Today marks the 68th birthday of George Lucas, the classic filmmaker who helmed one of the biggest franchises in cinema history with his Star Wars motion pictures. In addition to directing and writing the first Star Wars in 1977, Lucas has produced and/or direct some other cinematic landmarks, while his Industrial Light and Magic (ILM) sound and visual effects company has been responsible for the visual eye candy in various productions for more than 30 years.
Born in the small town of Modesto, California, Lucas’ first passion was auto racing. A near fatal accident in that endeavor in 1962 ended all aspirations to pursue that hobby and instead he went south to study filmmaking at The University of Southern California. During his tenure there at USC, he met Steven Spielberg, and the two became fast friends, and of course eventual collaborators, creating a partnership and an eventual empire in Hollywood. He directed many short films while in college, one of them, a science fiction vehicle entitled THX-1138, won first prize at the 1967-68 Student Film Festival and was later adapted into a feature film, which starred Robert Duvall and was released in 1971.
He befriended another USC student, Francis Ford Coppola, who had already become successful in Hollywood by 1971, and Coppola’s production of the best seller The Godfather would put Coppola among the great filmmakers of all time. The success of that film enabled Coppola to produce Lucas’ second film, American Graffiti. That film (about small town life in 1962) became a smash at the box office in 1973 and gave Lucas the power and impetus to get his next production made, Star Wars, which was released four years later and changed the entire scope and face of Hollywood and how productions are made, in essence creating the quintessential “popcorn” blockbuster film and created a franchise that endures ever so strongly to this day. Two more films — The Empire Strikes Back and Return Of The Jedi — followed in the series, neither directed by Lucas, but he had his hand in the production of both of them.
Lucas teamed with Spielberg on 1981’s Raiders of the Lost Ark and the two men had another huge success and franchise on their hands, now with the character of Indiana Jones. Three films followed, each successful in its own right.
His career slipped a little bit during the 1980s, mainly producing films, many of them were questionable choices, such as Willow, Howard the Duck, and Hook. He started up the Star Wars machine again in 1999, directing the prequel trilogy to massive success, but not attaining the critical acclaim that the first original trilogy of films did. To this day, he is best remembered for that classic “original trilogy” in the Star Wars series, laurels that he firmly rests on.
So Happy Birthday toasts today to the man almost singlehandedly responsible for the blockbuster, those escapist motion pictures that endure to billions of people, ever more so to this current day and age, one George Lucas.
POSTSCRIPT: It’s also director Robert Zemeckis’ birthday today and Zemeckis is another filmmaker who has had much success as well, especially with HIS trilogy, the Back to the Future series. A protégé of Steven Spielberg, Zemeckis also directed the Academy Award winning Forrest Gump and continues to set new bars and direct big budget productions in Tinsel Town to this day.