George Lucas: A Life

Nine stars

After reading one of the other biographies he penned, I knew it was only a matter of time before I returned to tackle another piece by Brian Jay Jones. In this thoroughly explored piece, Jones tackles the life and times of George Lucas, who was the man behind the lens of many iconic films, most notably six of the Star Wars saga and Indiana Jones, that iconic hero. Jones offers a comprehensive look into the man’s life and a great deal of behind the scenes to exemplify why the reader ought to take note of what Lucas did and the impact he had on others. Born a scrawny kid in California, George Lucas just wanted to have fun, though he seemed to be out of his element. The brunt of many attacks by bullies, young George sought to carve out his own niche and lost himself in the world of comics whenever possible. The new medium of television astonished him, as he could see the stories from his books and comics come to life on the screen, something he imagined that he could do. When he failed at an early newspaper career as a teen, Lucas needed something to occupy his time and school did not seem to be the answer, though his need for fast cars was a means by which to feed his adrenaline rush as well. His grades were poor and his attention wavered at every turn. When George refused to enter the family stationary business, his father refused to bankroll anything in the arts at college, leaving the younger Lucas to turn to something that interested him and yet could still pass muster with his father. George chose film school, not realizing how ‘artistic’ it could be, and thrived from the get-go. Jones explores how Lucas came into his own when taught some of the basics of film, turning a young man with little ambition into a powerhouse. Lucas sought to push the boundaries and challenge everything, all to make a point. His medium was the screen, where he could bring any idea to life and captivate the world, or at least anyone with enough patience to sit through what was playing before them.

It was while in film school at the University of Southern California that Lucas rubbed elbows with a few other up and comers, namely Francis Ford Coppola and a wiry young student, Steven Spielberg. Lucas admired the former and was taken under his wing for a time, while the latter was seen idolising Lucas (which would lead to a life-long friendship, competitive streak, and some collaborative efforts). All three would work together alongside one another throughout Lucas’ career in film, as Jones shows repeatedly. With the education behind him, Lucas made his way out into the world to make movies and influence others. His ideas were bountiful and he sought to create something meaningful from the outset, but financial limitations were always going to be an issue. Jones explores the struggles to get backing as a new kid on the block, though Lucas was never short of ideas. He penned many a proposal and turned out a blockbuster hit in American Graffiti, though it was anything but guaranteed. Lucas continues to search for something better and turned to some of his ideas of a superhero series set in space, which gave birth to perhaps some of the most iconic movie making in the latter part of the 1970s and spawned an ‘empire’ that has become a cult classic. Jones thoroughly discusses and explores the time and effort Lucas spent in writing, directing, and producing the first Star Wars trilogy, which was highly stressful and would cost Lucas a marriage. Jones argues throughout that Lucas had a passion for film that surpassed anything else, leaving others to either join him or wait for it to be convenient for the icon. With an unknown cast and vastly expensive ideas for the time, Lucas sought to bring his dreams to life. Money was the central object and yet things seemed to come together, as the doubters were forced to eat crow and Lucas made a name for himself, while padding his bank account at the same time. Interspersing his work on all things Jedi, Lucas also created another of his life-long ambitions, a more down to earth adventure series with one Indiana Jones in the title role, headed by his Star Wars leading man, Harrison Ford.

By the time the first Star Wars trilogy was done in 1983, Lucas was exhausted and yet still making a name for himself. His work was far from over and with a production company bearing his name, George Lucas was not about to rest on his own laurels. He had been working on Indiana Jones films and set about to keep doing so, trying to keep the series running and the public hungering for his work. As Jones intimates throughout this portion of the biography, Lucas faced many questions about the future of Star Wars, as well as whether he had any ideas. While Lucas would rebuff much of this, he had a few things simmering and chose to tackle the prequel trilogy, helping to explain how things evolved. Jones describes the struggles and the new technology that Lucas had at his fingertips to reinvigorate the original trilogy and how to make this new one even better. Juggling that and some other projects, Lucas also had family obligations and ended up dating to keep himself happy. Jones mentions that he may have finally come out of his shell enough to allow a second person to share his passion, while not choosing moviemaking as his sole mistress. With the success of his movies, Lucas chose to step away from the limelight, though did not want his legacy buried. His sale of Lucasfilms to Disney turned him a massive profit, but also ensured that the <i>Star Wars</i> films would receive their stardom in perpetuity. Finally happy, Lucas could let others worry about the nitty-gritty, as the Force left him to enjoy some form of retirement.

I was so intrigued with how Brian Jay Jones handled another biography I read recently that I knew I would be coming back for this one. While I was just a wee lad when Star Wars was popular, I have seen some of the Lucas-made films and wanted to know more about the man behind them. Jones takes the reader on an amazing journey through the life of George Lucas, showing not only his dazzling moments, but also the pitfalls that he was forced to overcome. From his wimpy childhood days to his battling with others to fund his massive film projects, Lucas was never one to back away from adversity, seeing himself as having reason for his actions. Jones depicts this well throughout, choosing not to deify the man, but also not making him out to be completely out of touch with those around him. While many have said that George Lucas could not relate to his actors, the biography shows a man keenly interested in connecting to those who breathed life into his ideas, though the director/producer always had a vision and god help anyone who stood in his way. There is also a wonderful theme running throughout of the friendships that Lucas made early in his career (Coppola, Spielberg, etc) and how they could come together at times, complementing their respective rise to stardom. Jones uses the three parts of the book to effectively divide Lucas’ life, showing how he rose to notoriety, lived the intense life that was Star Wars and then settled into a career that continued to earn him much fame. I did take a great deal away from this book and hope to learn more about the man, as Jones has paved the way and offered a few interesting pathways worth following. Anyone eager to know the man behind the George Lucas persona need look no further than this book, as Brian Jay Jones has penned yet another powerful biography of someone who was able to wiggle his way into the daily lexicon of those who understand the basics of pop culture. I was so thoroughly impressed and cannot wait to see what else Jones has uncovered on other iconic figures.

Kudos, Mr. Jones, for shining a much-needed light on another wonderful figure. You handle these subjects so well, no wonder people turn to you to tell their lives in print.

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge: