George Lucas, who will turn 72 on May 14, is one of the most prolific figures in Hollywood these last several decades. But his filmography might belie that claim.
Some would identify "American Graffiti" as his first full-length feature film, but a (film) enthusiast could correct it. "THX 1138" received mixed reviews upon its initial release on March 11, 1971. The 1970s was a memorable decade in science fiction movies, where fans saw hair-raising stories. (Do you want to taste soylent green?) Perhaps they stood out, leaving Lucas's dystopian tale (of android police officers controlling the human race) behind. But no one passed up Lucas's sophomore feature.
"American Graffiti" took place in a single night, where high school graduates would be seen cruising the long highway. Any moviegoer who would guess that this was part of the folk culture was spot on. (Lucas based it on his teenage years, while growing up in Modesto, California.) Anyone who had seen too many movies would figure out what the roads meant for these youngsters. Uncertain future, the aimless wanderings, possible experimentation. It would define the 1970s. (The film was released on August 2, 1973.) The editing by Verna Fields and Marcia Lucas was seamless, which could have told a oft-repeated story of teenagers wanting to savor the last carefree days. But there was more to it. This would resonate through the years, which turned this coming-of-age tale into a classic. It was no surprise that a sequel was released six years later. (Bill L. Norton wrote and directed it. Lucas was co-producer.) Lucas spent more time in the producer's chair.
Don't expect Lucas to get more involved in the "Star Wars" series, which would be released during the next few years. "I'm moving away from the business... from the company, from all this kind of stuff," he said. But let's look back at his amazing career. You might be surprised at it. Here are five things about George Lucas:
Francis Ford Coppola played a part in Lucas's career. The director of "The Godfather" trilogy had an eclectic range of works. Yes, he directed a musical. Fred Astaire and Petula Clark starred in "Finian's Rainbow", an adaptation of a 1947 Broadway hit. Lucas was production assistant, and he surely learned a great deal from this collaboration. (Coppola who produced "THX 1138" and "American Graffiti".)
Akira Kurosawa was grateful to Lucas and Coppola for the international release of "Kagemusha". Kurosawa, arguably the greatest Japanese filmmaker, directed big-budget samurai epics during the twilight of his career. Toho Studios couldn't afford to finance the completion of "Kagemusha". Both Lucas and Coppola saw and admired Kurosawa's films. The rest was history.
Lucas co-directed "Raiders of the Lost Ark". The Californian was the first one to have thought of Indiana Jones. Steven Spielberg would be credited for director, but don't be surprised if the "Jaws" filmmaker shared it with Lucas.
No one had better eyes than Lucas. "Labyrinth" wasn't a good experience for director Jim Henson. The film, which starred David Bowie and Jennifer Connelly, was a box-office disappointment. Lucas, who was the executive producer, might have seen something. (Experience told him so.) The film gained a cult following through the years.
And Lucas had a brief appearance in "Hook". This live-action version of Peter Pan's adult years won't be one of Spielberg's most endearing works. But watch out for the man kissing a woman on a bridge.
If you're a George Lucas fan, then tell us something we miss.