Nationality: American. Born: George Walton Lucas Jr., Modesto, California, 14 May 1944. Education: Attended Modesto Junior College; University of Southern California Film School, graduated 1966. Career: Six-month internship at Warner Bros. spent as assistant to Francis Ford Coppola, 1967–68; co-founder, with Coppola, American Zoetrope, Northern California, 1969; directed first feature,
THX-1138, 1971; established special effects company, Industrial Light and Magic, at San Rafael, California, 1976; formed production company Lucasfilm, Ltd., 1979; founded post production company Sprocket Systems, 1980; built Skywalker Ranch, then executive producer for Disneyland's 3-D music space adventure, Captain EO, 1980s. Awards: Locarno International Film Festival Bronze Leopard Award, and National Society of Film Critics Awards, U.S.A., NSFC Award for Best Screenplay, and New York Film Critics Circle Awards, NYFCC Award for Best Screenplay (with Gloria Katz and Willard Huyck) for American Graffiti, 1973; ShoWest Convention Showest Award for Director of the Year, 1978; Academy Awards Irving G. Thalberg Memorial Award, 1992. Address: c/o Lucasfilm, Ltd., P.O. Box 2009, San Rafael, California 94912, U.S.A.
Films as Director and Scriptwriter:
(Short student films)
Look at Life; Freiheit; 1.42.08; Herbie (co-d); AnyoneLived in a Pretty How Town (co-sc); 6.18.67 (doc); TheEmperor (doc); THX 1138:4EB
THX 1138 (co-sc, ed)
American Graffiti (co-sc)
Star Wars (+ exec pr)
Star Wars: Episode I—The Phantom Menace (+sc, exec pr)
Star Wars: Episode II (+sc, exec pr)
Star Wars: Episode III (+sc, pr)
Films as Executive Producer:
More American Graffiti (Norton) (+ story)
The Empire Strikes Back (Kershner) (+ story); Kagemusha (The Shadow Warrior) (Kurosawa) (of int'l version)
Raiders of the Lost Ark (Spielberg) (+ story); Body Heat (Kasdan) (uncredited)
Twice upon a Time (Korty and Swenson)
Return of the Jedi (Marquand) (+ co-sc, story)
Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (Spielberg) (+ story)
Howard the Duck (Huyck); Labyrinth (Henson); Captain EO (Coppola) (+ sc)
Willow (Howard) (+ story); Tucker: The Man and His Dream (Coppola); The Land before Time
Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (Spielberg) (+ story)
Radioland Murders (Mel Smith) (+ story)
By LUCAS: books—
American Graffiti: A Screenplay, with Gloria Katz and Willard Stuyck, New York, 1973.
The Empire Strikes Back, New York, 1997.
The Art of "Star Wars": Episode VI—Return of the Jedi (with Laurence Kasdan), New York, 1997.
George Lucas: Interviews (Conversations with Filmmakers Series), edited by Sally Kline, Mississippi, 1999.
Star Wars: A New Hope, New York, 1999.
Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace: Script Facsimile, Los Angeles, 2000.
By LUCAS: articles—
"THX-1138," in American Cinematographer (Los Angeles), October 1971.
"The Filming of American Graffiti," an interview with L. Sturhahn, in Filmmakers Newsletter (Ward Hill, Massachusetts), March 1974.
Interview with S. Zito, in American Film (Washington, D.C.), April 1977.
Interview with Robert Benayoun and Michel Ciment, in Positif (Paris), September 1977.
Interview with Audie Bock, in Take One (Montreal), no. 6, 1979.
Interview with M. Tuchman and A. Thompson, in Film Comment (New York), July/August 1981.
Interview with David Sheff, in Rolling Stone (New York), 5 November/10 December 1987.
Interview with Philippe Rouyer and Michael Henry, in Positif (Paris), October 1994.
"30 Minutes with the Godfather of Digital Camera," interview with Don Shay, in Cinefex (Riverside), March 1996.
"George Lucas: Past, Present, and Future," interview with Ron Magid, in American Cinematographer (Hollywood), February 1997.
"The Future Starts Here," in Premiere (New York), February 1999.
Interview with Anne Thompson, in Premiere (New York), May 1999.
On LUCAS: books—
Smith, Thomas G., Industrial Light and Magic: The Art of SpecialEffects, New York, 1986.
Champlin, Charles, George Lucas, The Creative Impulse: Lucasfilm'sFirst Twenty Years, New York, 1992.
Carrau, Bob, Monsters and Aliens from George Lucas, New York, 1993.
Cotta Vaz, Mark, and Shinji Hata, From Star Wars to Indiana Jones:The Best of Lucasfilm Archives, San Francisco, 1994.
Baxter, John, Mythmaker: The Life and Work of George Lucas, Shaker Heights, 1998.
White, Dana, George Lucas, Toronto, 1999.
Pollock, Dale, Skywalking: The Life and Films of George Lucas, New York, 1999.
On LUCAS: articles—
Farber, Steven, "George Lucas: The Stinky Kid Hits the Big Time," in Film Quarterly (Berkeley), Spring 1974.
"Behind the Scenes of Star Wars," in American Cinematographer (Los Angeles), July 1977.
Fairchild, B. H., Jr., "Songs of Innocence and Experience: The Blakean Vision of George Lucas," in Literature/Film Quarterly (Salisbury, Maryland), no. 2, 1979.
Pye, Michael, and Lynda Myles, "The Man Who Made Star Wars," in Atlantic Monthly (Greenwich, Connecticut), March 1979.
Harmetz, A., "Burden of Dreams: George Lucas," in American Film (Washington, D.C.), June 1983.
Garsault, A., "Les paradoxes de George Lucas," in Positif (Paris), September 1983.
Schembri, J., "Robert Watts: Spielberg, Lucas and the Temple of Doom," in Cinema Papers (Melbourne), October/November 1984.
"George Lucas," in Film Dope (London), February 1987.
Star Wars Section of Variety (New York), 3 June 1987.
Kearney, J., and J. Greenberg, "The Road Warrior," in AmericanFilm (Washington, D.C.), June 1988.
Kaplan, David A., "The Force of an Idea Is with Him," in Newsweek, 31 May 1993.
Marx, Andy, "The Force Is with Him: Star Wars Savant Lucas Plans Celluloid," in Variety, 4 October 1993.
Marx, Andy, "Lucas Dishes Future Media at Intermedia," in Variety, 7 March 1994.
King, Thomas, "Lucasvision," in Wall Street Journal, March 1994.
Weintraub, Bernard, "The Ultimate Hollywoodian Lives an Anti-Hollywood Life," in New York Times, 20 October 1994.
Biskind, Peter, "'Radio' Days," in Premiere, November 1994.
Weiner, Rex, "Lucas the Loner Returns to 'Wars'," in Variety, 5 June 1995.
Groves, M., "Digital Yoda," in Los Angeles Times, June 1995.
Scorsese, Martin, "Notre génération," in Cahiers du Cinéma (Paris), March 1996.
Kaplan, D.A., "The Force Is Still with Him," in Newsweek, 13 May 1996.
Payne, M., "Return of the Jedi," in Boxoffice (Chicago), November 1996.
Uram, S., "Use the Force, Lucas," in Cinefantastique (Forest Park), no. 6, 1996.
Seabrook, J., "Why Is the Force Still with Us?" in New Yorker, 6 January 1997.
Lev, Peter, "Whose Future? Star Wars, Alien, and Blade Runner," in Literature/Film Quarterly (Salisbury), January 1998.
"How George Did It," in Written By. Journal: The Writers Guild ofAmerica, West (Los Angeles), December/January 1998.
McCarthy, Todd, "Mighty Effects but Mini Magic," in Variety (New York), 17 May 1999.
Daly, Steve, "The Star Report," in Entertainment Weekly (New York), 21 May 1999.
* * *
In whatever capacity George Lucas works—director, writer, producer—the films in which he is involved are a mixture of the familiar and the fantastic. Thematically, Lucas's work is often familiar, but the presentation of the material usually carries his unique mark. His earliest commercial science-fiction film, THX 1138, is not very different in plot from previous stories of futuristic totalitarian societies in which humans are subordinate to technology. What is distinctive about the film is its visual impact. The extreme close-ups, bleak sets, and crowds of "properly sedated" shaven-headed people moving mechanically through hallways effectively produce the physical environment of this cold, well-ordered society. The endless whiteness of the vast detention center without bars could not be more oppressive.
Although not a special effects film, American Graffiti, Lucas's second feature, does show his attention to detail and his interest in archetypal themes. Within the 24-hour period of the film, the heroic potential is brought forth from within the main characters, either through courageous action or the making of courageous decisions. The film captures America on the verge of transition from the 1950s to the brave new world of the 1960s. Lucas does this visually by recreating the 1950s on screen down to the smallest detail, but he also communicates through his characters the feeling that their lives will never be the same again.
The combination of convention, archetype, and fantasy comes together fully in Lucas's subsequent films—the Star Wars and Indiana Jones series. On one level the Star Wars saga is a fairy tale set in outer space, as suggested in the opening title: "A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away. . . ." The basic plot conventions of the fairy tale are present: a princess in distress, a powerful evil ruler, and courageous knights. The saga is also a tale of the emergence of the hero within and the quest by which individuals realize their true selves, for the princess is really a Shaman, the evil ruler a self divided in need of healing, and the knights latent heroes who do not realize themselves as such at the beginning of the tale.
Scenes, especially from Star Wars and The Empire Strikes Back, look and sound like Flash Gordon episodes. Members of the Empire—the Emperor, Darth Vadar, the storm troopers—are an easily identifiable evil in their dark, drab clothing and cloaked or helmeted faces. Their movements are accompanied by a menacing, martial film score of the type that ushered Ming the Merciless on screen. Another reference that associates the Empire with a great evil is that the storm troopers in several scenes resemble the rows of assembled storm troopers on review in Triumph of the Will. In contrast to these images of darkness, the rebel forces and their habitats are colorful and full of life.
The Star Wars saga is also very much science fiction. The special effects developed to realize Lucas's futuristic vision brought about technological advances in motion picture photography. The workshop formed for the production of Star Wars, Industrial Light and Magic, continues on as an independent special effects production company. While working on Star Wars, John Dykstra developed the Dykstraflex camera, for which he received an Academy Award. The camera was used in conjunction with a computer to achieve the accuracy necessary in photographing multiple-exposure visual effects. Another advancement in motion-control photography was developed for The Empire Strikes Back—Brian Edlund's Empireflex camera.
Lucas and Steven Spielberg then set out to make a film based on the romantic action/adventure movies of the 1940s. The successful result was Raiders of the Lost Ark. Indiana Jones, based on the rough-edged, worldly wise screen heroes of those earlier adventure films, is set to such mythic tasks as the quest for the Ark of the Covenant and the quest for the Holy Grail. Jones's enemies on these quests (which occur in the first and the last films of the series), the Nazis, are representatives of the dark side of this universe and carry legendary status of their own. As in the Star Wars saga, the main characters, including the extraordinary Indiana, face challenges that will bring forth qualities and strengths they had not yet realized. The dialogue in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade especially emphasizes the theme of the hero within. At one point the senior Jones tells Indiana that "The search for the cup of Christ is the search for the divine in all of us"; later in the film Indiana is challenged to look within himself by the enemy as he is told, "It's time to ask yourself what you believe."
Radioland Murders is set in the world of live radio broadcasts of the late 1930s. All the conventional character types are here—from the inept director and his highly competent assistant to the golden-voiced booth announcer to the ever-creative sound-effects man. This romantic comedy/murder mystery was directed by Mel Smith, produced by Lucas, and based on an original story by Lucas. The narrative contains all the heroic challenges to spirit and character of more epic films condensed into a much smaller space and a much shorter time period. The action takes place within a few prime-time hours as a new radio network premieres. The broadcast carries on to a successful completion in spite of the murders of cast and crew, the police investigation, set breakdowns, and ego clashes. This universe of carefully contained chaos sometimes appears to be on the verge of spinning out of control, but it never does. The narrative, the broadcast, and the main characters persevere to the finish.
In 1999, Lucas returned to directing with the first film in the Star Wars saga, Episode I—The Phantom Menace, which he also scripted. The film contains all the Lucas hallmarks, but he was perhaps illadvised to take on the project himself. The prequel lacks much of the subtlety of Star Wars: Episode IV—A New Hope, the only other film in the sequence he has so far directed, and was nominated in 2000 for "Razzie" awards for Worst Direction and Worst Screenplay. Such is Lucas's following, however, that Phantom Menace became the third-highest grossing movie of all time, and Lucas has announced his intention to make at least two further episodes. The simple story of a conflict between good and evil (essentially left over from the classic Western) continues to be carried by impressive special effects, but it remains to be seen how long general audiences will remain satisfied by a moral structure indicated by the color of the protagonists' clothing.
Lucas's films are self-conscious about genre conventions and often refer back to earlier films. Also familiar in his work are the archetypal figures from myths and legends. At the same time, the films are fantastic and unfamiliar, filled with strange creatures and exotic settings. However, the narrative weaknesses of Phantom Menace suggest he is somewhat less adept with the processes of storytelling than with realizing ambitious action sequences and inventive special effects.
—Marie Saeli, updated by Chris Routledge
American filmmaker George Lucas (born 1944) was responsible for the creation of a number of the most profitable movies in history, including the Star Wars and Indiana Jones trilogies. Lucas is also responsible for many technical innovations in filmmaking, especially special effects.
Lucas was born in Modesto, California on May 14, 1944, the only son among George and Dorothy Lucas's four children. His father sold office supplies and equipment and owned a walnut farm. George Lucas Sr. found his son difficult to understand and quite stubborn. Lucas enjoyed racing cars and was the proud owner of a souped-up Fiat in high school. He was not a good student, and barely made passing grades. Shortly before graduating from high school, Lucas was involved in a serious car accident and nearly died from his injuries. With broken ribs, Lucas spent three months in the hospital. This experience seriously affected his outlook on life. Lucas decided that he wanted to go to art school. His parents refused to support this decision, however, so Lucas instead studied social sciences at Modesto Junior College.
While at Modesto, Lucas developed an interest in photography and film. He began making films with an 8mm camera, though he knew little about the art and its history. Lucas combined his new interest with an old one when he began to photograph car races. He also became involved in the building of race cars. One was built for Haskell Wexler, a famous cinematographer, who befriended Lucas. With the cinematographer's help, Lucas entered the film program at the University of Southern California (USC). Lucas had a variety of interests in film school. He began in animation, then moved on to cinematography and editing. Lucas was determined to succeed as a filmmaker, and produced eight student films. One of these films, 1965's THX-1138: 4EB won several awards, including a first prize at the National Student Festival. In this short film, Lucas explored his version of the future.
Lucas graduated from USC in 1967 and worked on the fringes of the film industry for several years, holding odd jobs. He spent time as a cameraman for Saul Bass, filmed part of the infamous 1968 Rolling Stones concert in Altamonte, California, and worked as an editor for documentaries produced by the United States Information Agency. While working for the USIA he met Marcia Griffin, a film editor. They married in 1969, and adopted a child in 1981. The couple divorced in 1984 and Lucas later adopted two children on his own.
In 1969, Lucas won a scholarship from Warner Bros., which allowed him to watch a film being made. He was on the set of a film directed by Francis Ford Coppola entitled Finian's Rainbow. Lucas and Coppola developed a strong friendship. Lucas became an advisor on Finian's Rainbow and assisted in the editing room. This was the break he needed. Lucas worked on Coppola's next film, The Rain People, and made a documentary about the production called Filmmaker.
First Feature Film
Through Coppola's newly founded film studio and independent production company, San Francisco's American Zoetrope, Lucas made his first feature, THX-1138. Based on the short film he made as a student, the full length movie took the futurism to an extreme. With an intelligent story, and no real special effects, Lucas's version of the future was not unlike George Orwell's 1984 with some elements of his future hit, Star Wars. Though produced through Zoetrope, the financing for THX-1138 were provided in part by Warner Bros. The studio did not like the film, and wanted their money back. Coppola convinced them to reconsider. After Warner Bros. edited five minutes off the film, THX-1138 finally saw a limited release in 1971. It was never promoted by the studio. THX-1138 was not a commercial success and received mixed reviews. Critics praised the technical aspects, but found the story to be derivative of other science fiction films. In 1978, THX-1138 was re-released with the missing minutes restored, and it quickly became a cult classic.
Success with American Graffiti
In 1973, Lucas experienced his first real success as a filmmaker with American Graffiti. The film was a nostalgic look at the early 1960s as Lucas remembered it, down to the most exacting details. The story focused on one summer night in 1962, and followed teenage boys and their cars. Lucas co-wrote the script and directed it, with Coppola serving as a co-producer. American Graffiti had a budget of a little more than $750,000 and was filmed in less than a month. Initially Universal, the studio which financed the production, was not happy with the finished product. Coppola offered to buy the film and release it himself. Although the studio did not believe it would make a profit, American Graffiti was released nonetheless. It took several months for the film to build a following, but American Graffiti became the sleeper hit of the year. By 1975, the film had grossed over $50 million; by 1998, $115 million. American Graffiti was one of the most profitable films of the 1970s, and received five Academy Award nominations and a Golden Globe for best comedy. Lucas was honored with several best screenplay awards.
Star Wars Redefined Blockbuster
As soon as American Graffiti was completed, Lucas began working on the script for Star Wars. He planned his space fantasy as three sequential, interrelated trilogies, of which Star Wars was the first episode of the middle trilogy. This science fiction film included aspects of westerns, soap operas, serial swashbucklers, and other genres as well. Lucas told Gerald Clarke of Time, "I wanted Star Wars to have an epic quality, so I went back to the epics. Whether they are subconscious or unconscious, whatever needs they meet, they are stories that have pleased or provided comfort to people for thousands of years." The Lucas-directed Star Wars was released to near universal praise in May 1977. His very personal vision appealed to a mass audience. The film smashed all box-office records as audiences viewed it repeatedly.
One of the reasons for the success of Star Wars was its spectacular special effects and definitive production design. As with his earlier films, Lucas paid particular attention to details. Star Wars won Academy Awards for its special effects and technical aspects. Though Star Wars was made for about $10.5 million, the film grossed $400 million worldwide before its re-release in 1997. Despite this success, the experience of making the film left Lucas exhausted. A retiring man with simple pleasures, he found directing the massive set of Star Wars to be overwhelming at times. Lucas did not direct another film for twenty years.
Despite his experience directing Star Wars, Lucas proved to be a wise businessman. He declined to take a director's fee for his work on the film, in exchange for rights to merchandising. Lucas also retained the rights to the Star Wars sequels. It was the former, however, that made him immediately rich. Lucas merchandised Star Wars in every conceivable way, through books, toys, kits, and consumer items. Between 1977 and 1980, Lucas made $500 million off of Star Wars merchandise. He managed the merchandising through his company (Lucas Film Ltd.), established in 1979. Lucas set up other companies to deal with organizing his burgeoning film empire.
By 1980, the second installment in the trilogy was released. In the production of The Empire Strikes Back, Lucas was only the executive producer and wrote the story on which the script was based. There was some critical debate over the merits of the more complex story, but many noted that the special effects were technically better. The Empire Strikes Back earned $365 million at the box office. After his hands-off approach, Lucas returned to a more active role in 1983's The Return of the Jedi. He co-wrote the script with Lawrence Kasden, and again served as executive producer. Reviews were even more mixed than with The Empire Strikes Back. While special effects were excellent, critics thought they were overused and overwhelmed the characters and the story. As a whole, the trilogy grossed $1 billion. Their merchandising licenses, however, brought in over $3 billion.
Created Indiana Jones
At the time Lucas began developing his concept for Star Wars, he had the idea that eventually led to another trilogy of films. The Indiana Jones series was developed as an homage to Saturday matinee serials and adventure films of the 1940s. Lucas conceived the story for the first Indiana Jones movie, entitled Raiders of the Lost Ark, and served as producer. His story again found mass appeal, both from critics and audiences. Lucas's involvement decreased in the next two Indiana Jones movies. He wrote the story for 1984's Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom and produced Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. Both of these films were not as popular as the first installment, with many critics finding the films to be derivative. Lucas used the Indiana Jones character in a 1992 series he produced for television. Entitled The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles, Lucas conceived of all the stories, but the show only lasted for one season.
Throughout the 1980s and most of the 1990s, Lucas primarily worked as a producer, with mixed success. Movies such as Labyrinth (1985), Howard the Duck (1986), and Radioland Murders (1994) were box office failures. Other films were more successful creatively and at the box office, such as Tucker: The Man and His Dream (1988) and Willow. (1988)
With profits from his film successes and Lucas Film, Ltd., Lucas founded Skywalker Ranch, a production facility near the Bay Area in California. Lucas based all of his companies there, which covered every aspect of film. One in particular changed the face of the film industry. Originally founded to handle the special effects for Star Wars, Industrial Light and Magic (ILM) advanced film technology through research and development. ILM branched out to do innovative special effects for other movies, such as Star Trek and E.T. the Extra Terrestrial. ILM was responsible for THX, a digital sound system found in many theaters. Despite his contributions to the film industry, some critics believe that the emphasis on special effects overwhelmed the stories they were supposed to enhance. Lucas disagreed telling Richard Zoglin of Time, "Special effects are just a way of visualizing something on screen. They have expanded the limits of storytelling enormously."
Returned to Star Wars
Though many doubted the other two Star Wars trilogies would ever be made, in 1994, Lucas began writing the scripts for the prequel trilogy. To prepare audiences, Lucas and Twentieth Century Fox reissued enhanced "special editions" versions of the original Star Wars trilogy in theaters beginning in 1997. Using the technology developed by his companies, Lucas fixed some of the errors in the first films and included scenes that technological limitations had previously prevented. In total, he added four and a half minutes to Star Wars.
In May 1999, Lucas released The Phantom Menace, the first installment of the prequel trilogy. Lucas directed this film and wrote the script. Because of the success of the Star Wars trilogy, a bidding war developed over the rights to release what would be guaranteed profit makers as well as the rights to make the toys. Because Lucas tapped into a childhood consciousness that was universal, his films have changed the world's standards for entertainment.
Barson, Michael, The Illustrated Who's Who of Hollywood Directors, Volume 1: The Sound Era, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1995.
Curran, Daniel, Guide to American Cinema, 1965-1995, Greenwood Press, 1998.
International Directory of Films and Filmmakers 2: Directors, edited by Laurie Collier Hillstrom, St. James Press, 1997.
Monaco, James, The Encyclopedia of Film, Perigee, 1991.
Quinlan, David, The Illustrated Guide to Film Directors, Barnes& Noble Books, 1983.
World Film Directors: Volume II, edited by John Wakeman, 1945-85, H.W. Wilson, 1988.
Advertising Age, August 31, 1998.
Esquire, December 1996.
Forbes, March 11, 1996; October 14, 1996; September 22, 1997.
Fortune, October 6, 1980; August 5, 1985; August 18, 1997.
Inc., June 15, 1995.
Life, June 30, 1983.
Newsweek, May 31, 1993; May 13, 1996; January 20, 1997.
The Other Side, March-April 1997.
People Weekly, June 23, 1983; March 26, 1984; February 26, 1996; November 30, 1998.
Time, May 19, 1980; May 23, 1983; June 27, 1983; June 16, 1986; September 22, 1986; March 2, 1992; September 30, 1996; February 10, 1997.
Variety, July 20, 1998; July 27, 1998. □
Born: May 14, 1944
American director, screenwriter, and producer
American filmmaker George Lucas created some of the most profitable movies in history, including the Star Wars and Indiana Jones films. Lucas is also responsible for many new developments in filmmaking, especially involving special effects.
George Walton Lucas Jr. was born in Modesto, California, on May 14, 1944, the only son among George and Dorothy Lucas's four children. His father sold office supplies and equipment and owned a walnut farm. Lucas was not a good student; he enjoyed racing cars and owned a souped-up, high-powered Fiat (a brand of Italian automobile) in high school. Shortly before graduating he was involved in a serious car accident, nearly dying from his injuries. After recovering from a three-month hospital stay, Lucas decided that he wanted to go to art school. His parents refused to pay for it, so he instead enrolled at Modesto Junior College to study social sciences.
Lucas became interested in photography and film and began making films with a small camera. While photographing a car race he met Haskell Wexler (1922–), a famous cinematographer (motion picture cameraman), who helped him get into the University of Southern California (USC) film school. Lucas produced eight student films, including THX-1138: 4EB (1965), in which he explored his vision of the future. After graduating Lucas worked as a cameraman (he filmed part of the famous 1968 Rolling Stones concert in Altamont, California, in which a man was stabbed to death) and as an editor for films produced by the United States Information Agency. While at this job he met Marcia Griffin, a film editor. They married in 1969 and adopted a child in 1981. The couple divorced in 1984, and Lucas later adopted two children on his own.
Early film career
In 1969 Lucas won a scholarship from Warner Brothers Studios, which allowed him on the set to watch the filming of Finian's Rainbow, which was being directed by Francis Ford Coppola (1939–). Lucas and Coppola became friends, and Lucas helped edit the film. Lucas also worked on Coppola's next film, The Rain People. Through Coppola's newly created film studio and production company, American Zoetrope, Lucas made his first feature, THX—1138, based on the short film he made as a student.
In 1973 Lucas experienced his first real film success with American Graffiti, which focused on one summer night in 1962, following teenage boys and their cars. Lucas co-wrote the script and directed it, with Coppola serving as a co-producer. American Graffiti was filmed in less than a month for a little over $750,000. Although Universal, the studio that had paid for the production, did not believe American Graffiti would make a profit, by several months after its release it had become the surprise hit of the year. It was one of the most profitable films of the 1970s and was nominated (put forward for consideration) for five Academy Awards.
Lucas next began working on the script for an original space story, Star Wars. He planned the story as a series of three related trilogies (series of three works); Star Wars was the first episode of the middle trilogy. The film included elements of westerns, soap operas, and other types of films as well. The Lucas-directed Star Wars was released in May 1977. It received very positive reviews. His very personal vision also appealed to a mass audience. The film smashed all box office records, and many people went to see it more than once.
Star Wars earned $400 million worldwide in its first release. The experience of making the film, though, left Lucas exhausted, and he did not direct another film for twenty years. He had made a wise decision to turn down a director's fee (money that a director receives for making a film) for his work on the film in exchange for rights to merchandising (the ability to make money from products, such as toys, related to the movie). He also retained the rights to the Star Wars sequels (follow—up films). Lucas made $500 million between 1977 and 1980 from the sale of Star Wars merchandise, including books, toys, kits, and consumer items. He managed the merchandising through his company, LucasFilm Ltd., which was established in 1979. Lucas set up other companies to manage his film empire.
In 1980 the second film in Lucas's trilogy, The Empire Strikes Back, was released. Lucas was the executive producer (one who pays for the release of a movie) and wrote the story on which the script was based. Although some criticized the story, many noted that the special effects were better. Lucas returned to a more active role in 1983's The Return of the Jedi. He co-wrote the script and again served as executive producer. While the special effects were excellent, critics thought they took attention away from the characters and the story. Still, all three films together brought in $1 billion. Sales of official merchandise brought in over $3 billion.
Other successful projects
At the time Lucas began developing Star Wars, he had an idea for another series of films. The Indiana Jones series was developed as a tribute to adventure films of the 1940s. Lucas wrote the story and served as producer for the first Indiana Jones movie, entitled Raiders of the Lost Ark. His story again pleased both critics and audiences. Lucas was less involved in the next two Indiana Jones movies, Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom and Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. In 1992 he produced a television series, The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles, which lasted for only one season. Throughout the 1980s and most of the 1990s Lucas worked mainly as a producer. Movies such as Howard the Duck (1986) and Radioland Murders (1994) were failures; others, such as Tucker: The Man and His Dream (1988) and Willow (1988), were more successful.
Lucas, with profits from his films and LucasFilm, Ltd., founded Skywalker Ranch, a production house (a place where a movie is edited for theatrical release) in California. Lucas based all of his companies there; one in particular changed the face of the film industry. Originally created to handle the special effects for Star Wars, Industrial Light and Magic (ILM) improved film technology (applied science) through research and development. ILM branched out to do special effects for other movies, such as Star Trek and E.T: The Extra-Terrestrial. ILM was also responsible for THX, an improved sound system found in many movie theaters.
Though many doubted the other two Star Wars trilogies would ever be made, in 1994 Lucas began writing the scripts for the first trilogy. To prepare audiences, "special edition" versions of the original Star Wars trilogy were released in theaters beginning in 1997. Using effects developed by his companies, Lucas fixed some of the errors in the first films and included new scenes, adding four and a half minutes to Star Wars.
In May 1999 Lucas released The Phantom Menace, the first installment of the first Star Wars trilogy. Lucas directed the film and wrote the script. In December 2001 Lucas donated several items used in the Star Wars films to the online auction firm eBay to raise money for relatives of the victims of the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the United States. In 2002 the next Star Wars film, Attack of the Clones, was released.
For More Information
Champlin, Charles. George Lucas: The Creative Impulse. New York: H. N. Abrams, 1992.
Rau, Dana Meachen, and Christopher Rau. George Lucas: Creator of Star Wars. New York: Franklin Watts, 1999.
Riehecky, Janet. George Lucas: An Unauthorized Biography. Chicago: Heinemann Library, 2001.
White, Dana. George Lucas. Minneapolis: Lerner Publications, 2000.
Woog, Adam. George Lucas. San Diego: Lucent Books, 2000.
George Lucas revolutionized the film industry when his 1977 film Star Wars was released. Through the use of computer technology, he was able to create an entire universe, which took the movie-going world by storm. While his legacy might be the Star Wars trilogy, it is his revolutionary film making process which is likely to have an impact for years to come.
Lucas was born on May 14, 1944 in Modesto, California, the son of George, a retail merchant and part-time farmer, and Dorothy Lucas. As a boy, George was artistic, and he thought that he might become a photographer or an artist. While he took art classes in school, his spare time was spent rebuilding cars and working as part of the pit crew at the local racetrack. Lucas hoped to become a professional racecar driver, but those hopes were shattered when he was involved in a serious automobile accident just before his high school graduation. Lucas was 18 at the time. Once he had recovered from the accident, he entered Modesto Junior College, where he studied sociology and anthropology. He then transferred to The University of Southern California Film School, where he graduated in 1966 with a BFA.
While he was a student, Lucas made eight short films, including a bleak futuristic drama about a man on the run. In 1968, that film, titled Electronic Labyrinth: THX 1138: 4EB won the Best Film Award at the 3rd Annual Student Film Festival. TXH 1138 was later expanded and filmed by Zoetrope, an independent film company which had received backing from Warner Bros. Lucas was the director, and filming took place mostly in the San Francisco Bay area. He edited the movie at his home in Mill Valley. The film garnered good critical reviews but was a flop at the box office.
Undaunted, Lucas began to film his second project, American Graffiti, which was a nostalgic look at adolescence. With the help of friends Francis Ford Coppola and Gary Kurtz, Lucas made the movie on a budget of just $780,000. Though studio heads were somewhat bewildered by the film's seeming lack of plot, they finally agreed to produce it; American Graffiti was released to theatres in 1973. This time, Lucas scored with both critical acclaim and box office success. Within two years, it had grossed $50 million at the box office, a Golden Globe Award for best comedy, New York Film Critics and National Society of Film Critics awards for best screenplay, as well as five Oscar nominations.
The success of American Graffiti gave Lucas credibility in the film industry and he began to approach studio heads with his idea for a science fiction movie he had titled, Star Wars. The idea of an intergalactic war between good and evil was a tough sell, but Lucas refused to be daunted, passionately convinced that his idea would not only make a good movie but would bring a much-needed sense of mythology to the culture.
Finally, Lucas received an $8.5 million backing from 20th Century-Fox, and filming began. Studio marketing analysis said women would not go to see a movie with "war" in its title. Members of the studio's board of directors dozed during its initial screening. It surprised everyone when lines began forming at the theatres at 8 a.m. on May 25, 1977, the day Star Wars opened. Crowds flocked to theatres around the country to witness Lucas' intergalactic civil war. Ultimately, Star Wars grossed $322 million. It also won seven Oscars. Lucas had been right; the film seemed to touch a chord in an audience hungry for storytelling and mythology.
Lucas went on to make two more Star Wars movies, The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi. While both were well-received and ultimately grossed as much as the original, many critics complained they were not up to the standard of the original. For the movie-going public, however, Star Wars had become a permanent part of the culture. The phrase "May the force be with you," became a slogan in the late 1970s.
After completing the Star Wars trilogy, Lucas turned away from directing and produced the popular Indiana Jones movies. Lucas himself conceived these adventure films, again, hoping to bring the public a renewed sense of fantasy and storytelling. Though not the critical success of Star Wars, these movies were big hits at the box office. The same thing cannot be said of Lucas' next few projects, which included Howard the Duck, Labyrinth, and Willow.
After those movies, Lucas retreated to his 4,700-acre Skywalker Ranch. There, he attempted to understand computer technology and figure out how it could be used in moviemaking. That period of exploration would ultimately change the way movies were made in Hollywood. Lucas had created a digital studio at Skywalker, which opened filmmaking to the very limits of imagination. Prior to this, moviemakers were constrained by the physical limitations of reality. Digital technologies have factored about half of the movies subsequently produced, including 1996's dinosaur epic, Jurassic Park, and Forrest Gump.
For years, Lucas was away from filmmaking, but even with competitors clamoring for their piece of the digital effects market, Lucas has become incredibly rich. He owns 100 percent of LucasFilm, which includes Skywalker Sound (a video game company), all the franchise rights to both the Star Wars and Indiana Jones movies, and Industrial Light and Magic. In 1996 Forbes magazine estimated that LucasFilm alone was worth approximately $5 billion and that was prior to the 1997 rerelease of the Star Wars trilogy in the theatres, which enabled a new generation to discover the myth and magic which had made Lucas famous.
Lucas is now working on another Star Wars trilogy, this time, a prequel to the original. Lucas, who wrote this new chapter, will also be both producer and director. The first film is one of the most closely-guarded productions in movie history; release for the first of the three is tentatively set for May, 1999, with the others set to follow in 2001 and 2003.
Social and Economic Impact
Thanks to Lucas' vision, the film industry has begun to literally reinvent itself, with the presence of computer technology felt in the majority of movies made today—especially those which have large-scale productions, like the 1997 blockbuster Titanic, or 1998's Godzilla. Although the technology has been used for little more than a decade, the result is surprisingly sophisticated; fantasy and even historical events seeming to effortlessly intertwine with reality. This may even affect education, with children learning through simulation, rather than through theory.
In a 1995 interview in Inc. magazine, Lucas said, "I'm really a storyteller. The technological adventure I've gotten myself involved in surely came about because I found myself out in the middle of the wilderness with no fire. I had no choice but to try to build a fire so that I could sit by it and tell stories. I've wanted to finish the Star Wars story for a long time so that the first three weren't left hanging out there. But it's a lot of work; you've got to take a deep breath and prepare yourself for four years of hard labor. But, you know, I look forward to the whole process."
Chronology: George Lucas
1966: Graduated from USC Film School.
1973: Received Golden Globe for American Graffiti.
1977: Star Wars released in theatres.
1981: Produced Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom.
1997: Theatrical re-release of the Star Wars trilogy.
In addition to Lucas' contributions to the film industry, his Star Wars trilogy has had a profound effect on an entire generation of Americans. When the trilogy was re-released in 1997, the theatres were sold-out for days. The box office sales and the hundreds of thousands of dollars in movie-merchandise that was sold is evidence that Lucas' films continue to have a lasting impact.
Sources of Information
Contact at: LucasFilm, Ltd.
PO Box 2009
San Rafael, California 94912
Business Phone: (415)662-1800
"The Force Is Back. Time, 10 February 1997
"Luke Skywalker Goes Home." Playboy, July 1977.
"The Magician." Forbes, 11 March 1996.
"Star Struck." Entertainment Weekly, 21 May 1993.
American Screenwriter, Producer, and Director 1944-
Born on May 14, 1944, in Modesto, California, film director George Lucas studied film at the University of Southern California. His first feature film was THX 1138. The executive producer was Francis Ford Coppola, who would later gain fame directing The Godfather trilogy and Apocalypse Now. In 1973 Lucas cowrote and directed American Graffiti, which won a Golden Globe and garnered five Academy Award nominations.
Within the space fraternity Lucas is recognized for the Star Wars movies. Star Wars, the first in the initial trilogy of tales about life and conflict in the universe, was released in 1977. The film broke box-office records and won seven Academy Awards. Lucas went on to write The Empire Strikes Back (1980) and Return of the Jedi (1983), and was executive producer for both. Lucas worked for twenty years developing a prequel to the trilogy, Episode 1: The Phantom Menace, released in 1999, for which he was writer, director, and executive producer. A second prequel, Attack of the Clones, was released in May, 2002.
Lucas sees himself as a storyteller and professes not to be particularly keen on technology. He admits that he has had to invent the necessary technology to tell his tales and believes the mark of a talented filmmaker is how well one works within the limitations imposed by the available technology.
see also Careers in Writing, Photography, and Filmmaking (volume 1); Entertainment (volume 1); Star Wars (volume 4).