George Lucas is probably one of the best directors and innovators of 20th century filmmaking. From a modest beginning as a film student and documentary filmmaker, he has developed a reputation and a career as one of the most prominent figures Hollywood has ever made. His contributions to film-making are focused on action, adventure and, most prominently, science fiction. Lucas’ Star Wars series gave him fame, wealth, and popularity. Although George Lucas had a burgeoning career in filmmaking before Star Wars, the start of Star Wars: A New Hope catapulted Lucas on a path that would earn him critical recognition and fortune. George Walton Lucas Jr., was born near the end of World War II in the Bay Area of California in the city of Modesto. He attended Modesto Junior College and then went on to the University of Southern California where he earned his Bachelor’s degree in Film Arts in 1966. In his student and early career years, he concentrated on documentary film-making and short films which brought him some limited acclaim; Third National Student Film Festival best film award, 1967-68, for “Electronic Labyrinth: THX 1138: 4EB (“George Lucas”). From these modest beginnings, Lucas moved on to his first theatrical success with the movie American Graffiti in 1973. At the same time, Lucas began to pitch his next theatrical project to executives at 20th Century Fox, what he referred to as “cowboys in space” (Brode 16). Of course, the idea that Lucas was trying to sell was what would eventually come to be known as Star Wars.
Per the research of Brode, Star Wars itself took elements from high art, such as Akira Kurosawa’s samurai epics, as well as the low-brow fun of Buck Rogers and Flash Gordon comics and movie cliff-hangers (17). The combination of these elements was what brought together the Star Wars universe. All the elements that were assembled by Lucas had a significance to the western genre. It was a longing the audience had for the heroes and villains of the Old West and the stylized action of the western genre that was stitched together by Lucas into Star Wars. In fact, two scenes, directly borrowed from the classic western film The Gunfighter, were the basis for Han Solo’s introduction in the film. In the first scene, the wandering pistolero Ringo comes into a saloon and guns down a young punk leaving him dead on the barroom floor then in the second scene Ringo warns off another would-be punk by “insisting that he has a gun pointed at the lad underneath the table at which Ringo sits” (Brode 22). In Star Wars, these two scenes are combined as Han Solo is confronted by Jabba-the-Hutt’s hired gun Greedo, and Han shoots Greedo under the table killing him. After the shooting, Han nonchalantly gets up from the table, tosses some money to the bartender and remarks “Sorry for the mess.” With this action, Han’s persona is solidified for the rest of his appearances in the Star Wars universe. The high art taken from Kurosawa’s works were, of course, the Jedi’s use of sword-play, taken from Kurosawa’s classic samurai sword battles. As stylized and ritualistic as the samurai of old, the Jedi battled their foes with grace, chivalric precision, and a romantic flare.
Another aspect of classic literature that Lucas weaves into the Star Wars universe is that of the classical “tragic hero” and “epic hero” (Brode 28). The tragic hero is encased in the character of Anakin Skywalker who in his quest “attempts to defy destiny only to discover that by doing so he only brings about its occurrence” (Brode 28). Anakin (later Darth Vader) initially fights the pull of the Dark Side by doing what he thinks is best for The Republic. Later, however, by assisting Chancellor Palpatine (later Darth Sidious) in eliminating the young Jedi trainees and the Trade Union representatives, which the Chancellor convinces him they are a threat to the Republic, Anakin gets pulled completely under the control of the Dark Side. The epic hero in the Star Wars saga is, of course, Luke Skywalker. As Brode describes it, the epic hero as “an innocent swain who believes himself to be of humble origins only to grasp that he secretly is born to the nobility, and who accepts, if only after hesitation, his assigned role by a greater force that governs the universe as the “deliverer,” societal and religious, for his people” (28). These two characters form the Yin-Yang symbiosis which ties the entire Star Wars saga together and makes the series a success.
George Walton Lucas Jr., who started out with a dream to make films that entertained as well as educated the public could not have wished for a better representative of that dream than the Star Wars saga and series of films. Lucas’ vision, insight, love of classics, both from Hollywood and the ancient world, and his unbridled talent for film making, launched his career, which has not only impacted the world of film, but also opened a whole new group of devices by which films can be made with the introduction of Industrial Light and Magic Ltd., Lucas’ brainchild which advanced the art of filmmaking to greater heights.
Brode, Douglas, and Leah Deyneka. Myth, Media, and Culture in Star Wars, edited by Douglas Brode, and Leah Deyneka, Scarecrow Press, 2012. ProQuest Ebook Central, http://ebookcentral.proquest.com.ezproxy2.apus.edu/lib/apus/detail.action?docID=950436. Accessed on March 17, 2017.
“George Lucas.” Contemporary Authors Online. Detroit: Gale, 2005. Literature Resource Center. http://libproxy.ung.edu/login?url=http://go.galegroup.com/ps/i.do?id=GALE%7CH1000061764&v=2.1&u=dahl83393&it=r&p=LitRC&sw=w&asid=330a69dd0d373a778469b7ebc4f98406. Accessed on March 18, 2017.