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The Director Strikes Back

Star Wars Creator George Lucas Critiques Violence, Politics and the Media

By D. Lyn Hunter, Public Affairs
Posted February 23, 2000

Though known the world over as the successful director of the Star Wars series, George Lucas' foray into filmmaking was almost accidental.

"I wanted to go to art school, but my dad wouldn't pay for it," Lucas told a packed Zellerbach Auditorium Feb. 16. "A friend told me to come to USC and major in cinematography. It was an easy major, like P.E., and the department was right next door to the girls' dorm."

Despite humble beginnings -- he grew up in Modesto and was expected to follow his dad's footsteps in the stationary business -- Lucas went on to create one of the great mythologies of this generation in Star Wars.

Though his father told him he'd never make it in films, Lucas' cinematic success has made him a very rich man.

"I fell into being wealthy as some kind of strange by-product of doing what I love to do," he said. "Luckily, enough people were willing to pay $3.50 back then to see my movies. It's never made that much difference to me."

Lucas, casually dresssed in jeans and cowboy boots, shared the stage with journalism school Dean Orville Schell. Their conversation, part of the Herb Caen/San Francisco Chronicle lecture series, touched on a variety of topics, including the effects of violence in entertainment.

"I worried that Darth Vader cutting off Luke's hand (in The Empire Strikes Back) might harm the 10-year-olds in the audience and ruin their relationships with their fathers," said Lucas, with a slight chuckle. "But a psychiatrist I consulted said it's OK for children to vicariously experience competition, fear and violence through fairy tales. It helps them mature."

Drama is based on conflict, which can sometimes be either physically or mentally violent, he said, but how filmmakers deal with that is what makes a good movie.

"Maim and torture for amusement sake is immoral," he said. "You hear the excuse, 'we're just giving people what they want,' but that's what the Romans did."

Lucas's most stinging criticism was reserved for the entertainment and news media.

"I have not been accurately portrayed by the media. I find them to be shallow people who make erroneous assumptions and sensationalize to sell newspapers," he said. "The truth goes out the window, which is too bad because there are interesting things in truth."

Lucas was especially critical of the coverage of the current presidential campaign.

"Why is there so much reporting on Bush and McCain bickering?" he asked. "That's not news. That's two little boys arguing instead of focusing on issues. Corrupt politicians slinging mud is not news."

Though Lucas lamented the lack of truth in the news, the solution, he says, lies in the digital revolution.

"Access to information will be more democratic," he said, speaking of the public's increased use of the Internet. "The traditional gatekeepers will lose their grip on controlling news."

In addition to the Star Wars series, Lucas directed THX:1138 and American Grafitti. He also co-wrote and executive produced the Indiana Jones trilogy.


February 23-29, 2000 (Volume 28, Number 23)
Copyright 2000, The Regents of the University of California.
Produced and maintained by the
Office of Public Affairs at UC Berkeley.
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