To say George Lucas had a lot riding on Star Wars would be an understatement. He put everything into the production of A New Hope, going well over budget to make what he believe would be something special. He was right, but his anxieties around the franchise didn’t end there.
Even when Star Wars got off the ground, Lucas was terrified. He believed the proceeding Star Wars movies needed to outdo A New Hope and take the Star Wars cast to another level, or the whole project would fall apart. He expressly told Irvine Kirshner, the director of The Empire Strikes Back, that he needed to up the ante if a galaxy far, far away was to last.
“When I talked to George about it before I took the movie, he explained something,” Kirshner told Star Wars Insider magazine. “He said, ‘Look, the second film of the Star Wars trilogy, if it isn’t as good or better than ‘Star Wars,’ it won’t be a series. It’ll die right there. It’s got to stand up to the original and go beyond it, if possible’.”
Of course, this resulted in what I consider one of best science fiction movies ever (and not the only contribution from a long, long time ago to such a list), so Lucas needn’t have been so worried. I do understand his anxiety, though.
A New Hope was made on a shoestring. What Lucas was going for hadn’t really been done before. It’s something that’s pulpy but still takes itself seriously, drawing from greats like Akira Kurosawa and Francis Ford Coppola, all wrapped up in a big-budget adventure movie. Lucas didn’t quite know it at the time, but he was reinventing the blockbuster, and A New Hope’s staggering ticket sales showed that plenty were just waiting for the kind of thing he was making.
But what do you do when the independent-minded experiment becomes a runaway success? How do you follow that up? If you’re Lucas, you hand the reigns over to someone you trust, like Kershner, while drafting in Lawrence Kasdan and Leigh Brackett to write the script. Lucas took on a producer’s role so he could oversee everything without being in the immediate crossfire.
It was all for the best because Kershner elevated Star Wars like Lucas wanted, cementing it as a cultural phenomenon that’s still going strong. I firmly believe that Lucas makes for a better planner than he is an on-the-ground filmmaker. He’s got a sense for good lore and outline but gets caught in the weeds of his own ideas with too much creative control. You don’t need to be an expert in the Star Wars movies in order to see the Prequel Trilogy has some pretty glaring flaws.
There are some big tonal shifts between political intrigue and character work; the effects feel plastic and toylike, and Lucas’s sense of action at scale is disorienting. I’m an Attack of the Clones apologist but don’t ask me to map out where everyone is in the back-half of that film because I couldn’t do it. Every filmmaker has their drawbacks, and Lucas was smart enough to recognize his relatively early on.
If you’d like to see how strong the force is these days, check out our guide to the upcoming Star Wars movies. Likewise, we can tell you about the Andor season 2 release date, the Skeleton Crew release date, and the Acolyte release date.