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Last Updated: Friday, 6 May, 2005, 15:47 GMT 16:47 UK
Enigma Lucas's star keeps rising
George Lucas
Lucas turned to film after a car crash
The release of the final Star Wars film marks another chapter in the prolific career of director George Lucas.

With Episode III: Revenge of the Sith raking in the cash at the box office, Lucas has been honoured with a lifetime achievement award from the American Film Institute (AFI).

With a string of films that regularly come near the top of best movie lists, Revenge of the Sith maintains his status as one of the most popular directors in cinema history.

Lucas was born on 14 May 1944 in the California town of Modesto.

His parents wanted him to take over the family stationery business, but after a serious car crash halted his dreams of becoming a racing car driver 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 friend Francis Ford Coppola's American Zoetrope studio in 1970.

Early success

The cold and stark film of a dystopian future got Lucas noticed while he was just 26.

Three years later, he followed it up with the acclaimed American Graffiti, about a group of 1950s Californian teenagers, made through his own company Lucasfilm.

He earned a Golden Globe and five Oscar nominations in the process and started writing Star Wars in 1973.

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

Before the film's 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."

Generated billions

He was not convinced it would be a success, 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.
Star Wars
The Star Wars movies are among the most popular in cinema history

Nearly 30 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, fellow director Brian De Palma said of the evil Stormtroopers: "Who are these guys, dressed up like the Tin Man from Oz?"

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.

Lucas spent the 1980s in relative seclusion, 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.

Directorial return

It includes the pioneering Industrial Light and Magic, acknowledged as one of the film industry's most important technical pioneers.
Empire Strikes Back
Empire Strikes Back continued the Star Wars success

Lucas, whose marriage to wife Marcia broke up in 1983, pulled back from directing The Empire Strikes Back and The Return of The Jedi.

He 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.

But 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 while Industrial Light and Magic technicians work across Hollywood, including Pearl Harbor and the Harry Potter series.

Critics attack Lucas for making "dumb" films, yet he insists Star Wars has done the wider movie industry a great service.

Experimental films

He points out that the cinema chains who made money from Star Wars created multiplexes, giving 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 intelligent, not by making films infantile."

Ewan McGregor in Revenge of the Sith
Ewan McGregor features in Revenge of the Sith

Last month Lucas told a fans' convention that he did not worry about the reception received by his movies.

"That's not my job, to make people like my movies," he said. "They either like them or they don't. That's completely out of my hands."

More recently, the filmmaker announced his intention to return to his roots and produce smaller, more experimental films.

Nonetheless, with two Star Wars TV series reportedly planned, the saga looks set to continue.

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