From THX-1138 to Star Wars, and Indiana Jones It’s hard to know where to begin when listing the influence the visionary George Lucas’ contributions to genre film and television. That was just tip of the iceberg because Lucas went on to revolutionize how movies were made and changed movies and by extension television forever.
Upon graduating from the University of Southern California in 1967, Lucas co-founded American Zeotrope with fellow filmmaker Francis Ford Coppola. Lucas wrote and directed THX 1138(1971), based on his earlier student short Electronic Labyrinth THX 1138 4B which was a critical success but a financial failure. His next work as a writer-director was the film the sentimental journey story told in American Graffiti(1973), inspired by his teen years in early 1960s Modesto, California and produced through the newly founded Lucasfilm. The film was critically and commercially successful and received five Academy Award nominations including Best Picture.
Lucas then set his sights on adapting Flash Gordon, an adventure serial from his childhood that he fondly remembered. When he was unable to obtain the rights, he set out to write an original space adventure that would eventually become a little film called Star Wars. Despite his success with his previous film, all but one studio turned Star Wars down. It was only because Alan Ladd Jr., at 20th Century Fox liked American Graffiti that he forced through a production and distribution deal for the film, which ended up restoring Fox to financial stability after some flops. Star Wars was significantly influenced by samurai films of Akira Kurosawa, spaghetti westerns, as well as classic swords & sorcery fantasy stories.
Star Wars(1977), went through a troubled production process; however, it was a surprise hit, becoming the highest grossing film at the time as well as a winner of six Academy Awards and a cultural phenomenon. Following the first Star Wars film, Lucas produced and co-wrote the following installments in the trilogy; The Empire Strikes Back(1980) and Return Of The Jedi(1983). Along with Steven Spielberg, Lucas co-created and helped collaborate with the stories for the Indiana Jones films. Lucas also produced and wrote a variety of films through Lucasfilm in the 1980s and 1990s.
Lucas was smart enough to tap into the Jungian archetypes and Freudian relationships that connect with the deeper levels of the human psyche and played with primal mythologies that Joseph Campbell referred to as the heroes journey, the archetypal odyssey, and incorporate it into his stories. After all, what’s more fundamental to storytelling that the eternal battle between good and evil? The never-ending struggle between heroes and villains in stories never grows old despite its ancient origins. Lucas found an eager fan base that was ripe at the time his movie arrived, and they ate it up.
Other archetypes played a role as well, such as the well-worn trope of the damsel in distress, which Lucas was smart enough to update into Leia, an intelligent and formidable warrior woman who is no less a hero in her own right. The late Carrie Fischer was unforgettable in the role.
Lucas went on to have enormous influence on movies by integrating new technologies into filmmaking such as exploring the frontiers of computer graphics. The animation studio Pixar was founded in 1979 as the Graphics Group, one-third of the Computer Division of Lucasfilm Pixar’s early computer graphics research resulted in groundbreaking effects in films such as Star Trek ii; The Wrath Of Khan and Young Sherlock Holmes. The sound-equipped system THX Ltd. was founded by Lucas and Tomlinson Holman The company was formerly owned by Lucasfilm and contains equipment for stereo, digital, and theatrical sound for films, and music. Skywalker Sound and Industrial Light and Magic, are the sound and visual effects subdivisions of Lucasfilm, while Lucasfilm Games, later renamed Lucasarts. These companies quickly set the standard for the industry going forward.
Despite his enormous contributions to film, his career was not flawless, and there have been times when fans, in general, have made many unkind remarks about some of Lucas’ missteps and bad decisions along the way. Fans can be cruel, but it’s certain we owe George Lucas an enormous debt for his contributions to genre films and movie and television in general. Thank you, George, for everything you have done to make the world a more amazing and entertaining place