George Lucas, the father of Star Wars and the founder of Lucasfilm, is a man of simple tastes. Even for a conversation with Stephen Colbert at the 2015 Tribeca Film Festival in front of an audience of hundreds of people, he still dons his same old grandpa jeans and white sneakers. But at least the plaid button-down shirt he wore was a new purchase. When you have enough money to, as he says, waste on making experimental films that no one will ever see, sometimes a change of wardrobe is in order.
A line of fans circling the block awaited this highly anticipated chat between the Star Wars icon and the king of late-night comedy. Mind you, this was a day after the second Star Wars: Episode 7 trailer debuted at Star Wars Celebration and Colbert is prepping for his transition from The Colbert Report to The Late Show with Stephen Colbert. The funny man even stroked his newly crafted grey beard as he sat opposite Lucas on stage at the Tribeca Performing Arts Center. There were laughs, there were sympathetic sighs, and, yes, there were some chats about the genesis and making-of process for Star Wars. We were on hand to soak up all the details, as Lucas told his life story. Just in case you aren’t as well-versed in the biographical details of Lucas’ life, here are some things you might not know about one of the most widely praised filmmakers of all time.
1. George Lucas Almost Died In a Severe Car AccidentBy all accounts, Lucas should not be alive today. He shouldn’t be sitting opposite Colbert and reflecting on his life as a filmmaker, because he endured a massive car accident that could have easily ended the man’s life as he entered adulthood. Lucas was 18 years old at the time, and he was obsessed with car racing. He didn’t want to become a filmmaker until he entered his 20s, and his previous life was filled with obsessing over the sport with likeminded friends. However, one moment in his young life changed the course of his life forever. As he reflected to Colbert, he was racing home after spending the day writing his term paper. It was already a week overdue and he was weeks before graduating. As he turned onto a gravely driveway, a car speeding at 90 miles per hour slammed into his car. "Maybe this isn’t the career path for me. Maybe there was a reason I was saved," he asked himself at the time. So he went back to school and decided to pursue social sciences. That, obviously, didn’t last and he soon branched off into filmmaking, taking internships with studios. How'd that work out for him?
2. American Graffiti Wouldn’t Have Gotten Made If It Weren’t For The GodfatherAmerican Graffiti was the biggest comedy of all time…when it debuted in the ‘70s. If you can believe it, though, it almost didn’t happen. Lucas told Colbert that he shopped the script around to all the Hollywood studios at the time — twice — and there were still no takers. Finally, Universal told him that they would make the movie if he attached a name to the film. Thankfully, Francis Ford Coppola, who was already friend and supporter of Lucas, had just come off of making The Godfather. In light of its success, any studio would’ve probably let him make whatever he wanted. Lucas knew this and reached out to him, which is how Coppola came aboard as a producer and influenced the studio into getting this project off the ground.
3. He Is All About Experimental FilmsLucas was, and still is, all about experimental films. As a young filmmaker, we was more interested in movement studies than any concrete narrative. This ended up being a problem when he received two massive studio internships. The first was for Columbia. Including him, four student were selected to come aboard the team and make behind-the-scenes videos. One student pronounced he would make a video about the director. Another said he would spotlight the producer. The other said he would document the wranglers. Then there was Lucas. "I’m gonna do one about the desert… I’m just doing a little tone poem, a little abstract movie about the desert." Naturally, Carl Foreman, his supervisor, was not okay with this. But after an extended back-and-forth, he finally conceded to let his intern do whatever he wanted. "And that film became Indiana Jones," joked Colbert.
4. Lucas Didn’t Know Star Wars Was Major Until Two Weeks Into The ReleaseStar Wars wasn’t an easy pill to swallow, especially for studio executives and filmmakers eager to make the next big "young person" movie. Studio executives at 20th Century Fox didn’t get it, his peers didn’t get it, and at one point Lucas was told by the studio board that he shouldn’t make it. As Lucas noted, he held an early screening for his circle of friends, which made up about 20 people, including Martin Scorsese, Brian DePalma and Steven Spielberg. All of them — except for Spielberg — didn’t get it. "What is this Force shit?" asked DePalma. This was also during a time when Fox was on the verge of bankruptcy, but, fortunately for all Lucas’ future fans, the studio allowed him to proceed. Minds finally started changing when the film debuted as a massive success. But even then, Spielberg wasn’t quick to judge. He knew that people shouldn’t judge the success of a film like this in the first week. It needed time to reach its core audience. So, Lucas took a trip to Hawaii, where he chilled for a couple of weeks. One day, two weeks into the film’s initial run, he got a call to turn on the TV. It was only as he watched CBS’ massive report about the fans lining up down the block to see the film that Lucas knew Star Wars was going to be big.
5. He’s Ready To Go Back To Experimental FilmsDuring the Q&A that followed the conversation, an audience member shared a heartfelt story about a journal his grandfather gave him before he died. All these years, he had been filling it up with story ideas, and now he has 10 journals worth of pitches for potential movies. He ended the story by asking Lucas if he can help him with any upcoming project, and Lucas essentially replied with, "I’m retired." But what is Lucas doing with his retirement? Going back to his first film-making love, experimental films. "A lot of my friends have yachts," he said, and they’ve been pressuring him to get his own. However, he’s not interested in spending his Star Wars and Indiana Jones money on that investment. "I’m gonna waste it all on making movies," he said. And some of them — most of them, actually — will probably never be seen by the public.