George Lucas' Star Wars peace plan
The legendary film director was in London this week to support a project bringing Israeli and Palestinian film-makers together.
George Lucas with Israeli film student Omri Bezalel.Tell your country’s story, he advised, but don’t preach.
George Lucas made his name chronicling a conflict in a galaxy far, far away. Now the creator of Star Wars is trying to help resolve a conflict on Planet Earth, one infinitely more complex than the Jedi knights' battle with the evil Empire.
The notoriously publicity-shy film director, whose six Star Wars films has made him a fortune of $3.5 billion, made a rare visit to London this week to advise an Israeli and a Palestinian film student on how to direct movies, and in doing so build a bridge over the Middle East divide.
His advice to the aspiring directors? Tell an exceptional story in a brand new way. "There's no real answer to how to do it, except to make really great movies, But if you're a really great filmmaker, somebody'll find you."
Lucas arrived at the Piccadilly editing suites dressed casually in jeans. He cuts an unassuming figure and there is little to mark him out as one of the world's most famous movie-makers; apart, that is, from an entourage of glamorous assistants, along with his girlfriend, American TV star Mellody Hobson.
The Israeli benefiting from Lucas's wisdom is former IDF Navy Seal Omri Bezalel, a 26-year-old student at the New York film academy. For him, the prospect of just 15 minutes with a man worshipped by legions of cinema-goers is daunting - though he is, ironically, too young to have been part of the generation that queued in the rain to see Return of the Jedi.
For young filmmakers like Bezalel, especially from countries with little or no reputation in Hollywood, Lucas has an unusually upbeat message. "You live in a wonderful time. Because the consortium of rich corporations which used to control the entire medium is now doomed. Now anyone can make movies - you can buy a studio, everything, for around $3,000. And it's as high a quality as anybody has. And now with the internet you also have a distribution centre which no-one controls," he says.
Star Wars villain, Darth Vader
But he warns filmmakers who want to tell the world the stories of their countries not to preach. "Themes are always best unsaid. They're reality, they're embedded in the whole plot of the movie and that's a given," he says. "If you want to make something that people see, you have to give them what they want. Someone is paying their hard-earned money and you're going to entertain them for two hours. Make it worth the money.
"Hopefully in the process of entertaining them, you give them insight into their own lives and into their world, but you can't lose sight of the fact that people are giving you their time and money. You have to respect that. It's not about getting on a soapbox or ranting, as we call it in my house. Do that on your own time, not in other people's time."
Bezalel is here, along with Palestinian Ismal Al Quaisi and a fellow student from Rwanda, as part of Films Without Borders, a new project to help teenagers in Israel, Palestine and Rwanda to learn film skills and engage in dialogue. The scheme is the brainchild of TV producer Jill Samuels, one-time tea girl for Lucas, who she invited over as a favour to help launch the project. The official ceremony was due to take place on Wednesday at Buckingham Palace, in front of 300 celebrity guests including Prince Edward.
Contrary to Lucas's reclusive reputation, he was eager to be involved with Film Without Borders, says Samuels. "George is known as a very private person, and he is. But once you work with him, you become like family. He's always looking out for you."
Bezalel admits, out of Lucas's hearing, that he is a late convert to Star Wars. "I really loved the films but I only saw them recently. In fact I was in the middle of watching the third film, which I turned off in the middle to go to class.
"In my class my writing teacher was talking about the exact Star Wars episode I was watching, and she gave away the ending. I was really angry and she said 'how on earth have you gone 26 years without finding out what happens at the end of Star Wars?'"
Bezalel is full of admiration for Lucas though, especially for some of his other work. "I admire him not only as a director, but he's raised the bar on everything, the whole editing process he used, which he invented. In particular, I really love American Graffiti, which was a film which really spoke to me."
He believes that the best of the Israeli film industry is already at a standard which can match Hollywood."I really think that Israeli film over the last 10 years has crossed the line," he says.
"A lot of Israeli films I see are better than studio films. Film is an international language. I want to see Israeli film be celebrated at the Oscars for what it is, in the Best Film catagory, not Best Foreign-Language Film."
As their session draws to a close, Bezalel confides in Lucas his fear that the great directors, like Lucas and Steven Spielberg, have taken all the good stories, leaving his generation struggling for inspiration.
Lucas shakes his head vigorously. "People have been telling stories for 10,000 years. There are only 32 kinds of story. So don't think you're going to tell a new story - the only thing that changes is the way you tell the story," he says.
So perhaps Star Wars is not as original as everyone thinks? Lucas agrees: "Star Wars is a mish-mash of a lot of things which have already been done. I know that it's not a new story, but nobody ever did it that way before. Nobody had ever taken it in that direction, using the tools and metaphors I used.
"So don't worry about being original - only be original in the way you do it."