The week before last, when Rikke and I were doing what we do best—namely nothing—I read, in-amongst several other books, the 1983 George Lucas biography by Dale Pollock, Skywalking: The Life and Films of George Lucas.
Now, I wouldn’t say that I’m obsessive compulsive about Star Wars, or George Lucas for that matter—others would; I don’t flatter myself that way—but I’m certainly a fan above the ordinary, having read several biographies, not to mention a whole heap of other books related either directly to Star Wars or the industries that sprung up in its wake. So, I’ve been around the block on this… Once or twice.
But before you get the wrong idea, let me just run some damage control on this, to make it sound less pathetic; me being after all a 30-year-old man with about a meters-worth of Star Wars books.
You see, it isn’t Star Wars, or George Lucas, or Lucasfilm, or the plentiful satellite companies, or the pop culture references, or the John Williams soundtracks, or the Lucas-Coppola connection, or the Lucas-Spielberg connection, or any of that stuff. It’s all of it and more.
Somehow, this particular branch of New Hollywood and the late 70’s became the ground zero of my creative inspiration, and for some inexplicable reason, the whole scene leading up to and coming down from Star Wars has become some sort of freaky creative nexus for me, from which I can replenish my energy in times of doubt and reaffirm my reason for doing what I believe in, despite… Well, despite whatever.
I’m not a collector, I don’t dress up as a Java (publicly), I don’t list my religion as Jedi on the census, I don’t write fan-fiction and so far I haven’t had any (too long, well choreographed, but otherwise uninteresting) fan films featured on theforce.net (but I wager that I can take most of my friends in Star Wars trivial pursuit).
Anyway; I read Skywalking, and I loved it. I often chastise Rikke for her (minimal) tabloid tendencies, but admittedly, when it comes to my idols, I’ve got the same blood flowing in my veins.
But it’s not that I care particularly about his no. 2 pencil or which brand of plaid Lucas digs. Rather, I’ve found that Lucas’s life is an endearing and heart-breaking story, not only in terms of his output, which has gone from the experimenting (and I think, genius) through the fantastic to the bland and at times downright obnoxious.
But what most people don’t know, is how Lucas’s personal life has followed a much more dramatic and it would seem, tragic arc. From the no-good car-geek to the cinema-wonder-kind and business giant who broke all the rules and did exactly what he wanted, and won. And who in doing so, lost not only his wife, Marcia, but also his boisterous mentor, Francis Ford Coppola and many other friends in the process.
Lucas’s own life is so fascinating, dramatic and (as I read it) tragic, that it would be a wonder if a bio-pic didn’t see the light of day sooner or later.
And if it does, Skywalking will no doubt be one of its main sources, and rightly so. Because despite it being 25-years old at the time of my writing this, no one else has ever had such free access to Lucas, his family and his friends and written about it.
And of course, Lucas never made the same mistake twice.
Few people have had to bear the brunt of so much success and at the same time so much failure as Lucas. The Citizen Kane comparison is apt. And while this book can’t make you unwatch Indy IV, perhaps reading it—supplementing with the suggestions below—will make him appear in a different light than the childhood-raping-Binks-loving-effects-whoring once great filmmaker he has gotten a rep for these days.
Now, for those of you out there, who like me, find this period of cinema not only fascinating, but sustaining, here’s some supplementary reading, have fun:
The Cinema of George Lucas is a great companion piece to Skywalking. It goes all the way up to Episode II, but is generally something of a fluff-piece. But what the book fails to yield in honesty, it gives in full-color photos. And plenty of them; including from Lucas’s earliest films, not available anywhere else (to my knowledge).
The Making of Star Wars, is amazing. Filled to the brim with never-before-seen photos and background information, it really is definitive. I cannot recommend this enough. Just be sure you grab the hardcover edition, as it has 50 extra pages of storyboards and notes.
The Secret History of Star Wars, which I’ve talked about before. It’s a bit too exhaustive at times, but it is so well researched and such a piece of work (and free), that to not read it, would be a damn shame. As a companion piece to, and extension of, The Making of Star Wars, it’s fan-tastic. There really is a secret history of Star Wars, and it’s gripping.
Once Upon a Galaxy (A Journal of the Making of The Empire Strikes Back), has a ridiculously long title, is relatively quickly read and touches only peripherally on the overall picture of Lucas’s life and the New Hollywood scene in general. It’s a good look behind the scenes (with a few truly wonderful nuggets of gold) and worth mentioning if only to bring it to the attention of anyone who might not know of it.
Droid Maker: George Lucas and the Digital Revolution, which is a true pearl. A gem. A piece of radiated moon-rock! Fantastic. I cannot recommend it enough. Everything about how ILM came to be, the Edit Droid, Pixar and all the other revolutionary companies that followed after Star Wars. Do yourself a favor, and follow up with…
The Pixar Touch touches only slightly on Lucas and ILM, but is not only a good read in itself, but also gives a great insight into how Hollywood came to be what it is today.
The Complete Making of Indiana Jones is nowhere near as good as the Star Wars equivalent, but then it also covers all four movies, where the Star Wars book only covers the first film. And honestly, it’s a bit too back-clapping. But as a fan, you can’t really get around it, and in reconstructing the Spielberg/Lucas timeline, it’s indispensable.