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‘The George Lucas Talk Show’ doc makes Midwest premiere in Des Moines

A man sits behind a desk holding a microphone who's dressed as George Lucas. The desk has Star Wars toys and merchandise on it.
I'm "George Lucas": A Connor Ratliff Story (2024)
Since 2014, actor and comedian Connor Ratliff has tinted his hair silvery gray before taking the stage as "George Lucas" on The George Lucas Talk Show, a live stage show performed monthly at a comedy club in New York City's East Village. The new documentary I’m “George Lucas”: A Connor Ratliff Story, chronicles a year of Ratliff's performances.

A long time ago (ten years) in a galaxy far, far away (New York City)… a Star Wars fan named Connor Ratliff had an idea.

The premise was simple: a monthly talk show, performed live on stage, hosted by George Lucas. The only catch was that the acclaimed director and creator of Star Wars would not actually be attending. Instead, the then 70-year-old billionaire would be portrayed by Ratliff himself.

The midnight show, fittingly titled The George Lucas Talk Show, started at a comedy club in New York City’s East Village in 2014, where, over time, crowds of people have flocked to see what Ratliff has cooked up for each evening. The monthly event is largely improvised and has developed a reputation for surprise celebrity guests — so anything (and anyone) was possible.

Before showtime, Ratliff can be found backstage wearing a Star Wars T-shirt and dutifully tinting his hair and beard silvery gray before emerging as “George Lucas.” Then, as the clock strikes midnight, Ratliff, as Lucas, takes his seat behind a desk (a staple accessory on any respectable talk show) and starts the conversation with that night's guests.

Why does Ratliff do this? Who does he do it for? The new documentary I’m “George Lucas”: A Connor Ratliff Story, from director Ryan Jacobi, aims to answer these questions while chronicling a year of Ratliff’s performances. The film features behind-the-scenes interviews with the cast and crew of The George Lucas Talk Show, as well as celebrity guests and even Ratliff’s parents.

Audiences in Des Moines can catch the Midwest premiere of the documentary at the Fleur Cinema & Café on May 17 at 7 p.m. Fans craving more are in luck — the show is still in production in New York City and occasionally on tour, with livestreams available for every show.

The show’s driving force

Why has Ratliff pretended to be George Lucas once a month for the past ten years? It’s a question that Ratliff himself has often contemplated.

“The simple answer is because I knew it would be fun,” Ratliff said. “The thing that I liked about Star Wars as a kid was playing with the toys and using my imagination. I like the movies, but the real fun was making up your own things, and you lose that when you get older.”

Fortunately for Ratliff, hosting the talk show has allowed him to continue using his imagination in front of an adoring audience.

“Instead of using action figures and Star Wars characters, I'm pretending to be the guy who created those Star Wars characters, and the other toys are the guests on the show,” he said.

Celebrity guests from across the galaxy

A few of the notable guests featured on The George Lucas Talk Show have been Seth Meyers, “Weird Al” Yankovic, Ira Glass, Patton Oswalt, Whoopi Goldberg, Meredith Vieira, James Austin Johnson, Richard Kind and Bob Odenkirk.

“One of the first ‘big deals’ we ever got on the show was Jon Hamm, who I had been in a play with when I was in high school,” Ratliff explained.

After emailing Hamm with his strange request to join the stage show as a surprise guest, Ratliff got a reply — the answer was yes. And the audience was stunned.

“The sound of the audience when I introduced the guests, [...] it was like a sonic boom,” Ratliff said. “It felt like just this excitement that no one could believe.”

Another memorable guest for Ratliff was actress Rachel Zegler.

“Rachel Zegler was someone who was a real surprise because we got her on the show before West Side Story,” Ratliff recalled. “West Side Story had been filmed, but because of the pandemic, it hadn’t come out yet. So, she came on the show before anyone had seen any of her movies that had been released. She was immediately so down to clown with us that she became an instant favorite.”

A man behind a desk interviews four people sitting in chairs. A talk show sidekick sits behind a desk opposite the host.
I’m George Lucas: A Connor Ratliff Story (2024)
The new documentary, I’m "George Lucas:" A Connor Ratliff Story, from director Ryan Jacobi, explores Ratliff's motivations as an artist and entertainer. As the host of The George Lucas Talk Show, Ratliff has interviewed guests every month for a decade. From 2014-2019, the show was live on stage based in New York City, but moved online during the pandemic.

A new hope: making failure funny

All talk show hosts need a reliable sidekick (or two). For Ratliff, his go-to co-pilots are actor and comedian Griffin Newman, dressed in costume as Watto from The Phantom Menace, and show producer Patrick Cotnoir.

The documentary captures their shenanigans on stage, but primarily focuses on Ratliff’s inner self, examining his motivations as an artist and entertainer.

As director, Jacobi said he sought to convey the high and low points of Ratliff’s career in a universal way.

“We always knew if you're making a movie about Connor Ratliff, this theme of success and failure is going to come up,” Jacobi said. “In the end, you decide what success and failure is for you, just as Connor has.”

Fans of Ratliff know that his career as a young actor was stymied when he was cut from the cast of Band of Brothers days before shooting, allegedly because Tom Hanks said he had “dead eyes.” He examines the incident extensively in his podcast, aptly titled Dead Eyes.

Like a true comedian, Ratliff turned the devastating experience into a funny story, finding humor in life’s ups and downs. According to Ratliff, public praise and defeat are universal experiences everyone can relate to — even someone as rich and famous as George Lucas.

“George Lucas, in this paradigm of comedic success or failure, is one of the most fascinating people. You couldn't invent someone that crazy. Or if you did, it would be so bonkers to make him up as a creative character because he's so successful. But he has so many big failures,” Ratliff explained. “Failures feel the same to mega-billionaires who have lived a life of impossible successes and unfathomable wealth.”

What does George Lucas think of all this?

According to Ratliff, George Lucas probably loves the talk show — if he knows it exists.

“Whenever anyone spoofs him or Star Wars stuff, he genuinely seems to like it. So, to the extent that we could hypothesize what his reaction would be, I think he would particularly like the fact that we are an offshoot of the fandom that has been positive,” Ratliff predicted. “The positivity surrounding The George Lucas Talk Show certainly, in part, belongs to him and his effort. So, I think he’d be in favor of it.”

Jacobi agreed, pointing out that the visionary filmmaker behind Star Wars and writer/producer of Indiana Jones has followed his dreams and, in so doing, has encouraged other filmmakers to do the same.
 
“I also would like to think that he would like one of the messages of the movie, which is to give yourself permission to make the thing you want to make, because that's what he did,” Jacobi said.

Tickets for the one-night screening of I’m “George Lucas”: A Connor Ratliff Story are available on the Fleur Cinema & Café website. The Midwest premiere is followed by a virtual Q&A with Ratliff, Jacobi, Cotnoir and producer Annamaria Sofillas.

Nicole Baxter is a Sponsorship Coordinator and covers film as a contributing writer for Iowa Public Radio.