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George Lucas
(1944 - )Biography from Baseline's Encyclopedia of Film

Occupation: Director, producer/ Birth Name: George Walton Lucas, Jr./ Born: May 14, 1944, Modesto, CA /Education: University of Southern California (film)


The supreme anti-auteur, George Lucas has achieved a startling measure of commercial success and cultural influence with surprisingly few director's credits. Although he's not a critics' favorite&emdash;his work lacks "thematic weight"&emdash;he has enhanced pop culture with an irrepressible enthusiasm. Almost singlehandedly he established the 1960s as a proper subject of cinematic nostalgia in AMERICAN GRAFFITI (1973), then gave the science fiction genre a new, broad appeal with the STAR WARS trilogy, combining fantasy and nostalgia (perfectly embodied in the opening title of STAR WARS, "Long ago, in a galaxy far, far away") in a way which proved popular with young and adult audiences alike.

While a graduate student at the University of Southern California, Lucas served as an intern on Francis Ford Coppola's musical, FINIAN'S RAINBOW (1968). The two men quickly discovered their mutual love for the cinema and became close friends. It was Coppola who provided backing for Lucas's first feature, THX-1138 (1971), an expansion of a 20-minute short made during Lucas's student days. An intelligent work of science fiction, the film demonstrated his keen understanding of the genre. The film draws heavily on classic dystopian visions like Huxley's Brave New World and Orwell's 1984, and for many it remains Lucas's best to date, offering his most inventive imagery with a minimal reliance on special effects.

To Lucas's great dismay, Warner Bros. reedited the film and gave it only a limited release. THX-1138 (1971) consequently performed poorly at the box office, although it would later achieve something of cult status. It also earned Lucas a reputation as an intellectual director of science fiction, so in conscious reaction he conceived the semi-autobiographical AMERICAN GRAFFITI (1973), a story designed to appeal to a broader audience. Produced on a budget of only $750,000, again with help from Coppola, the film became one of the most profitable movies of the decade. AMERICAN GRAFFITI'S rock 'n' roll oldies sound track established the commercial potential of classic rock in the cinema, and the film's success allowed Lucas to produce his subsequent films independently.

Lucas's next, and to date his last, movie as director would change the history of the science fiction film. STAR WARS, published as a novel in 1976 and released as a film the following year, is relatively standard space opera fare: fascist villains attempt to gain control of decent, democratic folk, who are forced to become heroes to defeat them. The characters are little more than the stock figures of the genre, but Lucas managed to present them with a freshness and exuberance that had been absent from the screen since the "Flash Gordon" and "Buck Rogers" serials of decades earlier, to which they pay homage.

Lucas claimed he wanted to restore the qualities of romance and vigor to the genre, which he felt had grown too intellectual. Thus STAR WARS is distinguished by bravura action sequences, state-of-the-art special effects, carefully considered production design and a breathtaking pace, and avoids any serious thematic issues. At the heart of the film's popular appeal is the concept of "the Force": although never fully explained, and functioning as little more than a plot convenience, its primary function is to suggest a mythic union between life and science, biology and technology. Lucas has acknowledged the works of the late mythologist Joseph Campbell as a creative influence on STAR WARS. In his extensive interviews with journalist Bill Moyers, Campbell would later observe that much of the film's popularity could be ascribed to its clever assimilation of ancient legends and mythological themes.

Lucas earned a fortune from the movie, the most successful science fiction film until Steven Spielberg's E.T. THE EXTRA-TERRESTRIAL (1982). Made for $10.5 million, it earned more than $400 million around the world and sparked an unprecedented merchandising campaign of toys, lunchboxes, T-shirts, mugs and other memorabilia. The STAR WARS myths have been a powerful staple of kid's culture since the late 70s, exceeded only by the world of Jim Henson's Muppets. With his profits from the film, Lucas established his own production facility, Lucasfilm Ltd., in Marin County, California.

STAR WARS was an exhausting experience for Lucas, and he swore never to direct a big film again. He has likened the director's role on such a large production to that of a General and claims that he would rather be a filmmaker, creating more intimate, even avant-garde works. Since 1977 Lucas has indeed avoided directorial duties to concentrate on production. Two STAR WARS sequels, THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK (1980) and RETURN OF THE JEDI (1983), have reinforced the myth (Lucas originally planned an overly ambitious nine-film series). He has also produced movies in other genres with mixed success, from the profitable INDIANA JONES adventures (in partnership with Steven Spielberg) to the disastrous HOWARD THE DUCK (1986). However, Lucas&emdash;now a kind of symbol for the commercial cinema&emdash;has yet to turn from such major mainstream ventures to a more personal style of filmmaking. He seems content, instead, to continue to distill the stuff of 30s and 40s American popular movies, communicating the naive thrill of those heroic serial adventures to new generations of Saturday-morning children.

Since the mid-80s, Lucas has continued to expand his vision of the future of filmmaking at Skywalker Ranch, a rustic compound near San Francisco which serves as a state-of-the-art post-production center for both Lucasfilm and non-Lucasfilm projects. Among the other divisions of the Lucasfilm empire are Industrial Light and Magic, the industry's leading innovator in special visual effects; Skywalker Sound, a top-ranking facility for sound recording, editing and mixing; Pixar, a company devoted to the development and evolution of computer-generated imagery; and LucasArts, which develops and authorizes numerous projects related to the STAR WARS films and other Lucasfilm properties.

Lucas was closely involved as creator and overseer of "The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles," an ambitious, expensive TV adventure series that made its debut on ABC in 1992. Filmed on locations around the world by a variety of both new and established directors, the series used the youth and young adulthood of the Indiana Jones character as a springboard for adventures that adhered closely to historical fact. It was Lucas's attempt to mix popular entertainment with educational plots, but the series drew consistently low ratings. Its eventual cancellation was followed by more lavish episodes presented in the two-hour TV movie format.

Throughout the years Lucas has continued to develop the first and third trilogies in the STAR WARS saga (the initial film trilogy consisting of parts four, five and six), with the production and release of CHAPTER ONE being planned to coincide with the 20th anniversary of the release of STAR WARS. Lucas has also authorized numerous novels and comic books which, along with the films themselves, will continue to expand the popular saga for years to come.

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