George Lucas: Billionaire down on capitalism

Geoge Lucas, during  interview with Charlie Rose
Geoge Lucas, during interview with Charlie Rose

Famed director George Lucas is best known for "Star Wars," which wowed audiences with, among other things, its special effects. But, in a wide-ranging interview with Charlie Rose, Lucas says his latest movie, "Red Tails," about the Tuskegee Airmen, takes digital filmmaking to a new level. He also offers his views on capitalism, its impact on the U.S. system of government, and the democratization moviemaking is undergoing. And he names the person he considers the best moviemaker around. The transcript of the interview follows.

CHARLIE ROSE: From George Lucas, a new movie, "Red Tails." Welcome.

GEORGE LUCAS: Thank you. Great to be here.

ROSE: My impression is that this is a movie you've been waiting to make.

LUCAS: I've been working on this movie for 23 years.

ROSE: That's waiting to make.

LUCAS: Definitely a labor of love. But I've been working on it for 23 years. It's not that I've been sort of waiting to do it. I heard this story from an aviation and photographer friend of mine 23 years ago. And I said, "This is a fantastic story -- that needs to be told." And more importantly for me is that it sounds like a great, inspirational movie for teenagers.

ROSE: Who's your director?

LUCAS: Anthony Hemingway's (the) director -- of "The Wire" on TV, which is I was a big fan of "The Wire." And so -- (I) got him to direct it. And he did a fantastic job. I mean, it's really -- a really exciting movie.

ROSE: What's interesting with a movie like this is how real you can make what happens on the screen to reflect the reality of what it means to have your life on the line in the air, not knowing what's gonna happen and facing instant death.

LUCAS: Well, that's ultimately the story. And now, with digital technology, we can make it much more real. I'm a big fan of aerial combat, obviously, from "Star Wars." I've been doing it most of my life.

ROSE: Right. You know -- you know from aerial combat.

LUCAS: Yeah, and each time I do it, I get better and better at it. And once we got to digital, it got even better. And in the old days, when you did like, say, Battle of Britain was one of the last real --

ROSE: Right, right, right.

LUCAS: -- combat movies made, you know. Two photographers died on that picture. It's very hard to get the planes to line up. It takes a whole day just to do one shot. And even then it's not that great, because you can't actually get where you want to get physically. So this is one of the first films where we actually were able to create the dogfight the way it really would be, and get you right into the seat and get you right into the action, which is where -- you know, it's unbelievably exciting.

ROSE: When you look at the movies you can make, I mean, what is it that turns you on beyond the things you've already said? What kind of stories, you know, appeal to George?

LUCAS: Well, there's the intellectual side of me, that wants to do more experimental films, which I haven't done since I did my first film, "THX," and my student films. And I -- that's now where I'm going is to try to get back to that. Then there's the -- I don't know -- the side of me that loves to watch an audience enjoy themselves and walk out of the theater skipping and saying, "That was a great experience. I feel better now."

ROSE: There's also the side of you that's a political animal. I mean, you are, among people who know you, a billionaire who's not that crazy about capitalism.

LUCAS: That's true. (LAUGH)

ROSE: Tell me about --

LUCAS: Well, I grew up in the '60s. I grew up in San Francisco. And so I'm informed in a certain kind of way about, you know, believing in democracy and believing in America. And I'm a very ardent patriot. But I'm also a very ardent believer in democracy, not capitalist democracy. And I do not believe that the rich should be able to buy the government. And that's just the way I feel.

(For Lucas' views on what an ideal society would be like, click on the video on the left)

ROSE: Is that the America you see, where the rich have bought the government?

LUCAS: Oh, come on. It's been that way for a long time. And it's just -- you know, it's -- it's not right. And -- and it's not gonna work and --

ROSE: And will it change?

LUCAS: Well, I hope it changes. I mean, it's hard, because you got human nature. You got people -- you know, basically, it's all -- we got a country based on greed. And as long as you got that, then it's corrupt. And as long as it's corrupt, you're never gonna get a real meeting of the minds on what is best for --

ROSE: So why don't you make a film about the America that you are articulating? I mean, why don't you use the power of George Lucas to tell the --

LUCAS: I don't think I have that much power. I mean, I learned -- my first film was -- was kind of an indictment of --

ROSE: Could I show you a list of the 100 best films (LAUGH) and how many of 'em are made by George Lucas?

LUCAS: Yeah, but they're not made to -- they -- yes, they have a political undertone. I mean, especially "Star Wars" has got a very, very elaborate social, emotional, political context that it rests in. But of course, nobody was aware of that. Nobody says, "Oh my gosh." But if you actually watch the movies, it's there. And you subliminally get the fact of what happens to you if you've got a dysfunctional government that's corrupt and doesn't work.

ROSE: As soon as you say this, there's also the cover of Time magazine. And there's George -- there is -- Warren Buffett, talking about why he believes in America, why anybody who writes off America is making a serious mistake, because of some essential qualities that Americans have.

LUCAS: Yeah. Well, a lot of it also, not to be too controversial here --

ROSE: That's O.K.

LUCAS: -- on your show, because I like you. But you know, most of the fault lies with the media. And I know everybody uses the media as a scapegoat. But the things the media focus on. The sensationalism, the kind of simple answers, the -- you know, not really telling the truth, is what creates a society where everybody gets really polarized, where they're afraid. People are afraid.

ROSE: But the interesting thing about you -- you talk -- point the finger at the media. You are the media. You are a person with enormous potential to talk to the public. You know, you don't need the media. I mean, you have --

LUCAS: Yeah, but my part of the media is such a small --

ROSE: You could --

LUCAS: You know, I make a little blip and that's it, but the --

ROSE: No, you -- George Lucas has a powerful voice (LAUGH), and you know that.

LUCAS: It's -- I -- I -- it's sort of powerful --

ROSE: You can enter the public conversation.

LUCAS: Well, I can-- I can make something that entertains people and makes them take. All I can do is try to make them think about things --

ROSE: Beyond "Star Wars," beyond "Red Tails" --

LUCAS: -- and to give them the values that we supposedly stand for, which is to cooperate, to love each other, to take care of each other.