LOS ANGELES (AP) — There's no mistaking the similarities. A childhood on a dusty farm, a love of fast vehicles, a rebel who battles an overpowering empire — George Lucas is the hero he created, Luke Skywalker.
His filmmaking outpost, Skywalker Ranch, is so far removed from the Hollywood moviemaking machine he once despised, that it may as well be on the forest moon of Endor.
That's why this week's announcement that Lucas is selling the "Star Wars" franchise and the entire Lucasfilm business to The Walt Disney Co. for more than $4 billion is like a laser blast from outer space.
Lucas built his film operation in Marin County near San Francisco largely to avoid the meddling of Los Angeles-based studios. His aim was to finish the "Star Wars" series— his way.
Today the enterprise has far surpassed the 68-year-old filmmaker's original goals. The ranch covers 6,100 acres and houses one of the industry's most acclaimed visual effects companies, Industrial Light & Magic. Lucasfilm, with its headquarters now in San Francisco proper, has ventured into books, video games, merchandise, special effects and marketing. Just as Anakin Skywalker became the villain Darth Vader, Lucas —once the outsider— had grown to become the leader of an empire.
"What I was trying to do was stay independent so that I could make the movies I wanted to make," Lucas says in the 2004 documentary "Empire of Dreams." ''But now I've found myself being the head of a corporation ... I have become the very thing that I was trying to avoid."
After the blockbuster sale announcement Tuesday, Lucas expressed a desire to give away much of his fortune, donate to educational causes and return to the experimental filmmaking of his youth. Still, the move stunned those who've followed him. He'd contemplated retirement for years and said he'd never make another "Star Wars" film.