Steven Soderbergh reveals the backstory on his viral Lucasfilm rejection letter

Ethan Alter
Senior Writer, Yahoo Entertainment
Director Steven Soderbergh on the set of Logan Lucky (Photo: Claudette Barius/Fingerprint Releasing/Amazon/Courtesy Everett Collection)

It’s the tweet that launched the hearts of millions of Star Wars fans into hyperspace. Last month, Steven Soderbergh posted a 1984 letter he received from a Lucasfilm legal assistant returning a videotape the then-21-year-old aspiring filmmaker had mailed directly to the franchise’s mastermind, George Lucas. “Because of the increasing number of stories and ideas received each day, it has become impossible for our small staff to review each idea on its own merit,” the letter read. “Please know that our returning your tape is in no way a reflection upon its merits.” As the now-53-year-old Oscar-owning director indicated in his tweet, he didn’t take the rejection personally. “It just made me STRONGER,” he wrote.

The inspirational message went viral, no doubt encouraging every dreamer with Hollywood ambitions. But the question remains: just what was on the videotape that Soderbergh submitted to Lucas? A proposed sequel to Return of the Jedi? A pitch for a standalone Ewok movie? Soderbergh’s theory for how Han Solo completed the Kessel Run in less than 12 parsecs? Speaking with Yahoo Entertainment, Soderbergh revealed that the tape in question had nothing to do with that galaxy far, far away. “I sent them a 3/4-inch tape that had two of my short films on it,” the director says, chuckling at his youthful hubris. “I was not surprised that it got kicked back! There aren’t enough decimal points to count how many packages George Lucas was getting at that point, and probably still gets.”

Soderbergh adds that the short films in question didn’t have any science-fiction elements, although one of them told a story that might have resonated with the director of the nostalgia-drenched teen classic American Graffiti. “The film I made in high school is still one of the better things I’ve done; it’s basically a very impressionistic piece about my senior year. I don’t know if George would like it or not; he never had the pleasure!” It’s also worth noting that Soderbergh also wasn’t auditioning for a job directing future Star Wars episodes. Rather, he was hoping to get Lucas to live up to a promise he has been making ever since wrapping the first Star Wars trilogy. “I was taking George up on his oft-stated claim that he wanted to go off and make art films,” he says. “We’re still waiting! I’m like, ‘George, you were a millionaire after American Graffiti. I don’t know what you’re waiting for.'”

Asked whether he’d take a break from making his own art films — like his convention-defying web experiment Mosaic, which is currently available to watch as an app — to make a Star Wars blockbuster, Soderbergh indicates that the Force still isn’t especially strong with him. “I’m not enough of a geek for that specific universe,” he admits. “I think I wound end up robbing it of all the things that people love about it. I like the Star Wars movies and go to see all of them; it’s probably no surprise that The Empire Strikes Back, for me, remains the best of the Star Wars films. I just don’t think I would do a great job.”

Mark Hamill as Luke Skywalker in Steven Soderbergh’s favorite Star Wars film, The Empire Strikes Back (Photo: Lucasfilm/Courtesy Everett Collection)

On the other hand, Soderbergh does expect that Rian Johnson will have done a great job with his upcoming Star Wars installment, The Last Jedi. And he got confirmation from none other than Adam Driver, who filmed Soderbergh’s late-summer gem, Logan Lucky (available on Blu-ray on Nov. 28), after wrapping production on the eighth episode in the Skywalker saga. “I asked Adam, ‘How was Rian?’ And he goes, ‘I love Rian.’ He seems like a really on-point choice for that franchise. That guy’s got everything you need to be able to pull that off from a storytelling standpoint and a technical standpoint. He’s got the chops, which is probably why they’re giving him more.”

Logan Lucky is currently available on digital and debuts on Blu-ray and DVD on Nov. 28.

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