By Daniel Walber | Spout April 25, 2011 at 7:13AM
I’m going to go out on a limb and say that “George Lucas in Love” is definitely the funniest film I’ve written about for this column, if not also the best. Written and directed by Joe Nussbaum, whose new film “Prom” opens this weekend, the short is a hilarious riff on familiar material that manages to stay quite fresh. And even though we’ve all seen countless parodies of “Star Wars,” from “Spaceballs” to the music of Weird Al Yankovic, Nussbaum creates eight minutes of comedy that somehow feels entirely new and worth sharing with everyone you know.
It’s 1967 at USC and the young George Lucas is agonizing over the script for his final film school project, a work entitled “3XR-259.7.” It’s a tragic tale of a young space farmer struggling with a bad crop of “space wheat,” a dignified work of sci-fi high art. The short opens with Lucas at his type-writer, trying out “dozens of years ago in a nearby galaxy…” etc and fighting with his stoner roommate who just wants to get strung out and talk about a “giant cosmic force.” The jokes and references just keep coming at you, rapid fire, as the stressed aspiring screenwriter wanders the campus searching for good ideas (and walking past some of the best “Star Wars” character impressions I’ve seen).
What makes it work is the sheer saturation of laughs, many of which you don’t even notice the first time through. It’s remarkable how many gags Nussbaum fits into just eight minutes, as well as the variety of ways by which he throws them at you. There are visual references with students and professors who look just like droids and aliens, hinting in the dialogue at everything from “the force” to the inspiration for the Millennium Falcon, and ridiculous vocal impressions including a professor doing his best Yoda and a neighbor with a terrible asthma problem. Even the soundtrack of the short quotes from the original John Williams score, and there’s a four-piece band on the USC green playing the cantina music.
How can Lucas cure his writer’s block? Well, it seems that the answer is love. He’s just too tightly wound, and it’s up to a young woman with a plucky spirit and some very familiar hair to get him writing about what he knows. “Maybe you just weren’t meant to write agricultural space tragedies” she says, and in that moment we know that somehow it’ll all turn out fine. “3XR-259.7” will get a better title, its protagonist will get to leave that space wheat behind and a great movie will be made. In the meantime, the story of young Lucas remains hilarious and delightful.