George Lucas is generally considered one of the most revered, influential and successful individuals in the history of film. This weekend his production company is releasing “Red Tails,” an epic popcorn film about the Tuskegee Airmen, a highly decorated group of African-American fighter pilots who fought courageously in World War II.
Despite the Lucas name being attached to the project, the film has received little fanfare. “Red Tails’” scheduled release is merely a day away and I’d be willing to bet the average American has never heard of it. There hasn’t been much of a promotional blitz and the film’s commercials have been few and far between.
Back when “Red Tails” was stuck in post-production purgatory it struck me as a curious project for Lucas. Over the course of the past 20 years his name has only been attached to projects relating to Star Wars or Indiana Jones. A nearly all-African-American movie about fighter pilots simply didn’t scream “Lucas Films.” And I was downright perplexed to hear that the revered filmmaker will be stepping away from mainstream productions after the film’s release.
News of Lucas’s upcoming retirement has been spreading like wildfire today on the heels of an extensive New York Times profile of the Hollywood icon. Before reading the article I thought “Red Tails” was a rather odd film to bookend such an incredible career. The film’s trailer seems average at best, and the story has been told before in a star-studded made-for-TV HBO film. To put it bluntly “Red Tails” looked like an all-black version of the poorly reviewed “Flyboys,” which starred pre-literary icon James Franco.
When I first watched the trailer for Lucas’s recent film I couldn’t help but cringe at its corniness. It seemed to represent how out of touch he has been for nearly a quarter century. A man who once did so much with so little inexplicably failed to adapt well to the improvement of technology of the years. Fans have frequently lambasted the newer Star Wars films and “Indiana Jones and the Crystal Skull” was a train wreck. Similar to his contemporaries Francis Ford Coppola and Robert Zemeckis, Lucas seemed past his prime.
Yesterday’s profile painted the picture of an ostracized icon and surprising civil rights activist who denies, yet implies, that “Red Tails’” production limbo was due to racism in Hollywood studios. Lucas was forced to sink a significant amount of his own money into the film to make it a reality. He seems bitter about the lack of respect he receives in the industry in spite of his achievements. He addressed the hate his recent work has inspired from fanboys of Star Wars and Indiana Jones – and even explained the scientific probability of Dr. Jones surviving a nuclear bomb inside a refrigerator.
Now, the most obvious explanation for Lucas’s sudden transition from his previous self-described “left of the middle” political beliefs to his steadfast determination in producing “Red Tails” is Mellody Hobson. The extremely successful and influential African-American president of Ariel Investments, and friend Oprah, has been dating Lucas since 2006. Lucas’s ceaseless crusade to make an inspiring popcorn film for African-American teenagers could probably be attributed to, as corny as it might sound, love.
It’s generally quite hard to pity a billionaire who has lost touch with his audience and pulls the “do you know who I am?” card. Nevertheless George Lucas seems like a nice man who wears his emotions on his sleeve. The words naïve and corny were mentioned nearly a dozen times in the profile—it’s identified by Steven Spielberg as his greatest strength and seen by critics as his most glaring flaw.
As cinema has pushed towards more edgy and sometimes harshly realistic drama, Lucas stubbornly never adjusted. Now flawed heroes like Christopher Nolan’s Bruce Wayne attract audiences, not Disney-esque fighter pilot flicks. The average audience has grown more cynical and jaded while George hasn’t changed. Why should he? He’s worth over $3 billion and yet he hasn’t been associated with a critically successful film since “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade” in 1989.
It’s simultaneously naïve and arrogant to believe that you can still throw your weight around after 22 years of mediocrity and disappointment. Of course studios are going to be hesitant to invest in a movie headlining Cuba Gooding Jr. and Terrence Howard with self-described corny dialogue. It certainly doesn’t scream box office success.
But is the man behind two of the most memorable and highest grossing franchises in cinematic history really going to retire to make bad esoteric films like Francis Ford Coppola’s “Twixt?” It would be sad to see another legend take his final bow after a film so inferior and dissimilar to the rest of his filmography.
However no matter how “Red Tails” gets reviewed or how well or poorly it does in the box office. Lets toast our imaginary champagne glasses to one of the greatest film icons of our time as his rides his Millennium Falcon out into the sun…
Wait, what’s that? He left a loophole for a fifth Indiana Jones movie? You’ve got to be kidding me. Goddammit George!