If the name "Gary Kurtz" doesn't ring any bells off the top of your head, it ought to. He was George Lucas's producer for American Graffiti and Star Wars; he got The Dark Crystal into production; and in this remarkable interview at A Site Called Fred, he talks in great detail about his experiences with all of the above and more.
The interview is loaded front-to-back with fascinating material, but I've chomped out a few of what I feel are the most trenchant quotes.
... the studios are now all owned by big conglomerates who are interested in making money to the exclusion of everything else. Now, the studios always wanted to make money – that was one of their reasons for being in existence – but the men who ran the studios, no matter how difficult they were, they had some sense of what being a showman was like. They were willing to take chances on oddball projects, and you don’t see that as much anymore.
... I think one of the reasons that there’re so few good movies is that that process has been truncated so much. Too many films go into production before they’re ready.
It's hard for that not to happen when the studio is booking a release date into theaters the day the project is greenlighted.
... the way [Star Wars] was in the beginning, in the first place, it was that way because that’s all we could afford and it worked fine. I’m just not a great believer in messing with what is done. It may not be perfect, and as I said a long time ago, there’s nothing that is. No movie is perfect, and every filmmaker is going to sit and watch a movie that he made 10 years ago, or 30 years ago, or 50 years ago, and say, “Oh, I wish I could have done that better.”
... Jean Renoir said in a documentary interview that we did with him when we were all film students, that something that he learned from his father was that, for an artist, the most important thing is to know when you’re done, and leave it. Of course for a painter, it’s absolutely crucial, because you put too much extra paint on and you’ve ruined the painting. With a filmmaker, you have a certain amount of recourse and you can change it again, but the principle is still the same – to know when you’re done, and when it’s over, and when it’s finished – and you walk away. It’s critical, because you can be like Kubrick, and you can work on it forever, and it’s still not going to get any better.
He goes easy on Lucas, on the whole, but I suspect that's because he's seen the man a lot more close-up than most of us have.
He does, however, insist that Han shot first.
The most depressing thing about Lucas's perfectionism — or maybe obsessive-compulsive behavior would be a better description — is how it has come at the detriment of being able to properly appreciate one of the few genuine cultural milestone in both film and popular culture in the last 30 to 40 years. It's as if Ted Turner had withdrawn and destroyed every non-colorized copy of Casablanca. To say that it's Lucas's film and he can do what he wants with is is factually correct, but spiritually vacant and utterly heartless to boot.