SAN RAFAEL, Calif. (AP) --A wilted monolith of establishment politics. An entrenchedruling class fearful of change. And one man who stealthily rebels fromwithin, turning the system on its head and bending it to his will.
George Lucas' story is the benignreverse image of the palace coup engineered by the foul emperor of his “StarWars'' epic.
The emperor perverted atired republic into a fascist state bearing the imprint of his boot heel,standard “Richard III'' stuff for which history buff Lucas had many rolemodels to study from ancient to modern times.
Lucas' accomplishmentsmarked a one-of-a-kind revolution. He sneaked into a Hollywood that no longerhad the verve or nerve to make the weird, giddy, goofy Saturday matinees of hisyouth. He found a lone patron among fainthearted studio executives willing to pony up cash for what was essentially an Arthuriansword-in-the-stone fantasy in space.
Then he went off and made themost rip-roaring blast of cinematic fun audiences had ever seen as 1977's''Star Wars'' became the biggest box-office sensation of its time.
Where dollar signs twinkle,studios follow, and Hollywood has been lumbering behind Lucas ever since.
Science fiction and specialeffects suddenly were back in vogue, and over the ensuing 28 years, Lucas andhis visual wizards have led filmmaking into a new age of virtual reality thatmade possible such effects extravaganzas as ''Jurassic Park,'' ''Titanic'' and ''TheLord of the Rings'' trilogy.
In the '70s, there was a''technological ceiling'' over fantasy and science fiction films, even epicsand period pieces, Lucas told The Associated Press in an interview at hissprawling Skywalker Ranch. ''The tools weren't there,'' he said.
As television chipped awayat theater business in the 1950s and '60s, studios folded up shop on theeffects departments that helped create splashy historical adventures andotherworldly tales.
“It's like trying topaint pictures without brushes,'' Lucas said. “Hey, I brought the brushback and said, ‘You know, there's a lot of things you can do with thisthing. I think there's real power here.’ And by bringing that back, Ithink that was the biggest effect.
“Becauseit allowed people to do all kinds of movies that were sort of restrictedbecause they were too expensive. That's not to say special-effects movies aren't expensive,but they're much less expensive than if you tried to do it in the old-fashionedway and have 10,000 people out in the middle of the desert with catering carsand all the things you'd have to have.''
Lucas - who turns 61Saturday, just days before the May 19 debut of “Star Wars: Episode III - Revengeof the Sith,'' the final chapter in his six-film saga- never set out to be a Hollywood pioneer, a sci-fi maven or even a populistfilmmaker.
A star pupil at theUniversity of Southern California film school in the 1960s, Lucas adapted ashort student flick he made into his feature debut with 1971's “THX1138,'' the first film from buddy Francis Ford Coppola's American Zoetropeoutfit, a failed experiment meant to give young industry lions the freedom tomake movies their way.
Starring Robert Duvall in adark satire on consumerism and dehumanization, ''THX 1138'' baffled distributorWarner Bros., which dumped the abstract sci-fi drama into theaters. The filmhas gained cult status over the decades, largely because of Lucas' subsequentfame, but at the time, hardly anyone saw it.
Coppola challenged Lucas totry something light, so he followed with a comic drama based on hiscar-cruising days in the '50s and '60s.
With its ensemble cast andepisodic story structure, ''American Graffiti'' was another puzzler forHollywood. Yet its killer soundtrack, nostalgia factor and the appeal of suchyoung stars as Richard Dreyfuss and Ron Howard caughtthe fancy of moviegoers, who turned it into a box-office smash.
Always figuring he wouldspecialize in documentaries and strange art films, Lucas found himself with anarrow window of clout among Hollywood bankers. He decided to take one stab ata grand soundstage production with big sets and visuals while he had thechance.
Impressed with Lucas' youthfuldrive and his work on “American Graffiti,'' 20th Century Fox studio bossAlan Ladd Jr. decided to back the filmmaker's space opera about a farmboy named LukeSkywalker, a plucky princess named Leia, and aroguish pilot named Han Solo as they battled an evil galactic empire andblack-cloaked villain Darth Vader.
“Star Wars'' shot pastLucas pal Steven Spielberg's “Jaws'' to become the colossus of the modernblockbuster era the two men helped usher in. Counting rereleasesthat include the 1997 special-edition version with added footage and effects,''Star Wars'' still stands at No. 2 behind ''Titanic'' on the domesticbox-office charts with $461 million.
Lucas said he originallyenvisioned a bigger story arc that revealed Luke Skywalker and Princess Leia to be the children of Darth Vader, who findsredemption in his last moments of life through the good heart of his son.
He scaled “StarWars'' back to tell only the first chapter of that chronicle. After the filmsucceeded beyond anyone's expectations, Lucas followed with “The EmpireStrikes Back'' and “Return of the Jedi.''
In a stroke of blindfortune that now looks like the savviest business decision in Hollywoodhistory, Lucas retained ownership of the films and merchandising.
Lucas was getting paid nextto nothing upfront and had to beg 20th Century Fox for more money to get thespecial effects close to what he had imagined. Ownership of the franchise was abone the studio tossed him, and Lucas figured he would use it to make T-shirtsand posters to promote the movie.
At the time, sequel andmerchandise rights were about as valuable as a bucket of sand on the desertplanet Tatooine, but the combined bonanza from films,toys and other “Star Wars'' products has made Lucas one of the richestmen in show business.
“He would be thefirst to tell you, he had no idea,'' said Rick McCallum, Lucas' producingpartner since TV's “The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles'' in the early1990s. “When you're getting nothing, you'll take anything ... He knewthere were sci-fi exhibitions out there that 5,000 kids would go to, so the ideawas to go to anything that had to do with science where people would lendthemselves to science fiction, and he could sell them T-shirts.''
The “Star Wars''movies allowed Lucas to build an empire that includes the visual-effects houseIndustrial Light & Magic and Skywalker Sound, which have driven moviemakinginto the digital era. Lucas' THX system has become a gold standard for theaterand home-entertainment audio.
Even PixarAnimation, the company behind the “Toy Story'' movies, “Finding Nemo'' and “The Incredibles,''was a Lucas offshoot he sold in the mid-1980s.
Spielberg and Lucas teamedwith ''Star Wars'' co-star Harrison Ford for the swashbuckling ''IndianaJones'' movies, the fourth installment of which they hope to begin shooting in2006.
After Industrial Light& Magic's breakthrough with realistic digital dinosaurs on Spielberg's “JurassicPark,'' Lucas realized computer animation would allow him to tweak his three “StarWars'' movies, adding scenes, effects and creatures impossible to produce inthe '70s and '80s.
The special-editionreleases helped persuade Lucas to go back and tell the backstoryof how headstrong youth Anakin Skywalker transformed into malignant monsterDarth Vader.
Episodes I and II, “ThePhantom Menace'' and “Attack of the Clones,'' were hits, but theydisappointed many fans who wanted to see a full-blown Vader from the outset.Instead, Lucas followed Anakin from precocious boyhood through his awkward teenyears and a forbidden romance.
“Revenge of the Sith'' finally takes Anakin to the dark side as Vader,whose fear of losing the love of his life leads him into a bloodbath againstthe Jedi knights who raised him.
Lucas is braced for freshcomplaints about the final film, expecting many viewers to gripe that it's toodark, the ending too bleak.
“Half the people likethe movies, the other half don't. There's nothing I can do about that,'' Lucassaid. “Nobody is indifferent about them. Even the reviews, we getfantastic reviews or horrible reviews. There's no middle ground. Nobody'ssaying, ‘They're OK, I guess.'
“You can't reallyworry about it. I make the movie I feel I want to make, telling the story Iwant to tell, and how it gets received is how it gets received. At least it'smy fault. It's totally mine. I don't have to have any excuses about it. I don'thave to say, ‘The studio made me do this,' or ‘Iknow that was wrong, but I had to do it.' Whatever people don't like or they dolike is my fault.''
Millions of fans would lovea third trilogy picking up after “Return of the Jedi,'' but Lucas said hehas no story in mind and no intention of continuing the tale on the big screen.
The adventure will live onin an animated TV show and a live-action series Lucas has planned, set amongminor characters from the films in the 20 years or so between the action of “Revengeof the Sith'' and the original “Star Wars.''
Lucas also hopes to releasethree-dimensional versions of all six movies in theaters starting a couple ofyears down the road. The 3-D editions would be created using new digitaltechnology that adds depth perspective to two-dimensional film images.
Other than the new “IndianaJones,'' the creator himself said he is done with big film productions. Lucasplans to go off and make the sort of artsy little films he would have beenmaking all along if “Star Wars'' had not taken off.
With money set aside tocover those film projects into his 70s, Lucas said he can do whatever he wantswithout worrying if his movies succeed or fail, toiling in comparativeobscurity and happy to be free of “Star Wars.''
“The analogy I canuse is, it's like going away to college,'' Lucas said. “It's great to getout of the house. You miss your parents a little bit, but you get to see themat Thanksgiving. But it's great to be in college, great to be on your own. It'sgreat to have a new life.''