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George Lucas: Mapping the mythology

'I had that story sitting there'

George Lucas
George Lucas  

(CNN) -- It's an often-told tale that has taken on the aura of myth. No, not "Star Wars" -- the life of its creator.

Young George Lucas, fresh off the success of 1973's "American Graffiti," goes to work on his next film, a light Saturday-matinee confection called "Star Wars." Hollywood studios kick it around until it's finally picked up, reluctantly, by 20th Century Fox. A preview for executives, with the unfinished special effects replaced by footage of World War II dogfights, is a disaster.

And then, with the movie's release on May 25, 1977, a phenomenon is born.

Fast-forward 25 years. Lucas is now a filmmaking (and myth-making) icon. His empire includes the Skywalker Ranch, a vast home for his production company, Lucasfilm; a founding role with Industrial Light and Magic, one of Hollywood's leading special effects companies; and, of course, Luke Skywalker, Princess Leia, Han Solo, Darth Vader, Obi-Wan Kenobi, Yoda, C-3PO, R2-D2 and all the rest of the characters who populate the "Star Wars" universe.

And that universe is about to grow: The fifth "Star Wars" film, "Star Wars -- Episode II: Attack of the Clones," is set for release May 16.

CNN's Bruce Burkhardt visits Skywalker Ranch, the home of director George Lucas and birthplace of the 'Star Wars' saga (May 7)

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Lucas never imagined such success, he told CNN's Anderson Cooper -- nor did he imagine such a sprawling film chronicle. But his own creativity -- or the Force -- soon took matters out of his hands.

"When I started to write it, it got to be too big, it got to be 250, 300 pages," Lucas said. "I said, well, I can't do this. The studio will never allow this. I will take the first half, make a movie out of that, and then I was determined to come back and finish the other three, or other two stories."

'I had kids I was going to raise'

"Star Wars," of course, became the biggest-grossing film in history, and Lucas got his wish to complete the trilogy -- and complete control of it to boot. But after "Return of the Jedi" -- the final chapter of the original trio -- appeared in 1983, Lucas took a break, focusing on his producing endeavors and his businesses.

Lucas said he had no idea that he'd pursue a second trilogy, despite rumors in the early 1980s that he'd mapped out a total of nine films, three trilogies' worth.

"All I knew is, I was going to finish these three, and that was it," he told Cooper.

"And that's pretty much what I did. ... I had kids I was going to raise. I just had a different life planned out for me. But then, you know, I had that story sitting there. But that's what I had done [to prep for 'Star Wars' -- I hadn't really planned on turning it into a movie."

When he did decide to move ahead with the second group of films, beginning with 1999's "Star Wars -- Episode I: The Phantom Menace," the process took Lucas back through the "Star Wars" mythology and made him focus more tightly on character over plot.

"When I wrote 'Episode IV' [which we know as the original 'Star Wars'], I did figure out where everybody came from, how they got there and where everything went," he said.

"But what happens is when I told the first story, it was a feature film, which is primarily plot-oriented. But when you do a back story, it's pretty much character-driven."

Developing Darth

Star Wars Episode II
Natalie Portman and Hayden Christensen star in "Star Wars - Episode II: Attack of the Clones."  

The entire series is based around the classic journey of the hero -- in the case of "Star Wars," Luke Skywalker -- but the first three films are focused on Luke's father, Anakin, who becomes the evil Darth Vader.

Lucas said "Star Wars" fans will learn a little more about what attracted Anakin Skywalker to the dark side in "Episode II."

"In this film, you begin to see that he has a fear of losing things, a fear of losing his mother, and as a result, he wants to begin to control things, he wants to become powerful, and these are not Jedi traits," he said. "And part of these are because he was starting to be trained so late in life, that he'd already formed these attachments. And for a Jedi, attachment is forbidden."

The new film was entirely shot on high-definition digital video, a first. Lucas said the technology has been a great boon to him.

"For a fantasy film, this kind of technology is almost a must in order to get your story told," he said.

McGregor as Obi-Wan
Ewan McGregor resumes his role as Obi-Wan Kenobi in "Star Wars - Episode II: Attack of the Clones."  

Lucas has maintained his independence with the "Star Wars" films, doing things his way, on his schedule. He controls the "Star Wars" merchandising -- "I didn't want someone using the name 'Star Wars' on a piece of junk," he once said -- and also the many "Star Wars" characters and story lines, which live on in books and video games even when they're not appearing on the big screen.

"I'm able to tell the story the way it's meant to be told, and I don't have to listen to what [studio] market research does," he said.

"They would be listening to the fans -- 'and these people think you should be doing this, and these people think you should have that character in there.'

"These [stories] are not put together by a marketing department. They're purely sort of a creative act that was created to tell a great story."


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