"George Lucas / The Creative Impulse" by Drew Struzan (1996)Credit: Drew Struzan
It's not particularly 'in' to say positive things about George Lucas. But it's literally impossible to imagine the modern filmmaking landscape without him. He changed the way movies are made, conceived, marketed, distributed, and experienced.
The entertainment industry that he entered in the 1970s was wholly different than the one we experience now, and he did it by going very much against the grain.
To consider how massively Lucas changed things, imagine the year of 1976 in cinema. There had been 'event' movies, large budgeted disaster stories with star-studded casts. Those were close to the idea of the blockbuster. Yes, there was Jaws, but Jaws wasn't the same kind of IP. There were sequels to Jaws... but... well... don't watch those.
There were no toys. There was no endless lifespan and there also was no new template for storytelling in cinema. There was no new special effects company that would be enlisted by any blockbuster that could afford them.
Star Wars changed more than just ticket sales. Lucas though different, to quote the old Apple ads. Star Wars was a rejection of the way things were being done, and who they were being done for.
Credit: How Much Money Has Star Wars Made?
Jaws is a horror movie, targeted towards adults.
The World Lucas Entered
1976 saw the following movies make waves: Rocky, All the President's Men, Network, Midway, Taxi Driver, and A Star is Born. George Lucas was a guy who had made a movie about teenagers drag racing. And very few people knew or cared about the other experimental sci-fi movie he'd made starring Robert Duvall. He was the 'mentee' of the celebrated Francis Ford Coppola. Beyond that... he was struggling.
He wanted the rights to make a Flash Gordon movie. He was denied, so he went about creating his own idea that was similar enough to Flash Gordon. You know a lot about that idea.
What really made Lucas different wasn't just his desire to make a movie mainly for children and the child in our hearts in the time when people wanted movies about the Watergate scandal. It's how he approached it.
To do what he wanted to do, he built a team that built the idea of the modern special effects movie. This is what puts Lucas on a tier with Walt Disney, and only Walt Disney. It wasn't about the story or the movie they were creating. It was about a whole new approach to creating movies.
What Happened Next
We know Lucas expanded his empire, sold toy rights, and created a blueprint that all would follow in the 1980s and beyond. Along with the hero's quest culled from the pages of Campbell, he had another even more important blueprint.
One that included summer release dates, toys being rolled out, advertising that targeted kids, deals for merchandise and cross-promotion... eventually the raiding of old and familiar IP that had this type of break out potential.
But yet another blueprint came into existence. How to weave eye-popping VFX into a story, how to build a set-piece, or release over the promise that you would see something new, crazy, and unique.
Jurassic Park was a film launched on the promise of realistic-looking dinosaurs. Not movie stars.
By the time 1999 rolled around, Lucas was ready to tread back into Star Wars with all the hype in the world in his sails. But he didn't really seem that interested in the story, again. The blueprint here was more related to where he could push the technology and the medium.
Whatever you think of The Phantom Menace, the film once again changed business in Hollywood. The introduction of CGI characters led us to today, where we are introducing CGI actresses and influencers.
The introduction of digital cameras over celluloid happened in the sequel only a few years later. Lucas crawled and stumbled so others (in a matter of a decade or so) could sprint.
Of course, Lucas comes under fire from 'fans' for retouching his old films and making the bizarrely paced newer prequels. He was, in a sense, swallowed by the monster of fandom he created in the first place.
Because along with all the things he innovated, he innovated super fans. Prior to Star Wars, Star Trek was the franchise with rabid fans. But they were fans of something that had been on the cusp and lived on in reruns and syndication. Lucas' fans of Star Wars were a whole new thing entirely.
A generation of a certain type of movie fan was made. They grew up with the Spielberg/Lucas style of blockbuster, and before long they were employed to make remakes, sequels, prequels, and spinoffs to the originals Lucas and Spielberg built long ago.
What Happens Now?
With some backlash over the Disney owned and produced Star Wars sequels, Lucas has begun looking more like the wise old creator and less like the evil lord remaking and destroying the original art in the name of new technology. He's more of a Yoda than a Vader.
But as we know, public opinion sways and ultimately means very little. The bigger question to ask in a place like No Film School is where is the next Lucas? The next innovator who goes against the grain, who introduces ideas and methods that break the mold, challenge the system, and push the form and industry in a new direction creatively and financially? The model Lucas made is old now. It's served its purpose and then some. Someone needs to come along and break it. Who will that be? How will they do it? We're looking at you.