A nasty court fight between film icon George Lucas and Chicago environmentalists over a proposed art museum in the city could have the Star Wars creator saying, “Help me, Obi-Rahm, you’re my only hope.”
Lucas is fighting to build a futuristic art museum on the Chicago lakefront, and has enlisted the help of Mayor Rahm Emanuel to keep the project alive. The mayor and other supporters see it as a huge economic boon and tourist draw.
But a local environmentalist group called Friends of the Park wants to blow it up like the Death Star, and has filed suit. They don't object to The Lucas Museum of Narrative Art in theory, but do not want it built on lakefront property they maintain is protected parkland.
A federal court hearing had been scheduled for Wednesday as part of their tortuous legal battle, but has since been rescheduled for Aug. 11.
“Museums can save a community,” Laura L. Lott, CEO of the American Alliance of Museums, said in a statement last month supporting the project. “As Chicago and Illinois face their own budget struggles, a small but vocal group is coming perilously close to blocking a golden opportunity for the community.”
Those behind The Lucas Museum of Narrative Art say it “will celebrate the power of visual storytelling in a setting focused on narrative painting, illustration, photography, film, animation and digital art” -- and create more than 1,800 jobs at no cost to taxpayers in the process.
Lucas’s wife, Mellody Hobson, also says she finds the environmentalists’ lack of faith disturbing.
“As an African-American who has spent my entire life in this city I love, it saddens me that young black and brown children will be denied the chance to benefit from what this museum will offer,” Hobson said, according to the Chicago Tribune.
However, Friends of the Parks says it doesn’t object to the museum in principle, just to its positioning on the lakefront.
“We continue to remind Chicagoans that we would love to have the Lucas Museum locate in our great city with all of the attendant economic benefits, and there are many suitable sites to make that happen somewhere other than our lakefront,” Juanita Irizarry, executive director of Friends of the Parks, said in a statement last month.
Lucas is not fighting for the project alone, and has picked up vital support from the Chicago mayor.
Emanuel's Empire recently struck back against the rebel environmentalists by asking an appeals court to throw out the case. The hearing has been repeatedly postponed.
According to the Chicago Sun Times, Emanuel’s office also has offered his support to a separate project dear to the hearts of Chicago environmentalists -- which would significantly expand the lakefront parkland -- if the group drops its suit.
There have been reports that Friends of the Parks was mulling dropping the legal action, but the group released a statement last week denying that, apparently taking a lesson from Admiral Ackbar and sensing a trap.
“Contrary to recent reports, our board remains fully united on the preservation of our lakefront and ensuring that the public trust doctrine is not ignored," Irizarry said.
Hobson says the legal fight has caused them to look for a new hope in a galaxy far, far away and consider other cities. The Los Angeles Times reported that the San Francisco Bay area was being considered as a possible alternative.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.