George Lucas in Singapore: My worst reviewed movie seems to be my best movie

George Lucas now prefers to make more personal films, such as Strange Magic which features his favourite music.
George Lucas now prefers to make more personal films, such as Strange Magic which features his favourite music.ST PHOTO: DESMOND FOO

Film's creator, unfazed by critics, says he is not looking to make a hit when he makes movies

Star Wars creator George Lucas does not lack for people who hate his work.

Speaking in Singapore last week to launch his animation feature Strange Magic, his comments seemed to be aimed at the critics bashing the new film, as well as the fans who consider his Stars Wars prequel trilogy (1999-2005) - remember Jar Jar Binks? - an act of vandalism.

With interest in Stars Wars: A Force Awakens running at fever pitch at the moment, the press were banned from questions about the space epic, which opens later this year.

But in talking about Strange Magic, he touched on his knack for polarising audiences, especially among the many whose love for the original Stars Wars trilogy (1977-1983) borders on the religious.

"I am not looking to make a hit movie," said Lucas, 70, at a press conference in Lucasfilm's building near the One-North MRT station.

"I'm just doing something that I want for my own reasons. Some of them are hits, some are films that people like, and some aren't. For me, the real reason is doing it... obviously, I've done some films that haven't worked and I have done a lot of films that have worked," he said.

Hinting that critics get it wrong, he said that "the audience and the press have different opinions about everything". "My worst reviewed movie was Star Wars, and it seemed to be the best," he said with a smile.

Later, at an interview with Life!, the film-maker, who in the past said that he had retired from making big-budget films in favour of more personal work, talked about the concept behind Strange Magic, a fairy tale driven by radio hits of the last five decades, rather than original songs. The film opens here tomorrow.

"I've done Labyrinth," he said of the 1986 fantasy film that he produced. Now a cult favourite, it features Jim Henson's creatures and original compositions performed by David Bowie.

Strange Magic, which he also produced, features familiar pop tunes because "you know what you're getting, and it's my favourite music... I was kind of doing this film on the side, for my own enjoyment", he said.

The movie's songlist is missing one band dear to Lucas' heart: The Beatles.

Their hit, All You Need Is Love, would have fit the movie's romantic, upbeat mood, but the rights to use it cost too much.

"This is not a giant-budget movie. It was done because I wanted to have fun doing it," he said.

Among the elements that he was proud of is how the film's male protagonist, the villainous Bog King (voiced by Alan Cumming), has not been drawn cuter or less scary for the sake of appealing to children.

"It's edgier than a Disney animated film... but when you look at other kids' movies - in Star Wars, Anakin has his face burnt off - I don't think they will make a more horrific movie for young people than Dumbo," he said of the 1941 Disney picture in which Dumbo the young circus elephant is forcibly separated from his mother and forced to perform frightening or humiliating stunts.

The animation work in Strange Magic was "90 per cent done in Singapore" by Lucasfilm Animation Singapore, he said. At its peak, a team of 150 people worked on it here.

The film's director, Gary Rydstrom, 55, makes his feature directing debut in Strange Magic. He is an alumnus of Pixar Animation Studios, where he directed shorts and worked on sound. Lucasfilm, like Pixar, is now part of Disney.

In working with the Lucasfilm animation team, he was reminded of his time with the scrappy pioneer group at Pixar, back when it was trying to make its first feature, Toy Story (1995), and before it grew into what he calls "a brain trust".

"We, Lucasfilm Animation, had a smaller group of people who are all focused on one film, working together. We had to draw on each other for comments and inspiration. And there're benefits to that too.

"Sometimes, you don't know what you are doing - in a good way," he said.

johnlui@sph.com.sg

Strange Magic opens in cinemas tomorrow.