Rick McCallum Reveals Next Steps for 'Star Wars'

For once in our wretched lives, all of us geeks were right! Rick McCallum really is trying to kill the “Star Wars” legacy!

In a national conference call conducted last week, the producer behind the three “Star Wars” prequels finally announced the

ultimate aim of his nefarious plans: “I’m hoping that, in 20 or 30 years, nobody remembers ‘Star Wars’; that it was just a blip.” Arm the message-boards, fanboys—the Dark Lord has been revealed!

Well, not exactly.

The 53-year-old McCallum is a relatively new addition to the Star Wars universe, but in his short tenure, he’s raised the hackles of more than a few hardcore devotees. First working with Star Wars creator George Lucas on an early-1990s TV series, McCallum has since produced the 1997 “Special Edition” re-releases of the original Star Wars Trilogy, as well as the prequel films of 1999, 2002, and 2005.

While working on the prequels, he gave the green light to a number of infamous creative decisions (Jar-Jar Binks, anyone?), and on more than one occasion, critics have accused him of reducing the Star Wars mythos to a flashy, disposable commodity. All of those issues are still up for debate, and will no doubt be the subject of angry nerd-fights on Wikipedia for generations to come.

But in the phone interview, held to promote the Nov. 1 DVD release of “Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith,” one thing was sure: McCallum is no Public Relations mouthpiece, smarmily spewing sound-bytes and industry propaganda.

He sounds genuinely reverent when he recalls first seeing that legendary shot from the first Star Wars film, where protagonist Luke Skywalker gazes at an alien sunset: “It’s a totally nonverbal moment,” he says, “it’s just two suns and this young kid’s face, and you can see in it the yearning of every boy or girl.”

More importantly, he’s not afraid to put his PR handlers on edge by admitting that making the prequels was “like any creative endeavor—there’s a lot of ego, a lot of shit you’ve gotta put up with.”

But he’s certainly not an awe-struck Star Wars fanatic, either. “The first time I saw ‘Star Wars [Episode IV: A New Hope],’ I wasn’t a sci-fi freak or anything,” he recalls, and he doesn’t seem to have become one since then.

He may be glad that the critically-lauded Episode III “brought peace to the galaxy” this May, after opinion on Episodes I and II had divided die-hard fans from casual movie thrill-seekers. Yet, when asked about the voluminous Star Wars novels, comics, and video games, so loved by the fan community, he claims that they’re “not something that we track all that often.”

So, if he’s not a slick, Hollywood soul-sucker, and he’s not a rabid fanatic, what sort of species is McCallum? He’s a rare chimera: someone who fervently believes that the films are legitimate art, but that their artistic merit comes from the very flashiness and simplicity for which they are so often written off as pieces of crass commercialism.

Before addressing the more theoretical elements of McCallum’s approach to filmmaking, two sure-to-be-controversial revelations are in order. First off, even though McCallum emphatically states that “there won’t be any more [Star Wars] films,” there is going to be a live-action “Star Wars” TV show. Look out, primetime!

“It’s going to be much darker, much edgier, and much more character-based than plot-based,” McCallum announced. Covering the 18-year period between the end of Episode III and the beginning of Episode IV, he expects that the show will have roughly 100 hours of footage, and that shooting will begin in early 2007. But that’s all he has in the way of details about the project. “We haven’t really sat down and figured out what the scripts are going to be,” he admits.

Next on the list of love-it-or-hate-it decisions? The movies are all coming back. But this time, in 3-D!

“About four or five years ago, we met a group of guys who run a company called ‘In-3,’” McCallum recounts. “They were coming up with this wacky idea of taking a 2-D movie and turning it into a 3-D process in post-production. We said, ‘Here’s four minutes of [‘A New Hope’], take it and bring us back something.’”

Sure enough, they came back with footage that McCallum found “fascinating” enough to sign on for a 3-D re-release of all six movies, possibly in 2007. “As soon as we’ve got 1,500, maybe 2,000 digital screens in the US, it’ll be feasible,” McCallum predicts. Why the uncertainties about the release date? “Theater owners are so greedy,” he says, citing their unwillingness to make the leap to digital.

That last comment, along with the aforementioned quotation about Star Wars being a blip, reveal what just might be the central tenet of the McCallum ethos: constant rebellion against the force of film-industry conservatism, all in the name of wild entertainment

“You’re losing 15% of your audience every year because the adventure of going to the theater is no longer there,” McCallum says. “The average kid—you know, you’ll go to a major event movie, but other than that, you’ll say ‘Shit, I’ll just go to Wal-Mart and buy it and have it in my library.’”

McCallum thinks it’s the responsibility of relative industry outsiders like Lucasfilm (which operates outside the immediate purview of any major Hollywood studio) to push for a world where “Star Wars” can become that historical blip of which he speaks; where far more films are as technically innovative and entertaining as “Episode III.”

“We’re stuck in the 19th century form of how we do films,” he sighs. “I’m hoping for the next generation—digital technology is a part of their life, they’ve grown up with an iPod.”

McCallum, hoping to speed that process along, actually speaks very little about the current DVD release of “Episode III.” Instead, he envisions future “Star Wars” DVDs that could literally change the way students learn about film.

He doesn’t want the standard kind of special features: “interviews where the cast says, ‘It was so fun to work with George,’—that kind of bullshit.” He wants technology that can store 23 to 40 hours of footage on a DVD. Apparently, over 3,000 hours of documentary footage were shot since day one of “Episode I” filming, and McCallum wants these next-generation DVDs to be “a mini-film school,” through which you can see every best boy and key rigger working on the special effects juggernauts that were the prequel films.

“In the end of the day,” McCallum muses, “all this bullshit about blue screen and green screen, all you’re trying to do is get to a place where a writer can sit down in a room and write down virtually anything he or she wants to do and then we have the means to achieve it.”

Those may not sound like the words of Yoda, but there’s more than a little wisdom in them, nonetheless.

—Staff writer Abe J. Riesman can be reached at riesman@fas.harvard.edu.