George Lucas a Life: American Graffiti, Star Wars, Indiana Jones, and more, a book review
George Lucas: creator of Star Wars and Indiana Jones
George Lucas: Independent filmmaker revolutionary
Brian Jay Jones wrote a compelling life achievement film history of the creator of Star Wars and Indiana Jones. I recommend reading this book to all film students that are interested in learning the history of cinema and advanced film making technology. The work is a great treat for Star Wars fans and those who loved the adventures of Indiana Jones.
George Lucas worked for big Hollywood studios such as Twenty-Century Fox, but inspired by independent film makers that made their films on their own and had them produced less expensively. Lucas, a film graduate from the University of California (USC) film school, had already acquired a taste for guerrilla-style film shooting, a free-style method of shooting film at locations outside a major studio facility. Lucas was an independent filmmaker at heart. He felt big studios reaped too much reward for contributing little to the whole collaborative process of the final product. He battled with sharp intelligence and increased the profits of his own works and was enormously successful gaining earnings from merchandising rights.
Film maker: Francis Ford Coppola
Steven Spielberg: Director of Indiana Jones films
Significant collaborators in George Lucas's film career
Francis Ford Coppola, famous director of The Godfather helped Lucas begin his film career. Lucas became Coppola's administrative assistant. Coppola encouraged Lucas to write film treatments and screenplays. Writing story was a slow process for George, but his desire to succeed enabled him to accomplish short-term and long-term goals. George and Francis developed a brotherly relationship, experiencing successes, failures, and business disagreements.
Coppola helped guide Lucas to re-write THX: 1138 4EB, a science fiction student film that was shot as a short film for USC. It wasn't a box office smash like Star Wars, but Lucas received positive comments for his visual style editing film footage.
Lucas created a behind-the-scenes-documentary of Coppola's film, Rain People.
Independent film maker, John Korty, constructed a home based film studio with movie camera equipment and encouraged Lucas and Coppola to branch out as independent filmmakers, a business move that defied the contractual percentage cuts of the major film studios. Coppola made a serious step in that direction starting the company, American Zoetrope, December 12, 1969, and George became his vice-president.
American Graffiti achieved surprising film success for Lucas as a writer-director. The story was based on his teen years growing up in Modesto, northern California; he loved hot cars, listening to rock n' roll, and dating girls. From age 14-20, George was indifferent to school studies and preferred to focus on cars and rebuilding engines in auto work places. He loved to cruise on hot-rods down the street.
American Graffiti was a successful money maker and Lucas benefited from its financial profits time and time again; he invested more money in Star War products. Lucas struggled with dept before the film's box office success. He filmed a montage for Coppola's Godfather. Coppola offered to produce American Graffiti and Universal couldn't resist distributing the film.
Director Steven Spielberg, director of Jaws, became a big fan of Lucas, and both directors became big fans of each other's work. Lucas chose Spielberg as director for all four Indiana Jones films. Lucas-films produced the films and George was the writer-creator. Lucas and Spielberg enjoyed enormous success with the films and learned advanced film technology together in their quest to explore the capabilities of digital film.
The working mentality of Coppola and Lucas
Coppola urged Lucas to write original material, a skill that separated filmmakers from “mere” directors, “write the screenplay, and then execute it as a producer and director.”
Early Lucas and Coppola collaborative film making projects
THX 1138 (1971)
Produced by Lawrence Sturhahn; Production company: American Zoetrope - Francis Ford Coppola
Screenplay by George Lucas and Walter Murch
American Graffiti (1973)
Produced by Francis Ford Coppola; production companies: Lucasfilm Ltd. and The Coppola Company
George Lucas, Gloria Katz, and Willard Huyck
Iconic hot car model of American Graffiti: 1932 deuce coupe
Interesting facts about American Graffiti
- Universal denied Lucas editorial control of the final cut.
- The film was shot on location and in techniscope.
- Studio space wasn't offered to Lucas.
- A promise of a future Star Wars movie (untiltled at the time) was part of deal.
- Lucas obtained music right permission to include 43 songs from performing artists: The Beach Boys, Buddy Holly, Chuck Berry, Fats Domino, the Del-Vikings, and Booker T.
World War II movies inspired Lucas's Star Wars
Lucas's vision of Star Wars
Lucas loved reading comic books as a kid growing up in Modesto (San Francisco area), California. He loved the Flash Gordon serials on television. Lucas had wanted to direct a Flash Gordon movie, but King Features' copyrights were too expensive, and that encouraged Lucas to create his own science fiction adventure.
Lucas was inspired by combat air-flight battles, specifically diving dogfight attacks. He learned air-flight movement by taping televised war action sequences. His favorite edited footage included films “The Bridges at Toko-Ri " and "Tora! Tora! Tora!" He accumulated twenty-hours of film footage transferred to 16-millimeter film but edited the film to eight minutes.
Star Wars iconic logo
Interesting facts about the original Star Wars
- December 1977, Star Wars set a new box office record and tabulated revenues for Fox of $120 million. Universal Picture’s smash hit Jaws had earned revenues of $115 million.
- The Star Wars shoot began early morning, 6:30 a.m., Monday, March 22, 1976. Wind and heavy rains delayed production located at the Tunisian desert.
- English actor Sir Alec Guinness was the only recognizable Hollywood star cast in Star Wars.
- Dykstra and ILM worked on 360 special effect shots at the request of George Lucas.
- Mark Hamill (Luke Skywalker) represented the heart-to-heart character of George Lucas.
- Harrison Ford was one of several actors who modified screen dialogue with an ad-lib-style.
- Star Wars employed over nine-hundred crew members.
- A Star Wars' prescreening earned early approval of Director Steven Spielberg, a minority viewpoint among professional executives. Spielberg was enamored by the colorful characters. A late March screening of the film supported Spielberg’s enthusiasm from sales representatives.
- At the 50th Academy Awards, Star Wars won five out of ten technical awards: art direction- John Barry and Roger Christian, costumes-John Mollo,Music-John Williams, visual effects- John Dykstra and ILM, editing- Marcia Griffin, Paul Hirsch, and Richard Chew.
- Make-up artist, Rick Baker, developed several monsters for the cantina scene. Lucas had new footage in two days at a studio in La Brea. Later, Lucas improved on the footage with digital film-making.
Star Wars premiere opened Sunday, May 1, 1977, Northpoint Theater, San Francisco. American Graffiti opened at the same theater four years earlier.
Key ingredients that led to the original Star Wars' success
Lucas approached the shooting of Star Wars with a documentary news-roll-style; he wanted viewers to get the impression they paid attention to a story that actually unraveled before their eyes.
George Lucas produced Star Wars from his own company, Lucas-films, and he created The Star Wars Corporation strictly for financial management.
Lucas hired illustrator Ralph McQuarry to paint Star War illustrations that sold the story concept to Fox Studios.
Ben Burtt assembled audio tapes of weird animal sounds for Star Wars. The tapes also provided a reference for other science fiction movies, too.
The great musical composer, John Williams, wrote a musical score with an upbeat march-style tempo that helped captivate the excitement of fans.
Marcia Griffin, Lucas's wife at the time, was given charge of editing Star Wars, and her masterful editing technique contributed to the film’s exciting action sequences. At the 50th Academy Awards, Griffin won best award for editing along with Paul Hirsch and Richard Chew.
The Empire Strikes Back: interesting facts
When Lucas began work on his Star Wars sequel, he wanted more control of financial profits; he couldn't accept that Fox studio executives received 60 percent of the profits with rising stock value and hardly contributed any work for the finished product. He funded his own project from the profits of his first film as collateral for a bank loan and controlled the sequels finished project.
Lucas was inspired by Joseph Campbell’s The Hero of a Thousand Faces, a book about mythological stories.
Lucas depended on successful box office profits from The Empire Strikes Back, the second film in the original trilogy; his sequel of American Graffiti, More American Graffiti failed at the box office and with critics.
Advanced technology changed Yoda
Famous muppet master, Jim Henson helped Lucas create Yoda, and his workers applied remote-control mechanisms that animated puppet eyes, ears, and cheeks, techniques used in Henson's film, The Dark Crystal. Frank Oz controlled the puppet Yoda. As an actor, Oz also developed the character. Small motors and rotors were designed in Yoda that opened his eyes, wiggled his ears, and pulled back his cheeks. Later, in Star Wars - Episode II: The Attack of the Clones, digital film-making allowed for better movement; Yoda was moved around on a computer screen, but Frank Oz still provided the voice-over for Yoda.
Media and toy publicity for Star Wars
The novelization of Star Wars by Ballentine books preceded the movie trailer and sold out a first edition print run of 125,000 copies, a feat accomplished three months ahead of Star Wars opening theatrical release.
Marvel Comics wouldn’t pay Lucas-film any money until the Star Wars comic books sold 100,000 copies, a feat that surpassed expectations.
July 1976, San Diego Comic-Con revved up fan enthusiasm for Star Wars before its premiere.
Kenner's toy company sold 40 million Star Wars figurines in 1978.
Image Factory paid Lucas an immediate $100,000 investment for the merchandising right to produce market posters, buttons, and iron-clad decals. They marketed a poster with Darth Vader in an action pose with a lightsaber that outsold a poster featuring Farrah Fawcett-Majors showing off her figure in a red bathing suit. At the end of their first year, the company earned $750,000.
C-3PO actor: Anthony Daniels
Interview of George Lucas
Movie making evolution of Lucas's camera and sound technology
Film or Project
Camera or Sound Technology
Lucas's Working Title
USC film school (1965-1969)
moviolas film editing machine
Anyone Lived in a Pretty (how) Town (USC-1967)
35-milimeter Cinemascope, Lucas shot film in color although his instructors preferred black and white
Filmmaker: A Diary by George Lucas (1978)
16-milimeter film and Nagra tape recorder
Behind-the-scene documentary filmmaker for Coppola's "Rain People"
American Graffiti (1973)
Star Wars (1977)
A computerized motion control camera was built called "Dykstraflex," named after special effects man, John Dykstra
Stereo Dolby Sound introduced
The Empire Strikes Back (1980)
A new optimal printer was created
writer of story concept
The Empire Strikes Back
Lucas developed a digital filmmaking workshop: digital editing system, digital sound system, and a digital printer
writer of story concept
The Tom Holman Experiment (1983)
THX sound sytems improved acoustics and hearing of theater audiences
He promoted TAP: theater alignment program. One-hundred theaters leased special equipment from Lucas-films to improve the technology of their theater sound system
Pixar Image Computer (mid-1980s-early 1990s)
The innovative Digital Droid was a sleek console, included multiple video screens, and trackball controller, features that helped edit digital film, and there was a Sound Droid that edited digital sound
Owner, he also tied-in the droid technology with a joint-venture editing equipement company called Convergence before selling Pixar to Steve Jobs
The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles (2002-2003- television program)
Kids learned about historical figures and experimental digital filmmaking, digital backgrounds were created rather than matte paintings
Jurassic Park (1993)
Director Steven Spielberg had Industrial Lights & Magic, Visual Effects Company (ILM) apply stop motion, animation, and animatronics to create life-like dinosaurs on-screen
Owner of ILM
Star Wars: Episode 1 - The Phantom Menace (1999)
Lucas shot some film sequences with high definition digital tape
Writer and Director
Star Wars: Episode 2- The Attack of the Clones (2002)
Sony and Panavision created special digital cameras and lenses; the film was shown in theaters with DVDs and a digital projector, encouraging theaters to improve with new technology
Writer and Director
Indiana Jones Disneyland attraction
Indiana Jones adventures
November 7, 1979, Paramount accepted business terms with Lucas-film and the Raiders Company to begin production on Raiders of the Lost Ark, the first film that introduced archaeologist, Indiana Jones. Lucas received 40 percent of the profits until the film earned back its investment, once earnings climbed over it, Lucas and his company received 50 percent of the profits. The film began June 23, 1980. Steven Spielberg directed the film and Lucas was the producer.
Raiders of the Lost Ark premiered in June, 1981, and was received well by critics and enthusiastic movie fans. It surpassed $160 million before the year was over and ranked among the year’s highest money making films. April 1982, Raiders was the fourth highest money making film of all time:
- Star Wars
- The Empire Strikes Back
- Raiders of the Lost Ark
May 1982, Lucas completed a twenty-page film treatment for the second Indiana Jones’ movie, Indiana Jones and the Temple of Death. Huyck and Katz completed the shooting script, Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, April 10, two weeks ahead of the filming schedule. Lucas and Spielberg were on location at Sri Lanka. Lucas guided a second film shooting crew. Principal photography concluded, August 26, 1983. After that, George Lucas temporarily resigned from film-making, burned out by the accumulation of film work and personal marital problems.
Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom opened May 23, 1984, and set a one day record of gross earnings of $9 million. The movie earned $333 million from Lucas’s budget of $29 million at the completion of its international showings.
The third Indiana Jones’ film was a huge success; Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, opened May 24, 1989. It earned $100 million in 19 days and $450 million around the world, March 1990.
Frustration was shared between Lucas, Spielberg, and various screenwriters; they struggled to agree on an ideal fourth Indiana Jones film. They came up with Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. Production took place: New Mexico, Connecticut, and Hawaii. Mediocre reviews were leaked on an Internet website before the May 22, 2008, premiere. Despite lack luster reviews, the film earned $151.1 million in the first five days.
Disney Star War Movies
George Lucas never relinquished any creative artistic control over the story structure of Star Wars until after "Star Wars-Episode III - The Revenge of the Sith (prequel)." He sold the franchise to the Walt Disney Company for 4 billion dollars, October 30, 2012, arranged with the help of Disney CEO, Bob Iger.
Lucas's contributions to the art of film and education
November,1980, Lucas donated close to $5 million to the University of Southern California for a 15,000 square-foot post-production facility. State-of-the-art equipment included editing, sound recording, and animation. The $14 million project was completed November, 1984. The buildings were entitled, the George Lucas Instructional Building, the Steven Spielberg Music Scoring Stage, the Marcia Lucas Post-Production Building, and the Gary Kurtz Patio.
Lucas opened Skywalker Ranch in 1985. Film-makers were encouraged to visit the ranch and work on their film projects, but concentrate on guerrilla style independent film-making. No production studio was constructed on the lot. Lucas developed a film library in his ranch, obtaining books from Paramount Studios. Special tours are offered to the general public.
Lucas established his own education foundation program, GLEF (1991). He created multimedia programs for junior colleges and high school. The following year, he had 2,300 schools using his programs. GLEF created Lucas Educational Research (2013).
June 14, 1999, the Presidio Trust helped Lucas build a digital arts complex that combined ILM, THX, Lucas Arts, and the main office of Lucas-film. Construction for the complex developed at the Presidio Compound where the Letterman Army Medical Center had been located.
Disneyland Star Tours attraction
Disney's developmental projects with George Lucas
February 1985, six-thousand share-holders attended a meeting at Disneyland, Anaheim, California. Disney and Lucas-film agreed to build a Star Wars attraction for Disney Parks, called Star Tours. The ride included military-grade flight simulators; a visual illusion made people feel like they were actually part of a Star Wars adventure. The ride opened January 1987. Their other project included a 3D musical attraction starring Michael Jackson and directed by Francis Ford Coppola, Captain EO, opened at Disneyworld, Orlando, Florida, September, 1986.
Top film earning quiz
What film earned more money than any other film before Star Wars?
Brian Jay Jones wrote about many interesting experiences in George Lucas's life. This book review only covers his most important accomplishments. Lucas's successes far outweighed his failures. Lackluster film ventures weren't covered too extensively in this article, but are pointed out in Jones' book. He did an excellent job writing about Lucas's boyhood and teenage years in Modesto and his business ventures in San Francisco as an adult. Star Wars casting auditions was a highlight in the book, and the working relationship Lucas had with his actors. Information about Lucas's two marriages and his dating life is a fascinating read.
Lucas pioneered independent film making, produced films movie fans hungered to view on the big screen, contributed to film making technology, and invested money in programs that helped film professionals, and students in all ventures of education.
George Lucas: A Life
George Lucas created big blockbuster franchises such as Star Wars and Indiana Jones. He improved the film techniques of special effects and theatrical cinema sound. He spearheaded the success of Pixar, Lucasfilm, Industrial Light & Magic, and THX sound.