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George Lucas

Early Life

Famed director, writer and producer George Lucas was born George Walton Lucas Jr. on May 14, 1944, in Modesto, California. Lucas's 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 Electronic Labyrinth: 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's own words, "a warm, secure, uninvolved life." The film, made for only $780,000, grossed more than $100 million domestically. It earned five Academy Award nominations, including Best Picture, Best Screenplay and Best Director for Lucas, and is still considered one of the most successful low budget features ever made.
 
 

 


Making 'Star Wars'

Now that Lucas had won back the confidence of his supporters, he set out to make a children's Saturday morning series 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. Released in May 1977, Star Wars blew audiences away with its awe-inspiring special effects, 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 Strikes 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.

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