George Lucas: Building An Empire

USA Filme 1977

Not really a long, long time ago in our galaxy…one of the most celebrated film franchises of all-time was born. That birth not only entertained millions worldwide, it helped to define how an entire generation of filmgoers viewed the age-old morality tale of good vs. evil. This sci-fi opera is a piece of our modern mythology and is a part of pop culture’s lexicon. Maybe the most miraculous aspect of the movie saga’s success is that most of it can be attributed to a single filmmaking trailblazer.

It’s hard to find a piece of our pop culture that is more universally cherished than Star Wars. It has been around for nearly 40 years and it shows no sign of losing any of its popularity. It hasn’t been an absolutely smooth ride for the film franchise however. It has disappointed and angered its passionate fanbase numerous times. That impassioned following has voiced its displeasure with many of the alterations to the original trilogy and has had an often vitriol fueled response to the most recent three films. Despite all the controversy and discord…Star Wars has survived and strived!

What is baffling about George Lucas and his Star Wars brainchild is how enthusiasts seem to love the creation but have a less than loving response for its creator. He has recently handed over his baby to the legendary Walt Disney Company. For the most part, someone else will decide the future of his cinematic invention. In 2015, a new series of Star Wars films will be introduced to a generation of moviegoers and George Lucas will play a relatively small part.

Many followers feel the iconic filmmaker hurt the saga by constantly needing to improve it. Whether he actually bettered the films with his changes is at the center of all the cacophony. Another big divide is the prequel trilogy. Devotees waited years to see the films that would shed some light on the originals’ backstory. The wait felt worthless and the level of disappointment most had is legendary in its intensity.

George Lucas was born in Modesto, California on May 14th, 1944. From a very early age he was obsessed with cars. This love affair with speed was quickly vanquished when an auto accident nearly took his life.

He soon found a new outlet and that was filmmaking. The director became enamored with experimental movies. He showed a flair for the visual and was capable of creating amazing imagery. Lucas attended the famed USC film school and cultivated his craft there.

He would write, produce and direct three pictures in the 1970s. One of those pictures was Star Wars and it was a cultural phenomenon from the day it opened in May 1977. The story, special effects and ingenuity thrilled moviegoers.

Lucas has always viewed himself as an “independent filmmaker” who utilized a maverick spirit that usually comes with creating independent pictures. The fantasy epic may not look like an indie film but the devotion of Lucas to get it made is deeply rooted in rebel filmmaking.

Films in the 1970s were usually very dark in nature. The Vietnam War and a lot of social unrest influenced that era of filmmaking. Serious adult movies like Dog Day Afternoon, the first two Godfather films and Chinatown were the type of projects released in the decade.

When George Lucas started bringing the idea of making Star Wars to studios he didn’t receive much excitement. The story and concepts seemed too silly for the 70’s public. The director envisioned the sci-fi epic as a throwback to the carefree adventure serials he enjoyed as a young boy. He was eventually able to convince 20th Century Fox to believe in him, even if they didn’t believe in Star Wars.

The amount of effects needed to make Star Wars come to life was beginning to worry its director. Special effects in that era had yet to become all that sophisticated. They also were extremely costly to create. It was exceptionally challenging to craft a galaxy filled with convincing creatures and spaceships for a realistic budget.

The driven filmmaker decided that founding his own effects studio was the only way to bring Star Wars to life properly. He was able to assemble a small team that would begin working on his extraordinary vision. This company went on to be called Industrial Light & Magic and it would provide special effects for all the saga’s sequels and prequels.

He would follow the tremendous success of Star Wars up with its sequel, The Empire Strikes Back. The effects needed to make his story come to life now proved to be possible and he had a team in place to pull it off. The production problems would not be as big as before. He had a different and even bigger problem now… audience expectations.

After the first film fans were hungry for more and Lucas definitely delivered. The Empire Strikes Back was bigger and faster than the previous installment but at the same time it was far more character driven. There was a darkness and melancholy tone to the picture that was the perfect contrast to the original’s upbeat feel. The Empire Strikes Back is considered by many to be the best Star Wars film ever made.

Expectations were now going to be even a bigger problem for the third film in the series, Return of the Jedi. Empire ended with a perfect cliffhanger and the fans had years to speculate about what would happen next. The Empire Strikes Back was such a triumph that anything less than an improvement on it would be looked down upon.

Lucas got his first taste of antagonism with Jedi. Many of the hardcore enthusiasts felt it lacked the emotional depth of Empire. Many would argue that Return of the Jedi was a major step backwards for both the creator and his saga.

Star Wars went into semi retirement after Jedi was released in 1983. For the rest of the 80s and most of the 90s it disappeared from pop culture. No movies were released and there was no real indication that the franchise would be returning anytime soon.

In 1993 Jurassic Park made its way to theaters. It was able to bring dinosaurs to life using computer effects. The computer generated imagery was groundbreaking and it inspired Lucas to return to his galaxy. He felt that special effects, because of the integration of CGI, had gotten closer to his ultimate vision of the Star Wars universe.

In 1997, the original three Star Wars films were released with CGI enhancements. The audience that fell in love with the non-altered versions met the deviations with criticism. The resentment that started brewing with Return of the Jedi was now at an all-time high.

When George Lucas announced he would be making the prequel trilogy in the late 90s anticipation was at a level no film has seen before. The lack of new movies for so long created a demand that was deafening. The expectations were so enormous that anything short of a life-altering event was going to disappoint millions.

Not surprisingly the prequels are often cited as the biggest disappointment in the history of cinema. They utilized computer generated effects greatly and this turned off a lot of the old school fans. There was a noticeable disconnect between the first three films and the newest ones. That divide should have been expected. The trilogies were separated by nearly 20 years and technology had advanced.

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There was a feeling that Lucas was so enamored with the improved technology that he had forgotten to conceive a satisfying story. The prequels were faced with telling a captivating tale despite the audience already knowing what happens in the sequels. It was going to be impossible to surprise anyone the way the earlier films had.

As time has passed animosity towards the enhanced first films has begun to lesson. The fanbase seems willing to accept that their beloved childhood serials are a little different now. Ultimately, the enrichments changed the movies but did not ruin them.

The scorn towards the prequel trilogy has dimmed as well. The films may have devastated the adult fans of Star Wars but kids seem to fully embrace them. The prequels infuriated many but they also introduced Star Wars to a whole new generation.

George Lucas would make billions with the Star Wars franchise but it definitely wasn’t handed to him. He took on a tremendous amount of personal expense to make his space opera the fiscal juggernaut it is today. His commitment to the integrity of his concept, both visually and tonally, has been rewarded.

Many fans are happy that the Star Wars universe is no longer in the hands of Lucas. His constant revisions and love affair with modern effects can’t hurt his galaxy anymore. For the first time ever another artist can shape his once private universe.

We can definitely voice our displeasures with his creative decisions but we should never blame Lucas for doing what he has always done. He can be stubborn with his choices and that has been a good thing and a bad thing. His imagination, along with an incredible urge to satisfy his own creativity, is what made Star Wars the cultural phenomenon it is today.

USA Filme 1977

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