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When he worked for Hollywood studios, Lucas had felt burned by their recutting of THX and Graffiti. After Star Wars he had the clout and the daring to insist that from then on, Hollywood would work for him. "Basically, Empire was my saying, 'I'm not gonna have to submit stuff to people anymore. I'm not gonna have them tell me how to cut it or about market studies. I'm not gonna live in that world.' I had this amazing opportunity to become completely independent, and I took it."
In 1983 Lucas also had to cope with the end of his 14-year marriage to Marcia Griffin Lucas, his editor on Graffiti and the three Star Wars films. They shared the parenting of their adopted daughter Amanda. Lucas spent the next dozen years tending to Amanda and two other children he adopted on his own, Kate and Jett. He put aside the Star Wars saga and, he says, "decided to do something different with my life. I produced a lot of TV; I produced movies. I did other things that were more conducive to raising kids.
"I thought very hard," Lucas says of single fatherhood with Kate and Jett. "'Can I do this? Should I do it?' Kids grow up without mothers, kids grow up without fathers, but it's better for them to have two parents. I kind of agonized over it, but I've never questioned it since. Once you're a family, those concerns are insignificant. My kids don't have a perfect life. Their dad is more famous than he should be, and they don't have a mother, and they just have to get over it. But I'm not sure that in a perfect world it would have been any different. And there is no perfect world."
For all his film interests--not just the companies but the extension of Raiders' Indiana Jones character into two more features and a TV series--he was, and remains, a doting, full-time dad. But he had a neglected child, the Star Wars saga, that needed his help in growing up. Lucas began writing the new trilogy, starting with Phantom Menace, in 1994. This time, he would direct.
After he delivers Clones, Lucas will devote his non-dad time to the final episode in the series, in which Anakin surrenders--or ascends--to the Darth Side. "The next film is really dark," he says. "The issue is, Will people stand for it? But I've got to tell the story. And when I finish it, I'll be 60. I've got a lot of things I want to do with my life other than more of this. I've got a bunch of TV shows that I want to do. I've got a half-dozen movies that have stayed in my brain the past 30 years. Some of them are extremely uncommercial; I may not even get them released. I'm in a position now where I can say, I'm gonna make this movie because I wanna see this movie. We'll have a couple of screenings somewhere and call it a day. Or just put it directly on DVD or on the Independent Film Channel."
Lucas, the responsible father, the reborn director, now seems eager to rediscover part of his youth: the avant-garde film geek. So maybe it's not important that the Sage of Skywalker Ranch doesn't spend much time in the sooty real world. He's very comfortable living where he does: in that shiny fantasy world--teeming, galactic, still not totally charted--known as George Lucas' mind.
--With reporting by Jeffrey Ressner/Los Angeles