The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Why George Lucas’s new museum has a crucial mission that goes way beyond Star Wars

George Lucas, left, and writer-director J.J. Abrams at the premiere of “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” in 2015. (Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

IT IS welcome news that George Lucas and his team have finally settled upon a museum home for the Star Wars creator’s collection, after a years-long saga among three cities. Because the $1 billion Lucas Museum for Narrative Art has a vital mission to achieve.

In an American culture that clings to its bubbles and walls and fences, Lucas knows firsthand that to an artist, these lines can be illusory. Such genre-crossing virtuoso legends as Ray Charles and Willie Nelson have laughed at the classifying markers that marketers and merchandisers, curators and cultural gatekeepers erect as a means to include and exclude. What is “high art” and what is “low art” when many of the same creative tools are put to thoughtful and profound use?

The Lucas Museum, newly set to break ground and rise at Los Angeles’s Exposition Park near the Memorial Coliseum, deserves our embrace partly because it can help erase some of these artificial high/low lines in the name of great narrative art.

George Lucas's $1 billion "Star Wars" museum will open in Los Angeles after the filmmaker pulled the project from Chicago. (Video: Reuters)

George Lucas’s $1 billion museum finally finds a home — and in our galaxy, too

And Lucas is the perfect wealthy Jedi to help cut across these boundaries. His Star Wars, of course, pulled from so many midcentury pop sources, from Alex Raymond’s beautiful Flash Gordon comic strips and their adapted screen serials to Jack Kirby comic books to the genius frames of Akira Kurosawa — topped by the essential otherworldly illustrations of Ralph McQuarrie, whose very visions first helped sell Star Wars to studio heads.

Now, beyond the Rockwells and the Parrishes and Leyendeckers that Lucas owns, the Lucas Museum will appreciate the modern graphic novel, too. Alison Bechdel, the 2014 MacArthur “genius” grant recipient, confirmed Tuesday to The Washington Post’s Comic Riffs that the Lucas Museum has purchased pages of original art from her early “Dykes to Watch Out For” work, as well as from “Fun Home” and “Are You My Mother?

Also in the collection is the art from the “Genesis” graphic novel by Robert Crumb — one of the few modern cartoonists whose work has been fully embraced by the fine-art world.

A few years ago, I asked Crumb why he had been welcomed past the red ropes of fine-art acceptance where so many of his peers had not. His response: He laughed. It was the smile of a storytelling icon who knows it is up to the arbiters of the arbitrary.

One relevant example of this high/low dichotomy, for me, came at the turn of the 21st century, when the San Diego Museum of Art imported the Smithsonian’s traveling show “Star Wars: The Power of Myth.” In the wake of the decisions to mount that exhibition and other pop blockbuster shows, such as the Muppets and Dr. Seuss, talented new director Don Bacigalupi was brought in partly to restore the museum’s role in the community and its reputation at large.

Today, Bacigalupi is the founding president of the Lucas Museum of Narrative Art.

Which gives me a great new hope, because the same eye that can illuminate American Impressionism or the Spanish Renaissance surely can appreciate the degree to which sublime visual storytelling renders a work as profound art, whether it comes from a canvas, a Bristol board comic strip or the cinematic models on a silver screen.

So we are likely to get a museum (scheduled to open in several years) that, in its acceptance of many types of narrative art, is as beautifully fluid as its very own long physical design.

May the Lucas Museum help show the world why narrative art is a universal language that can sit elevated, far above all random ropes.