What We Can Learn from George Lucas

To some, he's the genius who brought us Star Wars but to others, he's the guy who ruined it. Like many of the people featured in this series, George Lucas is a pretty divisive figure but I think we can learn a lot from him.

I'm sure the creator of Star Wars and Indiana Jones doesn't need an introduction.

He's not just a movie director though, as the companies he has founded have quite simply changed the entertainment business. You don't have to look far for examples, as Industrial Light and Magic (ILM) have brought the unbelievable to the big screen and LucasArts showed us that games can funny and entertaining.

He's also been in the news quite a lot over the last few years for selling up to Disney and then having some rather surprising views about them. He's also given a significant amount of money to charity.

As always, I'll look at the the 'good' and then the 'bad' points before working out what's important.

The Good

Anyone who can deliver A New Hope and Raiders of the Lost Ark has to be counted among the best in their field. The Star Wars saga alone changed everything and touched so many lives. It also delivered a timeless story, with inspiring themes and unforgettable characters.

He turned Saturday morning serials into epic space opera with more than a little philosophy mixed in.

It was hardly all new, but that's what was great about it. There were classic themes, spiritual overtones and lots of action. Anyone growing up with these movies is sure to tell you how special they were and that they probably became a huge part of their lives, taking over their toy cupboards in the process.

It's the journey to producing Star Wars that interests me, as very few people believed he could pull it off. While filming, he was under pressure and I think it's safe to say that there was a considerable risk that it could all unravel at any time.

I think we can learn some valuable lessons from the making of Star Wars, like persevering, not being swayed by critics and doing what it takes to make your vision a reality.

We should also think about all the elements that made Star Wars so great. Sound was particularly important and it's hard to think of it without the epic score from John Williams. He'd originally planned for a more electronic, sci-fi soundtrack though which would have clearly been a step in the wrong direction.

This should be a reminder that we need to consider all aspects of our work, as little things can make a lot of difference.

It wasn't just about one movie though, as the team he put together and the techniques they created would change the whole industry. It's hard to imagine our favourite films without ILM and it all came from this one movie.

For me, this is a great reminder that our creative projects can become a lot more if we let them. If you're in business, it could also prompt you to consider where else you could add value.

George Lucas has also done his best to put things back, with the proceeds from the sale to Disney going to charitable causes. 

The Bad

This is where it becomes interesting, because the main points we're going to discuss here are writing and directing. That's right, the same things that made him great are the things people seem to have a problem with.

It all starts I the mid-'80s. After the first two Star Wars movies and Raiders, people started to worry when Return of the Jedi and Temple of Doom came along. We were then treated to Howard the Duck and Willow before some pretty forgettable TV projects.

It was then time for the long awaited Star Wars prequels, and that didn't go well.

We should have probably been a bit worried when we saw the weird, CGI Jabba the Hutt inserted into the special editions, but everything else look promising. There had been talk about the prequels for years, but it was finally happening and there was no way these movies could fail.

Then in the summer of 1999 everyone got the groundbreaking movie they'd been waiting for, the only problem was that this was The Matrix.

I think it's safe to say that the prequels did not live up to expectations. We had to endure unbelievable CGI creatures, wooden dialogue and plots involving trade disputes. We were also presented with Jar-Jar and Midi-Chlorians.

It's probably best to focus on the professional issues with the prequels, rather than subject you to my 'nerd rage', as I think I've pinpointed the key reasons these movies failed to deliver.

If you think about it, directing may not be George Lucas' strongest suit. This may be an odd thing to say, but can you think of any other great movies he's delivered since the original Star Wars?

My personal favourite from the Star Wars saga is The Empire Strikes Back. I don't think it's a coincidence that he didn't direct this movie, and shared the writing duties. 

I'm quite convinced that many of the things that made this movie great, like the punchy dialogue, have more to to with other people. You only have to watch The Force Awakens to have this confirmed.

I actually think that the latter part of George Lucas's career is similar to a lot of bands, with U2 being a particularly good example. Despite having all the money and time they need to produce masterpieces, their work just doesn't match their output when they were struggling, under pressure and desperate to prove themselves.

I also think it's likely that people are too afraid to say no to them.

So what can we take away from this? I think it shows us that we need to really be aware of our strengths and weakness and always be on the lookout for people we can collaborate with. It also suggests that pressure may be an essential part of the creative process. 

Oh, and I can't really write about the low points of George Lucas' career without mentioning that he had Indiana Jones survive a nuclear blast in a fridge.

The whole 'nuke the fridge' meme should probably serve as an important reminder that mistakes can be very memorable.

It also didn't do Lucas any favours when he referred to Disney as 'white slavers' when speaking about the deal he made with them. I obviously don't need to remind you of the importance of thinking before you speak and putting your problems into perspective.

George Lucas

What's Important

I think it's clear that George Lucas has delivered some amazing work and it's hard to think of anyone who's made more of an impact on popular culture. He's changed his industry too and inspired others to tell their stories.

I think it's important to look at his last movie Red Tails when examining George Lucas. It's an interesting film about the Tuskegee Airmen in World War 2, but it pretty much persuaded him to effectively quit the business. 

This was largely due to the fact that the critics were extremely unfair and seemed to focus more on knocking him, rather than reviewing the movie.

A good example is the way they criticised him for making the planes move like X-Wings, forgetting that the X-Wings were actually filmed to look like World War 2 fighters. He'd even inserted footage of aerial combat into early previews of A New Hope, as the effects shots weren't ready.

Just looking at Star Wars though, we see the importance of determination and a lot of passion when you're trying to make something you care about happen.

Although I've pretty much focussed on his movies though so far, I think he's done something far more important than simply creating Star Wars. He came to the conclusion that he had far more money than he actually needed, so he's given a huge portion of his wealth, including proceeds from the Disney deal, to charitable causes.

That's right, he gave most of his money to Warren Buffet so he could invest it in philanthropic causes. In the grand scheme of things, does it really matter if you didn't enjoy the Star Wars prequels if the money they made is being used to buy textbooks for kids who desperately need them.

If there's one thing we can learn from George Lucas, it's that there is such thing as enough.

How many people go through life acquiring money and power and fail to notice what else could be important? More importantly, how many people place career advancement, the accumulation of wealth and the collection of 'things' above anything else?

It's not too late to change your direction if you need to.

Image: A candid portrait of George Lucas. Pasadena, CA. by Joey Gannon  licensed under CC BY 2.0