Wednesday, 11 January 2017

George Lucas: A Life

George Lucas

Written by Brian Jay Jones, who has previously authored a biography of Jim Henson, returns with a new biography on another creative force that seismically challenged the cultural landscape of the late Twentieth Century, in this instance it is the creator of Star Wars, George Lucas.

Jones is a wonderful researcher and he uses his biography to cover the entirety of Lucas' life and career and not focusing on the space opera he created in the 1970s; he goes in depth on American Graffiti which was the film he made in 1973 and was the classic case of a small independent film becoming a phenomenon, the Blair Witch Project of its day.

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Yet Jones does not merely focus on the impact of the film on so many film-makers but also the process of making such a film had on Lucas and his creativity.  Lucas had a short schedule of a few weeks and had to shoot most of the film at nights with a skeleton crew and novice cast; yet Lucas was able to meld the apparent mess and create a force on the screen, one that got people jumping out of their seats by the end.

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If American Graffiti was a shot between the eyes, his next film Star Wars, would blow your head clean off. A film that 20th Century Fox were not comfortable with, Jones makes it clear how fortunate Lucas and his producer, Gary Kurtz were in that they had the support of Alan Ladd Jr. in the process of production - Ladd gained Lucas the extra money for shooting and held studio heads at bay who were worried about the production going into free fall and becoming a disaster.

However, Lucas' sheer bloody mindedness and determination to succeed, drove him through the post-production getting results from his fledgling effects company Industrial Light and Magic to create the thrilling trench run at the end of Star Wars.  Throughout, the book makes clear that whilst Lucas may have drawbacks as a director (his reluctance to actually direct actors) and is a better producer and collaborator as the chapters on the Indiana Jones films with Steven Spielberg can attest to.

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Lucas, much like Jim Henson, was a maker of legends and myths not only on the big screen. Without his drive to ambition for a cinema that no-one had ever seen before, you would not have the Star Wars universe, you would not have the phenomenal body of work ILM has created in its catalogue and from ILM sprang another game-changing company, Pixar. His influence and use of computer technology has changed film and movies forever.

The post-Return of the Jedi years were not kind to Lucas and whilst he remained a producer people wanted him to return to Star Wars and so he sat down and wrote The Phantom Menace which was released in 1999, yet the world was starting to change with another fantasy behemoth The Lord of the Rings pushing the envelope further than maybe Lucas thought was possible.

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Author - Brian Jay Jones

Jones tells the story of the prequel trilogy and does state reviewers criticism of them, but he does state how badly organised the films were in terms of production. Filming began on Attack of the Clones without a completed script, shooting on the fly with virtually all green screens for his actors to act opposite tennis balls and sticks.

The book concludes with mention of Lucas selling Lucasfilm to the Walt Disney Company for a $4.7billion fee and how he was ignored by the new company in regards to plot development for Episode VII: The Force Awakens. This leaves a sour taste in Lucas' mouth but also an unfortunate glance at current society that once you make it big and become such a part of the cultural zeitgeist, people do not care for how you feel, they merely want to consume your product whichever way possible.

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Now Lucas is not tied to the Star Wars universe, he is an onlooker taking in what he created. Yet what he has created has had possibly the biggest ripple effect of cultural significance known to culture and arts.

George Lucas: A Life by Brian Jay Jones is available now from Little Brown & Company

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