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How George Lucas Transformed The Modern Fairy Tale


This week, a battle over which American city would become the home to the Lucas Museum of Narrative Art was settled. Chicago won out over San Francisco and Los Angeles. And the $1 billion museum named for its founder, George Lucas, will open its doors on Chicago's Lake Shore Drive in 2018.

We thought this announcement about what will be the world's largest interactive museum was a good reason to reflect on the great filmmaker George Lucas's career. For that, I'm joined by Melanie McFarland. She's the television editor for the Internet Movie Database - IMDB - and she's a "Star Wars" fanatic, too. Welcome, Melanie.

MELANIE MCFARLAND: Thank you for having me.

GONYEA: So a common phrase from the mouths of film buffs like yourself is George Lucas has changed the way we watch movies. Is that really the case, and if so, how?

MCFARLAND: Oh, it's absolutely true. And it's not only because he created this wonderful film franchise that is, for many people, the standard for modern fairytales, but he also created Industrial Light and Magic. This is a great company that has really pioneered many of the things that we kind of take for granted in the realm of special effects.

I mean, for instance, digital imaging, computer graphics-driven effects and even from the very beginning, you know, motion control cameras. Those were all things that came out of Industrial Light and Magic's development.

GONYEA: This museum is meant to celebrate the power of narrative art. So let's talk about what is, perhaps, Lucas' greatest narrative work - that space opera franchise, "Star Wars."


MARK HAMILL: (As Luke Skywalker) All right. I'll give it a try.

FRANK OZ: (As Yoda) No. Try not. Do or do not. There is no try.

GONYEA: Of course, Luke Skywalker and Yoda there. Can you talk about why these movies really spoke to the generations that grew up watching them?

MCFARLAND: Well, for one thing, they were so visually rich. If you think of the opening scene of "Star Wars," with this tiny, tiny battleship and imagine to a kid seeing this and then all of the sudden being chased by this imperial cruiser that seems to go on forever.

It's also genderless. Yes, there is a princess, but she has her own abilities. She, you know, is very heroic. She's not only making battle plans, but she's out in the fields with the boys.

This is a story that for American girls and boys in the late '70s and early '80s and even beyond, it's really universal about this whole idea of the philosophy of good and also triumphing over these odds that seem impossibly gigantic. And that's what the Rebel Alliance was against the Empire.

GONYEA: And we can't wrap up a conversation about George Lucas without talking about "American Graffiti" - one of the most profitable films of all time. It follows a group of teenagers for a single night. They ride around in their cars. They race on the town's main drag. They go to a high school dance. They're just being kids.


RICHARD DREYFUSS: (As Curt Henderson) I'm telling you, this was the most perfect, dazzling creature I've ever seen.

RON HOWARD: (As Steve Bolander) She's gone. Forget it.

DREYFUSS: (As Curt Henderson) She spoke to me. She spoke to me right through the window. I think she said I love you.

GONYEA: You're right in the car with those kids. It was Lucas' second film. And initially, he had a hard time selling the idea to distributors. Turns out they were pretty wrong, weren't they?

MCFARLAND: Oh, they were very wrong. He ended up earning a Golden Globe and five Academy Award nominations for "American Graffiti." And it seems completely different from anything else that he's done, in my opinion. But it was that film that enabled the rest of George Lucas's legacy to blossom because it gave him the clout that he needed to get "Star Wars" made.

GONYEA: Melanie McFarland joined me from the studios of KBLU in Seattle. Thanks for joining us.

MCFARLAND: Thanks for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.