Star Warrior

John Sutherland

  • Skywalking: The Life and Films of George Lucas by Dale Pollock
    Elm Tree, 304 pp, £9.95, July 1983, ISBN 0 241 11034 3
  • Olaf Stapledon: A Man Divided by Leslie Fiedler
    Oxford, 236 pp, £17.50, June 1983, ISBN 0 19 503086 9

George Lucas is the most money-successful film-maker there has ever been. Of the eight films he has directed or produced (he eludes the conventional Hollywood division of labour), Star Wars and The empire strikes back have sold getting on for $900m worth of tickets. C-3PO and R2-D2 are as well known as Pope John Paul or Mickey Mouse. Lucas’s second movie and first hit, American Graffiti (produced by Francis Coppola, conceived and directed by Lucas), was the most profitable investment in Hollywood history: it brought in $117m against a production cost of $750,000. Raiders of the Lost Ark (conceived and produced by Lucas, directed by Steven Spielberg) has taken $335m at the box-office (production cost $22.8m) and looks set to run in first-release theatres for as long as The Sound of Music. Lucasfilm Inc., the merchandising branch of Lucas’s empire, has turned over some $2bn from leasing out trademark-protected imagery. Darth Vader popsicles and Princess Leia knickers have contributed to Lucas’s personal fortune, currently estimated at $60m. The Return of the Jedi, which concludes the middle trilogy of the Star Wars sequence (the narrative order of the epic baffles me), broke records when it opened in America earlier this year. Lucas has recently visited England – a country he detests, though much of his filming has had to be done here – to defend Jedi against the video pirates. Five thousand pounds seems a paltry price for him to have put on the head of the Hastings Han Solo who smuggled out the film’s master copy. But George has always been careful with money, however vast the sums he generates. Having made $30m by his 30th birthday, he treated himself to a used Ferrari. ‘I have,’ he confesses, ‘this simple-minded, small-town, conservative business attitude. I’m just like a small shopkeeper.’

Although Spielberg out-earned him with ET, and Coppola gets more critical notice, Lucas is the most reliable of the precocious Moviebrat generation. And in a business where the financial risks are so great, reliability counts for more than flukey genius. There are no disastrously expensive flops like 1941 to Lucas’s discredit; nor any flawed (and disastrously expensive) masterpieces like Apocalypse Now. (The original conception of Coppola’s Vietnam folly was partly Lucas’s. It’s an interesting exercise in cinematic might-have-been to consider what his techinician’s sensibility might have made of terrestrial Warfare. Whatever else, he would have brought the movie in on budget, and probably with a PG rating.) The only grievance Lucas has given the accountants was with his first feature film, THX 1138, which contained his most explicit ideological statement, and the half-hearted More American Graffiti, where for once he tried his hand at ‘adult’ and ‘contemporary’ situations. His experience was bought cheap, compared with what Spielberg and Coppola have, on occasion, cost their backers. Thanks to his consistency, Lucas is now, creatively as well as commercially, an ‘independent’. He has brought the studios to their knees before him. All he requires from them is distribution. Less attractively, he has been able to discard the team-mates he once needed. In 1980, according to Pollock, he rejected Coppola, his first patron: ‘For the rest of my life do I have to give and give to Francis just because he was the first one to exploit me?’ Coppola’s rueful conclusion is that George is not ‘wired’ for friendship. The robot analogy frequently crops up where Lucas is concerned.

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