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Lucas, George

Entry updated 12 September 2022. Tagged: Film, People.

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(1944-    ) US film-maker. He attended the University of Southern California Film School and as a graduate student made an sf short there entitled THX 1138:4EB (1967), which won film festival awards. Working in 1968 as an assistant to Francis Ford Coppola he made a highly praised documentary about the filming of Coppola's The Rain People (1969); then in 1969, with Coppola as executive producer, Lucas began a feature-film version, THX 1138 (1971), of his sf short; it was well received by critics but not a popular success. His second feature, American Graffiti (1973) – about small-town Californian teenagers in the 1950s – established him as a commercial film-maker. Nonetheless, Lucas had difficulty setting up his next film – a project he had been planning for several years. His hardships were amply recompensed when it was released as Star Wars (1977) and had the highest box-office takings of any film to that date.

Star Wars was singly responsible for the sf film boom (and to a lesser extent the literary boom) of the late 1970s and early 1980s, but Lucas swiftly announced his intention to retire from directing and stick to producing. He has kept that vow, although the films produced under his aegis bear his obvious personal stamp and his directors' personalities are invariably obscured. Star Wars: Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back (1980), directed by Irvin Kershner, and Star Wars: Episode VI – Return of the Jedi (1983), directed by Richard Marquand, conclude the trilogy, persistently rumoured to be only the middle section of a nine-film triptych Lucas has long had on the back burner. There have been frequent suggestions that the next trilogy, tentatively entitled The Clone Wars, a prequel to the three extant films, is due to go into production, but as of 1992 this seems very unlikely. Lucasfilm (Lucas's company) has made several spinoffs from the Star Wars universe, including the television movies The Ewok Adventure (1984; theatrically released overseas as Caravan of Courage) and Ewoks: The Battle for Endor (1985). Lucas sanctioned a new series of Star Wars spin-off books in the 1990s, beginning with Timothy Zahn's Star Wars: Heir to the Empire (1991).

Although his partnership with his contemporary and rival Steven Spielberg has yielded the three commercially successful borderline-fantasy Indiana Jones films, Lucas has otherwise often had trouble away from the Star Wars universe, failing to make much impact with his productions of the banal fairytales Labyrinth (1986) directed by Jim Henson and Willow (1988) directed by Ron Howard, and scoring a disastrous miss with Howard the Duck (1986; vt Howard ... A New Breed of Hero), an adaptation from the comic books. With Francis Ford Coppola and Michael Jackson, Lucas made Captain EO, a short (viewable only in Disneyland, Disneyworld and the EPCOT Center) employing various sophisticated new techniques and rumoured to have cost over $20 million, despite being only 17 minutes long. He has also produced a television series, The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles (1992-1996).

With his pack-rat borrowings from sf, fantasy and Hollywood's past – not to mention his conspicuous espousal of the mythical ideas of Joseph Campbell's The Hero with a Thousand Faces (1949) – Lucas undoubtedly opened up the cinema for a wave of big-budget sf movies in the 1980s, even while he ensured that its level remained juvenile. The novelization THX 1138 (1971) was by Ben Bova, and the novelization Star Wars (1976), though attributed to Lucas, was by Alan Dean Foster. Many other books have been spun off from the Star Wars trilogy. Lucas was inducted into the Science Fiction Hall of Fame in 2006. [KN/PN]

George Walton Lucas Jr

born Modesto, California: 14 May 1944

about the film-maker

see also: Cinema; Sword and Sorcery.


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