Whether you love him or hate him, George Lucas will go down in history as one of the most famous people in the film industry. His involvement in many films has been enough to make him a huge star, but it’s one series in particular that we will always associate him with: Star Wars. Since selling off his interest in the franchise to Disney, things have changed, but his legacy remains with the original six films and the many controversies surrounding them.
The director, producer, and writer is often made into a caricature by fans who either love his work or despise the changes he has made to subsequent releases of his films. But either way, there is definitely another side to George beyond what we think we know. We have gathered some interesting facts about the man himself that you probably had no idea about. Sure, you know about his involvement with Star Wars, some of his other work, his well-established friendship with the ultra-famous director Steven Spielberg, and you recognize his appearance easily. But that doesn’t bring you close to understanding what lies under the surface. Even though he is world famous, he is still a man, deeply ridden with complexities and a history that most would find fascinating.
Whether learning about his home life, his artistic interests, or some of the twists and turns that have brought us to where his career is today, it’s interesting to find out a bit more about this man. Here are 15 facts that you probably didn’t know about George Lucas before today.
15. He Wanted To Be A Race Car Driver
From an early age, George Lucas was really interested in moving fast. He was especially into fast cars and he even dreamed of being a race car driver when he was a kid. Unfortunately, his dreams came to an end when he was a teenager. That was when he was involved in a car crash which almost proved to be fatal. As he turned onto his driveway after writing his term paper right before graduating, a car hit his at 90 miles per hour. At the time, it made him think that he was being given a sign that driving cars wasn’t the thing he should be doing for the rest of his life. As a result, he was put off the idea as a career, but he still loved the concept of racing. That love translated to his big screen efforts, such as the drag race in American Graffiti. Of course, a scene that springs to mind his love of racing even more easily is the pod race in Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace.
14. He Wanted To Join The U.S. Air Force
After his dream of being a racing driver died in the wreck of his car, he thought up a new idea for a career that would allow him to go fast in control of a vehicle. He decided that he wanted to become a pilot in the United States Air Force. After he graduated, he tried to join up, but he was rejected because he had a lot of speeding tickets to his name. It seemed like his love of racing cars hadn’t left his mind quickly enough! His chance came again when he was drafted for the Vietnam War. Unfortunately for his dreams at the time, he was quickly rejected once more, this time because the medical checks discovered that he was diabetic. That’s when he went back to school to study film. If it hadn’t been for those early speeding tickets, we may never have had Star Wars at all.
13. He Filmed Gimme Shelter
Lucas had a lot of great contacts and in fact one of his first major collaborators was Francis Ford Coppola. But before that, in 1970, he ended up working as a camera operator on a documentary that was following a band on the final part of the U.S. tour. This was the Rolling Stones documentary Gimme Shelter, which ended in the now infamous Altamont Free Concert and subsequent stabbing to death of a member of the crowd. Which part of this documentary did Lucas shoot, you ask? Well, we can’t tell you which bit to watch, because none of his footage actually made it into the finished product. His camera jammed after he had shot around 100 feet of film. Still, he was credited as one of the camera operators, alongside the operators who actually managed to capture the stabbing on film. It was perhaps fateful that he was to be involved in such a dramatic piece of film so early in his career.
12. His Classmates Were Talented
It turns out that Lucas wasn’t the only talented guy attending the University of Southern California’s film school at the same time. He was roommates with Randal Kleiser, who would go on to direct movies such as Grease. He was also in class with John Milius and Walter Murch. Milius was the screenwriter behind Apocalypse Now and Red Dawn, while Murch worked on the sound design and editing for Apocalypse Now. Murch was also the co-writer and sound editor for Lucas’s first studio feature, THX 1138. It was luck from his film studies that brought him into contact with Coppola, too. Coppola was working on Finian’s Rainbow as a student intern the first time that their paths crossed. Eventually, they went on to work closely together, even opening their own studio. Lucas’ his influence from his classmates paid off, too. It was Milius’s ideas for Apocalypse Now that inspired him to write Star Wars with the central theme being guerrilla rebels facing off against an evil empire.
11. His Involvement With Akira Kurosawa
Lucas has also had quite a lot of involvement with Akira Kurosawa, the legendary Japanese filmmaker. A lot of people have pointed out similarities with Star Wars and Kurosawa’s The Hidden Fortress, but the connection does not stop there. Lucas was a huge fan of the director and decided that he wanted to give him a bit of a helping hand. Kurosawa was in a career slump, so Coppola and Lucas reached out with funding to help him make Kagemusha. They earned themselves producing credits in the process, while Kurosawa experienced something of a comeback. His next film was Ran, which turned out to be one of his most successful and best known features. Lucas actually took the opportunity to ensure that one of his heroes could get back on his feet, and was rewarded by seeing him make a film which is often ranked highly on all-time best lists.
10. He Technically Founded Pixar
You’re probably wondering how on earth the above sentence can be true. After all, it was Steve Jobs who started Pixar, right? Well, here’s how the story goes. Lucas started Industrial Light & Magic to help make his movies more interesting, and part of this was to have a computer graphics research division. This division pioneered animations with the computer-generated sequence in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan in 1982. Unfortunately, after this time, Lucas got a divorce in 1983 from then-wife Marcia Griffin. The divorce was costly, and Lucas ended up selling the research division to pay for the settlement. Who bought it? None other than Steve Jobs. He renamed it Pixar, started turning out short animations, and in 1995 they released Toy Story. The rest is history. In a round-about way, it turns out that George Lucas is responsible for a lot more family-friendly favourites that you at first thought.
9. He Had Star Wars 7 Ideas
Before he made the decision to sell Star Wars to Disney, Lucas had been thinking for years about where the franchise could go next. In fact, he had a lot of ideas for what the 7th movie should be about, and he even presented these ideas to the new content owners. Although they were considered, the studio decided to pass on them. He apparently wanted to focus on younger characters, possibly teens. When they heard this, the studio had nightmare flashbacks to criticisms of the young actor in The Phantom Menace, and decided to go with young adults instead (the two leads were both 23 years old during filming). We may never know what his ideas were, but it’s possible that they could be used for another part of the canon; perhaps an animated sequence or a book. It would be very interesting to find out what his ideas were exactly, and how far they differed from the final product.
8. He Has Cameos In His Movies
Alfred Hitchcock famously had cameos in most of his movies and Stan Lee can be found lurking in the background of many movies starring the characters that he created. But you probably didn’t realise that George Lucas has had a few cameos of his own too. They’re very quick and you have to be eagle-eyed to spot them. He has six altogether so far. Two are in his own Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom and Revenge of the Sith. The other four are in films directed by other people: Hook, Beverley Hills Cop III, Men in Black, and Sesame Street Presents: Follow That Bird. He has also appeared as himself a couple of times, in TV shows Just Shoot Me and The O.C. So, that’s another string of credits to add to his long list of accomplishments. You can find clips of all of these cameos on YouTube if you don’t have the patience to search through the movies yourself.
7. He Makes Big Charitable Donations
You might not be so surprised to hear that George Lucas has made charitable donations. After all, he is a man of considerable wealth, and it’s normal for some of that to be given away. However, it may surprise you to find out which causes have seen his support. One of his largest donations was to give $1 million towards the construction of the Martin Luther King memorial in Washington, D.C. in 2005. Another was to give an incredible $175 million to his old film school at the USC in 2006. It’s clear that he wears his values on his sleeve when it comes to giving money to those who need it. He has also said that he intends to use a large bulk of the money from his sale of Star Wars to Disney as charitable donations to various causes. He is very interested in funding education in particular.
6. He Signed The “Giving Pledge”
It might come as less of a surprise that he likes giving to charity when you learn that he signed the Giving Pledge in 2010. This pledge, which was started by Bill Gates and Warren Buffett, is a promise that the world’s most wealthy make to give away at least half of their wealth before they die. This is part of the reason that Lucas will be giving away most of his Disney haul and when he does, it will make him one of the most charitable people of all time. Gates and Buffett have given away more than $45 billion between them, so Lucas is still a long way off their totals, but they are certainly a special case! Some of his efforts so far include the George Lucas Educational Foundation, as well as his website, Edutopia. This is dedicated to improving and reforming K-12 education, with hands-on learning rather than traditional textbooks.
5. He’s Rich Thanks To Merchandise
How did George Lucas manage to get so rich, anyway? After all, most directors simply get paid a fee for the film, and while the sequel is likely to be much better paid than the first if it was successful, it’s not always enough to make you rich. Lucas, however, had a clear view of the bigger picture when he first started Star Wars. He waived his right to an upfront directing fee and instead took the full licensing rights for merchandise. This included apparel, toys, and other items which bore the branding of the films. A large part of his wealth was made this way, thanks to the enduring popularity of the films as well as the huge number of licensing deals that the original 6 instalments spawned. It was a smart deal to make, and netted him far more than an upfront fee ever would have. It seems that sometimes it’s better to wait a while for your payment to come in.
4. He Has Three Adopted Children
George Lucas has four children, but none of them were born in what you would think of as a natural way to him and his various wives and girlfriends. His first daughter, Amanda Lucas, was adopted with Marcia Griffin in 1981. After his divorce from Marcia, George apparently enjoyed parenthood enough to go it alone. As a single father, he adopted Katie Lucas in 1988 and Jett Lucas in 1993. All three of these children ended up having cameos in the Star Wars prequels. He then finally had a biological child of his own in 2013, with new wife Mellody Hobson. Everest Hobson Lucas was born via surrogate rather than carried by Mellody herself, as she was already in her mid-40s at the time of the pregnancy. She had no other children to bring to the relationship, so it’s wonderful that they were able to have a child of their own before it was too late.
3. He Loves Experimental Films
Though he is known for producing blockbuster films, George Lucas’s passions actually lie elsewhere. The truth is that he prefers to make more experimental types of films, such as the kind that he made while in film school. These moody, strange films almost stalled his early film career, when as a student intern he wanted to do experiments instead of creating the shorts that were expected. He decided to go after commercial success so that he could make those small-scale and cutting-edge movies that he loved so much. It never really came to be, and this was one of the driving reasons behind his sale of Star Wars to Disney. He has said that he will start to make his own experimental projects now that he finally has the chance to do so, although we are yet to see anything come out of this promise. We’ll have to wait and see.
2. He Was In Hawaii When Star Wars Debuted
The initial signs for Star Wars weren’t good. No one seemed to get the film, including many people from Lucas’ personal circle of friends. Only Steven Spielberg really seemed to support him, feeling that the film was going to be a huge success. The studio let him continue as a massive gamble, as they were actually close to going bankrupt. Spielberg advised Lucas to get out of town for a while and not to pay attention during the first couple of weeks of the film’s release, because of the stress that it would cause him. So, Lucas ended up in Hawaii during the initial run. He had no idea that it was going so well until he was called up and instructed to turn on the television. CBS was running a report about fans queueing up outside the cinema to see the film. That was the first point at which he knew exactly how big the release had been.
1. His Dog Inspires Him
When you have a pet that becomes part of the family, it’s easy to spend a lot of time thinking about them. Lots of artists tend to create things based around their pets in one way or another, and George Lucas is no different. He has an Alaskan Malamute called Indiana, which is apparently very talented. First of all, Indiana the namesake for Indiana Jones, which is no small feat for a dog. Amazingly, he was also the inspiration for the character of Chewbacca. We can’t imagine how a white dog turned into a brown gun-toting, nonsense-growling alien, but then again, that’s probably why George Lucas is a world-renowned filmmaker and we’re not. He apparently wanted “to give Han Solo a sidekick who was like a big, furry dog. Not quite like a dog, but intelligent.” If he said that to Chewbacca’s face though, he’d probably get himself into a bit of trouble.