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Monday, 15 April, 2002, 14:40 GMT 15:40 UK
The Lucas enigma
Luke Skywalker, Princess Leia and Han Solo in Star Wars
Star Wars: The film which made Lucas billions
Film director and producer George Lucas has been given the Stanley Kubrick Britannia Award for Excellence in Film, by the Los Angeles arm of Bafta. BBC News Online looks at his career.

George Lucas brings out extreme reactions in film enthusiasts. Star Wars fanatics regard him as the most gifted movie-maker of all time, but some of his peers accuse him of churning out no-brained Hollywood trash.

Director filmography - since 1970
THX 1138 (1970)
American Graffiti (1973)
Star Wars Ep IV (1977)
The Phantom Menace (1999)
Attack of The Clones (2002)
Star Wars Ep III (2005)

Lucas was born on 14 May 1944 in the California town of Modesto. His parents wanted him to take over the family stationary business, but after flirting with becoming a racing car driver - a dream which died after he was involved in a serious car crash - he began studying film at the University of Southern California.

After graduating, he made a longer version of one of his college shorts - THX 1138, released through Francis Ford Coppola's American Zoetrope studio in 1970. The two had been friends since meeting the set of Coppola's Finian's Rainbow in 1967.

George Lucas with Ewan McGregor
Lucas with Ewan McGregor, who recently admitted the Phantom Menace was "flat"
Following the struggle to escape from a futuristic society located beneath the surface of the Earth, the cold and stark film got Lucas noticed while he was just 26.

Graffiti acclaim

Three years later, he followed it up with the acclaimed American Graffiti, about the hopes and dreams of Californian high school graduates.

Its stars included Ron Howard and Harrison Ford - while Lucas, who won a Golden Globe and five Oscar nominations, was building himself a huge reputation to live up to.

With Coppola busy on The Godfather, Lucas made American Graffiti through his new company, Lucasfilm.

Lucas started writing Star Wars in 1973, but he wasn't convinced it would be a success.

"I've made a Disney movie, a cross between Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory and The Computer Wore Tennis Shoes," he declared after an initial screening met with a gloomy reaction.

George Lucas
Lucas has built up an empire of companies
But he was prepared to take a risk on it - agreeing to take a lower fee for writing and directing, but opting to take 40% of the rights to the film's merchandising. Twenty-five years later, this deal alone has made him a billionaire.

While Star Wars set the box office alight - others were less keen on it. At a preview screening, Brian De Palma said of the evil Stormtroopers, "who are these guys, dressed up like the Tin Man from Oz?"

Indiana Jones

But Steven Spielberg loved it, and after the release of the second Star Wars film - the Empire Strikes Back - Lucas co-wrote and executive-produced Spielberg's Indiana Jones series.

Before Star Wars' release, Lucas said: "Rather than do some angry, socially relevant film, I realised there was another relevance that is even more important - dreams and fantasies, getting children to believe there is more to life than garbage and killing and all that real stuff like stealing hubcaps.

"A whole generation was growing up without fairytales."

Lucas spent the 1980s building up his Skywalker Ranch, a 6,000 acre site just north of San Francisco which houses the director plus the different arms of his Lucasfilm empire.

It includes the pioneering Industrial Light and Magic, acknowledged as one of the film industry's most important technical pioneers.

Phantom Menace queue
1999: Queues in California for the Phantom Menace
It also provides privacy for the reclusive film-maker - his remoteness has made him a target for iconoclasts.

His marriage broke up in the early 1980s - Lucas biographer John Baxter wrote that he rarely had dinner with his former wife Marcia, who he split up with in 1993.

Instead she is said to have made him a tuna-salad sandwich the way his mother used to - with the crusts removed - before he turned in for an early night.

He pulled back from directing The Empire Strikes Back and The Return of The Jedi, but returned to the camera in the late 1990s for the first Star Wars prequel, The Phantom Menace, which took a record breaking $28.5m in North America on its opening day in May 1999.

THX trademark
References to THX 1138 appear in many films
It featured on a licence plate in American Graffiti
Luke Skywaker talked of "cell block 1138" in Star Wars
In The Empire Strikes Back, General Rieekan says, "Send Rogues 10 and 11 to station 3-8."
Lucas said he wants to bring the magic of the fairytale back to cinema, and admitted he invented the idea of The Force to encourage young people to think about spirituality.

"I would hate to find myself in a completely secular world where entertainment was passing for some kind of religious experience."

With the second prequel, Attack of The Clones, released next month and a third prequel due for release in 2005, Lucas has his work cut out ahead of him.

Influence

Star Wars' success has enabled Lucas to have an influence far beyond sci-fi fans.

His THX spin-off aims to set a single standard for sound and vision presentation in cinemas around the world, while Industrial Light and Magic technicians work across Hollywood, including - most recently - Pearl Harbor and the Harry Potter series.

Star Wars fan
The enthusiasm was matched in London
And while critics attack Lucas for making "dumb" films, he insists Star Wars has done the wider movie industry a great service.

"Of the billion and a half dollars Star Wars made, half of it went to the theatre owners," he said recently.

"And what did they do with that? They built multiplexes," he argued, saying that rather than making cinema more stupid, he gave art-house directors more screens to show their films on.

"So, in a way, I did destroy the Hollywood film industry, only I destroyed it by making films more intelligence, not by making films infantile."

See also:

15 Apr 02 | Film
George Lucas honoured by Bafta
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