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Member Name: Jake Speed
George Lucas: Close Up - The Making of His Movies - Chris Salewicz
Date: 19/11/10, updated on 19/11/10 (75 review reads)
Advantages: Quite interesting
Disadvantages: Bit short and nothing special
George Lucas: Close Up: The Making of His Movies was written by Chris Salewicz and published in 1999. Lucas gets a lot of flak these days (and he probably deserves it after those dreadful Star Wars prequels) but he has had an interesting and influential career and probably changed the film industry forever with Star Wars, a project which, with a bit of help from Jaws, launched the advent of the big summer blockbuster or 'event' film, and spawned two sequels to make up a classic trilogy. He also, lest we forget, was the man responsible for Indiana Jones and started the groundbreaking special effects company Industrial Light and Magic. George Lucas: Close Up: The Making of His Movies is a fairly skimpy (only about 140 pages) but interesting trawl through his career and not a bad read for anyone interested in the Star Wars and Indiana Jones franchises (although obviously it's not bang up to date as the book was published over ten years ago).
The book tells us that Lucas was a genius of sorts at film school and in an assignment created a type of animation that amazed the other students. He made a short film called Electronic Labyrinth: THX-1138: 4EB which took first prize at the 1967-1968 National Student Film Festival and attracted the attention of Francis Ford Coppola. The two of them formed a company together and made a feature length version of the short film called THX-1138 but it didn't do terribly well and Coppola was soon busy with the Godfather films. Lucas had been advised by Coppola to concentrate his efforts on something that would have more commercial appeal and the end result was the nostalgic American Graffiti, a film about small town life for a group of American teenagers in the fifties, the film featuring a young actor named Harrison Ford who would play a prominent role in the two big franchises that Lucas would eventually create.
I must admit I've never seen American Graffiti but it won five Academy Award nominations and reading about it here is very interesting and made me feel like watching it when I get the chance. Although the film is far from the most famous he was ever associated with it is perhaps the most important in his career as it made him financially secure and gave him the clout in Hollywood to do whatever he wanted to - which turned out to be Star Wars. The origins of Star Wars are interesting to read about even if you might have already picked up a lot of this information from film magazines and other books. Lucas had tried to make a Flash Gordon film but after getting no joy he turned his attention to Star Wars, a project which had its roots in Joseph Campbell's writings on legend and myths. Lucas had read this material in hospital after suffering a bad crash that nearly killed him and Star Wars became his big mission in life.
Lucas invented 'the force' for his proposed sci-fi adventure epic and fused together countless books and different influences for his script. 'All I was trying to say in a very simple and straightforward way is that there is a God and there is a good and bad side.' It's a bit grating to read about the mystical feeling Lucas was left with after his crash, that he was spared for a reason (I think we can safely say that reason wasn't to make Howard the Duck!) and so forth but I did generally find the Star Wars stuff a good read. His original script was huge and massed about a million films or something but was cut down to size and he had to put together a young team to develop the groundbreaking special effects. Famously, he showed an uncompleted version of Star Wars to his famous director friends (with World War 2 aerial dogfights replacing the still unfinished space battle special effects) and it was Steven Spielberg who predicted the film would be a huge success as others looked a bit dubious viewing the footage.
It's quite interesting to read how Lucas allowed the Star Wars sequels to be directed by others and slipped back into a producer role despite his early successes behind the camera. Irvin Kershner, who directed The Empire Strikes Back, was considered to be a bizarre choice to direct the second Star Wars film but he was a mentor to Lucas and the bearded one's judgement was vindicated when it turned out to be probably the best film out of the lot. Other stuff of interest here includes his long partnership with Spielberg, producing duties on various films like Labyrinth, Willow (his eighties fantasy adventure that failed to recapture the old Star Wars magic) and of course the Indiana Jones series that began with Raiders of the Lost Ark in 1981.
I'm always fascinated by 'What ifs?' in the world of cinema and how films change their casts and story as they go through the various stages of production and one thing about Raiders I always find interesting is that Tom Selleck was originally cast as Indiana Jones! He had to depart because of commitments to his television show Magnum (just like Pierce Brosnan was cast as James Bond in The Living Daylights but couldn't get out of his Remington Steele contract) and was replaced by Harrison Ford. Lucas had originally felt Ford was too associated with Han Solo but today it's hard to imagine anyone other than Ford ever playing Indiana Jones.
George Lucas: Close Up: The Making of His Movies is quite an interesting read on the whole if not a terribly long one. Anyone generally interested in film books (or Star Wars) will find it a reasonably enjoyable and informative read. The book is interesting and to the point and a reminder of the various projects Lucas has been associated with in his long career. The only slight drawback to the book is that it only goes up to 1999 when when Lucas was about to give us his ill advised new Star Wars trilogy but these quibbles aside this is not a bad read at all.
Summary: Mildly interesting look at the bearded Star Wars creator
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