George Lucas Biography: Success Story of the ‘Star Wars’ Creator

George Lucas

George Lucas

In this success story, we are going to share George Lucas biography, one of the most successful television and film writers, producers, and directors in Hollywood history. He is best known to be the mogul behind Star Wars epic space saga and the Indiana Jones archaeologist-adventurer character. He is the founder of Lucasfilm Ltd. LLC and Industrial Light & Magic. Lucas has also succeeded in his special effects inventions and filming tools advances. The distinctive personality traits of George Lucas are drive, persistence, optimism, exceptional artistic vision, desire for control, listening, communication skills, and deep passion for filmmaking.

Early Life

George Walton Lucas Jr. was born on May 14, 1944, in Modesto, California. He is the son of George Walton Lucas Sr. (1913–1991) and Dorothy Ellinore Lucas (née Bomberger, 1913 – 1989). His father being of Swiss-German and British heritage, George Walton Lucas Jr.’s mother was a member of a prominent American family of German and Scots-Irish heritage, resided in Modesto, the largest city and the county seat of Stanislaus County, California, United States. One of Dorothy Ellinore Bomberger Lucas’ cousins is the mother of Ann Margaret Veneman (born June 29, 1949), who was the Executive Director of UNICEF from 2005 to 2010, and the US former Secretary of Agriculture from 2001 to 2005. George Lucas has three siblings: Ann Lucas, Kathleen Lucas, and Wendy Lucas. Wendy is two years younger, Katherine and Ann are both older.

In Lucas’ early childhood, the family lived on Ramona St. in Modesto, later they moved to a 13-acre walnut ranch outside of town. George Walton Lucas Sr. owned the walnut ranch with a wonderful walnut orchard, and George Lucas’ parents used also to run a retail business of office supplies. Dorothy Ellinore Bomberger Lucas, being in a poor health condition, was often bedridden during George’s childhood. He was a tiny and skinny young teen, picked reportedly by other kids. However, Lucas’ older sisters used to protect him, always fighting with those naughty children. Young Anakin Skywalker in Star Wars: Episode I also used to be an outsider who acquired a passion for motor racing. The latter was undoubtedly inspired by George Lucas’ teenage hobby: cars and motor racing. Working in a car service, he acquired a mechanic profession as a teen through most of his high school time.

George Lucas was interested in car racing and had a childhood dream, which was to become a professional motor race driver. Though, a car accident happened with Lucas on Claribel Road in June 1962. While driving home from the library in his Autobianchi Bianchina (Fiat), he prepared for a left turn by glancing in his rearview mirror. However, when he started to turn left, he heard the sound of another car and a blowing horn. A speeding Chevy crunched into the driver side of his car.

His car had turned four or five complete flips before it rolled and smashed into a big walnut tree and uprooted it. But miraculously, During the Fiat third flip, his regulation racing seat belt snapped, and threw George out of the open top of his Italian minicar and onto the ground. The emergency found Lucas’ pulse only after a while of hesitations.

George Lucas Biography

George Lucas drives his Autobianchi Bianchina that he would crash in a car accident in June 1962.

That car accident happened two days before George Lucas’ graduation from Thomas Downey High School, a public high school located in Modesto. Twelve percent of the school’s students being currently limited in the English language proficiency; in general, students who go to Thomas Downey School are mostly Hispanic; White, non-Hispanic; and Black, non-Hispanic. Apart from Downey’s graduates George Lucas and his cousin Ann Veneman, former Secretary of Agriculture, the school is widely known for its other famous alumni: Doug Burke, Olympian water polo athlete; Suzy Powell, Olympian discus thrower; Tony Graziani, former NFL player; Joe Rudi, former MLB player. Before the fate-changing car accident mentioned earlier, Lucas was indifferent to studies. He was only interested in cars and “the relationship that people have with them” according to comedy and drama, American Graffiti, directed by George Lucas in 1973. However, during George Lucas’ long recovery period, future wide world known filmmaker re-evaluated his career dreams, which led him to some college plans.

Being enrolled at Modesto Junior College, George Lucas was interested in Sociology, Anthropology, and Literature among all other courses. AA degree honor rolls of Lucas came along his new hobby: shooting short video films with his 8mm film camera, notably making car racing films.

The secret to film is that it's an illusion. – George Lucas Click To Tweet

Students Years

George Lucas is deemed to find the cinematography passion during his Modesto Junior College period, somewhere in the 1960s. Bruce Baillie, an American cinematography artist, who is also a founding member of Canyon Cinema, played the first fiddle in George Lucas’ inspiration for camera tricks. Canyon Cinema used to be a filmmakers’ co-operative founded at the beginning of the 1960s by Baillie, who created it for exhibiting independent motion picture films. While Lucas was attending college, Bruce Baillie happened to rent housing nearby to film the work of avant-garde artists: Stan Brakhage, Jordan Belson, Bruce Conner. Canyon Cinema screen shots were starring at local bars sharing the stage with stand-up comics and folk singers, which inspired young George Lucas Jr. together with his friend John Plummer. Both friends were touring to San Francisco to spend their time in jazz clubs and enjoy underground screening events. The abstractionism and avant-gardism of Baillie’s series awakened Lucas’ desire to create in this direction.

Haskell Wexler (February 6, 1922 – December 27, 2015), an American cinematographer, film producer, and director was George Lucas’ first mentor. International Cinematographers Guild performed a survey to find out the most influential cinematographers in history, and Wexler appeared to be one of those ten. However, George Lucas met Haskell Wexler at a motocross track, two men sharing one hobby. Wexler saw Lucas handling his camera: standing low on hips to discover better foreshortenings, – which made Wexler think about Lucas’ visual intelligence, and prompt the young man to consider the cinematic career.

George Lucas Biography

Haskell Wexler (left) and George Lucas (right) on the set of American Graffiti. Haskell Wexler was the first mentor of George Lucas.

George Lucas enrolled at The University of Southern California (USC), School of Cinematic Arts, located in Los Angeles. The University of Southern California was one of the earliest higher education establishments to manage a school with motion picture film specialization. While studying at USC, George Lucas shared a dorm room with Randal Kleiser. George Lucas attended The Filmic Expression course, taught by a filmmaker Lester Novros and it had a profound influence on his vision; the course was mostly focused on the non-narrative elements of Film Form like light, movement, color, space, and time. Also, a motion-picture montagist and the Film department dean, Slavko Vorkapich, had a deep influence on George Lucas. Slavko emphasized the nature of dynamic movement and the force of kinetic energy in motion pictures.

The students were watching and discussing many movies as their class agenda. Arthur Lipsett’s masterpieces were among them (Lipsett was a Canadian director of short avant-garde collage films) along with cinéma vérités and documentaries by Jean-Claude Labrecque and Claude Jutra respectively. Norman McLaren, another known contributor to the National Film Board of Canada, also inspired the USC students by his pioneering animation in filmmaking (hand-drawn and drawn-on-film animation).

George Lucas Biography

In 1966, George Lucas obtained his Bachelor of Fine Arts in film at USC School Cinematic of Arts.

First Short Films

Being still a graduate program student at USC, George Lucas became crafted in shooting 16mm noncharacter and nonstory cinéma vérités. He directed such films as Herbie (co-directed with Paul Golding, 1966), Look at Life, The Emperor (1967), Anyone Lived in a Pretty How Town (1967), 6-18-67 (1967), and Filmmaker (1968). In general, as a student Lucas became prolific making abstract visual nonstory films, which created strong beholders’ emotions. The film titled 1:42.08 (also known either as 1:42.08: A Man and His Car or as 1:42.08: To Qualify) was George Lucas’ senior project at USC, 1966. The Lotus 23 car being the subject of the film, that nonstory visual poem depicted the imagery of the racing car coming at full speed, and the car’s engine performed as the leading role sound element.

George Lucas graduated from The University of Southern California in 1966. After gaining his Bachelor of Fine Arts degree, Lucas tried to join the US Air Force. One of the refusal reasons was connected with a number of speeding tickets. The following tests performed for the US Army showed a mild form of diabetes, which added to the second refusal. The next year, 1967, Lucas re-enrolled at The University of Southern California as a post-graduate student to research film production. Working as a part-time teaching assistant for the US Navy class, he was instructing the military camera operators to develop documentary films. Simultaneously, George Lucas had enough creativity and talent to direct Electronic Labyrinth: THX 1138 4EB (1967), a science fiction short film that won the first prize in the category of Dramatic films at the third National Student Film Festival in January 1968. Warner Bros. awarded a scholarship to Lucas for observing the shooting of Finian’s Rainbow (1968), directed by Francis Ford Coppola. While observing the filmmaking process, he naturally met Ford Coppola, who was a young UCLA (the University of California, campus of Los Angeles) alumnus.

George Lucas Biography

George Lucas (left) and Francis Ford Coppola (right) on the set of THX 1138 in Gary Leva’s documentary.

Their life-long friendship started right there when Ford Coppola hired George Lucas as a paid assistant for Finian’s Rainbow and The Rain People production. Lucas promised then that he would facilitate making THX 1138 into a full-length movie.

American Zoetrope

Together with Ford Coppola, George Lucas co-founded American Zoetrope studio (also know as Zoetrope Studios from 1979 until 1990). Centered in San Francisco, it was officially opened on December 12, 1969. The title “Zoetrope” is a combination of Greek words:  “zoe” – life, and “tropos” – turning, changing. In the English language, the word stands for an optical toy, which converts a series of successive pictures into one continuous motion film, also known as “the wheel of life.” The initial idea of Zoetrope Studios was to found an enthusiastic community of filmmakers and scriptwriters for varied projects liberating realization apart from Hollywood studio. Zoetrope studio has produced films of Ford Coppola (including Tetro, Bram Stoker’s Dracula, and Apocalypse Now), as well as early George Lucas’ films, THX 1138 being the most famous one. The studio facilitated film productions of many avant-garde film directors: Jean-Luc Godard, Wim Wenders, Akira Kurosawa, and Godfrey Reggio.

George Lucas Biography

The early days of the American Zoetrope.

In the book Godfather: The Intimate Francis Ford Coppola, Gene D. Phillips reminisces that Lucas finished American Graffiti in 1973. It was released in the United States on August 11, 1973. The film had cost only $1.27 million (in today’s money – $6,760,000 as of 2016) to produce and market, but reached worldwide box office gross revenues of more than $55 million (in today’s money – $293,000,000 as of 2016). As soon as Lucas finished American Graffiti, he started to work on Apocalypse Now for Zoetrope Studios. Originally it was planned that Coppola would produce the movie and Lucas would direct it. However, a financial issue arose: Coppola, who legally owned the script rights, offered Lucas small profit share for directing the film, in comparison to his bigger one for the production. That was the end of the partnership which lasted five years. George Lucas and Francis Ford Coppola were reported to split up amicably, after which Lucas started his work on the Star Wars film series by himself. Lately, Star Wars film series proved to be the most successful sequence films in the history.

The sound and music are 50% of the entertainment in a movie. – George Lucas Click To Tweet

Making ‘Star Wars’

According to Lucas, San Anselmo, a small mountainous green town located 20 miles (32 km) north of San Francisco, California, is the birthplace of Star Wars. Lucas himself acknowledges that the characters and plot were inspired by The Hidden Fortress (1958), a film directed by Japanese filmmaker Akira Kurosawa. Another strong contributor to the original idea of Star Wars scenes was Ralph McQuarrie (1929-2012), an American artist-illustrator and conceptual designer. In 1975, Lucas employed McQuarrie to draw scenes for the Star Wars script. As the result, many characters including Chewbacca, Darth Vader, C-3PO, and R2-D2, – were designed by Ralph McQuarrie.

George Lucas Biography

One the first Ralph McQuarrie’s original sketches for Star Wars.

In 1975, George Lucas founded Industrial Light & Magic (ILM), an American visual effects company for motion pictures production. The Dykstraflex motion video camera system, named after its primary developer John Dykstra, was introduced in 1976 for compound special effects of Star Wars. The first application of Photoshop happened at the Industrial Light & Magic as well: together with his brother, John Knoll, the visual effect supervisor of ILM, created Photoshop software (Thomas and John Knoll sold the soft to Adobe shortly). In general, the earliest 3D computer graphics for characters animation was introduced via ILM, the computer division sold to Steve Jobs for $5 million in 1988, lately renamed to Pixar. Moreover, nowadays many movie theaters enjoy the sound systems, once developed by Lucas.

Having the background of the beneficial return-on-investment for the American Graffiti, and the Zoetrope partnership break experience, George Lucas negotiated up-front salary for directing Star Wars and the ownership of all the licensing rights associated with the movie. The distributor, 20th Century Fox, evaluated the rights as worthless. The original trilogy was the first film sequence of Star Wars that included Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope (May 25, 1977), Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back (May 21, 1980), and Star Wars Episode VI: Return of the Jedi (May 25, 1983). Only in 1997, following a 22-year hiatus of the original trilogy Star Wars release in 1977, George Lucas began the production of Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace. The saga film directed and written by Lucas was produced by Lucasfilm and distributed by 20th Century Fox. The sequencing films became the first known blockbuster, which lately earned Lucas millions of dollars, including the profit from licensed computer games, toys, and other franchise items.

Created for Star Wars production, Industrial Light & Magic is a division of Lucasfilm Ltd, founded four years earlier (1971) in San Rafael, California, by George Lucas. The television and film production company owns Indiana Jones and Star Wars franchises. The Walt Disney Company acquired Lucas’ production company for $4.06 billion in 2012.

Following the Lucasfilm acquisition, Lucas transferred the seventh Star Wars film material to the Walt Disney Company. Titled Star Wars: Episode VII The Force Awakens, the space opera film was co-produced, co-written, and directed by J. J. Abrams. Regarding the produced film product, Lucas publicly complained that Disney has not used a single idea from his original film materials, according to which Star Wars should be about family matters and not only about spaceships.

It is interesting to know that post-production is another filmmaking process, Lucas has unleashed his talent at. Post-production includes all stages of after shooting production segments; and George Lucas is an influential person in all of them, who has also invented various post-production tools considered currently to be industry-standard ones. Avid film non-linear software editor, formerly known as Edit Droid, is a sufficient evidence of the results of his collaboration with the industry decision makers. In such a way, Lucas eroded analog linear production to establish the non-linear system of post-production.

Along with Steven Spielberg and his Jaws, Lucas is considered to establish the high concept blockbuster filmmaking approach. In fact, Steven Spielberg and George Lucas have been friends since the college years. Their friendship and mutual talent resulted in several collaborative works, including Indiana Jones film series: Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981), Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984), Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989), and Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (2008). Having had some issues with the Directors Guild of America (whom Lucas left over the scandal with non-standard Star Wars sequence title), George Lucas could not enable Steven Spielberg, an honored member of the Guild, to direct the latest Star Wars projects. It is a known fact that Spielberg has humorously accused Lucas not to let him direct any Star Wars movies.

Personal and Family Life

George Lucas career development was tightly intertwined with his personal life and first beloved wife, Marcia Lucas (née Griffin; born October 4, 1945). Although, the latest biographies, as well as Lucas’ interviews, have been ignoring Marcia Lucas existence, perhaps because of their painful divorce, which took place 14 years after the marriage. The biographical book Skywalking: The Life and Films of George Lucas written by Dale Pollock and published in 1983, serves as the richest source of information about Lucas’ first marriage details.

They were like two sides of a coin, black and white, salt and sugar, or day and night. Marcia’s childhood was neither stable nor rich. Her single mom was fighting daily to put food on their table. Reasonable, Marcia started to work early, instead of enrolling in higher education institution. She began as an inexperienced intern at Sandler Film Library, and when she was twenty she was already employed as an assistant editor. It was unique for that period of the 60s for the women to go up the movies production career ladder quickly and without any assistance, the best jobs went to males. Verna Fields, who was one rare though the respected lady in the industry, hired Marcia in 1967. It was a governmental project funding President Johnson’ documentary, George Lucas and Marcia met at. George was hired among a group of USC graduates to give a hand as additional assistants. Assigned to collaborate tightly with George, experienced but uneducated Marcia should be considered to be the first mentor of Lucas. Paired by Fields, Marcia Griffin and George Lucas married on February 22, 1969, in the United First Methodist Church, Pacific Grove, California. Marcia was an optimist and an extrovert with a grain of professional aggressiveness, which made an excellent balance to groom introverted and soft Lucas. They were in love, and they were making films together: Lucas shooting and Marcia assisting the cutting and editing processes. George Lucas trusted the professional opinion of his wife and the partnership was truly equal.

George Lucas Biography

Marcia and George Lucas working.

Working hard, financially they had not been successful until American Graffiti hit the ball. As soon as cost and gross had been calculated, the film became the most profitable one in the history of the industry. George and Marcia woke up millionaires. However, Marcia Lucas was seeking to move over her career and work outside the family projects. Lucas gave his beloved wife that springboard, assisting her employment via Scorsese’s studio, where her talent and professionalism was valued at once. Star Wars initial films trilogy was Lucas’ project, highly criticized by Marcia for the lack of the emotional element. Cutting movies for Scorsese, Maria’s career went up. George felt sometimes lonely shooting Star Wars original trilogy in Africa and England. Finally, when Jon Jympson failed to cut the scenes for Lucas, Marcia was hired to start from the draft. She saved the original trilogy and continued to work on the sequences. Their first millions all invested in Star Wars epic saga, the result was unclear until the very release: it finally became the audience pleaser. Apart from the investment return and profit, the Star Wars success meant a lot for the Lucas family: Marcia dreaming of having a baby and settling down. Unfortunately, George appeared to be sterile. It was only in 1981 when George and Marcia adopted a baby girl, named Amanda. They became a real family with family dinners. Though, it lasted only for a while.

George deep with his work on Return of the Jedi was often out supervising the filming process. It was when Marcia was left coping with their mansions and the baby nurturing, that the emotional distance came to visit. Overseeing the design development of the Skywalker Ranch, Lucas’ workplace, Marcia met a local artist, Tom Rodrigues. Being aware of the sympathy Marcia was experiencing towards Rodrigues, Lucas hired his wife to edit his current Return of the Jedi. Being obviously an initiative to save their marriage, it was not enough to wound the situation. In June 1983, Marcia and Lucas, hand in hand, announced the staff about their divorce. The ex-partners shared the custody over Amanda, and after the trial, Lucas gave Marcia away up to $50 million. In a while, Marcia and Rodrigues bought a mansion in a Belvedere suburb, San Francisco, and became pregnant with their natural daughter.

I live a reasonably simple life, off the beaten track. – George Lucas Click To Tweet

Being a single parent, George Lucas shortly adopted two more kids: Katie Lucas, born 1988; and Jett Lucas, born 1993. All three eldest children appeared in the Star Wars films, same as George himself. After the divorce with Marcia Griffin, George Lucas started a relationship with Linda Ronstadt, born July 1946. Linda is an American pop music singer, who has earned numerous national and international awards and recognition.

In 2006, George Lucas began dating an American businesswoman Melody Hobson, born 1969. Being the president of Ariel Investments, Mellody Hobson is responsible for overall investment funds’ management and strategic planning. Beyond her minority-owned investment company work, Hobson is the chairperson of the DreamWorks Animation board, along with performing as the director for Starbucks Corporation and the Estée Lauder Company. Known for her financial and investment literacy, Melody Hobson regularly contributes her financial analysis insights for the CBS News. She graduated from Woodrow Wilson School of International

Relations and Public Policy, Princeton University. At the age of 37, she met George Lucas at a business conference (25 years older then Melody), which led to their marriage. Married on June 22, 2013, George Lucas and Melody Hobson live at the Skywalker Ranch (once decorated by his first wife). Melody and George have a daughter, Everest Hobson Lucas. In August 2013, Everest was born via surrogacy. Lucas is reported to remain his passion for racing and cars.

George Lucas Biography

George Lucas and his wife Mellody Hobson.

Lucas also performed as the Star Wars: The Force Unleashed video game producer, which was highly appreciated by many gaming fans. On September 16, 2008, the game was released in North America, on September 17, it was released in Australia and Southeast Asia and on September 19, the game was released in Europe by LucasArts, an American video game publisher.

It is almost impossible to enumerate all the awards George Lucas has received during his film production career. Only in 2005, Lucas was awarded the Life Achievement Award from the American Film Institute, and the Discovery Channel named him among the list of 100 Greatest Americans. Lucas has received the National Medal of Arts from the 44th and current President of the United States, Barack Obama. The ceremony took place on July 10, 2013, in the White House. Also, George Lucas was nominated for four Academy Awards (Oscars): Best Directing and Writing for American Graffiti, and Best Directing and Writing for Star Wars.

Either do, or do not, there is no try. – George Lucas Click To Tweet

George Lucas is actively involved in philanthropy. In 1991, George Lucas established The George Lucas Educational Foundation. It was founded as a nonprofit operating foundation to encourage and support innovations in schools. A decade ago, George Lucas Jr. donated $1 million for the Martin Luther King’s National Memorial development in Washington D.C. In September 2006, Lucas donated $175 million to USC for the expansion purposes. It was not the first financial gift to his alma mater; the previous included Marcia Lucas Post-Production and George Lucas Instructional buildings development.

As of January 14, 2016, the total net worth of George Walton Lucas Jr. is estimated at $4.8 billion. In 2005, Forbes evaluated the lifelong revenue of George Lucas, generated by Star Wars franchise, in the amount of $20 billion.

George Lucas life story shows that he achieved all his success thanks to his deep passion to filmmaking, hard work and, of course, thanks to his exceptional artistic vision. We hope you have enjoyed exploring George Lucas biography and Star Wars success story, and it has inspired you to new discoveries.

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