The Legendary Collaboration of Jim Henson and George Lucas: Pioneers of Fantasy and Effects

George Lucas and Jim Henson

Jim Henson and George Lucas helped forge the dreams of many children in the 70s and 80s. Both were talented storytellers with eyes for great visuals who helped create some of pop culture’s most recognisable characters. And the two also worked together, to realise some of their projects.

In this article, we will look at both men’s career highlights and contributions to the industry, before looking at the impact their collaborations have had.

George Lucas

George Lucas has had a renowned film career. He directed and wrote films like THX-1138, and American Graffiti, which made $140 million on a $777,000 budget and led to him establishing Lucasfilm to produce the film. Lucasfilm is still active today producing other notable franchises that Lucas produced and wrote. Namely the Indiana Jones and Willow franchises. Lucas also produced acclaimed works like Kagemusha, Body Heat and Mishima: A Life In Four Chapters.

That said, Lucas’ most lasting contribution to the industry is the Star Wars franchise. The original film is still among the highest-grossing films of all time accounting for inflation. Lucas wrote and directed the film and helped found two influential, highly regarded companies to realise the Star Wars universe. Skywalker Sound (originally Sprocket Systems) which worked to create sound effects and soundscapes. And Industrial Light and Magic which worked on creating the visual effects. Both pushed the boundaries of what films could achieve and continue to do so now. Lucas produced the rest of the original Star Wars trilogy and wrote and directed all the prequel films.

Finally, George Lucas, along with Tomlinson Holman, is responsible for THX. A system was founded to ensure good quality uniform sound in cinemas. Which was first implemented for Return of the Jedi‘s release. Lucas produced several other projects but has now mostly retired from film work.

George Lucas with Yoda // Credit: Lucasfilm
George Lucas with Yoda // Credit: Lucasfilm

Jim Henson

Jim Henson worked with puppets for his entire professional career. He began performing with puppets for local television before being given his own short show Sam and Friends and producing several successful advertising campaigns. In 1958 Jim and his wife Jane founded Muppets Inc. (later the Jim Henson Company) to act as a production company for their projects and puppets. In 1966 Jim was asked to help with the creation of Sesame Street. Along with creating and performing some of the characters Jim also created animation and short films for the show. The show is still airing today and has amassed hundreds of awards in the process. Then in 1975, Henson found backing for his most iconic franchise, The Muppets. Which gave rise to a successful TV and film series.

But like Lucas Henson also contributed to industry-wide developments. In 1979 he set up the Jim Henson Creature Shop to realise the creature designs for the Dark Crystal. The company is now considered one of the best practical creature effects houses in the industry. And in 1982 he set up the Jim Henson Foundation to help with the development of puppetry in the US through providing grants to help artists realise their projects. 

Henson continued creating other notable cult TV series such as Fraggle Rock and The Storyteller among others up until his death in 1990.

Jim Henson bringing life to his iconic Kermit the Frog // Credit: Jim Henson Company
Jim Henson bringing life to his iconic Kermit the Frog // Credit: Jim Henson Company


With both Henson and Lucas having greatly impacted the industry it’s interesting to look at the times their paths crossed. Before they worked together in an official capacity Lucas sought out Henson to play Yoda for Empire Strikes Back. Henson declined but provided consultation and recommended Frank Oz, a regular Henson collaborator, and several other workers from his company to help bring Yoda to life.

Eventually, they worked together to create the fantasy film Labyrinth. Which saw Henson directing, Lucas producing (with both also contributing to the script) and both the Jim Henson Company and Lucasfilm collaborating to realise the film. Considered a box office flop Labyrinth is now a cult favourite. It also contributed to effects history by featuring the first photo-realistic CGI film animal in the opening. Helping to push industry effects forward again. 

The CG owl in the Labyrinth opening // Credit: Tri-Star Pictures
The CG owl in the Labyrinth opening // Credit: Tri-Star Pictures

It’s impressive to consider that both men brought us fantastic work that showcased imagination and what was possible with visual craftsmanship. And together their work laid the foundation for the effects of blockbusters of today.

Also Read: George Lucas: Beyond Star Wars

Posted by
Josh Greally

Writer and filmmaker. I have a masters in directing film and television and have written film reviews for several smaller sites in the past. Films are my life, but I also enjoy writing, reading, listening to music and debating.