Film director, writer, and producer. Born May 14, 1944, in Modesto, California. His parents sold retail office supplies and owned a walnut ranch in California. His experiences growing up in the sleepy suburb of Modesto and his early passion for cars and motor racing would eventually serve as inspiration for his Oscar-nominated low-budget phenomenon, American Graffiti (1973).
Before young Lucas became obsessed with the movie camera, he wanted to be a race car driver, but a near fatal accident in his souped-up Fiat just days before his high school graduation quickly changed his mind. Instead, he attended community college and developed a passion for cinematography and camera tricks. Following the advice of a friend, he transferred to the University of Southern California filmmaking school. There he produced a short futuristic Sci-Fi film called THX-1138:4EB, and garnered a comfortable spot under the wing of Francis Ford Coppola, who took an active interest in unleashing new filmmaking talent. Coppola convinced Warner Brothers to make a feature length version of the film, and although a few critics recognized some philosophical depth behind all the technical wizardry, THX-1138 (re-titled) flopped terribly in its 1971 release.
Although intimidated by the failure of his first film, Lucas went back to work on his next project, American Graffiti. Released in 1973, the film featured such burgeoning young talents as Ron Howard, Richard Dreyfuss, and Harrison Ford, and was recognized as a stunning portrait of listless American youth in 1962 depicting, in Lucas’ own words, “a warm, secure, uninvolved life.” The film, made for only $780,000, grossed $50 million in the box office. It was nominated in five categories at that year’s Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Screenplay, and Best Director for Lucas, and is still considered one of the most successful low budget features ever made.
Now that Lucas had won back the confidence of his supporters, he set out to make a children’s Saturday morning serial that would be part fairy tale, part Flash Gordon, and complete fantasy and adventure set in the imaginary frontier of outer space. The project eventually evolved into a full-length feature entitled, Star Wars. In its 1977 release, Star Wars blew audiences away with its awe-inspiring special affects, fantastical landscapes, captivating characters (the erroneous pairing of two bumbling droids providing, ironically, the most heart and comic relief), and the familiar resonance of popular myth and fairy tale. Made for $11 million, the film grossed over $513 million worldwide during its original release. Lucas continued the story of the Jedi Knights and the Dark Side in The Empire Strike Back (1980) and The Return of the Jedi (1983). In the meantime, he set up a state-of-the-art special effects company, Industrial Light & Magic (ILM), as well as a sound studio, Skywalker Sound, and began to execute more and more control over the finished product of his films. He eventually built his own moviemaking “empire” outside of the controlling influence of Hollywood in the hills of Marin Country, California.
While Lucas weathered a considerable slump after the success of the Star Wars trilogy, ILM made money doing TV commercials. In 1993, the company finally got to flex its muscles when commissioned to bring the dinosaurs of Jurassic Park to horrifying life. The progressions in technology convinced Lucas that it was time to go back to Star Wars. He embarked on the development of three new prequels –beginning with the menacing Darth Vader as an innocent, but forceful, young boy. The first in the series, Star Wars: Episode I–The Phantom Menace, was released in spring of 1999 to high expectations and unprecedented hype and fanfare. The response was mixed; some critics and Star Wars fans found the characters childish and racially stereotyped, and the story lacking in dramatic depth; but the magical quality of Lucas’s technologically masterful creations was incontestably fantastic and mind-blowing. Defending his latest creation, Lucas argued that The Phantom Menace was a children’s movie — as all the Star Wars movies were meant to be before their cult like magnetism took hold of the American public. Star Wars: Episode II premiered on May 12, 2002, at the Tribeca Film Festival. The third and final episode, Revenge of the Sith, debuted in May 2005.
Lucas’s other projects have included writing and producing the Indiana Jones films and 1988’s Willow.
Considering the fact that George Lucas raises his children as a single parent, his preoccupation with children’s interests is not surprising. After he and film editor Marcia Griffin divorced in 1983, he gained custody of their adopted child, Amanda. Since then he has adopted two more children: Kate and Jet. They live together in the Skywalker ranch compound in Marin County. Lucas told Orville Schell of the New York Times in a 1999 interview, “Children are the whole point of life” –a surprisingly humble comment from a movie mogul worth somewhere around $2.5 billion.
May 2007 will mark the 30th anniversary of the original release of Star Wars.