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George Lucas, he claims in a recent interview, fell into popular movies by accident. A graduate of the University of Southern California (USC), Lucas followed a series of experimental student shorts with his feature debut THX 1138 in 1971. But it would be his third film, the science fiction fantasy Star Wars, that would not only transform his life but also Hollywood and the American movie industry. Ushering in a new era of special effects-driven blockbusters and merchandise tie-ins, Star Wars reinvented every aspect of film production, from the technical aspect to how the product is marketed.
Yet prior to the release of Star Wars, Lucas focused on more personal projects, such as his sophomore picture American Graffiti, which focused on a group of teenagers in 1962 as they embark on life after high school. The year that the story was set was something of a turning point for Lucas, having spent much of his youth driving around his hometown with friends listening to music, only for a car accident to almost cost him his life. Enrolling at university as a film major, Lucas soon became obsessed with the medium and, in 1965, shot his first short piece, a 16mm one-minute project entitled Look at Life.
Over the next two years honed his craft on several expressionistic and politically-charged films, before turning to science fiction with the ambitious short TXH 1138 4EB. Providing the blue print for his subsequent feature, the film brought the young director considerable acclaim and would prove to be the first stepping stone on his journey to Hollywood, culminating with the unprecedented impact of Star Wars a decade later. Lucas had always envisioned the science fiction epic as a three-part fairytale and following its phenomenal success, he developed two sequels that would continue to expand and explore the galaxy that he had created.But the experience of the first movie had taken its toll and so Lucas decided to act only as producer and story writer on the two subsequent pictures, opting to hire directors for what would become The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi.
It would not be for over twenty years before Lucas finally stepped back behind the camera as a director, when he returned to the world of Star Wars for the highly anticipated prequel The Phantom Menace in 1999.
‘I gave up directing in order to become a dad. For fifteen years,’ Lucas recently explained to Charlie Rose. ‘I just ran a company and was an innovator but it was not doing what I really liked to do, which was to actually make movies.’
In the interview Lucas claimed that become a father changed his life, so much so that he turned his back on directing in order to build a stable life for his children. ‘And it was one of those things that you don’t expect to happen, but once I was a dad it was like a bolt of lightning struck me. And I ended up getting divorced around that time, and I just decided, ‘Well, I’m just going to take care of my daughter.’ Because that seemed like the right thing to do.’
He continues; ‘My central concern was my daughter so I said, ‘I’m going to raise my daughter.’ And then I adopted another daughter and adopted another son. It wasn’t until fifteen years later that I actually said, ‘Okay, I’m going to go back now and direct movies again.’ And in the meantime I had developed a lot of technology to do things that I could not do when I was doing Star Wars.’Lucas would direct all three of the prequels, the last of which, Revenge of the Sith, was released in 2005. Seven years later, however, he sold his company Lucasfilm to Disney for $4b, all of which Lucas donated to support education.
‘For forty-one years, the majority of my time and money has been put into the company,’ the filmmaker said in a statement at the time. ‘As I start a new chapter in my life, it is gratifying that I have the opportunity to devote more time and resources to philanthropy.’
Since selling his company, Lucas has expressed a desire to return to the world of independent filmmaking, where he intends to develop personal projects without the pressure of commercial expectations. ‘I’m going to make movies that only I want to see and I want to do,’ he tells Rose. ‘I’ve always wanted to do that. I fell into popular movies by accident. I always disliked Hollywood theatrical movies. I didn’t want to have anything to do with them.’