Where to begin with George Lucas? He changed the face of Hollywood forever with Star Wars. His savvy business dealings made him unfathomably rich. His video game company was a juggernaut in the 90s. And yet, the man who could do no wrong began to stumble in his later career. The Star Wars prequels. Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. Strange Magic. What happened? Let’s find out.
George Lucas Facts
1. Speed Dreaming
Lucas’s first love wasn’t filmmaking—it was racing. Up until his high school years, Lucas planned on becoming a racecar driver. He was a regular on the California underground racing circuit and spent a lot of time hanging out in garages. In fact, some of his earliest 8mm films were of car races. Suddenly, the podrace makes a lot more sense…
2. Left for Dead
Lucas’s risk-taking habits behind the wheel came at a steep price. Just days before he was supposed to graduate high school, he was in a horrific accident that changed his life forever. A driver completely blindsided him, sending his custom Autobianchi Bianchina rolling across the road before it slammed into a tree. The collision was so violent that it snapped Lucas’s seatbelt and he flew out of the car.
Remarkably, getting ejected very likely saved Lucas’s life, though he still suffered brutal injuries and needed emergency medical assistance. The crash ended Lucas’s dreams of becoming a racecar driver—so he moved onto other interests, namely, filmmaking.
3. Join Me, and We’ll Rule The Office Supplies Store as Father and Son!
Lucas’s dad owned an office supplies store and imagined that his son would grow up to follow in his footsteps. The idea of working in the same place every single day horrified Lucas, and he ended up making his own path. Is it any coincidence that he ended up making a movie about a hero who didn’t want to become his father? That’s up to you…
Life could have turned out very differently for Lucas: he originally had his sights set on the United States military. However, in 1967, after graduating with a BFA in film, Lucas was rejected by the US Air Force for having too many speeding tickets. The Army also rejected him, this time for having diabetes.
5. Before Ruling the Galaxy
Prior to launching Lucasfilm, Lucas joined forces with another up-and-coming director: Francis Ford Coppola. Though neither had become industry heavy-hitters yet, they launched a private film studio, Zoetrope Studios, later changed to American Zoetrope. American Zoetrope-produced films would go on to win 15 Academy Awards and rack up an impressive 68 nominations.
6. From California to Coruscant
In 1973, four years before the release of Star Wars, Lucas wrote and directed the commercially and critically acclaimed American Graffiti. The film was nominated for five Academy Awards, including Best Director and Best Picture. For a guy who’s known for his science fiction, a movie about teenagers in early-60s California really stands out—so why did Lucas write the thing?
Well, it turns out he did it on a dare! While making his high-concept sci-fi movie THX 1138, Francis Ford Coppola challenged Lucas to make a movie for mainstream audiences. The result was American Graffiti.
7. Flash Failure
If you like Star Wars, you should thank the original owners of the rights to Flash Gordon. Though this old sci-fi serial only lasted for one year on television, it had a profound impact on Lucas. Once he’d grown up, he tried to secure the rights to make a Flash Gordon movie, but he failed, so he ended up writing his own movie instead.
8. Legendary Beginnings
While attending USC, Lucas earned a student scholarship at Warner Brothers. While there, he observed his eventual business partner Francis Ford Coppola making the film Finian’s Rainbow. The connection led to him getting a gig helping Coppola make The Rain People, and the rest is history.
9. Give Up, a Jedi Does Not
Every major studio except 20th Century Fox turned down Lucas’s pitch for a follow-up to American Graffiti. What was his idea? A little movie called Star Wars. Studio executive Alan Ladd Jr. liked American Graffiti and decided to give Lucas’s space epic a shot. I guess you could say it paid off. The success of Star Wars returned 20th Century Fox to prominence and launched one of the most successful entertainment franchises in history. But you knew that already.
10. That Dialogue Tho
Despite critical success with Star Wars and American Graffiti, Lucas has come under critical fire for writing and directing much-maligned Star Wars prequels. For the first two, The Phantom Menace and Attack of the Clones, he earned nominations for Worst Director and Worst Screenplay, winning the latter award for Attack of the Clones. I guess the Razzie voters don’t hate sand as much as Lucas does…
11. Just a Little Indie Movie
Believe it or not, but The Phantom Menace was, for a long time, the most expensive indie movie ever made. Lucasfilm completely self-financed the movie, footing the $114 million budget with money gained from merchandising contracts. The movie was unseated in 2017, but don’t worry, the title was still held by an insane and critically-panned sci-fi epic.
Luc Besson’s crowd-funded movie Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets was the one to finally top The Phantom Menace
12. Not a Great Look
One of the biggest criticisms people had with The Phantom Menace was that many of the aliens seemed to be based on blatant racial stereotypes. Jar Jar Binks and the Gungans speak with an over-the-top creole accent reminiscent of old minstrel shows featuring actors in blackface. Nute Gunray and the rest of the greedy Neimoidians have exaggerated East Asian accents. Watto is reminiscent of a covetous Jewish stereotype.
Despite the response, Lucas had absolutely no time for the accusations. He argued that the characters couldn’t be racist because they were all aliens, and thus obviously had no real-world counterpart. In fact, he argued that anyone who thought the characters’ accents were racist…were racist for thinking it!
13. Jar Jar Jackson?
Everyone loves to hate Jar Jar Binks—but the character was almost completely different. George Lucas was originally going to have none other than Michael Jackson play the character! Jackson was actually really excited about the part, but the deal eventually fell through over creative differences. MJ only wanted to do the part if he could physically play Jar Jar in costume, while George insisted that the character be entirely computer-animated. Jackson dropped out, and Ahmed Best was cast instead.
Fans spent years wondering about what could have been—but in hindsight, Jar Jar is probably problematic enough as he is. No need to bring MJ into the equation.
14. A Fine Collector
Lucas is a big fan of American illustrator and painter Norman Rockwell, and he’s amassed quite the collection—but he’s not one to keep them all to himself. In 2010, he and Steven Spielberg lent 57 of Rockwell’s paintings and drawings to the Smithsonian for a special exhibit.
15. A Life of Solitude and Fun
Lucas’s creative epicenter is Skywalker Ranch. Located in Nicosia, California, the Ranch extends for 3,000 acres. The legendary retreat, which is not accessible to the public, is home to Skywalker Sound, a research center, a fire station, and the George Lucas Educational Foundation. But it’s not all business—Lucas has also installed a manmade lake called “Ewok Lake,” a barnful of animals, a 300-seat theater, a vineyard…the list goes on. What can we say, the place is fancy.
16. Love and Hate
Lucas has confessed that his favorite Star Wars character is one who everyone loves to hate: Jar Jar Binks.
17. You’ve Got a Friend in Me
Lucas is partly responsible for providing Pixar with the technology it used to begin its domination of the CGI animation industry. In 1985, the Computer Division of Lucasfilm created the Pixar Image Computer. In 1986, Lucas sold the Computer Division of Lucasfilm, which became the beginning of Pixar.
18. A Real Visionary
Lucas founded Industrial Light and Magic (ILM) in 1975 to create the special effects for Star Wars. Since then, ILM has been the special effects house for many blockbusters, including Raiders of the Lost Ark, E.T., Return of the Jedi, Cocoon, Labyrinth, Who Framed Roger Rabbit, Jumanji, Titanic, and the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise.
19. Looking for Direction
Lucas is considered a legendary director—but he hasn’t actually directed that many movies. After directing the original Star Wars, he passed off the reigns for the next two. That means that including the Prequels and his first two movies, Lucas has only directed six films in his decades-long career.
20. Stepping Away
The disastrous response to the Star Wars prequels is the main reason Lucas stepped away from making more of them. As he told Vanity Fair, “You go to make a movie and all you do is get criticized.” He continued, “And it’s not much fun. You can’t experiment.”
21. Everything Must Go
Lucas is part of the Giving Pledge, an organization that commits the world’s wealthiest people to donate at least half of their fortunes to charity. Lucas signed the Giving Pledge in 2010, emphasizing that he plans to donate his wealth to improving education. Forbes currently estimates Lucas’s net worth to be in the ballpark of $5.3 billion.
22. Indiana Dog
The name “Indiana Jones” was inspired by Lucas’s then-wife’s dog, Indiana, who was an Alaskan malamute. But that’s not the only character the dog inspired. While driving with the pooch in the passenger’s seat, Lucas got the idea for a pilot with a huge, hairy sidekick. Now who does that sound like…?
23. Taking Its Toll
The first Star Wars landed like a bombshell. Audiences had never seen anything like it before, and they absolutely loved it—but changing the face of movies ain’t easy. Filming was absolutely brutal, and one day, Lucas began feeling an intense pain in his chest. He thought he was having a heart attack. Later, he learned it was “just” a bout of hypertension and exhaustion.
24. Leaving the Galaxy Behind
2012 marked a new life for Lucas. After the nightmare of the Prequels, he finally decided to wash his hands of Star Wars for good, selling Lucasfilm to Disney for an estimated $4 billion dollars. This gave Disney control of the Star Wars franchise and Lucas 40 million shares from Disney.
25. Business Savvy
Despite the fact that Star Wars became the most successful movie of all time, Lucas was only paid $150,000 for directing it. It might have seemed like 20th Century Fox got the best end of that deal—except for one tiny little clause in Lucas’s contract. He negotiated so that he’d have complete ownership over all licensing and merchandise rights for the film. Doesn’t sound like that big of a deal? Well, that part of the contract eventually made Lucas a billionaire.
Since that deal, no studio has ever been stupid enough to give up someone such a blank check.
26. The Best Deal Ever
The story of the Star Wars toy license involves one of the best deals ever—and one of the dumbest mistakes. Originally, George Lucas sold the toy rights to Kenner Products. In the ridiculously one-sided deal, Kenner just had to send Lucas a $10,000 dollar check once a year, and the rest of the profits went to them. The contract had no expiry date either; as long as Lucas got his check, the deal stayed in place.
Kenner ended up making millions and millions of dollars off of the deal…but it all ended with one moronic mistake.
27. The Dumbest Mistake Ever
After Hasbro purchased Kenner in 1991, someone decided against sending Lucas his annual check. After all, there hadn’t been a new Star Wars movie in almost two decades, so why waste the money? Well, that one lapsed check ended up costing Hasbro dearly. When Lucas announced the Prequels were in development, Hasbro scrambled to get the rights back—only this time, they weren’t getting the sweetheart deal.
Just to get back to the table Hasbro had to give Lucas a guaranteed $600 million. Since then, the company has spent over a billion dollars just keeping up with licensing and royalties. Whoops.
28. Messing With a Good Thing
Aside from the Prequels, one of the most controversial aspects of Lucas’s legacy has been the constant re-edits of the original movies. Despite the fact that the first three Star Wars movies were beloved by fans and heralded for their groundbreaking special effects, it seems as though George couldn’t leave well enough alone. Starting in 1997, he started modifying the original movies and adding digital effects.
In fact, it’s extremely difficult to get your hands on the original cuts of the films.
29. My Way or the Highway
Fans almost universally hated the new additions to their beloved Star Wars movies. From major story changes like the “Han Shot First” scene to the awkward, early-CGI banthas in the background, the response to Lucas’s changes was a resounding “No.” So, did Lucas back down from his additions? Of course not: he doubled down! He claimed that the original movies were simply “unfinished,” and that the special editions were the definitive versions.
As he put it in 2004: “To me, [the original movie] doesn’t really exist anymore…I’m sorry you saw half a completed film and fell in love with it. But I want it to be the way I want it to be.”
30. Disney Won’t Touch Him with a 10-Foot Pole
When Lucas sold Star Wars to Disney, included in the deal were the story outlines that he’d written for a potential sequel series to the original trilogy. However, he was furious when someone described The Force Awakens to him and he realized that Disney had no intention of using any of his ideas. According to Disney CEO Bob Iger, “George knew we weren’t contractually bound to anything, but he thought that our buying the story treatments was a tacit promise that we’d follow them, and he was disappointed that his story was being discarded.”
Based on some of his remarks about Disney, I’d say that “disappointed” was a bit of an understatement.
31. Strange Decision
In 2015, Lucas decided he’d try his hand at directing one last time. He wanted to make a movie for his daughters—he explained that Star Wars is for 12-year-old boys, so this would be a movie or 12-year-old girls. Unfortunately, like the Prequels, it…did not go well. The result was the animated musical film Strange Magic. Doesn’t ring any bells? Well, that’s exactly the point.
Aside from being critically panned, Strange Magic was a box-office disaster; earning just $13.6 million on a budget of nearly $100 million.
32. George, Meet Marcia
George Lucas met editor Marcia Griffin in 1967, when the two of them were just getting started in the movie industry. By the next year, the two of them were already engaged. Eventually, their collaboration would change Hollywood forever—before it all went down in flames.
First row in the middle
33. Lover’s Quarrel
George and Marcia didn’t exactly have the most loving relationship in the world. Marcia didn’t particularly like George’s first movie, THX 1138. According to Marcia, George didn’t take the sentiment well: “I never cared for THX because it left me cold. When the studio didn’t like the film, I wasn’t surprised. But George just said to me, I was stupid and knew nothing. Because I was just a Valley Girl. He was the intellectual.”
34. Tragedy at Home
Marcia won an Academy Award for Best Editing for her work on Star Wars, but she almost never worked on it—until a heartbreaking tragedy changed everything. Marcia was pregnant while the movie was shooting, so she and George assumed she would go on maternity leave when it came time to edit. However, Marcia ended up having a miscarriage. The couple was devastated, but it did leave Marcia free to work.
When George saw his first editor’s rough draft of Star Wars, he absolutely hated it. He canned the first guy and brought on his wife to save the movie.
Marcia’s greatest stamp on the movie is the Battle of Yavin, when Luke Skywalker blows up the Death Star. The sequence is legendary now, but it was originally scripted to go very differently. Marcia went into the editing room and produced the masterpiece that we all know in love today. Famously, she told George: “If the audience doesn’t cheer when Han Solo comes in at the last second in the Millennium Falcon to help Luke when he’s being chased by Darth Vader, the picture doesn’t work.”
Good call Marcia, good call.
36. Trouble at Home
After Star Wars became a massive success, Marcia stepped back from her professional life. She and George adopted a daughter, Amanda, and Marcia retired to Skywalker Ranch, where she oversaw the design and decoration of the palatial estate. The couple might not have realized it at the time, but this was the beginning of the end.
37. Divorce Wars
George Lucas put absolutely everything into the Star Wars movies, and it took a toll on his marriage. His constant working left him emotionally distant, and Marcia eventually got fed up. In 1982, shortly before the release of Return of the Jedi, she asked him for a divorce. When all was said and done, Marcia walked away with a $50 million settlement.
38. I Wonder if He Replaced his Stained-Glass Window…
Marcia remarried soon after the divorce—and I’m sure Lucas felt a cruel betrayal when he realized who she was marrying. It was Tom Rodrigues, a stained-glass artist…who oversaw the design of Skywalker Ranch alongside Marcia from 1980 to 1983.
39. Like a Rolling Stone
Lucas got a delicious first taste of what it’s like to “make it” in Hollywood when he worked as a camera operator for the Maysles Brothers’ iconic Rolling Stones concert film, Gimme Shelter. However, Lucas’s camera jammed early on in the shoot, and none of his footage ended up making it into the movie.
I’d say, “At least he got to see as Rolling Stones concert!”, but unfortunately, the shoot happened during the disastrous Altamont Free Concert, where a member of the Hells Angels stabbed and killed an audience member. Not exactly a fun day at work.
40. A Disturbance in the Sale
I get it, it can be hard seeing your ex get with someone else, but Lucas wasn’t exactly graceful once the Disney Star Wars movies started coming out. In an interview with Charlie Rose, Lucas called the Walt Disney Company “white slavers” and criticized The Force Awakens for being too “retro.” Lucas later apologized for his remarks and publicly commended Disney for taking good care of the Star Wars franchise—but I think we all know how he really feels.