There’s no mistaking the similarities. A childhood on a dusty farm, a love of fast vehicles, a rebel who battles an overpowering empire — George Lucas is the hero he created, Luke Skywalker.
His filmmaking outpost, Skywalker Ranch, is so far removed from the Hollywood moviemaking machine that it may as well be on the forest moon of Endor.
That’s why last week’s announcement that Lucas is selling the “Star Wars” franchise and the entire Lucasfilm Ltd. business to the Walt Disney Co. for more than $4 billion is like a laser blast from outer space.
Lucas built his film operation in Marin County largely to avoid the meddling of Los Angeles-based studios.
Today, the enterprise has far surpassed the 68-year-old filmmaker’s original goals. The ranch covers 6,100 acres and houses one of the industry’s most acclaimed visual effects companies, Industrial Light & Magic. Lucasfilm, with its headquarters now in San Francisco, has ventured into books, video games, merchandise, special effects and marketing.
“What I was trying to do was stay independent so that I could make the movies I wanted to make,” Lucas said in the 2004 documentary “Empire of Dreams.” “But now I’ve found myself being the head of a corporation. ... I have become the very thing that I was trying to avoid.”
After the blockbuster sale was announced, Lucas expressed a desire to give away much of his fortune, donate to educational causes and return to the experimental filmmaking of his youth. Still, the move stunned those who’ve followed him.
Dale Pollock, the author of the 1999 biography “Skywalking,” said Lucas disdained the Disney culture in interviews he gave in the 1980s, even though he admired the company’s founder.
Lucas said through a spokeswoman on Saturday that he never said such a thing. But his anti-corporate streak is renowned. In the Lucasfilm-sanctioned documentary “Empire of Dreams,” Lucas says on camera that he is “not happy that corporations have taken over the film industry.”
Lucas’ epic battle with the movie industry began after Warner Bros. forced him to make unwanted changes to an early film, “THX 1138.” Later, Universal Pictures insisted on revisions to “American Graffiti” that Lucas felt impinged on his creative freedom. The experience led Lucas to insist on having total control of all his work, just like Charlie Chaplin and Walt Disney in their heyday.