|In 1995, a book called From Star Wars to Indiana Jones: TheBestof
the Lucasfilm Archives was released, and more recently, in 1997,anupdated
version of George Lucas: The Creative Impulse: Lucasfilm's FirstTwenty
Years by Charles Champlin, was released. These books offeracomprehensible
guide to the Lucas empire, and how it all came in place. Rather than
raiding and pirating all the information that these twowonderful books offer,
I would prefer to give just short descriptions ofthestory of the man behind
it all, George Lucas, and all the hits and missesthat his company, Lucasfilm,
has made. If you are looking for moredetailedinformation, I suggest
giving these books a try, as well as the otherrecommended booksat the bottom
of this page.
|It all started in Modesto, California. George Lucas was born
here on May 14, 1944. He ended up attending the University of Southern
California, studying Cinema. A scholarship program gave him the opportunity
to work a lot with acclaimed director Francis Ford Coppola, and has resulted
in a friendship that still lasts. Lucas was highly praised for a student
film he made while at school called THX-1138:4EB (based on a phone-number
he once had). In 1970 he entered the world of feature films, with
the movie THX-1138, an expansion and remake of his similar student
film, with Francis Ford Coppola serving as the executive producer. Themovie
was about a futuristic society, but it failed to respond to theaudiences.
Although it was a very smart film, way ahead of its time, itwas a financial
disaster. The following is a review of the film bytheowner of the
THX-1138 page, a website left behind a long time ago:
"THX 1138 is set in the 25th century. The title character is only one of thousands of nameless, faceless workers in the huge underground colony. He works a shift in a robot factory and then goes home to his roommate, LUH 3417, to take the government-controlled sedatives and watch midlessly violent hologram programs. LUH, however, has somehow seen through the clean, peaceful exterior, and knows what their society really is. She switches THX's usual sedatives for stimulants, and they begin to fall in love and engage in illegal sexual activity. Meanwhile, SEN 5241 has a plan of his own to switch the computed roommate matching system so that he ends up roommate to THX and LUH is conveniently cast aside. Tampering with the computer system is as illegal as having sex, and all three are eventually turned in and foundguilty fortheir crimes. THX is taked to a seemingly endless white holdingplace andconditioned by the very law-enforcement robots he had helped tobuild. Eventually,he meets up with SEN and several other outcasts who constantly plot gettingout, but are too frightened to actually try anything. THX and SEN are fedup with this and head for escape on their own. On the way, they meet up witha "hologram", one of the black actors who served on the holographic television. He helps them to escape, and they realize that the exit was never far away and that itwas only their own fear keeping them in the holding area. As they escape,SEN is frightened by the prospet of living away from the controlledenvironment and rushes back, choosing safety and predictability over freedom.THX andthe hologram push on toward the outside. They steal two abandonedcars andrace for the exit, pursued by the robots the whole time. The hologram's car crashes, leaving THX alone. What follows is a desperate chase with a uniquely modern ending. To find out what happened to THX and LUH and how it all ends up,you'llhave to see the movie. I'm not in the habit of giving away endings!"
After the failure of THX-1138, Lucas thoughthe would never have the chance to be able to show his face in the businessagain. However, one thing led to another, and in1973 he wroteand directed American Graffiti, under his own company, LucasfilmLtd. The low-budget movie was shot over a period of a few weeks. The movie was a blockbusterhit, cashing in over a hundred million dollars. It also received critical acclaim, earning five Academy Award nominations,including Best Director and Best Picture. It also launched the careersof some currently well-known actors including Cindy Williams, Charles MartinSmith, and Richard Dreyfuss, and revived the career of Ron Howard. Italso let George Lucas become acquainted with then-unknown Harrison Ford, whohad a minor part in themovie. American Graffiti, based on GeorgeLucas's high school cruising experiences and his obvious love forcars, is setover one night in 1962 (the promotion slogan was 'Where were you in'62?'). It tells the storyof Curt Henderson (Richard Dreyfuss) and Steve Bolander(Ron Howard), twoyoung men who just graduated from high school and are supposedto leave forcollege in the morning. They try to have one last night ofadventure,and decide whether they are going to leave the next day or not.
A few years later, the studio forced George Lucas intomaking a sequel. He didn't direct it himself, but was involved in severalkey sequences and served as executive producer of More American Graffiti . More American Graffiti didn't live up to its predecessor,and the lackluster impression it made on the audience in 1979 has made it one of Hollywood's most forgotten films.
One would think that because of the success of American Graffiti, George Lucas could have gotten any projecthe wanted. He had Star Wars on his mind for a few years then. Hecame up with the idea of 'the Force' when he was a bit younger,after heseriously injured himself in a car crash and had to spend several months ina hospital.. He revisited his idea of 'the Force' while he wrote severaltreatments for Star Wars. However, nobody wanted any part ofit. Reminding studio execs too much of THX-1138, several companies refused his idea. He then went to Twentieth Century Fox, where he wasfinally granted the go-ahead. After a troubledshoot, Star Wars ended up being an enormoussuccess. After that he made two sequels:Empire Strikes Back,and Return of the Jedi. These three filmsdefined the term BlockbusterMovie: audiences lined up around the blockon the opening weekends.
In 1981, George Lucas collaborated with long-time friends Steven Spielberg and Harrison Ford to make Raidersof the Lost Ark, the first Indiana Jones movie. This was thesecond entry in atrilogy he had planned. Spielberg had wanted to direct a James Bond film for many years. Around the same time that Star Wars came out, Spielberg was denieda chance at making his dream come true, so George Lucas told him about a similarcharacter, only better: Indiana Jones. Raiders became an international hit, critically as well as financially. In 1984, Spielberg, Fordand Lucas went back to create a 'prequel' to Raiders of Lost Ark , titled Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. The movie took place a few years before Raiders. It, too, became an enormous success, although not living up to the original. In 1989 the three teamed up yet again, for the third title in the trilogy, called Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, this time introducing Sean Connery as Henry Jones, Sr. The final entry was the most successful of them all. In 1992, Lucas created the Young Indiana Jones Chronicles, a criticallyacclaimed educational series that garnered many Emmy awards and nominations. The series ran for about two years on ABC before being cancelled, and several movies based onthe series (one of them even starring Harrison Ford himself) have airedon ABC and the Family Channel.
However, in 1986, George Lucas executive-produced Howard the Duck, based on the popular comic book series. Themovie wasn't at all like the comic book, and the critics didn't likeit. Today, Howard the Duck is still an embarassing entryin George Lucas'scareer and is still considered one of Hollywood's biggestflops. A yearlater, George Lucas wrote the story for Willow. He was writingit around 1984, especially for his Ewok friend, Warwick Davis. The movie (directed by his American Graffiti buddy Ron Howard) was hyped constantly on television, with commercials airing around the clock. But it didn't attract a very big audience and made a mere $57 million, which wasn'twhat was expected (but not necessarily considered a flop). Despite thefact that it didn't perform too well at the box office, George Lucas wentback to the Willow universe he created over a decade ago, and wrote thebook Shadow Moon in 1995. The first of atrilogy, the secondand third were written by Chris Claremont (althoughLucas is credited forthe story).
In 1988, George Lucas executive-produced Tucker:The Man and his Dream, directed by his mentor Francis Ford Coppola andstarring Jeff Bridges, and in 1994, he executive-produced Radioland Murders (he provided the story, too). Tucker received critical acclaim, and several Academy Award nominations, while Radioland Murders premiered in limited release and became a box-office bomb.
But of course, George Lucas might not even be knownbest for the films he made. He has had an equally important effectonfilmmaking through the companies he has created. Industrial Light &Magic is the biggest special effects company. THX has raised standardsfor movie theater and home theater audio performance. Even Pixar, thecompanythat Lucas sold off at a small price to Disney in the 80s when he wasin themiddle of a cash crisis, has become a powerhouse company that was responsiblefor the hit films Toy Story, A Bug's Life, and ToyStory2 .
1997 marked the return of George Lucas and Lucasfilm Ltd. He then re-released the Star Wars trilogy Special Editions,with extra scenes and new special effects. It was atremendous success,proving that Star Wars was still popular,and that the then-upcomingprequels would be welcomed by millions.