It’s become very easy to dismiss George Lucas. Despite the fact that he was the original mind behind Star Wars, the 71-year-old’s constant tinkering with the first movies, the disappointment of the prequels, and the fact that he created Jar-Jar Binks meant that when it was announced that J.J. Abrams was replacing him as the co-writer and director of the seventh instalment to the universe fans were euphoric.
But let’s not forget that George Lucas, for all of his faults, is still a bona-fide cinematic great, who, in his roles as a writer, director, producer, studio head, marketer, entrepreneur, and negotiator, has always excelled. Which is probably why, according to Forbes, Lucas is worth around $5.2 billion. And so, just to remind people of George Lucas’ movie prowess, here are 5 moments from his career that prove he should still be regarded as a movie genius.
5. The Opening 5 Minutes – Star Wars: A New HopeFrom the first blast of John Williams’ bombastic score via the captivating scrawl that immediately gets us up to date with the goings on in a galaxy far, far away, all the way up until to the glorious unveiling of a behemoth space ship that seems to go on forever and ever and ever, the opening sequence of Star Wars is not only storytelling at its simplest, but it’s also audacious, grandiose and glorious escapism. Even though Star Wars was made on the relatively low budget of $11 million, Lucas was able to stretch it to an extraordinary length to create an enchanting and realistic world that was populated with Wookies, Jedis, and whatnots, which is perfectly set-up in the film's first few minutes.
4. He Is A Cinematic Savant And An Astute BusinessmanGeorge Lucas really does put the business in show business, and while this isn’t specifically a "moment" from his career it’s just as important as any of the work he’s done writing, producing or directing. When George Lucas negotiated his original contract for Star Wars he agreed to just $150,000 for his work. But Lucas knew exactly what he was doing, and in the end he managed to pocket hundreds of millions of dollars more by taking the ownership of licensing and merchandising rights for any novels, t-shirts, toys, etc, as well as the contracts for the sequels. The clever sod. This wasn’t the first time that Lucas proved just how savvy he can be. With 1973’s American Graffiti – and there will be more on that later – film studios were adamant that kids didn’t go to the movies. They were wrong, and American Graffiti was a monster hit at the box office. It not only ushered in a new genre, but proved teenagers were a viable audience worth making movies for, too.
3. Creating Indiana JonesBack in 1977, trying to escape the success of Star Wars and the pressures of filming Close Encounters of the Third Kind, respectively, George Lucas and Steven Spielberg were building a sand castle in Hawaii. Spielberg admitted that he wanted to direct a James Bond film. Lucas instead insisted that he had a character "better than James Bond." This then led Lucas to explain the story for Raiders of the Lost Ark, and Spielberg instantly came on-board. Like Star Wars, Lucas had been mulling over the character of Indiana Jones for some-time, wanting to create a modern version of adventure film serials from the 1930s and 1940s. But, fresh from dealing with the pressures of creating Star Wars, the famously passive Lucas decided to take a back seat. And, after originally conceiving story ideas with Spielberg and screenwriter Lawrence Kasdan, he assisted in a producing capacity instead, and simply allowed those he’d hired to excel creatively. Proving that, as well as writing and directing, he was capable of bringing talented people together to create stunning slices of cinema, too.
2. ‘I Am Your Father’ – Star Wars: The Empire Strikes BackThe moment that made Star Wars a saga. With this simple utterance, Darth Vader and Luke Skywalker’s antics became Shakespearean. The light saber battle between Darth Vader and Luke Skywalker had been hugely anticipated since the moment Obi-Wan Kenobi had been struck down in A New Hope, and, refreshingly, not only does their fight manage to live up to these lofty expectations, but at the same time it immediately adds a weight to Star Wars’ past and increases anticipation for when Luke and Darth Vader will next come face-to-face. It’s also a stunning fight sequence. The Death Star’s cavernous interior is dimly lit, fraught with danger, and gloriously echoes the zinging lightsabers and breathing of Vader. Luke’s hand being chopped off is both disgusting and shocking, and then it’s all topped off by the most shocking line in movie history.
1. American GraffitiNot only George Lucas’ most complete work as a filmmaker, but one of the finest films from, arguably, Hollywood’s most prestigious period too. American Graffiti proved just how in tune Lucas was with a young, modern audience, as he created a captivating mainstream film that is gloriously and unabashedly American, but has a European style and rhythm. It’s quintessential George Lucas too, as he resists complicating matters, and instead allows American Graffiti to proceed in a slick and gloriously structured manner that climaxes to be truly poignant. American Graffiti’s simple plot of four guys in 1963 enjoying their last night in Modesto, California, before going off to college grows into a multi-faceted tale that aches with nostalgia but also has a post-Watergate cynicism. Sure, Lucas will rightly be primarily remembered as the creator of Star Wars, but it was with American Graffiti that he showcased an array of filmmaking skills that it’s now sadly forgotten he ever actually possessed.