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MYTHMAKER: The Life and Works of George Lucas - Book Review

By Frank Garcia     March 15, 2000

Perhaps anticipating renewed interest as result of STAR WARS, EPISODE ONE: THE PHANTOM MENACE, author John Baxter has turned his attention to one of Hollywood's most successful director-producers in MYTHMAKER: THE LIFE AND WORKS OF GEORGE LUCAS, Baxter's latest celebrity biography. Five of Lucas' films, including THE PHANTOM MENACEnow in the number two slotrest among the top 25 highest grossing films of all time.

Baxter's 450-page book is long overdue for Lucas aficionados. There are only two other independent biographies currently in print that follow the fascinating tapestry that brought George Lucas from being a USC film student interested in abstract filmmaking to gaining fame and fortune with a space fantasy trilogy. Other books of interest include Dale Pollock's SKYWALKING: THE LIFE AND FILMS OF GEORGE LUCAS (1983) and Chris Salewicz's GEORGE LUCASThe Making of His Movies (1998). Lucasfilm's official biography, however, is GEORGE LUCAS: THE CREATIVE IMPULSE by Charles Champlin. Lucas fan hungering to learn new insights not contained in other biographies, will find it in this book. Sure, many familiar stories are retold, but certain interviewees offer detailed reminiscences, like Charles Lippincott's amazing groundwork for STAR WARS merchandising that helped launch the phenomenon which continues to be felt today on many other projects.

Baxter begins by supplying background information about Lucas' family, then focuses on the years George spent as a USC film student, learning his craft, building the social and professional ties that would later figure prominently in his career. We learn the origins of the film school project THX 1138 4EB that would later become his first professional film starring Robert Duvall and Donald Pleasence.

In one astonishing moment, a group of SF genre celebrities, gathered together to watch USC student films, stood outside the theater discussing what they had just seen. Director Fritz Lang (METROPOLIS), Famous Monsters magazine editor Forrest J. Ackerman, producer George Pal (WAR OF THE WOLRDS) and film journalist Bill Warren quizzed each other on their favorite films. Ackerman and Pal both chose one of the films, but Lang replied disgustedly, 'That's why all your films stink!' He and Warren picked Lucas' THX 1138 4EB. 'If I ever meet that young director, I want to tell him how great that film was,' said Lang.

We also learn considerably of how Francis Ford Coppola became Lucas' mentor and how that mentorship evolved into a complicated relationship that would span several decades. Baxter probes Lucas' early life deeply by talking to childhood friends, USC film school classmates, and he traces the filming of all the films from THX-1138 and AMERICAN GRAFFITI onward. Considerable pages are devoted to the gestation, filming and release of STAR WARS. In another amusing revelation, the 'master of disaster,' film and TV producer Irwin Allen, was bewildered by the audience's enthusiasm. He's quoted talking to a Fox executive, 'I don't understand it! There's no stars, no love story; what are they clapping at?'

Those interviewed in the book includes screenwriter Lawrence Kasdan and disaffected producer Gary Kurtz, who left the Empire over disagreements on how the saga was unfolding and how Lucasfilm grew to enormous proportions over the years. He began to notice that Skywalker Ranch was becoming George Lucas' Xanadu. Baxter examines both the positive and negatives of Lucas' story; he also looks at the ways in which Lucas was affected by his 1983 divorce from wife Marcia and of the impact that fame and growth of Lucasfilm and Skywalker Ranch was having on his personal life. Even bombs like HOWARD THE DUCK are covered here, as well as other projects, in a chapter titled 'The Heights of Failure.'

Ultimately, Lucas' story is an inspiring one. It's the story of one very shy but talented kid who grows up to learn and love film. He digs into very personal places in his life to be expressed as film (GRAFFITI) and allows his imagination to soar (STAR WARS), and in the process succeeds beyond his wildest dreams with other films (INDY trilogy). His success has given birth to an empire that has truly revolutionized the film industry (for good or bad) by giving us a new genre of filmmaking: the blockbuster 'event' film. But more than that, Lucas' success has allowed him to develop numerous divisions which have each contributed significantly to their fields: Lucasfilm, Skywalker Sound, Lucas Arts Games, Lucas Arts Learning, and Industrial Light and Magic.

This book is perfectly timed to the coincide PHANTOM MENACE, covered in the final chapter, 'Back to the Future.' As it was so well documented last year, TPM made billions even before the film opened because of the merchandising frenzy. Fox actually made $100 million, and Lucasfilm's take from the entire enterprise is well into the $2 billion stratosphere. Although the film was critically panned, and many fans detested the annoying Jar-Jar, it presented groundbreaking, state of the art special effects and was enormously profitable. Lucas' determination to film Episodes Two and Three over the next four or five years gives all of us something exciting to look forward to. You can also bet more biographies to be written about this man in the years to come.

Mythmaker: The Life and Works of George Lucas by John Baxter; Spike Books, 1999

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