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Lucas, George - Overview, Personal Life, Career Details, Social and Economic Impact, Chronology: George Lucas

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LucasFilm, Ltd.


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.

Personal Life

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.

Career Details

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 War s 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

1944: Born.

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.

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