In high school, George was a car buff, and wanted to be a professional racer, until a near-fatal crash days before graduation; EMTs actually declared him dead at the scene. After recovering, he attended a community college and turned his passion to filmmaking.
His first work was Freiheit, but his best known pre-Star Wars works are THX 1138 and American Graffiti. He co-founded American Zoetrope with Francis Ford Coppola, to get away from the oppressive Hollywood studio system, and with the success of Graffiti and Star Wars, founded Lucasfilm. THX 1138 in particular is a frequent source of references, with "THX" and "1138" appearing in various forms in American Graffiti, Star Wars and the Indiana Jones films, not to mention providing the name for the THX soundsystem.
After American Graffiti, George wanted to revive the old serials' spirit, and pitched two ideas: one based on the Flash Gordon and Buck Rogers serials (Star Wars); and one based in the Republic serials with an Adventurer Archaeologist (the Indiana Jones series, produced by Lucas and directed by his friend Steven Spielberg).
To create his vision for Star Wars, George formed the FX studio Industrial Light and Magic and they revolutionized special effects and post-production techniques. Before, the "spaceship flyby" effect was accomplished by pulling a model ship across a starfield backdrop with a string; very limiting, very cheap and unconvincing. George worked with John Dykstra to leave the model static, put it against a bluescreen, and move the camera around it (preventing the shaky look of moving models). Another innovation that Dykstra and Lucas brought to the table was putting the camera movements under the control of a computer, which could be programmed to move the camera a certain way and then repeat that movement perfectly dozens of times over. This let them do a shot of one model, switch the model for a different one and repeat the shot, replace the second model with a third, etc. When the individual shots were composited together the models looked like they were all part of the same shot. The computer controlled camera was precise enough to avoid the kinds of mismatches that previous attempts to composite multiple model shots together led to.
George is infamous for his iron-fisted grip on the Star Wars franchise. This may be from Warner Bros.'s Executive Meddling in THX 1138 to cut it down and reduce its marketing budget. It may also stem from the disastrous Star Wars Holiday Special and also how in its original conception, nobody really understood Lucas re-imagination of the space opera genre and he felt overly protective to ensure that the franchise didn't simply decay into another sci-fi serial. He is known these days for being a Scapegoat Creator in the eyes of his fans who, since the 90s, have blamed the perceived faults of the series on Lucas' failures. Among certain Star Wars fans, Lucas is considered a great producer who works best when he simply oversees his staff developing his general ideas with the likes of Lawrence Kasdan doing script rewrites, but falters without a strong staff or excellent collaborators to make his ideas work.
He's infamous for writing cheesy dialogue — during the filming of A New Hope, Mark Hamill is alleged to have told him that "people don't talk like this!", Harrison Ford complained "you can type this shit, George, but you sure can't say it"note . Empire co-writer Lawrence Kasdan recalled frequently saying "This is a terrible scene, I can't believe George wrote this" while reading Lucas' earlier drafts. Even Lucas called himself "the King of Wooden Dialogue". Of course, this is where Kasdan made a name for himself in the sequels reworking that dreck into lovely dialogue. He also seems to have a fondness for cute alien critters, a fondness which many older Star Wars fans don't share. This, has contributed to the sizeable Hatedom he seems to have gathered and the fracturing of the Star Wars fandom between older fans (who grew up with the first three movies) and younger ones (who grew up with the prequel trilogy and animated series).
Lucas was married to film editor Marcia Lucas (formerly Griffin) between 1969 and 1983 and he has several adopted children, most of whom have cameos in his films. Marcia worked as an editor for A New Hope and Return of the Jedi, participating in the production of all the three original trilogy movies. In a notable example of Creator Couple, her main contribution to the original trilogy was to serve as The Heart, balancing out Lucas' highly technical, visual-minded vision with an emphasis on character development, plot and emotional response — Mark Hamill in particular has confirmed this. Lucas' divorce from Marcia, occurring at the same time as Spielberg's divorce from Amy Irving, is cited as a leading cause for the Darker and Edgier nature of Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, as well as the fate of the Prequel Trilogy. It also led to the sale of Pixar to Steve Jobs.
Lucas is still indisputably a pioneer in film technology and special effects, both in his own films and through Industrial Light and Magic. He's a strong advocate for digital filmmaking, having shot the last two Star Wars prequels digitally (and turned Robert Rodriguez onto the technology), and firmly believes that digital filmmaking will lead to an increase of independent productions (at a much lower cost than studio films, due to film reel development) and be surprise successes. He predicted this in the early 1990s, well before the release of District 9.
While not involved in the creative process, his name resonates in the video game scene thanks to a branch of his empire, LucasFilm Games — later renamed LucasArts — which experienced a golden age in the 1990s and was responsible for creating many iconic Adventure Games and Space Simulation Games, which are often ranked among the best games ever.
He decided to retire from making big-budget films in May 2012, and in October 2012, turned over Lucasfilm and the Star Wars and Indiana Jones franchises to Walt Disney Studios in a $4 billion deal. In June 2013, he married his girlfriend of seven years, investment executive Mellody Hobson.
In 2016 he was the subject of a biography by Brian Jay Jones, whose previous work was about Lucas' sometime collaborator Jim Henson. This is Jones' third biography, and his first on a still living person.
Projects Involved With:
- Gimme Shelter: 1970 Rockumentary about The Rolling Stones in which he worked as a cameraman.
- THX 1138
- The Godfather: Shot a newspaper montage for the film without credit.
- American Graffiti
- Star Wars: The creator, writer and chief visionary of the overall franchise.
- Apocalypse Now: Provided financial support with no request for screen credit.
- Kagemusha: Executive producer; he and Francis Ford Coppola gave financial support to this film by their hero Akira Kurosawa after his studio got cold feet.
- Body Heat: Also provided financial support, but specifically avoided a screen credit because of his family-friendly reputation.
- Indiana Jones and the Young Indiana Jones Chronicles: Executive producer and story.
- Twice Upon a Time: Executive producer.
- Captain Eo: Executive producer.
- Labyrinth: Executive producer.
- Howard the Duck: Executive producer.
- Willow: Executive producer and story.
- Tucker: The Man and His Dream: Executive producer.
- The Radioland Murders: Executive producer and story (the project was conceived in The '70s but not produced until 1994).
- Red Tails: Producer and uncredited co-director.
- Strange Magic: Story credit.
George Lucas and his works provide examples of:
- Action Girl: A common Trope in his movies. Whatever his shortcomings as a writer, his works are never short of strong, powerful female characters.
- Author Appeal: High-speed chase sequences. There's always at least one per movie. His car enthusiasm is also evident, all of his films have Technology Porn to varying degrees.
- Auteur License: Wrote, issued, and certified his license after the huge success of Star Wars. He actually said "screw you" to the Directors' Guild in 1981 and left the union after they demanded he put credits at the beginning of The Empire Strikes Back. In his last movies he didn't even need it, as he owned his own studio. In addition, George dislikes production companies messing with other people's movies, violating their "moral rights", and has spoken before Congress about this. He argues that only a work's creator should be allowed to make changes to their work as they see fit.
- Became Their Own Antithesis: Experienced so much artistic neutering with his pre-Star Wars movies so much that it literally traumatized him, which led to a near-pathological fear of being told how to make his own movies, which led to his habit of updating Star Wars every few years.
- This has ended up making him somewhat of a pariah in the general Hollywood system. When Empire came out he dropped out of the Directors' Guild when they started demanding more traditional opening credits for them. Ever since, he strove to make himself completely independent from Hollywood so that he could make his movies his way. With the financial clout Star Wars gave him, he noted about the time Revenge of the Sith came out that he has become his own meddling Hollywood system.
- Star Wars originally began as a modest homage to science-fiction serials which no major Hollywood studio would have given the attention and detail to what would be regarded as a B-Movie in the 50s and 60s, and yet the success of Star Wars led to the rise of the blockbuster and the success of the merchandise (whose rights Lucas entirely possessed), which in turn was cited by Lucas' friends and colleagues (Scorsese and John Milius), and lately Lucas himself, as closing the doors on the New Hollywood.
- Book Dumb: He got quite poor grades for most of his school years, attributing it to feeling bored most of the time. He even had trouble spelling up through college (insert your own joke here).
- Control Freak: Big time! The reason he largely stopped directing after the first Star Wars is that his obsessive need to control every single aspect of production when he was in the role was seriously affecting his health after just three films.
- Determinator: With the original Star Wars, he was insistent on getting the damn thing made through an infamously Troubled Production. Afterward, he became a more obsessive-compulsive example in that was less receptive in having the vision that he had for the prequels changed unless he absolutely needed to.
- Drives Like Crazy: His childhood dream was to become a race car driver, and he spent much of his teenage years racing dangerously around town. At age 18 he was almost killed in an accident and was convinced to give it up, though ironically he was in no way at fault; he was t-boned by a speeding car while turning into his house's driveway. This provided the impetus for one of his student films where he set up numerous cameras around a racetrack while one of his friends from those days put his car through its paces, and also a good bit of inspiration for American Grafitti.
- Fanservice: Puts it in his movies quite regularly.
- Fantasy-Forbidding Father: His own father was a Real Life example, never supporting his filmmaking ambitions. Though he did attend the premiere of Star Wars, and spent a good amount of time afterwards proudly telling people who his son was.
- George Lucas Altered Version: Trope namer. He altered Star Wars and THX 1138 significantly after their initial releases (though the latter was done in response to the Executive Meddling that occurred during production rather than for personal taste).
- Genre Throwback: Formerly "George Lucas Throwback", his works include several well-known examples:
- Star Wars: 1930s sci-fi serials among other sources, Flash Gordon in particular. (It originated as an attempt to actually revive Flash Gordon, except that Lucas could not buy the rights.) It was essentially an Adaptational Distillation of several pulp science fiction and fantasy elements achieved on a scale and attention to detail that had never been realized by any film-maker before Lucas.
- The original three Indiana Jones adventures (Raiders of the Lost Ark, Temple of Doom and The Last Crusade) were based on 1930s pulp adventures, with Those Wacky Nazis or an evil cult as the villains, and supernatural, often Biblical forces. Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, meanwhile, was rooted in '50s pulp sci-fi, with the atomic bomb and the Cold War featuring prominently, the Soviets replacing the Nazis, and a plot based around aliens from Another Dimension.
- Red Tails: '40s and '50s war movies. It wasn't directed by Lucas, but he did produce and finance it, and it had been one of his dream projects for years.
- Heterosexual Life-Partners: With Steven Spielberg and also Francis Ford Coppola. Lucas modelled Han Solo on Coppola's personality, and the latter gave Harrison Ford a cameo in Apocalypse Now (originally a Lucas project) with the nametag of Lucas.
- Iconic Outfit: His flannel shirts and jeans.
- Irony: Lucas survived his near-fatal car accident because his seat belt failed.
- Long Title: The title of his student film, Electronic Labyrinth: THX 1138 4EB.
- Merchandise-Driven: Part of what caused the Broken Base is just how much George has licensed for his various properties, especially Star Wars. Here's a brief overview.
- Occidental Otaku: A major Japanese cinema otaku, for many different classic film genres, including Jidai Geki. note
- Only Mostly Dead: Happened in his teenage years.
- Pet the Dog: He could have spent the money he got from the $4,000,000,000 deal he made with Disney on anything ... but he donated it to public education facilities. In fact, his philanthropy work in general is probably the greatest argument to make against those that see the man as an egomaniacal control freak.
- Re-Cut: There was precedence of filmmakers re-editing their movies after the original release long before Lucas became the poster-boy for it, including friends Francis Ford Coppola for Apocalypse Now and Steven Spielberg for Close Encounters of the Third Kind. It's often a source of parody, if not outright flanderization, South Park featured a joke that had Lucas remastering home movies.
- Retcon: The Special Editions of the original Star Wars movies and the prequels to said movies count. Of course the biggest and most successful retcon was the twist of Darth Vader in The Empire Strikes Back which was not planned in the first film and which Lucas himself introduced into the second film.
- Self-Deprecation: His biggest critic of the dialogue of his movies is likely himself.
- Sliding Scale of Idealism vs. Cynicism: His films are more on the idealistic end of the scale.
- Special Edition: Trope Namer and, with Steven Spielberg, the co-Trope Codifier.
- Stock Scream: He loves using the Wilhelm Scream in his movies, and it became so famous in Star Wars that everybody started using it.
- Sweet Tooth: He contracted diabetes in his 20s thanks to using ungodly amounts of candy and soda to make it through his numerous late nights working on projects at USC. Though on the plus side, this resulted in him being declared 4F in the Vietnam draft.
- Technician vs. Performer: The Technician to Steven Spielberg's Performer. He's actually expressed a lot of discomfort personally directing his movies, early in his career he preferred being an editor and only turned towards directing because they had more control over the footage. Most of the films he has made were partially testbeds for new filmmaking technologies.
- In fact, Lucas only ever directed six feature films throughout his career: THX 1138, American Graffiti, Star Wars, The Phantom Menace, Attack of the Clones, and Revenge of the Sith.
- Terse Talker: Mark Hamill has spoken about how short and straightforward his instructions are, such as "Faster, more intense".
- Troperiffic: Rather than try to avoid cliches, his works often embrace them wholeheartedly. As he himself once pointed out, "They became cliches because they work."
- Troll: Wanted to build a production studio on his ranch in Marin County, California, but his wealthy neighbors protested the development, claiming that it would ruin their views. Rather than fighting them, Lucas backed down... and began work on a low-income housing project on the property instead. Served as both a hilarious "screw you" to his neighbors and as a sweet Pet the Dog moment, as affordable housing is a pressing issue in the Bay Area and Lucas pledged over $150 million of his own money to fund the project.
- Vitriolic Best Buds: He and Francis Ford Coppola have had countless ups and downs since their first meeting in 1967, which Lucas still nevertheless describes as the closest relationship with anyone he's ever had.