Review of 'Skywalking: The Life and Films of George Lucas'

Skywalking: The Life and Films of George Lucas by Dave Pollock

I remember when Star Wars was released. It was huge but I was too young to see it at the cinema so it was a few years after it was released that I finally saw it and I have to say it was truly amazing. It really drew me into this fantastic story set in a distant galaxy with simple, believable characters, great action, fantastic music and, of course, great special effects. Over the years I have followed the Star Wars films but also enjoyed Lucas' other films, THX-1138, Raiders of the Lost Ark (with Steven Spielberg) and American Graffiti. These are films that are not only fun but great to look at…these are films that were made by an obsessive, dedicated man…

In “Skywalking”, written just as “Return of the Jedi” was released, so only midway in George Lucas' career, we are given an insight into the man and his making of some of the biggest blockbusters of all time. The story starts with the intelligent Lucas going his own way making films as a young man and persuading his parents to send him to University of Southern California then co-founding production company “American Zoetrope” with fellow filmmaker Francis Ford Coppola where he made a university project into his first full-fledged film: THX-1138 (1971), a dystopian thriller with big-brother overtones. A theme throughout the book and, of course, of Lucas' life is his determination to do things his way: He is quite introverted but gets extremely heated when anyone questions his opinions. In this way Coppola and Lucas wanted to strike out on their own to create a company that duplicated the creative atmosphere of their school years and gave them full control over the production of their films but was never a financial success with THX contributing to Zeotrope's demise.

Following the failure of Zoetrope Lucas moved onto creating his own company, LucasFilm, and his first film there: “American Graffiti” (1973) which is a coming-of-age film based on Lucas' own experiences as a young man in a small town with a love of cars. He wrote and directed the film with financing grudgingly obtained from Universal with whom he struggled to deal with as they insisted on changes to his film. After the modest success of Graffiti Lucas was determined to have more control over his next project: Star Wars (1977) which he largely funded himself after every one of the studios turned him down, except 20th Century Fox. He found directing Star Wars incredibly taxing, even suffering chest pains, and swore to never direct again, preferring instead to come on as producer though often working just as hard in this other role. The book continues the story through the making of “The Empire Strikes Back” (1980) and, eventually, “The Return of the Jedi” (1983), the second and third films of the original Star Wars trilogy. Along the way he collaborates with another great filmmaker, Steven Spielberg on “Raiders of the Lost Ark” (1981) which he hugely enjoys and features an actor present in many of his films up to that point: Harrison Ford.

What was interesting to read is that not only is Lucas stubborn but he also has little interest in actors or acting. For him it is all about the picture, and the story – Giving the viewers an escape. After having hired the actors he trusts that they will simply do their jobs while he gets on with his, offering little input into their performances though always paying attention. What is also apparent is his moral code and inbuilt sense of what is good and right, for example in providing dividends to his film crew even when this is not required, or not taking a raise in pay even when it is his due. Indeed, he states often here that he is not interested in money, he is only interested in making films. His films may be simple in scope but they are full of heart and soul, of love. He expresses an interest in doing these simple stories in the best way he can, putting all of his effort into doing so even if it means working 20 hour days 7 days a week…

It is disappointing that “Skywalking” stops only mid-way through Lucas' career which, as we know now, has gone on to many other successful film ventures and his Skywalker Ranch considered one of the premiere film production facilities in the world (most big films, for example, record their soundtracks here…even record labels record their performers here). The book leaves us with a few final chapters on Lucas' philosophy and some, now rather quaint, thoughts on what might have followed…but never did, which leaves a slight sense of melancholy.

Sometimes the book does threaten to get bogged down in nitty gritty details such as finances that could be there to simply prove the author did his homework rather than furthering the story, however, for the most part the story moves on at pace and only starts slowing down in later chapters after the excitement of Star Wars and, frankly, when there is no material left. For the most part, I found the book pretty heavy going and took quite some time to read, to take it all in as the detail is enormous yet always focuses on shedding light on it's subject: Lucas.

Though somewhat dated, this book gets to the heart of one of the most famous directors/producers of all time. Well worth reading by any fan of the films or of film-making in general. This is a man who “did it his way” and was extraordinarily successful at it too.

Rating: “Nearly perfect, but not quite”

Review Date: 2021-06-22

Genre: Autobiography

Publisher: Harmony Books

Publication Date: 1983

ISBN: 0517546779