- "I thought it was too wacky for the general public."
- — George Lucas on Star Wars
George Lucas is the creator of Star Wars and the director, writer, and executive producer of various Star Wars films. He also appeared in the final film of the saga, Revenge of the Sith, as the Wroonian N. Papanoida.
Lucas was born on May 14, 1944 in Modesto, California, where his father, George Walton Lucas, Sr., ran a stationary store and owned a small walnut orchard. His mother, Dorothy Bomberger Lucas, was a member of a prominent Modesto family (one of her cousins is the mother of former U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Ann Veneman) and was in poor health, often bedridden, throughout Lucas's childhood. Lucas himself was short and scrawny as a child; his younger sister reportedly fought with other kids who picked on him.
Lucas attended Thomas Downey High School, where he was an indifferent student at best, He was interested in racecar driving; he dreamed of becoming a professional racecar driver. For better or worse, that dream was abruptly ended in his early adulthood when on June 12, 1962, he crashed his Fiat Bianchina in a car accident. The car was clipped from behind while he tried to make a left turn into his driveway. The car rolled; the racing harness that he had installed snapped, and he was thrown from the car. Had the harness not snapped—and Lucas has said it shouldn't have—he would most likely have been crushed to death by the steering column when the car smashed into a walnut tree. (The force of the impact uprooted the tree.) As it was, emergency personnel had difficulty finding a pulse and at first thought him dead.
During his recovery, Lucas reevaluated his life and decided to go to college. He enrolled at Modesto Junior College, where he earned an AA degree, then transferred to the the University of Southern California's School of Cinema-Television in Los Angeles. USC was one of the earliest universities to have a school devoted to film studies. There he made a number of short films, including an early version of THX 1138, later to become his first full-length feature film.
After graduating with a bachelor of fine arts in film, he drifted a little, trying to figure out what to do next. He tried joining the Air Force as an officer, but was turned down because of his numerous speeding tickets. He was later drafted by the Army, but tests showed he had diabetes, which killed his paternal grandfather. Lucas was prescribed medication for the disease and does not seem to have required insulin.
Eventually he co-founded the studio American Zoetrope with Francis Ford Coppola, hoping to create a liberating environment for filmmakers to direct outside the perceived oppressive control of the Hollywood studio system. American Zoetrope never really succeeded, but from the financial success of his films American Graffiti (1973) and Star Wars (1977), Lucas was able to set up his own studio, Lucasfilm, in Marin County in his native northern California. Skywalker Sound and Industrial Light and Magic, the sound and visual effects subdivisions of Lucasfilm, respectively, have become among the most respected firms in their fields. Lucasfilm Games, later renamed to LucasArts, is highly regarded in the gaming industry.
Star Wars is considered by some to be the first "high concept" film, although others feel the first was Steven Spielberg's Jaws, released two years prior. In fact, Lucas and Spielberg had been acquaintances for some time and eventually worked together on several films, notably the first Indiana Jones vehicle, Raiders of the Lost Ark in 1981. Along with Spielberg, Lucas is credited with (and even blamed for) establishing the blockbuster approach to filmmaking.
On a return on investment basis, Star Wars proved to be one of the most successful films of all time. During the filming of Star Wars, Lucas waived his up front fee as director and negotiated to own the licensing rights— rights which the studio thought were nearly worthless. This decision earned him hundreds of millions of dollars as he was able to directly profit from all the licensed games, toys and collectibles created for the franchise. In 2004, Forbes Magazine estimated Lucas's personal wealth at $3.5 billion. In 2005, Forbes.com estimated the lifetime revenue generated by the Star Wars franchise at nearly $20 billion.
Lucas was fined by the Directors Guild of America for refusing to have a standard title sequence in his Star Wars films. After paying the fine, he quit the guild. This made it hard for him to find a director for some of his later projects. According to some, he wanted his friend Spielberg to direct some of the later Star Wars movies, but as a member of the guild Spielberg may have been unable to do so. Spielberg has repeatedly stated that Lucas consciously did not let him direct any Star Wars films, despite the fact that Spielberg wanted to. Other directors Lucas pursued to aid him were David Lynch and David Cronenberg, both of whom declined.
On October 3, 1994, Lucas started to write the three Star Wars prequels, and on November 1 of that year, he left the day-to-day operations of his filmmaking business and started a sabbatical to finish the prequels.
Lucas married film editor Marcia Lou Griffin, who won an Oscar for her work on the original "Star Wars" film, in 1969; they adopted a daughter, Amanda, in 1981, and divorced in 1983. Lucas has since adopted two more children:
Besides his directorial and production work on movies, Lucas is one of the most significant contemporary contributor to modern movie technology. In 1975 Lucas established Industrial Light and Magic (ILM) in Van Nuys, CA, which was responsible for the invention of the special computer assisted camera crane "Dykstraflex" that was used for most of the space fight sequences used in the Star Wars movies (technology which was later adopted by most other visual effects production units, such as those responsible for "Battlestar Galactica" and "Star Trek: The Next Generation"). Through ILM, Lucas spurred the further development of computer graphics, film laser scanners and the earliest use of 3D computer character animation in a film, Young Sherlock Holmes. Lucas sold his early computer development unit to Steve Jobs in 1988, which was renamed Pixar.
Now Lucas is spearheading digital photography for movies. Though personal digital photography is now mainstream, most movie studios still use traditional cameras and film for movie production. Lucas departed from this model by filming Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones completely digitally. He showed the result to a select audience of the Hollywood elite, before the movie's general release. For the presentation, Lucas used a special digital projection system. The attendees said the movie had the clearest and sharpest presentation they had ever seen.
Despite the successful demonstration of the technology, movie studios are slow to move to this new model, in part because of the high price of the digital equipment. But digital movie photography has several advantages: