After Disney deal, 'Star Wars' producer exits to create slate of indie films

As “Star Wars” fans try to figure out the future of the franchise now that Disney owns it and George Lucas has stepped aside, another major creative figure has left the sci-fi series: producer Rick McCallum.

On Saturday, McCallum officially announced, through Lucasfilm’s StarWars.com, that he is leaving the company to focus on producing a slate of smaller independent films.

That includes a Russian pic about the Babi Yar Massacre that Sergei Loznitsa will helm; a film by Laurence Bowen about the boy soldiers of Sierra Leone; and an action drama with Tomas Masin about two brothers who escaped Czechoslovakia during the Cold War while being chased by 28,000 Soviet soldiers.

Whether McCallum would remain at Lucasfilm and work on the new “Star Wars” films had been a lingering question after the announcement of Disney’s $4.05 billion acquisition of the company and plans for the franchise under the helm of Kathleen Kennedy.

McCallum was instrumental in the production of the “Star Wars” prequel trilogy and special edition releases of the initial films, working closely with George Lucas since 1992. The very vocal and charismatic producer had also been a figurehead for the franchise, often appearing at events and conventions and via online platforms to speak with fans.

But McCallum is now hanging up his lightsaber.

In a statement, McCallum left fans with a vote of confidence for the future of “Star Wars.”

“There’s only person in the world who could do this, and that’s Kathleen Kennedy,” he said. “The ‘Star Wars’ saga will always be taken care of under her leadership. She is truly one of the greatest producers in America as well as being a great friend. I have nothing but the biggest faith and trust that where Kathleen is going to take ‘Star Wars’ will be a bold, exciting, and daring future that will be worthy of all your incredible passion and loyalty for all these years. It will be awesome.”

Since the Oct. 30 acquisition of Lucasfilm, Disney has tapped “Toy Story 3″ scribe Michael Arndt to pen “Star Wars: Episode VII” and Lawrence Kasdan and Simon Kinberg to write and produce additional films as Disney looks to release a new “Star Wars” title every two to three years starting in 2015.

McCallum has moved to Prague, his wife’s native country, to produce pics that may eventually reunite McCallum with Lucas.

“I hope to be able to collaborate with Rick again on one of these projects,” Lucas said, “as I go off to make my own experimental films.”

McCallum began working with Lucas on “The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles” TV show, “Radioland Murders” and, more recently, “Red Tails,” in addition to the “Star Wars” saga.

A producer with a keen eye on how to use technology to lower the production costs of projects, McCallum used digital post-production techniques to expand crowd scenes, modify settings and blend scenes shot in various locations on “Young Indiana Jones” — methods later used on the “Star Wars” pics. He was also a cheerleader for digital filmmaking and distribution.

“Rick became an evangelist for the endless possibilities digital technology offered filmmakers,” Lucas said. “We worked with over 60 companies and hundreds of amazing engineers and artists over a 10-year period to bring about overdue changes. Now digital cameras routinely capture images, films are released digitally, and the entire production pipeline maintains unprecedented quality by being digital.”

Lucas added: “Rick is a close friend as well as an extremely talented producer. No matter how impossible I made the task, Rick was able to overcome the challenges. In addition to putting together great crews and working miracles with the budget, he was instrumental in helping push filmmaking into the 21st century. He has a larger-than-life personality and made this amazing 20-year journey with him a fun one.”

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