George Lucas Critical Essays

Introduction

George Lucas 1944–

American director and screenwriter.

Although critics have yet to evaluate Lucas's overall contribution to the cinema arts, box-office returns have unquestionably rendered a favorable judgment of his work. His American Graffiti and Star Wars have drawn more viewers than the life work of most filmmakers.

Lucas grew up in Modesto, California, which later served as the prototype for the teenage dreamworld portrayed in American Graffiti. His formal education in film began at the University of Southern California where he developed a bias for the visual rather than the narrative aspects of film.

As a graduate student at USC Lucas was granted a scholarship by Warner Brothers to observe films being made in the studio. It was under this auspice that he met Francis Coppola. Coppola served as artistic counselor to Lucas and supported the young director's future film projects.

Lucas's first commercial film, THX 1138, displays his early concern with technical proficiency, but its abstract handling of stock themes from science fiction evoked only a halfhearted response from critics and audiences. The script for his next film, American Graffiti, was rejected by several companies. Coppola's offer to produce the film lent the project economic credibility, and Universal Pictures consented to finance the new director. The success of American Graffiti surprised many, for the odds were against the acceptance of a film without a traditional narrative plot line. This story of coming of age in the early sixties flourished in an era of nostalgia, but the formal expertise of the film testifies to its value beyond the demands of popular culture.

Lucas's greatest financial success thus far has been Star Wars, a film for which he served as writer, director, producer, film editor, and cameraman. In contrast with the alien dystopia of THX 1138, Star Wars represents a technologically superior universe that is the battleground for a traditional and familiar conflict between good and evil. "I wanted to do a modern fairy tale, a myth," states Lucas. The elements of myth blended together in Star Wars have indeed led many critics to see Lucas as an adept handler of both mythical archetypes and modern cinematic technique. Lucas's most recent contribution to the cinematic field is The Empire Strikes Back, a sequel to Star Wars, for which he served as executive producer. Star Wars and The Empire Strikes Back are the central episodes of a projected nine-part space saga in which Lucas proposes to develop the epic potential of his fictional universe. Although he plans to remain solely in the capacity of producer for the series, it is expected that his artistic vision will inform the entire project. (See also Contemporary Authors, Vols. 77-80.)