Why George Lucas Couldn't Rely On Studios To Make The Star Wars Prequels

It would be an oversimplifiction to say that George Lucas is a complicated artist. On one end, he's an endlessly creative visionary who has given the world one of the most beloved creations in pop culture. At the same time, he has arguably let his own boundless imagination muddle the sci-fi world he gave birth to. Still, no one can deny that the Star Wars prequels are a product of Lucas' singular mind. That absence of studio interference was the only way Lucas could have ever made them.

George Lucas has always approached Star Wars with a maverick attitude. He started his career off as an independent filmmaker associated with the daring "New Hollywood," a wave of auteur directors that included Martin Scorsese and Francis Ford Coppola. It's ironic, then, that "Star Wars" became one of the first films to usher in the age of giant blockbusters, effectively ending the previous indie-dominated era. As studios once again began to control the direction of big-budget projects, however, Lucas maintained his creative hold over the "Star Wars" saga thanks to an early deal he made with distributor 20th Century Fox that granted him sequel and merchandising rights. Lucasfilm's independence and subsequent financial success paved the way for a prequel story more than two decades later.

An independent blockbuster

By the time "The Phantom Menace" was in pre-production, Lucasfilm looked a lot different than the scrappy independent production company it started off as. Now a multi-million dollar enterprise, the studio gave its founder the freedom to do whatever he wanted with a new project if he so pleased. That turned out to be an origin story on Darth Vader, stretching from his childhood to his time as a Jedi Knight to his tragic turn to the dark side. The thing is, that wasn't the sort of stuff studios wanted to make, even in the context of a giant pop culture monolith like "Star Wars." In an interview with BBC, Lucas explained that traditional sequels that brought back the same characters and actors to continue a story were the Hollywood norm:

"When I said to my colleagues that I was going to start from the beginning, and with a nine-year-old kid, they were saying, 'This is a disaster, this will never work, it'll destroy the franchise. Can't we get Harrison Ford back?' If I'd have been at a studio, if I'd had to answer to somebody, that film would probably never have been made. And then the story wouldn't work. I'm trying to tell a six-part story, and a studio wouldn't be interested in a six-part story, they just want sequel, sequel, sequel, sequel, sequel."

Sound familiar?

The Star Wars prequels were a different kind of story

The "Star Wars" prequels looked back and used a different cast to tell a completely different type of story, in many ways the inverse of the original trilogy. Instead of moving his original story forward, he decided to bring it full circle. Part of the appeal of these entries is that they're Lucas' genuine attempts to expand on his original mythology, even if their faults are due to the man's inability to restrain himself from his own ideas. For all their overused computer-generated effects, soap opera cliches, and over-explanations of mystical sci-fi fantasy concepts, the prequels are still the original product of a creative visionary who still maintained his refusal to abide by big Hollywood studios — even as he ran one of his own.