I love George Lucas. In fact, I think he’s one of our most important filmmakers, a visionary genius, and I hope that by the end of this piece, you’ll at least understand why I feel the way that I do. He’s not an infallible man, and I’m not wild about the continued touch ups of things I thought were perfect to begin with, but he has given us much to explore and discuss, and his universe has captured my imagination and fired my creativity for most of my life. I love Star Wars, I still love the Prequels, and I will always love The Bearded One. In addition to my gratitude for the world he created, I’ve distilled my admiration down to three contributing factors.
First, he’s one of us. George Lucas is a bona fide film nut, as well as a pop culture aficionado on a massive scale. He loves stories and the emotions that good storytelling can evoke. He was a visitor to Disneyland on the second day that it was open for business back in 1955, and the experience helped to shape him into the guy who would one day think up Han Solo and Indiana Jones. Lucas was mesmerized by his immersion into fantasy and adventure on those rides at Disneyland, and he recreated those thrills into his own future films when he grew up, making them seem like roller coaster rides and never forgetting the power of storytelling.
This translated into a love of comic books and art in all its forms. In the early 1970s, Lucas and his friends would pore over the work of artists like Frank Frazetta, Alex Raymond (the creator of Flash Gordon), and Disney comics legend Carl Barks, occasionally having the opportunity to meet and rub shoulders with them. Lucas even co-owned a New York comic store in the 1970s, Supersnipe Comic Art Gallery, named after a 1940s comic book about a kid who read so many comics that he turned into a superhero himself. To this day, Lucas owns an extensive collection of comic art, vintage posters, and rare paintings. In fact, Lucas has been working on a 300-million-dollar Museum of Narrative Art to open in Chicago in 2018, which will celebrate everything from Norman Rockwell’s work to children’s books. George Lucas is no hipster: he just loves stories. It was big news earlier this year when he stopped into New York’s Midtown Comics in Times Square. He wasn’t there for a photo op; he was there to buy comic books.
The second reason I love George Lucas is because he’s a rebel and a maverick. He’s always done things his own way and followed his inner compass, despite the naysayers, even when it’s been to his own detriment. You think he didn’t know that the Prequel Trilogy was unconventional and wasn’t what people were expecting? He knew what he was doing, and he was determined not to tell a story that everyone thought they already knew. He added twists and turns and explanations for things that divided fans (midichlorians, anyone?), but that also expanded the Star Wars Universe beyond what fans thought possible.
From the very beginning, Lucas has surrounded himself with the best. When he was still working on his early films such as THX 1138 and American Graffiti, he became friends with fellow directors Martin Scorsese, Brian De Palma, Steven Spielberg, John Milius, and Francis Ford Coppola. After showing an early version of the 1977’s Star Wars to them, Spielberg famously loved it, while De Palma reportedly said “what’s this Force sh*t?” Yet, think of all the fantastic movies we have because of that group of filmmakers. These guys literally changed how movies were made forever and influenced everything that came after them, and they’re still friends. When it came time to hire people to work on his movies, Lucas always sought out the best. Guys like Dennis Muren, Ben Burtt, Ralph McQuarrie, and John Williams elevated the work and contributed to making Star Wars something truly revolutionary. When you want the best, you surround yourself with the best.
Then there’s the fact that the movies themselves are incredible experiments in filmmaking form that take all sorts of risks. If you haven’t researched journalist Mike Klimo’s investigation into Star Wars Ring Theory, you’re really missing out. Klimo presents dozens upon dozens of examples that appear to irrefutably prove that Lucas patterned all six Star Wars films into one structural ring in which components of each chapter are reflected on their exact opposite on the wheel. Each film is balanced and counter-balanced time and time again in a cyclical structure, including everything from the plot to the color palate. Movie 1 is reflected in Movie 6, Movie 2 in Movie 5, and so on, over and over again, throughout each act of each film. They’re big rings composed of smaller rings that line up with each other over and over again. There’s simply no way to do any justice to it here, but you can study it (I do mean study; it’s over 25,000 words) at starwarsringtheory.com. Some of it is speculative, but most of it is proof that Lucas never stopped making the experimental films he created while in college; he just learned how to hide it inside a blockbuster.
Let’s not forget that the way George Lucas earned his billions was by being a risk-taker. After the success of American Graffiti, Lucas was a director on the rise, and was entitled to a 300% salary raise as a director. When he pitched his film Star Wars to 20th Century Fox, he offered to pass on the raise if he could keep all the sequel and merchandising rights to Star Wars. When the movie became one of the biggest box office hits of all time, the merchandising revenues from bed sheets, action figures, C3P0 tape dispensers, t-shirts, and breakfast cereals were unprecedented. Lucas made his money by taking a chance; his plan could just as easily have failed, he’d have passed on his raise for nothing, and we might not be discussing him today.
Signs of Lucas as a rebel are everywhere in his films. Buried within the story of the Galactic Empire are the lessons he learned when the peace and love generation of the 1960s failed to stop the war in Vietnam. His Original Trilogy shows the overthrow of an oppressive dictatorship by the people, while his Prequel Trilogy shows how that totalitarian government came to have so much power in the first place. The real-world ramifications are there, and he’s sharing the lessons he learned during his youth. Lucas has always said that he was taught never to trust anyone over 30, and that he still believes this, even though the group that shouldn’t be trusted now includes himself. We can’t forget that Lucas accomplished all that he did largely outside the studio system. He’s the most successful independent filmmaker of all time. He did it his way.
A more recent story shows what kind of person Lucas really is. He’d spent years planning an expansion of Lucasfilm, which would have been located in Marin County, north of San Francisco on a plot of land called Grady Ranch. The plan was to create a new digital studio on the grounds, which has all but been confirmed as the spot where he was planning to film Episodes VII, VIII, and IX, as well as a live action Star Wars series he’d been working on since 2005. After years of development, the wealthy citizens of Marin County voted against allowing George Lucas’ expansion at Grady Ranch, frustrating his plans to build the studio. Unable to immediately move ahead, he decided the land that he owned should be used for affordable housing so that the less-fortunate nurses, teachers, and public servants of Marin County can live within the county they work in. Mere months after his studio plans collapsed, Lucas decided to retire and sold his company to Disney for a sum of four billion dollars, which he vowed to donate entirely to education. How can you not love this guy?
George Lucas has now left Star Wars, his greatest creation, and aside from his notebook of ideas that Disney now owns, has no input in the expanding saga. I’m very torn on this: the only Star Wars project we’ve seen so far that didn’t involve Lucas is Star Wars: Rebels, which is oozing with love for the universe and is really fantastic. Still, it feels weird knowing the man who dreamed this whole thing up has no say in where things are going. At any rate, while public opinion of Star Wars has wavered over the years, things are looking good. I truly believe the era of bashing Star Wars is coming to a close. While I’m sure haters gonna hate, hate, hate, I’m just gonna shake, shake, shake, shake it off, and I think a lot of other people will, too. All those fans who were left cold by the Prequel Trilogy now have the promise that they’ll once again see TIE fighters and X-Wings zipping across the galaxy, and will once again see Luke, Han, and Leia at least one more time. In the ten years since Revenge of the Sith, we’ve all had time to adjust to the changes and expansions that Lucas made to the saga, and now it all just feels…well, like Star Wars. I believe that Disney and J.J. Abrams will be drawing from everything that’s come before as we move forward. Just like the later Star Trek movies incorporated elements of all the different shows and movies that had come before, the future of Star Wars will build on everything we know, rather than ignore what we learned in the Prequels. It’s all Star Wars, and it all has its place.
Episode I: The Phantom Menace in a celebration of all the cool characters and themes found within the film, and I’ll look at how it expanded and changed what we knew about the galaxy far, far away. I have nothing but love for that movie. Hey, she may not look like much, but she’s got it where it counts, kid. After that, we’ll work our way through the rest of the saga month by month, all the way up to The Force Awakens. This is the year of Star Wars! The best is still ahead, and I hope you’ll come along for the ride.
May the Force be with you!