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Wednesday, July 14, 1999 Published at 17:00 GMT 18:00 UK


Star Wars: Lucas strikes back

George Lucas: Defending The Phantom Menace

Star Wars creator George Lucas has defended his latest film The Phantom Menace against allegations of racism - and told BBC Two's Newsnight he blames the Internet for helping to create such stories.

Star Wars
Criticism has been levelled at the movie - a prequel to the original Star Wars trilogy which started in 1977 - in the US, particularly over the character Jar Jar Binks.

Reviewers have attacked Binks' Carribean accent - and have also complained about other supposed stereotypes in the film.

But Lucas hit back in an interview with Newsnight presenter Kirsty Wark - and blamed fans on the Internet who took an instant dislike to the new character.

George Lucas: "It's completely absurd - Jar Jar was not drawn from a Jamaican"
He said: "Those criticisms are made by people who've obviously never met a Jamaican, because it's definitely not Jamaican and if you were to say those lines in Jamaican they wouldn't be anything like the way Jar Jar Binks says them.

"They're basing a whole issue of racism on an accent, an accent that they don't understand. Therefore if they don't understand it, it must be bad.

[ image: Jar Jar Binks: Has come under fire for alleged racial stereotyping]
Jar Jar Binks: Has come under fire for alleged racial stereotyping
"How in the world you could take an orange amphibian and say that he's a Jamaican? It's completely absurd. Believe me, Jar Jar was not drawn from a Jamaican, from any stretch of the imagination."

He said the allegations said more about the people making the claims than they did about his film.

"There is a group of fans for the films that doesn't like comic sidekicks. They want the films to be tough like Terminator, and they get very upset and opinionated about anything that has anything to do with being childlike.

"The movies are for children but they don't want to admit that. In the first film they absolutely hated R2 and C3-PO. In the second film they didn't like Yoda and in the third one they hated the Ewoks... and now Jar Jar is getting accused of the same thing."

Internet fascination

[ image: Lucas with Jake Lloyd on the set of the film]
Lucas with Jake Lloyd on the set of the film
He believes the US media's fascination with the Internet created the controversy.

"The American press uses the internet as their source for everything, so when people were creating Websites saying, 'Let's get rid of Jar Jar Binks, he's terrible' and some of the critics were describing him as a comic sidekick, they came in and they started calling the film racist."

He added: "It started out as a way of just selling newspapers and then other people have sort of picked it up. But it really reflects more the racism of the people who are making the comments than it does the movie."

"I've never taken a position on technology"
Lucas also insisted the storyline of Star Wars: Episode I - The Phantom Menace had not suffered because of the amount of special effects in the film.

He said: "The big complaint about the first film was that it was a special effects movie and that there was no character to the story. It was a children's film, and that is pretty much the way the critics have addressed all the movies.

[ image: Lucas feels the storyline has not been overwhelmed by the technology used in the film]
Lucas feels the storyline has not been overwhelmed by the technology used in the film
"We are moving into a different era in terms of cinematic experience. I liken it more to the move from painting frescos in the mid-15th century - when you had to finish that piece of plaster that day otherwise you couldn't go on.

"Now we've moved into the era of oil paintings, which gave the artist more control and more time to think about what they're doing."

Lucas also said he was uneasy about the cost of the film's merchandise - which is due to make over $1bn by the end of the year.

"It would be great to give everything away for free"
He said: "I wish there was a world where nobody had to get paid and people could just do things for free but they don't. All the tens of thousands of people that make the toys and the films, they all have to pay their bills and so they demand to be paid.

"Most people don't like toys and don't think children should be able to play with toys. But I'm a big fan of toys, and I think it helps kids be able to play and expand their imaginations. To contribute to that is I think a good thing.

"I'm not ashamed of doing anything, if we could convince Hamley's to cut their prices I'd certainly be the first person to encourage that."

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