As part of the "Tribeca Talks: Directors" series for this year's Tribeca Film Festival, Lucas spoke in-depth about his groundbreaking career -- and no one was more excited than uber-geek Colbert, who told his "Colbert Report" audience just before the show ended in December that he got the chance to watch original 1977 "Star Wars" two weeks before its theatrical release as part of a radio contest. That's right, he's been into this franchise longer than any of us. Yes, even you, Jon Stewart.
Here's what we learned at the panel:
1. Lucas and Colbert both have the same dorky sense of humor.
When the pair sat down, Colbert went right into his trademark “Colbert Report” character and glided back up for more audience applause. Then he told Lucas, "I'm gonna tear you a new one. How dare you entertain me consistently since I was 13 years old!" Lucas, for his part, went along with it beautifully, pretending that he was there to interview Colbert instead.
2. Colbert Can't Believe That George Lucas Knows Who He Is.
Colbert opened the panel by recounting the first time he met Lucas, saying that he was so awestruck that the filmmaker wanted to speak with him in the first place that at first he replied, "George who?"
3. Lucas Wanted To Be A Racecar Driver.
"I like speed," he told the audience, noting that his first film “THX 1138” was about vintage cars, and “Star Wars” was basically full of “hot rods that flew in space.” At the age of 18, though, he got in a terrible car accident that should have killed him, and he decided to find a new direction for his life.
4. Today’s Film Students Are Probably Better Off Than Lucas Was.
Back in the day, Lucas said, "if you went to a film school you would never get a job in the film industry… All those guys who ran the film industry and owned the studios -- if you weren't related to them or didn't know them, you were never going to get in. So film students had no chance at all." But by the time Lucas’s class was ready to graduate in the late ‘60s, “They were all 80 years old and started selling the studios," which gave them an opening.
"We were there because we loved movies,” he added. “We didn't care whether we had a future."
5. “The Godfather” Exists Partly Because of George Lucas.
In 1967, Francis Ford Coppola and George Lucas bonded over their shared distaste for Hollywood politics and decided to create their own production company in San Francisco called American Zoetrope. After creating a feature length version of Lucas’s “THX 1138,” the company tanked, and Coppola had to take a normal gig to pay back the studios who’d given them development money– some Italian thing based on a book, he told Lucas. That movie was “The Godfather,” which is one of the most highly regarded films of the 20th century.
7. “American Graffiti” Was Made On a Dare.
When Coppola left to do “The Godfather,” he told Lucas, "no more of these experimental science fiction movies!" and then dared him to do a comedy. So Lucas did – “American Graffiti,” which he was only able to convince a studio to take on when Coppola came on to executive produce.
The higher ups at Universal were so unimpressed that they even accused Lucas of planting people in the screening audience to get a better reaction – but they were wrong. The movie really was that good, and was the most successful comedy of its time.
8. Colbert Always Believed In “Star Wars.”
When Colbert first went into the theater as a thirteen-year-old, not knowing what to expect, he was blown away. "we knew that everything was different,” he said, from the second the opening crawl began. "We had no vocabulary for what you showed us."
(Colbert also joked that he would be cosplaying "As George Lucas" to the "Episode VII" premiere and pointed to his grey beard.)
9. Lucas Is Proud Of His Cinematic Technology.
Lightsabers and space ships? That doesn’t hold a candle to the filmmaking techniques that Lucas and his crew put together to make “Star Wars” a more “fast, kinetic” film, in his opinion. "It's a silent movie. It lies in the world of movement,” he said of the space epic. "You could be two years old and not understand what anyone’s saying, but still understand the movie."
"Half a movie is the sound." he added. "Sound is extremely important. But the dialogue is not." That would explain Lucas’s reputation for “wooden dialogue,” as he put it. ("It's not wooden, George, it's hand carved," Colbert responded gently).
11. Lucas Hates The Corporate Side of Hollywood.
"Never invest in a movie." He said. “We call those people suckers. You'll never make the money back."
12. Lucas Didn’t Think “Star Wars” Would Be So Successful.
None of Lucas’s director friends understood “Star Wars” when he screened it for them (with the notable exception of Stephen Spielberg, go figure), and he was pretty blasé about the film on opening night. “Calm own. It's science fiction," he told producer Alan Ladd Jr. "They get this little group of sci-fi fans. They'll come to anything in the first week. Wait for a couple of weeks and you'll see what it's really going to do." It wasn’t until a week in, when Lucas saw a CBS news story about the “Star Wars” phenomenon while on vacation in Hawaii, that he really understood he had a hit on his hands.
13. Lucas Can Take Criticism – But Not Trash Talk.
“Constructive criticism comes from my friends, who I respect,” he said. “They can actually say something that is worthwhile. “
“If you don't like something, what's the point of going around and trashing it? In Europe, they don't do bad reviews. They don't say anything so nobody talks about it… They just ignore them, which is what you DO with bad films.”
14. Becoming A Cult Classic Is The Biggest Compliment For A Film.
That's what George Lucas thinks, anyway. Which, of course, prompted Colbert to note, "You've been a failure, George. Everyone likes your movies."
15. George Thinks Marvel Might Come Back To “Howard The Duck.”
"I have a feeling that Marvel's gonna redo it," he said, noting that he never wanted to make the film live action because of the technology constraints. But in the case of Howard’s “Guardians of the Galaxy” cameo, “It's a digital duck. When you have a digital duck you can do anything.
16. Lucas Has A Pick For The New “Daily Show” Host – Stephen Colbert.
But Colbert would never do it, because he has too many fond memories of working under Jon Stewart on the nightly news show. "I would never get underneath his shadow for me," he said.
16. Lucas Wants To Return To Experimental Film – But You’ll Probably Never See It.
“When you make experimental films, you have a choice,” he said. “Most people scrape together money from families and get this money, and they make a movie for 1500 or 2000. Of course it doesn't go anywhere because there's no place to see it.”
But Lucas, as a fabulously wealthy person who saved his money instead of buying a yacht like his friends did, is “just gonna waste it making movies that'll never make any money and might never get released. That's the allure of doing it, you don't know what you're going to get.”
17. Lucas Is Excited For More “Star Wars.”
“I hope it's successful, I hope they do a great job.” Lucas said of "The Force Awakens." “I'm excited. I have no idea what they're doing.”
18. Lucas Doesn’t Mind If You Watch His Movies On Little Screens.
“I make movies for the big screen. They work best on the big screen. If you want to be in on a cellphone, that's fine. You just won't get the same experience.”
19. Lucas Stands By The Changes He Made To “Star Wars.”
He went back once, to add the GCI Jabba The Hut Scenes and clean up some of the special effects – both of which were pretty controversial for fans of the franchise. But he’s never had the desire to go back after that. He’d rather move on and “mess around” with new film, he said.
20. George Lucas Has The Most Adorably High Pitched Sneeze.
Poor Lucas had a cold, and had to stop himself in the middle of a story to sneeze.. But at least it prompted Colbert to deliver the best “bless you” of all time -- “May the force be with you."