- Born: 1944
- Rank: 51
- Score: 572.10
- Awards: NYFC / NSFC (both for Screenplay)
- Nominations: 2 Oscars / 2 DGA / 2 GG
- Feature Films: 6
- Best: Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope
- Worst: THX-1138
Feature Films (ranked):
- Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope
- American Graffiti
- Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith
- Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones
- Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace
Top 10 Best Director Finishes (Nighthawk Awards):
- 1973 – 6th – American Graffiti
- 1977 – 1st – Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope
He started out making student films with ridiculous titles (all of which was parodied quite brilliantly in George Lucas in Love – watch the pop-up version on DVD if you can find it). Then he made THX-1138, which many people consider a brilliant sci-fi film, but which I find rather boring. He then made American Graffiti, which Universal executive Ned Tanen thought was unreleasable and screamed at Lucas and Francis Ford Coppola, Lucas’ mentor who had overseen production. Coppola was fresh off The Godfather and screamed back at Tanen “You should get down on your knees and thank George for saving your job!” (Inside Oscar, p 483). It ended up the third biggest money-maker of the year, and at the time, became the 9th biggest grossing film ever. It ended up with 5 Oscar nominations, including 2 for Lucas (directing and writing), 1 for his wife (editing) and 1 for Coppola for producing. Then he went to 2oth Century Fox, wisely kept the merchandising rights for his new science fiction film and launched an entire culture. He again ended up with multiple nominations (losing both to Woody Allen), while his wife won her Oscar.
Then came the famous day on the beach with Spielberg, making sand castles, discussing their new films and talking about an adventure movie which Lucas had thought up. Lucas told Spielberg he was through with directing and gave him Indiana Jones, though he co-wrote it. And so Lucas was done with directing until the prequels finally came around and he decided to direct all three of them. And there are flaws to the sequels, but they are great science-fiction films and most of the flaws are in the scripts, not the directing. And aside from Star Wars, he moved film forward by creating THX and heading up ILM and moving sound and visual effects to a new level. And there’s the rumors that Spielberg asked him to do post-production on Jurassic Park while he was making Schindler’s List. But really, once you’ve created an entire universe that’s grossed over 2 billion domestic, what more do you need to do?
Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope – #1 film of 1977
For years I have used the number 13. I claim I saw it 13 times on the original run, taken time and time again by my older siblings. I know I saw the Special Edition 9 times in the theater. And I’ve definitely by now, after watching it every day in the early 80’s on HBO and Cinemax, and watching it so many times, first on video, then finally on DVD, I have seen it over 500 times.
Why? Because even though it was the first film I ever saw and even though I now make it a four way tie with Raiders, Return of the King and Princess Bride, it is still my favorite movie. Because I had all 104 of the original figures back in the late 70’s and early 80’s. Because I played with them so much and for so long. Because it created an entire universe that I wanted to be a part of. Because it created a science fiction knight – a Jedi – that I so wanted to be. I wanted to be able to control minds and to parry laser blasts with a lightsaber. I wanted to be that pilot who flew in and destroyed the Death Star.
Because it created an entire universe in one film. Yes, we have the archetype played straight to form – the orphan with the mentor, who goes on a quest, loses his mentor, rescues the princess, saves the day. But there is so much more of the story. I wanted to know about the Clone Wars and the days when Obi-Wan Kenobi was a general. I wanted to know what happened to Anakin Skywalker and how Obi-Wan ended up with his lightsaber. And of course, if I couldn’t have Jedi powers and learn to use the force, I wanted to be Han Solo, the ultimate epitome of cool, the wandering rogue who’s also a fantastic pilot. Because he did come back and he did utter those immortal words “You’re all clear, kid, now let’s blow this thing and go home.”
It was a film of technical marvels. It moved things forward in the way that only two films had done before – The Wizard of Oz and 2001. It was crisply edited, had fantastic sound, great cinematography, incredible visual effects, and of course the score. John Williams had already done an iconic score for Jaws, but this vaulted him into the stratosphere. It created an amazing partnership that produced 6 fantastic soundtracks.
Then there was the casting. I refer to this, to this day, as the Star Wars method of casting (The Princess Bride used the same theory). You take a few complete unknowns and you place them in the star roles. Then you fill the next most important roles with great, great character actors. And they are great. There is of course, James Earl Jones, the greatest voice ever. Then there is Peter Cushing, the heart of the Hammer Horror films and such a great actor. Then there is my favorite actor of all time, the heart and soul of the David Lean films, the comic genius of the Ealing comedies in one of his greatest performances – Alec Guinness.
There it is. All of it together. Go back and watch it again. As much as I love Annie Hall, and I do love every minute of Annie Hall, this is the best picture. Still the greatest science fiction film ever made. So much of my life is wrapped up in this one film. And I don’t regret any of it, even for a second.