George Lucas was disappointed when he first saw Star Wars: The Force Awakens. In 2012, Lucas sold Lucasfilm - and with it, the Star Wars franchise - to Disney for $4.05 billion. It didn't take long for the House of Mouse to capitalize on their acquisition, and in 2015 they launched the Sequel Trilogy.
There have long been reports that George Lucas wasn't particularly impressed by Star Wars: The Force Awakens. Back in 2015, he gave candid interviews in which he criticized the "retro" tone, and even went so far as to quip that he felt like he'd sold his kids to slavers. He later publicly apologized, acknowledging that he'd used a very inappropriate analogy, and insisted he still had the utmost respect for Disney.
Disney CEO Bob Iger has now given an inside look at the controversy. He's published a tell-all book, The Ride of a Lifetime: Lessons Learned From 15 Years As CEO Of The Walt Disney Company. According to Iger, those early years were quite difficult. Lucas was struggling to let go of Star Wars, and felt personally let down because Lucasfilm didn't develop his own ideas for the Sequel Trilogy. That built to a head when he saw Star Wars: The Force Awakens.
Just prior to the global release, Kathy screened The Force Awakens for George. He didn’t hide his disappointment. "There’s nothing new," he said. In each of the films in the original trilogy, it was important to him to present new worlds, new stories, new characters, and new technologies. In this one, he said, "There weren’t enough visual or technical leaps forward."
This is a common criticism of Star Wars: The Force Awakens, and Iger concedes that Lucas had a point. For all that's the case, however, he still believes it was essential in order to persuade fans to stick with Star Wars. This first film had to serve as a bridge between the Lucas and the Disney eras. The visual style, the thematic nods, even the basic plot structure was intended to appeal to nostalgia. "George was criticizing us for the very thing we were trying to do," Iger observes, and it's not difficult to read a note of irritation in that comment. While Iger does feel Disney made mistakes - he acknowledges they rushed Star Wars, for example - in this case he believes they made the right call.
It does seem as though Lucas has become a lot more comfortable with the Disney-era Star Wars as the years have passed. He's become content with occasional set visits, giving Gareth Edwards jokes rather than advice when he dropped in on the set of Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, and he reportedly enjoyed Rogue One a lot more. Lucas seems to have been a little more ambivalent when it comes to Star Wars: The Last Jedi, complimenting the film as beautifully made; that quixotic comment has been read into a lot by fans, but may be high praise given Lucas' interest in the technical aspects of filmmaking. No doubt Lucasfilm will be hoping Star Wars' creator will be much more excited about The Rise of Skywalker.