THE ACHIEVEMENT OF GEORGE LUCAS
By Rochelle L. Levy
Avant-garde filmmaker for the masses.
George Lucas loves movies. He
loves thinking about them. He loves
watching them. But, most of all, he
loves pushing the boundaries of creativity as
he challenges himself and his colleagues to
bring to life the most unthinkable scenarios
and visual effects. If he imagines it, we'll
Lucas' impact on modern filmmaking is
nothing short of astounding. Starting in 1971
with THX 1138--and continuing on through
AMERICAN GRAFFITI, the INDIANA JONES
trilogy and, of course, the STAR WARS
series--Lucas has forever changed our
perception of the reach and power of cinema.
Lucas' pioneering filmmaking advances--
from non-linear picture editing with EditDroid,
digital sound editing with SoundDroid and his
incomparable THX sound system in 1982; to
computer graphics with his Pixar computer
in 1985; to his revolutionary digital projection
on THE PHANTOM MENACE in 1999 and the
first live-action all digital film, ATTACK OF
THE CLONES, in 2002--have cemented his
leadership role in digital technology.
Yet Lucas was not a kid who lived in a
darkened theatre. At age eight, he was
a voracious reader--his early interest in
history and adventure fueled by a series of
historical novels, along with classics like
Treasure Island and Mutiny on the Bounty.
An unmotivated, bored high school student,
he planned on becoming a racecar
driver until those dreams were shattered
by a horrific car accident. After a long
recuperation, he followed his best friend
to USC Film School with a vague notion of
pursuing photography and art. Instead, the
kid whose family didn't own a TV until age 10,
who'd gone to movies to scrutinize the girls
rather than the images on screen, found his
Ignoring his classmates' gripes about
assignment constraints and lack of
equipment, Lucas walked out the door and
started shooting. By the time he graduated,
he had nine impressive credits, ranging from
the one-minute animated LOOK AT LIFE to
ELECTRIC LABYRINTH THX 1138 4EB, the
15-minute precursor to his first feature. His
insistence on making his movies his way
resulted in a slew of student filmmaking
awards and studio scholarship offers,
heralding the emergence of an independent,
Perhaps too avant-garde for the studio
system. Deeply disappointed by Warner
Bros.' dismissal of his first full-length feature,
the fleshed out THX 1138, as too "out there,"
Lucas turned to a subject with mass appeal.
AMERICAN GRAFFITI's simple yet universal
story of a Saturday night in the life of one
town's teenagers resonated with audiences
and critics alike, while ushering in a brand
new type of filmmaking, complete with nonlinear
storytelling and wall-to-wall pop music.
And then, Lucas sent us to a place "A Long
Time Ago in a Galaxy Far, Far Away." But
getting there was not easy. When Lucas
began pitching STAR WARS, no studio would
touch it. The story combined three seemingly
disparate genres--mythology, westerns and samurai films--into a modern fairytale.
It took the faith of one executive at
Twentieth Century Fox, Alan Ladd Jr.,
to believe in Lucas enough to give
him a chance, and, in 1977, a new
movie-going experience was born.
STAR WARS captivated audiences not
only by its extraordinary visual effects
and pioneering sound design, but also
by Lucas' unique take on the classic
good versus evil story, with his passion for
history, anthropology and the mythological
teachings of Joseph Campbell lacing even
the most alien characters with a sense of
place and purpose.
Over the next six years, Lucas continued
to explore the psychological archeology
of Luke Skywalker, Princess Leia, Han
Solo, et al. With the success of THE
EMPIRE STRIKES BACK and RETURN
OF THE JEDI, the man who envisioned
himself an independent, cinema verite
documentarian had undeniably become
a filmmaker for the masses. While Steven
Spielberg and Harrison Ford are forever
linked to the enormously popular INDIANA
JONES trilogy, it is George Lucas who
created the iconic character and story.
And the devotion of his fans is astonishing.
Six weeks before the May 19, 2005,
opening of STAR WARS: EPISODE III
REVENGE OF THE SITH, they were
storming stores at midnight to buy new
action-figures. A month in advance, they
were already camping outside theatres.
The final installment of the STAR WARS
oeuvre is a testament to the power of
Lucas' storytelling, as the kids who thrilled
to the original episode returned 28 years
later to share the adventure with their own
children. A fitting conclusion to this most
extraordinary cinematic journey, as Lucas
considers raising his three children to be
his greatest accomplishment.
Lucas' commitment to film extends
well beyond his STAR WARS franchise.
A fiercely loyal friend, he has generously--
and quietly--offered his name and
financial support to films such as Akira
Kurosawa's KAGEMUSHA, Paul Schrader's
MISHIMA: A LIFE IN FOUR CHAPTERS
and Jim Henson's LABYRINTH; while
producing, under the Lucasfilm banner,
movies as diverse as WILLOW, HOWARD
THE DUCK and TUCKER: THE MAN AND
Lucas' success has always been on
his own terms. Which means choosing
to work at Skywalker Ranch in California's
Marin County, affording him an
unprecedented level of creative freedom.
Fellow filmmakers also take refuge
there as they finish their own projects at
Lucas' state-of-the-art post-production
facility. But the consequences of his
independence are considerable--Lucas
is inarguably the hardest-working man in
show business. Surrounding himself with
trusted, highly gifted artisans, he immerses
himself in every aspect of the production
process, earning his colleagues' respect of
and commitment to his creative vision.
With 1,500 employees, Lucas is
Chairman of the Board of Lucasfilm,
a banner that includes Industrial Light
& Magic, Skywalker Sound, LucasArts
Entertainment Company and Lucas
Licensing. A man with an exceptional
moral center, Lucas' sense of right
and wrong defines him as much as his
professional triumphs. A strong believer in
giving back to society--and remembering
his own frustrating early school years--in
1991 he founded the George Lucas
Educational Foundation, bringing fun and
creativity to the learning process. And he
continues to generously support the USC
School of Cinema-Television.
By tirelessly pushing himself and his team
to previously unimaginable levels, George
Lucas has redefined American cinema.
Because of his incomparable work ethic,
expert insight into the American Zeitgeist
and extraordinary ability to craft a cultural
phenomenon from his seemingly limitless
imagination, the American Film Institute
is honored to present George Lucas with
AFI's 33rd Life Achievement Award.
THE COMPASSIONATE GEORGE LUCAS
by Tenzin Bob Thurman
George Lucas--We honor you as a visionary,
a bard and a hi-tech scientific artist, a kind of
Da Vinci of the digital age.
The first time I met George, almost before we sat down, he turned to me and said: "All my
films are about compassion! Compassion! That's all I care about!" I was startled because at
that time George didn't know much about me, or even about Buddhism. And the mythology
George had always been so interested in--much of which he learned from the great Joseph
Campbell--illustrated not just compassion but many other sins and virtues as well. But George had
an affinity for compassion--the heart of all religions and all spiritualities--and the vision to see that,
without it, the world is lost.
The great STAR WARS epic traces the lifeline of compassion. The Jedi power stems from the
goodness of the light side, their honor code resisting the evil temptations of the dark side. Unable
to overcome his despair over the death of his mother and the loss of his wife, however, Anakin
tragically loses his compassion. Luke and Princess Leia's determination and compassion are
unwavering in the face of the crushing oppression of the Evil Empire. Finally, Anakin as Darth Vader
finds redemption once again through the power of love and compassion, giving his life to save his
son from the Emperor.
As bard, George has transcended Homer in this most vibrant medium of our age. No matter where I
am in the world, incorporating the heroic Luke into my lectures on hope and courage sparks instant
recognition and assent from audiences of all generations. To illustrate how the force of selfless
love and compassion is more powerful, ultimately, than egotistical greed and rage, I speak of Luke
encountering the luminous presence of Obi-Wan, who entreats him calmly to, "Remember the Force,
Luke! Trust the Force! The Force is with you!" A tale of liberation, the STAR WARS epic celebrates
the triumph of the meek, as its heroes and heroines model the supreme power of compassion.
As scientific artist, a digital da Vinci, George has pushed the frontiers of movie magic, inspiring
people by the billions with his storytelling. He has turned an oxymoron into a thriving business,
making light and magic into an industry. He has etherealized the iron chains of the industrial with
the clear light of loving imagination, releasing the sparkling magic so desperately needed to inspire
the children who will joyfully create the new world of the coming millennium of peace.
Now, George, don't let it all go to your head. But do accept our loving and grateful tribute in honor
of the gentleness of your being and the magnificence of your vision. Bathe in it and enjoy it to the
full. But do not for a minute think your mission is complete--far from it! The horizon of compassion
is infinite, its theatre unending in its call for encores. The freer you are from pressure, the better
you can see the open upturned faces of the future, the more energized will be your creativity. The
"Hero of a Thousand Faces" also has thousands of eyes and thousands of hands, seeing all who
need. And reaching out to them just so. OM MANI PADME HUM!
Robert Thurman is Professor of Buddhist Studies and Chair of the Department of Religion at Columbia University. His latest book is "Infinite Life".