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Tuesday, October 8, 2013

George Lucas

George Lucas by Drew Struzan
I first met George Lucas in September, 1973. I didn't actually meet him face to face, of course. I met him on a movie screen in viewing his second feature film, the iconic American Graffiti. It felt like I'd met him in person, though. In point of fact, it felt like I'd known him all my life. George was my generation, born in Modesto, California, in 1944 just sixteen month before me. The movie, set in 1962, replaying a single weekend during the fragile era when baby boomers were just beginning to come of age, before wars and assassinations put an end to the lingering innocence of the 1950s. Even then, I recall, I recognized great moviemaking when I saw it, as well as the faces of the future entertainment industry, Ron Howard, Richard Dreyfuss, Harrison Ford, Cindy Williams, Mackenzie Phillips, even Suzanne Somers in what may be the most memorable bit part performance in the history of film. I wasn't the only one who met and immediately liked George. American Graffiti, with a mere $775,000 budget has since grossed $140-million.
A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away...
Great as his second film was (his first feature film was a sci-fi dud called THX 1138), today Lucas is little remembered for his exercise in teenaged angst. It's treacherous for a film director to make a runaway blockbuster hit early in his or her career. Star Wars Episode IV: a New Hope hit the screen in May, 1977, budget: $11-million, gross: $775-million. After a success like that, what do you do for an encore? If you work in Hollywood, you make a sequel, of course, The Empire Strikes Back, followed by a sequel to the sequel, Return of the Jedi. Then just so you don't get stuck in a rut, you team up with friend and sometimes rival, Steven Spielberg, to do Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark. Then you take some time off, enjoy all that money you've accumulated, with time out on the side to make another dud (Willow).
Star Wars I, II, III--the saga begins, leaving little wonder Lucas chose to start in the middle.
After something of a hiatus of something like twenty years during which he seemed to be mostly just "playing around" it the movie industry, George Lucas returned to Star Wars. He made three more films and inventing the term, "prequel." I liked them. Critics did not. Reviews varied, with Episode II: Attack of the Clones, being heavily panned. Gone from the prequels were Carrie Fisher, Mark Hamill, and Harrison Ford. In their place came CGI (computer generated imagery). Though all six episodes were allegedly planned in the 1970s as a single story, the Star Wars saga may be the only story in the history of stories which started in the middle, moved to the end, then to the beginning. Even if your name is George Lucas, that's no way to tell a story. Now, Star Wars VII (no other title yet), under Disney direction, is planned for release in 2015. When LucasFilm sold out to Disney in 2012 for a reported $4-billion, along with detailed plans for Episode VII came outlines for VIII and XI along with a list of 17,000 Star Wars characters. Lord help us...Mickey Mouse with a light sabre?!
What hath $4-billion wrought?


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