His Star Wars made him the colossus of box office not only of 1977 but also of all movie history, yet George Lucas maintains an even lower profile than his most beloved creation, R2-D2. His whimsical intergalactic classic was so staggeringly popular that it outearned fourfold the No. 2 movie-of-the-year (Burt Reynolds’ regional rubber-burner, Smokey and the Bandit) and, within seven months, is leaving the two-and-a-half-year-old reigning champ, Jaws, in its cosmic dust.
Yet triumph has hardly transformed creator-director Lucas into Greedo, the meanie of Star Wars’ uproarious outer-space saloon. At 33, George can still identify more easily with the schlumpy Terry the Toad character of his previous film, American Graffiti. While the shekels keep rolling in, and 20th Century-Fox and toy company lawyers sue each other over Star Wars’ exploitation, Lucas is personally refinishing the floors and painting his modest home in the San Francisco suburb of San Anselmo. Dabbing alongside is one of Hollywood’s most gifted film editors (Star Wars, Taxi Driver): George’s wife, Marcia. His one earlier ambition—to become a race driver—ended in a near-fatal crackup two days before his high school graduation in Modesto, Calif. His wheels now are a ’67 Camaro.
That recovery (he was hospitalized three months) left Lucas with a humanitarian and nonsectarian faith best articulated in Star Wars’ concept of “The Force.” Unlike movie executives of the past, George does not measure success by the failure of the competition. He’s about to help fellow Hollywood maestro (and first mentor) Francis Ford Coppola finish his upcoming Vietnam epic, Apocalypse Now. Similarly, Lucas kibitzed on and is rooting for pal Steven Spielberg’s Close Encounters of the Third Kind, to which George’s own fans are now flocking to get a fresh Star Wars fix. The three of them share not only advice but “percentage points” in each other’s works to cushion and encourage the innovation that studios might squelch.
As to why Lucas avoids heavier topics than high school or sci-fi, one should remember that the formative literature of his life is film, like Flash Gordon serials. Indeed, after he made his first serious money, he invested in a Manhattan gallery called Supersnipe, which specializes in comic book art. Except for occasional tennis, his favorite recreation is flicking out (more often in movie houses with real audiences than in private projection rooms). “My main reason for making Star Wars,” he says, “was to give young people an honest, wholesome fantasy life the way we had. All they’ve got now is Kojak and Dirty Harry.” (George and Marcia have no children of their own.)
Lucas is not so above commerce—or contracts—that there won’t be sequels to Star Wars. There may even be a follow-up of Graffiti. George will work on the scenarios but neither do the final script nor direct. A diabetic, Lucas felt Star Wars’ four years of production took too much out of him. (He logged 361 16-hour days during the frantic final year of production.) He adds that “I don’t enjoy being the boss.” Which means of himself especially. On his own mercilessly perfectionist scale of 100, he graded his work 50, or at best 60, on Graffiti. “Star Wars is about 25 percent of what I wanted it to be.” Lucas’ ultimate ambition is “to retire and do a lot of experimental work that will probably never be seen by anybody.”
To admirer Coppola, “It’s both sad and unnecessary that Lucas suffers so much while he’s making movies.” Observes the creator of The Godfather: “George is a very natural and pure filmmaker. Yet he has few pretensions about making ‘great films’ or ‘great art’—and, consequently, he comes closer than most.”