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George Lucas: Beyond Star Wars

January 14, 2021

Whether you are a fan or not of the franchise or not, it is impossible to escape Star Wars. Lucas’ science fiction fantasy blasted into cinemas in 1977 and has been a huge pop culture fixture ever since. Although Lucas did not direct the two follow ups, he remained a driving creative force (pun intended), and later directed the prequel trilogy several years later.

With such a huge success on his hands, it’s not much of a suprise to find that Star Wars dominated Lucas’ life and career. When Disney bought Lucasfilm for $4 Billion in 2012, Lucas effectivly retired from filmmaking. Although it may be his most well know and influential work, Lucas was involved in several other projects and has actively changed filmmaking as we know it.

THX 1138

THX 1138
THX’s visuals are often praised and have some clear influences on Star Wars (Lucasfilm, 1971)

Lucas’ first feature film, based on his award-winning short film, was a dystopian sci-fi about a world where the population takes emotion suppressing drugs. On its initial release in 1971, it received mixed reviews and a poor box office reception. However, since the success of Star Wars and the director’s cut (with CGI additions of course) the film has gained a cult following. There are several references to the film throughout other projects Lucas was involved in, such as the cell block Princess Leia is in.

American Graffiti

Harrison Ford in American Graffiti
Harrison Ford’s role in American Graffiti would lead to his most famous roles as Han Solo and Indiana Jones (Lucasfilm, 1973)

Lucas’ second feature had much better reception and is held in high standards today. It currently features in the list of “1001 Movies to Watch Before you Die“. Lucas and his friend, Francis Ford Coppola, had to fight the studios to get a theatrical release after they demanded cuts and planned it to be a TV movie. It is notable for its heavy use of licensed music, and including a full list of cast and crew in its end credits, which are both common practice now. It also featured a young Ron Howard and a breakout role for Harrison Ford. Although it was nominated for several Oscars, including Best Picture, it did not win any.

Indiana Jones

Indiana Jones
Raiders of the Lost Ark became an instant classic (Lucasfilm, 1981)

Arguably his second most popular work, and again featuring Harrison Ford, Lucas is a writer on the first three entries in the series, and an Executive Producer on the fourth. Famously pitching the script to Spielberg while on holiday to escape the madness of Star Wars. Lucas wrote a detailed timeline of Jones’ adventures. Some of which were used for The Adventures Of Young Indiana Jones, a tv series which he wrote and produced.

Lucasfilm

Lucasfilm
Lucasfilm has an animation division.

Although the company is mostly associated with Star Wars, they have produced or been involved with films outside of the franchise. Most notably Indiana Jones. However, they have also produced several independent films, such as Jim Henson’s Labyrinth, Willow (Lucas has a “story by” credit) and another children’s animated classic The Land Before Time. While these were relatively successful, or have gone on to be, they also produced some flops, such Radioland Murders (another “story by” credit) and the infamous Howard the Duck. The last film the company released before being acquired by Disney was Red Tails, which Lucas served as an Executive Producer on, and even directed some footage, as it was a passion project for him.

Industrial Light & Magic

ILM has worked some of the biggest films of the last few decades

Outside of actually making films, one of the biggest contributions to cinema Lucas has made was the foundation of Industrial Light & Magic. Initially, just a small team that worked on the original Star Wars, it quickly expanded and has now worked on over 300 films, including Terminator 2, Jurassic Park, Transformers and the Avengers films. The company has won 16 Best Visual Effects Oscars and 40 additional nominations. ILM are also responsible for creating the Photoshop software before it was sold to Adobe. The studio has created groundbreaking special effects and continues to do so

As his friend Francis Ford Coppola lamented, Star Wars took over Lucas’ career, for better or worse. Although it may have prevented him from directing more films, he still had a very active and interesting career as a producer and ideas man and helped lead the way for visual effects.

Also Read: The Mandalorian: A New Hope For Star Wars

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