Part I, Summary:
THX 1138, American Graffiti, Star Wars, The Empire Strikes Backthe list goes on and on. Although many have not heard of each of these films, everyone certainly has to know the man behind them. George Lucas has, in many cases, written, produced, and directed, not to mention edit, his own films. His vision was the driving force that imagined and created these movies. All have made back the cost of the film and most have received millions of dollars in profit.
Although it sounds as if he had an easy life, in reality, Lucas had to struggle in order to get ahead. Not being interested or involved in school, Lucas turned his attention to cars. When he reached driving age, his father gave him a nice, small, "safe" car. However, passionate about cars and racing, Lucas revved up his engine and turned it into a hot rod. Each day following, he went cruising around town, drag racing often. However, this passion led him to a drastic change in his life. It ultimately led him to success.
Lucas was in a car crash in 1962, which ended his racing career before it even started. He missed his graduation ceremony at his high school, but joked that the only reason he got a diploma was because his teachers felt sorry for him. As a result, Lucas looked for other options to fill his void in life. Since his grades were not good enough for a four-year college, he decided to go to junior college. For the first time in his life, he hit the books. He fell asleep trying to earn the highest grades he could in order to have a future for himself.
During junior college, Lucas formed other interests. Instead of racing, he filmed them on a 8-millimeter camera his father gave him. A old friend, John Plummer, told George that he should apply to the University of Southern California. His friend remarked that it was not that hard to get into as reputation indicated. Lucas applied, and was accepted, for his junior year.
Although the idea was unpopular with his father, Lucas was not stopped in pursing his career. At school, he realized that he had to work his but off to stay on top. He did not mind the hard work. Lucas actually felt relaxed staying up all night editing film. Even when a lot of college students got high on drugs, "Lucas got high on films (1, 45)."
When assigned to make films in school, everyone wanted to be in George’s group. Even though the most coveted job was the writer-director, Lucas most likely got the part. However, his films were not good because he stayed within the guidelines. Lucas broke the rules. He and his friends broke into the editing room and edited all night. Also, he went way overbudget and far off campus to shoot his films, though none of his teachers objected. His films were always the best by far in the entire class.
After receiving his bachelor of arts degree from USC in 1966, Lucas had to decide what to do with his future. He contemplated whether to enlist in the Vietnam War, but when he tried to join the air force, he was rejected for his police record. All of the speeding tickets he had received when he was younger were coming back to haunt him. Unable to decided, Lucas finally had to face the draft for the army. However, he failed because he was diagnosed with diabetes.
Soon Lucas was hired to do some editing work by Verna Fields, a veteran film editor, to work on a film about President Johnson’s trip to the Far East. Unfortunately, he hated the restrictions the government agency put on his work and was upset when they cut out some of his footage. Then, the idea of becoming an independent filmmaker began to look very attractive.
At this time, Fields hired an assistant editor named Marcia Griffin. Lucas and Griffin were not initially attracted to each other at first, but as time went on, opposites seemed to attract, and they went out on a few dates. George and Marcia eventually fell in love with each other and got married.
In the fall of 1966, Lucas decided to teach a training program for navy filmmakers. This way he could make his film, an idea he had rolling around in his head, called THX: 1138:4EB. After twelve weeks of writing, filming, and editing, the film was finally done. "I didn’t expect it to turn out so well," Lucas said (1, 68). This little film was what made Hollywood notice George Lucas.
After this success, Lucas won a scholarship offered by Columbia Pictures and producer Carl Foreman for work on the movie McKenna’s Gold in Arizona. He, along with one other winner, had to make a ten minute, 16-millimeter film that related to the movie. Also, before going to Arizona, he entered a scholarship competition sponsored by Warner Brothers. He won and was able to choose a studio in Hollywood to observe for six months. Unfortunately, only one studio was open at that time and he was unable to work in Warner’s animation studio. Instead, he observed a musical called Finian’s Rainbow, directed by Francis Coppola, a man that would have a tremendous impact on his life.
After talking to Coppola about his plans to make THX a two-hour feature, the director warned him that the studios would only rip him off. He then offered to Lucas that, if he took a permanent job on Finian’s and his next screenplay, The Rain People, Coppola would help him on the THX screenplay. Lucas agreed and Coppola made a package deal with Warner Brothers. They would get The Rain People and an option on THX. They also advanced Lucas $3,000 to work on the screenplay.
Also at that time, Lucas decided to make a documentary depicting the real people behind the camera of Rain People and how hard it is to make a movie. Filmmaker, the documentary, "remains one of the best documentaries about the production of a movie, as fresh and insightful today as it was in 1968 (1, 77)." This, too, also helped advance Lucas in his career.
In addition, Coppola was in the mists of setting up American Zoetrope, a production company, with George’s help. This company made a deal with Warner Brothers to make five films for $3.5 million dollars, including Lucas’s THX. Coppola, however, made George write it, but it came out terrible. As a result, Coppola hired Oliver Hailey, a writer, to work with Lucas. Unfortunately, it was not the story Lucas wanted. Finally, Walter Murch, who edited the sound effects in Rain People, helped George write the script and it came out just right. Warner Brothers said yes to the movie and Lucas got to direct it. Sadly, Warner Brothers did not like it and it was turned over to another editor. As a result, the studio canceled the next seven projects.
Even though THX was a commercial failure, it still remains Lucas’s favorite film. "The experience was frustrating and character-building for Lucas, who had spent the better part of two years making a very personal movie that had been dumped into the marketplace without attention or care (1, 98)." Marcia Lucas stated, "Directing that movie [THX) was a great thing for George. It was a breakthrough. Now he was really a filmmaker (1, 98)."
After THX, Lucas wanted to make a movie that would "dispel his image as a technobrat, a cold, mechanical filmmaker devoid of warmth and humor(1, 101)." He offered the movie, American Graffiti, to United Artists, whose president suggested a two-picture deal (the other being Star Wars). Lucas had Richard Walters, a classmate at USC, write the film with Gary Kurtz as producer. After he read the script, Lucas was disappointed. He then had Bill Huyck and Gloria Katz, close friends, write another script. Finally, Universal Studios was the one to finance and release the movie.
At the preview of the movie, the audience loved it. However, Ned Tanen, a representative from Universal, hated it. After a few editing changes, which Lucas was very angry about, another preview was held. The audience loved it, again, and Universal released it, making more than $117 million in tickets.
Finally able to work on Star Wars, Lucas wrote a synopsis of the story which was very different from film that was released. Wanting the film to be released by Fox Studios, Lucas had to first offer it to Universal since they had an option on it. After they rejected it, Fox bought it, giving it a budget of $3.5 million. However, this soon skyrocketed to $8.5 million dollars. After finishing the script, he gave it to Bill Huyck and Gloria Katz to sharpen the dialogue.
Unfortunately, Lucas had many problems with Star Wars. Alec Guinness (Obi-Wan Kenobi) threatened to quit because his part was shortened drastically, the Millennium Falcon and R2-D2 looked too futuristic, the robots would not work, and production was always behind schedule. As for the cast, he wanted new, fresh faces. Lucas did not want any veterans (except Alec Guinness) in the film.
Lucas was quite honestly never expecting Star Wars to be a big hit. He only thought that the film would break even with the cost. He and his wife, Marcia, were in shock to see long lies of people trying to get into the theaters to see Star Wars. However, after three months, the film grossed $100 million which is faster than any film in Hollywood’s history.
Lucas realized that if he made two more Star Wars movies, he would have enough money to "have financial security and Skywalker Ranch (1, 191)." Skywalker Ranch would be a place where entire films could come together. Writers, directors, sound mixers, etc., would all be under one roof. In essence, it would be another version of USC’s "USCinema," a group of friends that George was with in college that worked on films together. Also, in order to make the sequel to Star Wars, The Empire Strikes Back, Lucas decided to finance it himself so that he would have final say in the movie and not Fox.
Unfortunately, producing his own film was not as easy as it seemed. Although originally thinking that he would have enough money, Lucas soon came into a huge debt. The budget for his movie kept going up and up and his company, Lucusfilm Ltd., demanded a $1 million payroll each week. Borrowing $25 million from two banks, Lucas was able to just barely finish the movie and pay his employees. However, within three months, Lucas recovered his $33 million investment. The Empire Strikes Back had sold more than $300 million worth of tickets and $165 million dollars in film rentals. Being the generous man that he was, Lucas shared the profits with his cast and crew members for all of his movies, and even with all his employees that worked for him, although not directly related to the movie, for The Empire Strikes Back.
After this success, Lucas turned his attentions to Raiders of the Lost Arc, which sold almost $335 million worth of tickets and $49 million in film rentals. Also, he focused his attention on Industrial Light and Magic, his special effects company, and Lucusfilm Ltd. Furthermore, Lucas finally released of Return of the Jedi, the third film in the Star Wars trilogy.
Even after all his success, Lucas was still not sure if he had fulfilled his purpose in life. He was not sure if it was Star Wars, Skywalker Ranch, or something else. He had been successful because he was able to put his visions on film. However, afterwards, he felt that his visions were too big for him. Lucas was afraid that God would say to him when he dies, "You’ve had your chance and you blew it. Get out (1, 277)." This is very unlikely. He saw what he had to do and he did it. "There is no try,’ Yoda lectured Luke. There is only do or do not.’ When it came down to that choice, Lucas did (1, 278)."
One of the most interesting things that I discovered about George Lucas was that he originally wrote a different plot for Star Wars. I always thought that the movie was the original image in George Lucas’s mind. I believed that there were minor revisions such as changing some of the dialogue, cutting out some scenes, or maybe even rewriting an entire scene, but to have the entire plot to be almost totally rewritten a few times was quit a surprise to me.
Another interesting thing that I have learned is that George Lucas wrote a movie prior to American Graffiti. Even though THX:1138 bombed, I thought I should have at least heard about it when The Star Wars Trilogy was re-released, but I heard nothing relating to it or any other movie, such as the hit American Graffiti. Although, THX:1138 was not a great success, I still have a desire to see it, just because George Lucas made it.
It never even occurred to me that George Lucas had a rough time before he made it big. He was consumed with massive debts and stress before, and even after, Star Wars hit the screen. Especially when Lucas decided to finance The Empire Strikes Back himself, he had to borrow $25 million dollars in banks just to pay his employees.
Another surprising aspect about George Lucas is that he is a very quiet and reserved man. He always blends into the background and no one ever thinks he is the man in charge. When people first met him, they thought that he was ran errands or something to that effect. I have always thought of Lucas to be a loud and talkative man. However, he is quite the opposite.
Finally, one never realizes how hard it is to make a movie. When you see one on the big screen, everything looks so perfect and in sync. However, to get to that quality of the movie, there was much stress and many problems everyday on the set. Of course, there is the occasional setback to put filming behind schedule, but one does not really know how much pressure there is in making a movie until one actually produces and directs one.
I recommend this book because it basically changed my whole view of George Lucas. He has had a more fascinating and interesting life than I had ever imagined. This book is well-written and never drags on. Sometimes when I was reading it, I could not put it down. I always used to think that biographies where boring, but, because I read this book, my opinion has changed. I enjoyed reading this book as much as other fiction books I have read. I also feel that I can relate to Lucas because of the fact he is quiet and reserved. Usually, I have a fear of being the center of attention and hide in the background. However, that is probably the only similarity between us. I hope that one day I can be as successful as he is with his career and gain his great amount of initiative and determination to get where I am going in life.
1) Pollock, Dale. Skywalking: The Life and Films of George Lucas. New York: Harmon