Now that Chicago has been chosen to host George Lucas’s $300 million interactive Lucas Museum of Narrative Art, it’s official. Lucas is a Chicagoan. He is here to stay, and you might even run into him. But if that ever happens, just don’t do what I did.
When I saw Lucas, he was sitting at the next table at a ritzy annual benefit for a local private school. We were in the Grand Ballroom on Navy Pier, at the kind of fancy-pants event where even the most unassuming schlub in the room is a venture capitalist multi-millionaire. If you happened to be a famous guy who just sold a production company to Disney for $4 billion, you’d blend right in.
So why was I there? Because my wife teaches the four-year-olds of these professional capitalists. I’d had a couple of cocktails to get started, and a couple of glasses of Sangiovese. And a beer. And one of those airplane-sized Absolut bottles that I reflexively sneak into any formal event. Basically, by the time I spotted George Lucas, just enough booze coursed through my body that I believed I could have a conversation with him.
After all, he looked just like anyone else. Unassuming, pale, a little shy maybe, with a neutral expression that could have been boredom or amusement or nothing at all. He was just sitting at the table next to his powerful wife, Mellody Hobson, minding his own business. As I approached his table, most of what went through my mind was trying to figure out the deadpan look on his face.
What didn’t go through my mind was the fact that I had absolutely nothing to say.
I came up from behind, and wasn’t quite sure how to get their attention—so I put my hands on both of their shoulders. Strike one. Lucas immediately tensed; Hobson jumped. Both whipped around as if expecting to find an angry Wookiee or a security guard reporting a bomb threat. Instead, it was just a middle-aged writer with vodka in his pockets. I introduced myself, and Lucas’s face slipped back into neutral, which I now read as “I am a nice guy, but please leave me alone.”
Hobson, ever charming, feigned enough interest to embolden me. Big mistake. That’s when I turned toward the man who has spent half his adult life enduring conversations with geeky-gushy fanboys, and the other half defending himself from rabid Jar-Jar lynch mobs too upset at how he’d befouled their dreams to recognize that he had only been trying to fulfill his own. And my mouth went to work.
“My son—he’s, like, seven—I offered him the chance to watch any movie he wanted last night. And he picked Attack of The Clones. And I told him, ‘I don’t want to watch Attack of the Clones! I’m sick of Clones! All we watch is Clones! Enough with the Clones!’”
George Lucas waited for the punchline. I didn’t have one. That was it.
Hobson, accustomed to these sorts of scenes, took pity and chatted about the event while her husband stared at his plate. Searching my brain for anything funny or the slightest bit relevant, I recalled that the two of them had a young child. “So!” I said. “I understand your daughter is going to school this fall.”
Lucas shot a look at his wife, who seemed confused.
“Everest is eight months old,” Hobson said.
“Oh. Well. You know. If she’s really smart, maybe next fall.”
Silence, long and awkward. More plate staring.
Like a blackjack dealer turning over the table to the next guy, I clapped my hands and backed away. Fifteen minutes later, I got the nerve to glance at Lucas and Hobson’s table. They were gone.
I get it. When approaching regular stars, fans generally want to talk about movies or music or sports. But for people of a certain age, it’s nearly impossible to be yourself with George Lucas—he is the architect of an empire so powerful and so pervasive, it loomed over your entire childhood, affecting every aspect of how you grew up. That can’t be easy for George Lucas.
The museum is slated to open in 2018, so George is obviously going be around for a while, and I suspect our paths will cross again. Next time, I’ll be sober. I’ll have a game plan. Or maybe I’ll just respect his privacy and keep my mouth shut.
Oh, who are we kidding? I’ll probably get drunk, sneak up behind him, and ask him to sign my kid’s Boba Fett alarm clock.