sharing them Friday.

“They’re doing a different story. I don’t now anything about it,” he said. He did say he watched the first teaser trailer and planned to view the new one.

The event brought out a highly appreciative crowd looking to embrace its hero—at one point Lucas sneezed and the audience responded by bursting into applause—but there weren’t a whole lot of moments  to electrify them. Lucas spent much of the time talking about his early career, particularly movies “THX 1138” and “American Graffiti,” with only a hint of even “Star Wars,” let alone any glimpses into the up-and-down and eventually trilogy-filled years that followed.

He did have some barbed words for critics, especially those who, well, ever write a bad review (“In Europe they don't do bad reviews. They only do good reviews. With bad films they just ignore them”) and studio executives. ("To think you know how to do it is just full of hubris… There's the corporate world, and they're not creative — they're lawyers and accountants and they think they're creative.”) At one point he predicted that Marvel might well take "Howard the Duck" (which he produced) and remake it using modern CG technology.

Lucas has become something of an unusual figure—a kind of great influencer and still visible member of pop culture who is no longer really a part of it—a contradiction embodied by the sight of a “Lucasfilm” logo at the top of the new “Star Wars” teaser,  signifying his groundbreaking company that made it all possible but that is now wholly owned and run by Disney.

Colbert, for his part, had emerged from an interregnum between his “The Colbert Report" ending last year and his takeover from David Letterman on CBS later this year. There’s already been much discussion about whether the host, stepping out of the great blowhard character he embodied on Comedy Central over the years, will muster the necessary skills as an interviewer for his new role. If he has them, they were not on display here—the insight-gleaning question, the natural follow-up and other tools of the trade were not evident. He did get off a number of jokes, some funny and some landing awkwardly outside his character’s protective armor.

At one point late in the conversation, an audience member asked a reluctant Lucas what his hopes were for the new “Star Wars." “I hope it's successful, I hope they do a great job.” It was a perfect moment for Colbert to jump in, even politely, with a follow-up about what it feels like to have your creation carried on without you involved. He didn’t, and the pair soon got sidetracked talking about the merits of watching movies on phones.

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For the record

April 19, 11 a.m.: The caption of a photo that appeared with an earlier version of this post misidentified Stephen Colbert as George Lucas. 

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