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George Lucas’s 5 stages of Star Wars grief

A portrait of a conflicted auteur.

George Lucas and J.J. Abrams, two directors of a storied franchise.
George Lucas and J.J. Abrams, two directors of a storied franchise.
Frazer Harrison/Getty Images

George Lucas is conflicted.

More specifically: George Lucas is conflicted about the fact that Star Wars has moved on without him. And really, who can blame him? What began more than 40 years ago as a few character sketches in the recesses of his brain has become a worldwide phenomenon, grossing billions of dollars at the box office and through video games, merchandise, comics, television shows, and whatever else Disney cooks up. After all, Disney owns everything Lucasfilm ever did or will do; it bought Lucas's company for $4 billion in 2012.

Now, as Episode VII – The Force Awakens ramps up the franchise's publicity machine to welcome a new generation of Star Wars fans, Lucas is in an odd spot. Even if new director J.J. Abrams owes the entire universe to Lucas, this new chapter is very much Abrams's own. Technically, Lucas no longer has anything to do with Star Was, even though he once had everything to do with Star Wars. The prevailing sentiment seems to be that Lucas had his chance to make more Star Wars with the prequel trilogy, and that he botched it.

So while everyone falls into a deliriously happy spiral over how The Force Awakens is the sequel that real fans have been waiting for since the beginning, its creator has been trundling around the edges of the frenzy as a "creative consultant," looking on with the hangdog expression of someone on the outskirts who can't quite decide whether he cares enough to make a play for acceptance.

The situation is clearly affecting Lucas; some of his recent interviews indicate that he's feeling a whole maelstrom of emotions over the loss of the franchise, even as he insists otherwise. Thus, here are George Lucas's five stages of Star Wars grief, in his own words.

1) Denial

Lucas in an echo chamber.

When it was first confirmed that a Star Wars sequel was happening and that Lucas wouldn't be involved, reports emerged that his lack of participation wasn't necessarily because he didn't want to be involved. But no: He had been working on a new trilogy, and Disney (his new Lucasfilm overlords) had scrapped it.

In a clear bid to make it appear as though bygones were bygones, Lucas told USA Today in January, "It's better for me to get out at the beginning of a new thing and I can just remove myself. The time is more important to me than the money."

And maybe that was true! But putting in the work to draw up a brand new trilogy only to have a company reject it feels less like dodging a bullet and more like a crushing blow.

2) Anger

Alternative Views - 2015 Tribeca Film Festival
Lucas, seething with rage (allegedly)
Photo by Grant Lamos IV/Getty Images for the 2015 Tribeca Film Festival

Lucas isn't quick to anger, or at least not unaware enough to express overt displeasure to the press after handling media for more than 40 years. But that hasn't stopped him from going on the record with statements that make it clear he's not altogether thrilled with the direction of his former franchise.

For example: When Page Six asked Lucas last December if he was curious to see what Abrams had done with the new Star Wars, Lucas's answer was terse and to the point: "Not really."

Then this November, he ramped up the rhetoric for Vanity Fair, saying "there's more to [Star Wars] than just spaceships," and he hopes "the Force doesn't muddled into a bunch of garbledegook."

Step back, people. We've got a live one.

3) Bargaining

Tribeca Talks: Director Series: George Lucas With Stephen Colbert - 2015 Tribeca Film Festival
"But what if..."
Photo by Jamie McCarthy/Getty Images for the 2015 Tribeca Film Festival

For Lucas, the bargaining came early.

Despite saying in 2008 that there "definitely wouldn't" be another sequel trilogy (because "The Star Wars story is really the tragedy of Darth Vader"), he nonetheless presented outlines for one during the sale of Lucasfilm to Disney in an effort to retain some control of the series — and they were rejected.

But in recent interviews, Lucas has reasoned that the problem wasn't necessarily his ideas. It was just that Disney had its own concept of where Star Wars should go next. "The [ideas] that I sold to Disney, they came up to the decision that they didn't really want to do those," Lucas told CinemaBlend earlier this year. "So they made up their own."

If only Disney had bought his ideas; if only they'd realized Vader was the whole point of Star Wars; if only, if only, if only.

4) Depression

Tribeca Talks: Director Series: George Lucas With Stephen Colbert - 2015 Tribeca Film Festival
Whomp whomp.
Photo by Jamie McCarthy/Getty Images for the 2015 Tribeca Film Festival

Just a few weeks ago, as the opening of The Force Awakens began to draw nearer, Lucas's sound bites took a turn for the melancholy. After years of bracing himself for the moment when a successor would take over the world he created, that moment was now hurtling toward him at an inescapable pace.

When Vulture asked him about how he liked The Force Awakens, after confirming that he had in fact seen a screening of the film, Lucas gave a perfectly passive — but still very telling — answer: "I think the fans are going to love it," he said. "It’s very much the kind of movie they’ve been looking for."

"It's very much the kind of movie they've been looking for" does not in any way mean, or even imply, "It's a good movie." But nice try.

Granted, it must be very weird to watch a world and characters you created become so much bigger than yourself that they no longer belong to you. Lucas and Abrams both have their names attached to Star Wars, but really, Star Wars belongs to its fans. Ownership isn't quite what it used to be, and from that perspective, it's understandable if Lucas is a little sad.

5) Acceptance

Lucas stays frosty.
Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Amidst all the fervor and speculation around the new movie, Lucas has been slightly more verbose than usual on the subject of his lost galaxy. In a December 5 Washington Post profile, he described how he felt about going to see The Force Awakens in one of the most apt and on-the-nose metaphors he has maybe ever used:

I gotta go to the wedding. My ex will be there, my new wife will be there, but I’m going to have to take a very deep breath and be a good person and sit through it and just enjoy the moment, because it is what it is and it’s a conscious decision that I made.

Because really, what can you do if you're the figurehead creator of a wildly popular franchise and have a reported $5 billion to show for it?

Maybe you just relax, accept that there's not a whole lot you can do, shrug your shoulders, and get back to making experimental films. Que sera, sera — and if you're Lucas, "que sera" translates to a hell of a lot more sequels for as long as Disney can manage it, so he might as well get comfy with the idea now.