George Lucas' next tale will be set a long time ago, but not in a galaxy far, far away.
In fact, its location is a mere 40 miles from Columbus — in Tuskegee, Ala. — as he aims to bring the story of the Tuskegee Airmen to the big screen.
Though Lucas has talked about such a movie at least since 2005, he's now said that the movie will be his next film project. He's hired a screenwriter and told USA Today last week that he hopes to shoot it later this year.
The name of the movie?: "Red Tails," in a nod to the candy apple color the Tuskegee pilots painted the tails of their P-51 Mustang fighter planes.
The Tuskegee Airmen were black pilots who formed their own Army Air Corps fighter group in World War II. Nearly 1,000 pilots were trained in Tuskegee, and in combat they were stellar. Still, they fought racism stateside, including a hearing before the House Armed Services Committee after they were accused of cowardice and incompetence.
Retired Col. Herbert Carter, who flew with the Airmen from 1942-1949, is excited at the prospect of seeing the 332nd Fighter Group's exploits replayed on a movie screen. Several years ago, Lucas flew him and four other pilots to the filmmaker's home at Skywalker Ranch to tell their stories.
"We spent three days doing oral history interviews," said Carter, 88, who still lives in Tuskegee. "He had a couple of staff people there taking notes and recording what was being said so they could have some foundation for this movie."
In 1995, Laurence Fishburne starred in a made-for-TV movie called "The Tuskegee Airmen" on HBO. Critics were unhappy with the film's dialog and pacing, and Carter was not a fan, either. He hopes for better form Lucas, who's best known for his "Star Wars" films and for his hand in the Indiana Jones series, doesn't make some of the same mistakes.
"We hope that he will follow our recommendations, and that he consider his main characters more seriously than they did for the HBO one," Carter said.
Others, too, are hopeful.
"I feel good about it," said Hiram Little Sr., 89, of Atlanta. Little was a flight officer with the historic fighter group for more than 4-1/2 years. "I don't know how the rest of them feel about it, but I feel good. It's an honor to be remembered."
The film is tentatively slated for a 2009 release.
Variety, a publication that covers the entertainment industry, reported that Lucas named writer John Ridley is penning the film's script. Ridley's previous writing credits included "Three Kings" and Oliver Stone's "U Turn," as well as the script for Spike Lee's forthcoming film about the L.A. riots. It was when Lucas read that last work that he hired Ridley for "Red Tails," according to Variety.