For some people cinema began with Star Wars - which is ironic given the debt it owes to an older vintage of screen entertainment. George Lucas has never been slow to acknowledge his love of the Saturday morning serials of his youth that inspired this hugely popular franchise, and it was a form he also explored when he scripted Raiders Of The Lost Ark for Steven Spielberg. Aside from the six Star Wars films - all bar two of which he directed - his other films included THX 1138 and the sublime American Graffiti.
Did you feel a great deal of pressure from the expectations you faced on this film?
Ultimately I have had to face that a lot in my life, and try to continue to make the movie that I started out to make. Fortunately the whole thing was written and the style was set before the first Star Wars film was successful. So I could say that was what I was doing, keep my eye on that ball and try to hit it straight.
At the start of the Star Wars saga did you envisage it all turning out like this, or would you have rather made the films differently?
It's one of those things that happens in life: you go where the opportunities are and where your interests seem to lead you. You have to remember that originally Star Wars was intended to be one movie, Episode IV of a Saturday matinee serial. You never saw what came before or what came after. It was designed to be the tragedy of Darth Vader. It starts with this monster coming through the door, throwing everybody around then halfway through the movie you realise that the villain of the piece is actually a man and the hero is his son. And so the villain turns into the hero inspired by the son. It was meant to be one movie, but I broke it up because I didn't have the money to do it like that - it would have been five hours long. As the icon of Darth Vader took over, the tragedy of Darth Vader got diminished. It was harder to see that it was actually a story about a guy who becomes redeemed.
So this prequel trilogy is really mined from the back stories you'd written for the last three films?
I did a biography of every character, what they were, who they were and where they came from, and exposition of where the Empire came from and all that sort of thing. But the back stories were written as back stories, they weren't written as a movie and technically you couldn't do it because you'd have to go to the centre of the universe. Star Wars was designed for technical reasons to be on the edge of the universe so I didn't have to deal with that many costume problems, special effects problems or design problems. Then after about ten years, I began to reflect on the tragedy part of it being lost and thought it would be interesting to tell people the full story of what happened.
Why the long gap between trilogies?
I really stopped making movies so I could raise my kids. I did that for 15 years and when they were old enough, I said I would go and direct again. But then the question was whether I going to go off and do these avant garde movies that I had intended to do, or was I going to take one last shot at Star Wars and tell the back story and make the tragedy more apparent. I realised that if I didn't do it then, when I was 50, I'd probably never get around to it and I thought I'd regret it if I didn't.
Now it's all over, do you feel a sense of loss at all?
No, it's more like having your kids go off to college. They still come back when they need money and they'll be there for holidays. We're doing a couple of TV series, but I'm not really involved with it. One is an animated series about The Clone Wars; all the characters are in it but obviously there's not much character arc. And one is a live action series about minor characters in the saga. So it's still going to be around. I'm going to go off and do my thing, the company is going to go off and do theirs. But the comicbooks, novels and games that are out there are going to have a life of their own. So it is sort of like sending the kids off to college. Now it's on its own, doing its own thing. I just reserved the theatrical arena for this saga which, as I say, started out as a two-hour idea and turned into 12 hours of story.
Out of the whole saga which of the characters is most like you?
Well I would say probably Luke. That's where it started. He was a farm boy like I was, who went off to fight in the Galactic wars!
And which episode was the most fun to film?
Again, these films are like my children. The first one is always the toughest one because you don't know what's going on, you're confused, it's up to this poor little baby to teach you how to be a parent, and sometimes you have to learn as you go. Everything is a drama, you worry about everything that goes on every day and it drives you nuts. Each little phase is confusing for you. Then, you have the next one and the next one, and each time it gets easier and easier because you kind of know what to expect. So by the time you get to the last one, it's really a piece of cake, because you've been through it so many times. So the first one was definitely the hardest to do and the last one was definitely the easiest.
You've already returned to the first three films you made and tweaked those. Can you see yourself returning to these films in 10 years' time and making changes?
Well Episode IV was not really finished because I didn't have the money, the time or the technology to finish it. At the time I was kind of upset about it. People were going, "It's marvellous! How do you feel?" And I was saying, "I feel it's only 50 or 60% of what I wanted. I'm really disappointed, I'm really sad, it bothers me to watch it." And to a minor degree, that was true on the next two films, partly because I was financing them myself and they were more complicated. I did those films in a Special Edition to finish them off the way I meant them to be. If nothing else I'm stubborn, dogmatic and persistent to get the movies the way I wanted to get them. The last three I've pretty much been able to make them the way I wanted. I haven't had much interference, I've spent as much as I've needed to spend to make them work. So now the whole thing is complete and it's pretty much the way I want it to be.
Star Wars: Episode III - Revenge Of The Sith is released in UK cinemas on Thursday 19th May 2005.