Lost in the shuffle over Disney acquiring Lucasfilm and the announcement of Star Wars films in perpetuity was the retirement of producer Rick McCallum. McCallum had been part of the Lucasfilm crew for over 20 years, working on “The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles,” the Special Editions, Eps I-III, and the recent “Red Tails.” There was no formal announcement of his departure. It only came out after Steve Sansweet was asked about McCallum producing the new trilogy during the October 30 Forcecast; he said no because McCallum had retired from Lucasfilm.
For some reason, it took a month for anybody to notice this and as you might have guessed, reading most of the coverage last night about it has been like watching natives in an old Tarzan movie cheerful execute their captives. The worst was i09 claiming, without knowing any facts, that Disney fired McCallum. Just about all of the coverage or the comments to those stories perpetuated the “yes man” meme, which put me in the same mood Anakin was in at the sand people camp because I am so utterly sick of hearing it from uniformed morons who are just parroting what they hear or read.
Just what was McCallum or anyone else working with Lucas supposed to say “no” to? How could you possibly know years in advance in the middle of the production process what precisely was going to send the internet peanut gallery into an irrational rage? When people say that, they really mean that they wanted someone who can telepathically read what they wanted in a Star Wars movie and what they don’t want and force Lucas to act accordingly. They wanted a cipher who thinks just like they do to be on the set with Lucas and tell him what to do. (See a great post on this, “The House of Yes” on A Certain Point Of View). Unfortunately, Gary Kurtz has retroactively tried to come across as that cipher but back then, he wasn’t taking orders from Fanboy Nation either.
If you go to work for someone, you are there to assist that person with getting the job done, not to second guess every decision. Trading around ideas and suggestions can be part of the process. Anyone who has paid close attention to this stuff can see that McCallum did have his own suggestions and ideas and sometimes went to the mat for them. For example he fought for a long time for the scene in ROTS where Yoda goes off to Dagobah and felt it should have been included at the end of the film. If you read “The Art of ROTS,” you can see that concept artists were making suggestions on the plot through some of their work. Sometimes Lucas went with their ideas, and sometimes he didn’t. Everyone accepted though that Lucas was the boss. Why is this so hard for people to figure out? Since when do the likes of Ridley Scott or Joss Whedon or James Cameron surround themselves with people who want to overrule everything the director wants to do? Why should it be any different for Lucas?
McCallum’s job was to see to the details of getting the movie made on time and on/below budget, so Lucas could focus on the creative stuff. Whatever you might think of McCallum himself, you can’t deny that he succeeded at those things. He was also boundless in his enthusiasm for the films, tirelessly attending Celebrations and Comic Con and taking questions from fans. I remember he was pretty protective of some of the newer, younger performers like Hayden Christensen. His job could not have been easy at all yet he seemed to have made the process a lot more painless for everyone else.
It’s not clear exactly when McCallum decided to retire but it bears repeating that an awful lot of the older Lucasfilm stalwarts have retired within the past couple of years, including George Lucas himself. Steve Sansweet, who retired in 2011, has some sort of consulting role while Howard Roffman retired (also without much fanfare) just a couple of months ago, only to be asked back as brand manager. It is entirely possible that McCallum chose to retire because Lucas did. Maybe one Star Wars trilogy was enough for him. Maybe McCallum will return to produce Lucas’s independent experimental films. We’ll see and eventually the full story will come out.
In the meantime, SWPAS thanks McCallum for his work and his contributions the saga and wishes him well in the future, whatever he does. Stay f’n awesome!