After nearly three decades, George Lucas has finished his culture-changing saga of a fallen father and the son who redeems him. The director seems as surprised as anyone at what he has done. He sat down with TIME's Richard Schickel, who has known him since shortly after the original Star Wars came out in 1977, to talk about how he works, his fear of failure and the sort of movies he really wants to make.
TIME Now that you've finished the entire saga, what do you feel? Sad? Glad? Half mad?
LUCAS Well, I'm still stunned at this point. Yesterday was the first day I saw it, actually sat back and looked at it with an audience. I'm very happy with it. I think it turned out as well as I could have hoped, and at the same time I'm very glad that I finished it. It was desperate just to get the first one made. But the idea of actually doing the other two was this huge Mount Everest. And then the concept of going beyond Mount Everest was completely unthinkable. I expected this to be one movie. I expected it to take me a year, year and a half to make, and then I expected to move on to other things. Especially in the storytelling sense, it was very stylized, very much in opposition to what my natural inclinations are. It was a kind of whim which turned into my life.
TIME Is that why, after the first three Star Wars episodes, it took you 16 years to come back and do these last three films?
LUCAS Star Wars was written very carefully around the limits of technology. I had one big technological leap that I had to make, and that was to be able to pan the spaceships. I thought I knew enough about animation that I could make that happen. Everything else was written for what I knew I could get away with, given the fact that I had a limited budget, limited resources. But in terms of having creatures? I could barely get the cantina scene done. I had a couple of really stupid rubber masks. I had to go back and beg another $10,000 so I could go down to a garage and have a friend of mine make some better masks that actually moved their mouths. It took every ounce of energy to create Chewbacca. But then Jurassic Park inspired me. I didn't have to use rubber masks. I could build digital characters that can act and perform and walk around and interact with actors. I can use digital sets. I can paint reality. In essence, it means that cinema has gone from being a photographic medium to a painterly one.
Now just having made it to the end of the river is a relief. All the pieces are together, and I was able to buff up the older ones. I can put it together in a six-part DVD and be very proud of the way the story gets told. On the other hand, I have a feeling this one is going to be sort of like the last one in terms of some people like it, some people hate it. And like everyone who makes movies, I'm always convinced the next one will be a flop. So right now I'm thinking it probably won't make any money and will be considered a failure.
TIME I think you've probably heard people say, "George doesn't really like directing actors. George doesn't really like being on the set and having the rub and scratch of egos and all that." Is there any truth to that? Is it easier for you to paint them on a computer?