A critically acclaimed film director and producer, George Lucas was born in 1994 to George Walton Lucas, Sr. and Dorothy Ellinore. His parents were business people who owned a walnut ranch and a stationery store that sold retail office supplies. George’s parents, who were Methodists, greatly influenced George’s philosophy in life as well as his creativity. He would go on to use the religious and mythical themes of religion in his future films, such as “Star Wars.” Living in the Modesto suburbs would also give George ideas for the creation of his movie, “American Graffiti.”
Almost Killed in Car Racing
At an early age, George was passionate about race-car driving. He would often imagine himself being a professional race-car driver while spending a lot of time racing on the underground circuit and hanging out in his friends’ garages. However, due to a racing accident that nearly cost him his life in 1962, George lost all interest in racing.
George related in one of his interviews how, just a few days before his high school graduation, while driving in his Fiat Bianchina, his car was broadsided, spinning George, which almost killed him. Fortunately, George lived through the ordeal and his racing experience would later inspire him when he made one of his first films.
After his graduation, George attended the Modesto Junior College. It was here where George’s interest in cameras and filmmaking were first developed. He studied anthropology, sociology and literature among other subjects. He bought an eight millimetre camera and began filming car races. While studying in the community college, he met John Plummer, who became his friend and partner eventually. Their interest was piqued by Canyon Cinema—a screening of movies produced by avant-garde filmmakers, such as Stan Brakhage, Bruce Conner, and Jordan Belson.
Inspired by Classic European Films
In an experience where his friend Plummer described as the “time when George really started exploring,” George went on to see classic European films, such as “Breathless” by Jean-Luc Godard, “Jules et Jim” by Francois Truffaut and “81/2” by Federico Fellini. Because of George’s previous interest in automobile racing, he met well-known cinematographer Haskell Wexler, who shared George’s passion in racing. According to Wexler, who would later on frequently work with George, George is someone with a “very good eye” and “great talent.” “George thought visually,” Wexler recalled in one of his interviews about George Lucas.
George transferred to the University of Southern California School of Cinematic Arts, which was one of the universities that pioneered a school focused on motion picture filming. While there, he made many friends who would later collaborate with him in many of his films, including Steven Spielberg. George shared a dorm room with Randal Kleiser, who would later become famous for his movie, “Grease.”
George was also included in “the Dirty Dozen,” a nickname for the clique of budding filmmakers and cinematographers in their school, which included Hal Barwood, Walter Murch, and John Milius among others. Through their innovations and techniques in filmmaking, these filmmakers would later on achieve success in the movie industry.
Throughout his stay in USC, George met a lot of people who greatly influenced his filmmaking principles. One of them was Lester Novros, who taught Filmic Expression—a course that focused on the non-narrative elements of film forming, such as light, movement, color, space, and time. Another was Slavko Vorkapich, a Serbian montagist and the dean of the USC film department. A film theoretician who was of equal historical importance as Sergei Eisenstein, Vorkapich taught that cinematic art had an autonomous nature; motion pictures had both the dynamic quality of movement and kinetic energy inherent in them.
George Lucas also saw many films while studying that further inspired him in his filmmaking career. Films like “60 Cycles” by Jean-Claude Labrecque and “21-87” by Arthur Lipsett caused George to madly fall in love with pure cinema. His passion in camerawork and film editing made him more of a filmmaker rather than a director. George’s great talent in cinematography and filmmaking has enabled him to make abstract visual films such as “Look at Life,” “1:42.08,” “The Emperor,” “Filmmaker,” “Herbie,” and “Anyone Lived in a Pretty (how) Town.”
George Lucas graduated from USC in 1967 and received a degree of Bachelor of Fine Arts in Film. After graduating, George tried to join the US Air Force as an officer but was turned down. He then joined the Army, and was among those who were deployed in Vietnam; however, medical results showing George’s acquisition of diabetes exempted him from service.
George re-enrolled in USC as a graduate student in film production afterwards, working part-time as a teacher for documentary cinematography. While studying, George Lucas produced a short sci-fi film which he called “Electronic Labyrinth: THX 1138 4EB.” His film won first prize at that year’s National Student Film Festival and caught the attention of Francis Ford Coppola.
Coppola took George under his wing by convincing Warner Brothers to award George with a scholarship. Later on, George’s short sci-fi film was adapted as a full-length feature film entitled “THX-1138.” Although the film did catch the attention of some critics, who recognized the philosophical depth of the story, “THX-1138” failed in the box office.
Founding Lucasfilm, Ltd.
In 1971, George Lucas founded his own company—Lucasfilm, Ltd. George also started his own visual effects company which he named Industrial Light and Magic. George also collaborated with Tomlinson Holman to establish THX Ltd., one of the leading brands in sound systems today. Other companies that were birthed by George were the Skywalker Sound and Lucasfilm Games, later renamed LucasArts (the division of the company that produces gaming products).
The frustration caused by George’s first film did not hinder him from moving forward. In 1973, George Lucas released his second film, “American Graffiti.” The movie featured many potential talents such as Richard Dreyfuss, Harrison Ford, and Ron Howard. Although the film was made with a low budget of only 780,000 dollars, it grossed a worldwide total of 118 million dollars in the box office. The film was nominated for Best Picture and Best Screenplay, and George Lucas was nominated for Best Director and Best Writer in the 1974 Academy Awards.
Star Wars Conquers the World
Due to the financial success that the movie “American Graffiti” brought George, he was able to fund his next project—a story set in space. It started as a Saturday morning serial that incorporated the elements of fairy tales, superheroes, fantasy and adventure. After a few re-runs, the project eventually evolved into what would become George Lucas’ greatest triumph—“Star Wars.” Released in 1977, “Star Wars” became the highest-grossing film of all time, and drew all kinds of audiences for its amazing special effects, breathtaking landscapes, captivating characters, and that ever so thrilling combination of myth and fairy tale.
With a budget of 11 million dollars, the film grossed over 513 million dollars, making it the most successful film of that time. The success of the film enabled George to produce two more sequels—“The Empire Strikes Back” (in 1980) and “The Return of the Jedi” (in 1983). It also spawned numerous novels based on the Star Wars universe, and set a standard in the filmmaking industry. “Star Wars” won six Oscars at the 50th Academy Awards—Best Art Direction, Best Costume Design, Best Film Editing, Best Visual Effects, Best Original Score, and Best Sound. George Lucas was nominated for Best Director and Best Original Screenplay, but ultimately lost to Woody Allen, who directed “Annie Hall.”
George Lucas’ inspiration for making the story of Star Wars rooted in studying different religions and philosophies. George became greatly interested in the writings of Joseph Campbell, who was a popular mythologist. George would also be acquainted with many Eastern Religions that gave birth to “the Force.” In one of his interviews, George said that his religion was “Buddhist Methodist.”
George Lucas enjoyed another critical and financial success with the release of “Raiders of the Lost Ark,” a film that he produced in collaboration with his long-time friend Steven Spielberg. The success of the film spawned two more sequels—“Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom” (1984) and “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade” (1989). The movie won four Oscars during the Academy Awards, including Best Art Direction, Best Film Editing, Best Sound and Best Visual Effects.
More of a Filmmaker than a Director
For the next two decades since the release of Star Wars, his last directed film, George spent his time in writing stories and producing films. In his interviews, George would always describe himself as a filmmaker rather than a director. His passion for filmmaking resulted in George Lucas collaborating with many acclaimed directors and producing successful films, such as “Kagemusha” (directed by Akira Kurosawa), “Labyrinth” (directed by Jim Henson), “Powaqqatsi” (directed by Godfrey Reggio), and “Body Heat” (directed Lawrence Kasdan) among others. He also produced several television serials, such as “The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles.”
After the release of “Star Wars Episode VI: Return of the Jedi” in 1983, George faced one of the most difficult challenges of his life—his marriage with Marcia Lou Griffin ended in a divorce. The couple adopted a daughter named Amanda two years earlier, whom George gained custody over. George adopted two more children in the next few years—his second daughter, Katie (in 1988) and son, Jett (in 1993). For someone with such a career, it is amazing that George finds time in cultivating his children’s interests. In fact, in one of his interviews, George has stated, “Children are the whole point of life.”
Lucasfilm’s Computer Division Sold to Steve Jobs and becomes Pixar
In 1986, George Lucas sold the computer division of Lucasfilm for five million dollars to the late Steve Jobs, who had recently left Apple due to power struggle. This led to the founding of Pixar, which would go on to become one of the most successful CGI (Computer Graphic Imagery) movie developers today.
In 1991, George founded the George Lucas Educational Foundation as a means of celebrating and encouraging innovation in schools. Through his foundation, George became one of the leading proponents of the E-rate program, which would later be enacted as part of the 1996 Telecommunications Act.
In 1994, about 11 years since the release of the last “Star Wars” movie, George Lucas finally decided to return to the franchise. He started drafting the script and screenplay of what would be the first of the prequel trilogy, which focuses its story on the beginnings of Darth Vader as young Anakin Skywalker, who was the most popular figure in the original trilogy.
In 1999, “The Phantom Menace” was released, which did very well in the box office, earning over 924 million dollars. This success spawned two more sequels—“Attack of the Clones” (2002) and “Revenge of the Sith” (2005)—which, despite gaining a lot of criticism for not coming up to par with the original trilogy, still did amazingly well in the box office.
George Lucas gave one million dollars for the building of the Martin Luther King, Jr. National Memorial in 2005. In 2006, George became the person who has donated the highest amount of money to any film school. He gave 175 to 180 million dollars to his alma mater, USC.
In 2008, George collaborated with his longtime friend director, Steven Spielberg, once again to produce the fourth “Indiana Jones” movie. The film was also a success, earning over 786 million dollars worldwide. George Lucas was one of the 13 inductees of the 2009 California Hall of Fame held at Sacramento. A few months earlier, George went to Venice to present the Golden Lion Award for Lifetime Achievement to the Pixar Team during the 2009 Biennale Venice Film Festival.
Lucasfilms Sold to Walt Disney
In early 2012, George Lucas announced his retirement from producing blockbuster films; instead, he would be focusing his career on independent films. Recently, he sold Lucasfilms to Walt Disney; included in the deal is the “Star Wars” franchise, which Disney acquired from Lucas for 4.5 billion dollars. When interviewed regarding the sale, Lucas stated, "I've always believed that Star Wars could live beyond me, and I thought it was important to set up the transition during my lifetime." George Lucas has stated that the majority of the sales will go to education charity, and he has also pledged to give half of his wealth to charitable organizations. This is a part of an effort known as The Giving Pledge to persuade America’s wealthy to donate finances to charities.
Just Married and Very Much In Love
Mellody Hobson was George’s partner since 2006. The two decided to get married in June 2013 in a private gathering. The Huffington Post posted a photo of the wedding ceremony. According to the same report:
“The ceremony was officiated by journalist Bill Moyers, who famously interviewed the writer Joseph Campbell at Skywalker Ranch for a landmark documentary series in 1988. According to Arianna Huffington, who was in attendance, Moyers spoke so movingly that several married couples said afterward that they felt they'd renewed their own vows.” (Source: Huffington Post)
Awards and Achievements
- 1974: Nominated an Oscar for Best Director at the Academy Awards (American Graffiti)
- 1974: Nominated an Oscar for Best Writer at the Academy Awards (American Graffiti)
- 1974: Received the National Society of Film Critics’ Awards for Best Screenplay (American Graffiti)
- 1974: Received the New York Film Critics Circle Award for Best Screenplay (American Graffiti)
- 1978: Nominated an Oscar for Best Director at the Academy Awards (Star Wars)
- 1978: Nominated an Oscar for Best Writer at the Academy Awards (Star Wars)
- 1978: Received the Saturn Award for Best Director (Star Wars)
- 1978: Received the Hugo Award for Best Dramatic Presentation (Star Wars)
- 1978: Received the Hochi Film Award for Best Foreign Language Film (Star Wars)
- 1979: Received the Evening Standard British Film Award for Best Film (Star Wars)
- 1981: Received the David di Donatello Awards for Best Foreign Producer (Kagemusha)
- 1981: Received the Hugo Award for Best Dramatic Presentation (Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back)
- 1982: Received the Hugo Award for Best Dramatic Presentation (Raiders of the Lost Ark)
- 1984: Received the Hugo Award for Best Dramatic Presentation (Star Wars Episode VI: Return of the Jedi)
- 1990: Received the Hugo Award for Best Dramatic Presentation (Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade)
- 1992: Received the Irving G. Thalberg Award
- 1995: Received the Lifetime Achievement Award from Sci-Fi Universe Magazine
- 2002: Received the Britannia Award for Excellence in Film
- 2005: Received the Life Achievement Award from the American Film Institute
- 2005: Included in the list of 100 “Greatest Americans” by Discovery Channel
- 2005: Received the Hollywood Movie of the Year Award (Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith) at the Hollywood Film Festival
- 2006: Inducted in the Science Fiction Hall of Fame
- 2007: Conferred the title of Grand Marshal at the 2007 Tournament of Roses Parade
- 2009: Inducted in the California Hall of Fame by Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and Maria Shriver
- 2009: Received the Contribution to Cinematic Imagery Award from the Art Directors Guild
- 2012: Received the Vanguard Award from Image Awards
Films Directed, Written or Produced
- 1971: THX 1138
- 1973: American Graffiti
- 1977: Star Wars (also known as Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope)
- 1979: More American Graffiti
- 1980: Kagemusha
- 1980: Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back
- 1981: Body Heat
- 1981: Raiders of the Lost Ark (also known as Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark)
- 1983: Star Wars Episode VI: Return of the Jedi
- 1983: Twice Upon a Time
- 1984: Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom
- 1985: Latino
- 1986: Howard the Duck
- 1986: Labyrinth
- 1986: Powaqqatsi
- 1988: Willow
- 1988: Tucker: The Man and His Dream
- 1988: The Land before Time
- 1989: Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade
- 1999: Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace
- 2002: Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones
- 2005: Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith
- 2008: Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull
- 2008: Star Wars: The Clone Wars
- 2012: Red Tails
- 1994: Honorary Doctorate at the University of Southern California
Organizations and Programmes Supported
- Artists for a New South Africa
- BID 2 BEAT AIDS
- Compound Foundation
- Edutopia – The George Lucas Educational Foundation
- Film Foundation
- Make-A-Wish Foundation
- Racing for Kids
- Stand Up To Cancer