was born in Modesto
, in 1944
. He spent his youth playing around with hot-rods
, before a nasty car accident put paid to that, both from injury and parental pressure. Nonetheless he retained a passion for machines, fast machines. I'll say it now; if you were twelve or eight or maybe fifteen years old during the period 1977-1986 and you were precocious and you liked drawing or playing with computers or something creative, you wanted
to be George Lucas, you wanted
to work for ILM, and now you have a job and you know you can't be George Lucas and you'll never work for ILM; or maybe you do, and you realise that you don't like it.
In his early 20s he enrolled in the University of Southern California's film school (fellow USC graduates included Robert Zemekis, Irvin Kershner, and Ron Howard). After a shaky start, Lucas and his peers - Martin Scorsese, Brian De Palma, Francis Ford Coppola, Steven Spielberg and so forth - these people went on to dominate Hollywood in the 70s and 80s. They were the movie brats, young directors who shook things up. They were charismatic and their films were extremely popular. They respected Hollywood films and adventure serials of the 1940s and 1950s, they respected John Ford and Jean Luc Godard, and they were not averse to money.
Lucas' shaky start was 'THX-1138', a fascinating piece of dystopian early-70s sci-fi, a film which belongs firmly to the pre-George Lucas era. Blown up in part from his 16mm graduation film, and filmed cheaply in the newly-constructed San Francisco subway, THX 1138 set a number of templates for most of his later films - it had robots, it was fascinated with technology and exotic locations, it had an exciting chase sequence, it was stylish, and it wasn't particularly interested in people, except perhaps as graphic objects.
His next project, 'American Graffiti' in 1972, was a diversion, one that cemented his status as an major talent. A personal mediation on his early life, it was a portrait of a bunch of teenagers bumming around at the end of school over the course of a single night in 1962. Costing less than a million dollars, it made more than fifty million in return - back when that was a lot of money - and sparked off a wave of interest in the post-WW2, pre-Vietnam era. Although along with 'The Sting' and 'The Godfather' it helped start a retro boom which is still with us. Poignant and funny, 'American Graffiti' is interesting to watch with the knowledge of Lucas' subsequent achievements. Never again would a George Lucas film be unaccompanied by a massive marketing budget, toys, books, and the crushing weight of expectation.
After attempting to buy the rights to Flash Gordon, Lucas's next project was a a sci-fi adventure tale he had been working on since the early 70s. Eventually entitled 'Star Wars', and released in 1977, it became the most successful motion picture of all time, not only extremely profitable but a cultural phenomenon as well. As director he was paid $150,000 dollars - but he also received 40 per cent of the film's profits, and he was also given the merchandising rights, in a deal which 20th Century Fox would perpetually regret. Kenner, who came up with a range of small plastic toys of the film's cast, made a mint, and 'Star Wars' toys were best-sellers for almost a decade. The film became one of the great engines which propelled the video boom of the early 1980s. It is impossible to write too much about 'Star Wars'.
Lucas took a back seat from directing after that, spending much of his time producing films, and setting up and running his expanding Lucasfilm empire. By the 90s this included a state-of-the-art special effects studio ('Industrial Light and Magic', or 'ILM'), a set of high-tech recording stages, and a software house which produced games of almost uniformly high quality. THX, a standard for sonic reproduction devised by Lucasfilm, became a sought-after feature of cinemas and home audio-visual equipment. ILM quickly became Hollywood's top effects house, winning or being nominated for the visual effects Oscar for every subsequent year with the exceptions of 1978 (which does not count), 1986, and 1992; often nominated against effects houses staffed by former ILM employees.
As a producer Lucas' subsequent efforts included two further, and equally popular, 'Star Wars' films and the superb 'Indiana Jones' series, along with disappointments such as 'American Graffiti 2' and 'Willow' and 'Labyrinth' and 'Droids' and the whole 'Ewoks' thing. Seeing sense, he revisited the Star Wars universe in the mid 1990s, re-releasing the films with new digital effects to widespread acclaim and much box office. By this time the generation who had adored Luke Skywalker et al as children were older and wiser, and resigned to their childhood fancies; the films were a cultural phenomenon all over again. Lucas rekindled his directorial career with 'prequels' to the original Star Wars films 1999 and 2002 - financed out of Lucasfilm's own pocket, they were the most expensive indie films of all time - about which plenty has been written already. The first film was a major disappointment but became extremely successful on account of the euphoria surrounding its release; it was as if an old, old friend had returned from the grave. The second film was an improvement, but the whole affair was too reminiscent of 'Willow' for comfort. The new films were competent, professional, absolutely empty.
George Lucas has been married, and has three children, who are presumably allowed to play in the big underground chamber at ILM where they keep all the old special effects models. Lucas has a grey beard and is often mistaken for Steven Spielberg, with whom Lucas is often compared, and vice-versa, although Lucas has not directed enough diverse films to truly analyse his directorial talent. There is a sense that, whereas Spielberg was born to be a director, Lucas was born to be a producer, albeit a mild-mannered producer. He wears jeans and has put on a bit of weight.
No doubt there will be longer and more detailed writeups to follow. Lucas, and the world he and Spielberg have wrought, are intimidating subjects. And no-one knows anything about him; no-one.