Star Wars continues to be one of the most successful science fiction franchises of all time. Of course, none of it would’ve been possible without George Lucas. SF Debris on YouTube has three excellent documentary series about George Lucas and the creation of the original Star Wars, the creation of Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi, and the prequel trilogies.
For as much crap as Lucas gets, and while he certainly has his shortcomings, I’m fully convinced that he is actually underrated as a filmmaker. No one doubts his skill with the camera. No one discredits him for his inventiveness. What people really do is call him a “bad” writer and a “derivative” storyteller. I don’t think he’s either of these things. Every writer derives elements from somewhere. Lucas may need help with his screenwriting, but so do plenty of other good writers!
As it happens, George Lucas prefers to craft his fiction in a documentary style. Like any documentary film maker, Lucas creates as much material as possible, a lot of “stuff,” if you will. Then, he edits, molds, and crafts narratives by remixing the raw material. If anything, this is very similar to the way I operate. I can’t write a script to save my life. My own fiction always starts off interesting, then goes nowhere. What I’m best at is pulling together elements that seem entirely disparate and smash them together to tell a new and interesting story. That’s pretty much exactly what Lucas did in crafting Star Wars.
In the third documentary series from SF Debris, “The Hermit’s Journey,” the narrator Chuck talks at length about how dedicated Lucas was about digital cameras in film-making. While the technology wasn’t quite up to par with traditional film back in the early 2000’s, Lucas would be inevitably proven correct about the benefits of digital videography. After all, digital media is much easier to preserve, it’s much easier to add in visual effects, and editing is ridiculously easy. Sure, the quality of the finished product with films like Attack of the Clones was lesser compared to the traditional cameras of the time, but for all of that movie’s faults, Lucas proved that digital film making was definitely a worthwhile venture. Now that the technology has caught up with Lucas’ vision, pretty much every movie is made with digital cameras.
As much as I appreciate traditional media, from vinyl records, to film, to hard-copy books, there is no doubt that digital media offers an unbelievable array of possibilities. The greatest thing ever to happen to me was to discover weblogging, what we now refer to as blogging. To this day, I hate how that word sounds, and yet, it is the key reason I had any sort of professional career. Still, as an SEO-focused professional, I preferred to refer to myself as a “web writer” for many years. Finally, I gave in to the term blogging because that’s what everyone else was using, and I like getting search engine traffic.
Anyway, blogging is great, because unlike traditional notebooks and print media, you can edit it whenever, however, and whyever you want. While I still adore hard-copy notebooks, I only use them now purely for note-taking, not essay writing. This is essentially the same approach that Lucas took with filmmaking; even though the industry thought he was nuts, he proved that not only was digital filmmaking a way to save tons of money on editing and special effects processing, it also just needed a few more years for the tech to catch up, which ultimately it did.
So, while George Lucas may not be the greatest writer ever or the greatest director ever, he is one of the biggest creative influences in filmmaking ever. Sure, he made lots of mistakes, and the prequels were greatly inferior to the original trilogy. But, the things that were learned from this films helped others to avoid some of these mistakes, and the technology that Lucas needed to make Star Wars ultimately improved filmmaking and special effects everywhere.
What I’ve learned from George Lucas about creativity sums up to this: you may not be the best writer, director, or producer ever, but if you have a vision that is uncompromising and leads you to building new technologies to carry out that vision, you will have accomplished something even greater than just making a great film. You’ll have changed the entire creative industry forever. For these things, for the technologies Lucas inevitably had to fund from his own pockets, we’ve all benefited.