The New Genius


George Lucas

It's not just that George Lucas is the imaginative force behind an entire galaxy of fantastic characters, planets and adventures. Nor is it that these worlds seem to spring forth from Lucas' imagination fully formed, like Athena from the head of Zeus. It is that Lucas' vision is so pure, so intense, that it defies the absurdities of the movie business, the technical limits of filmmaking, indeed the very boundaries of reality.

As a writer, director, producer and movie-industry entrepreneur, Lucas has lent his particular brand of magic to a variety of films--ranging from the Indiana Jones trilogy to American Graffiti. But his defining work, clearly, is Star Wars. Here is a universe entirely of Lucas' creation--a statement easily made but not at all easily realized.

Consider the creativity required to dream up brave new worlds of larger-than-life humans, fanciful aliens, robots with personality, other-planetary landscapes and intergalactic vehicles. Formidable, right?

Now consider the challenges involved in translating those images onto film, from the grand questions of plot and setting to the millions of details that go into each frame: What should Princess Leia's opening line be? What sound should a ship's engines make? Lucas' sense of what his universe should look and sound like was so intense that he deviated very little in production from his original storyboards and script.

Still not impressed? Then look a little deeper. Ultimately, the technology Lucas needed--and therefore developed--to make Star Wars and its various sequels and prequels' ever-improving phenomena has simultaneously given rise to an empire of enterprises: Industrial Light & Magic, the premier maker of visual effects worldwide; Skywalker Sound, which provides cutting-edge post-production sound; THX, delivering high-quality sound systems to both movie and home theaters; interactive software maker Lucas Learning Ltd.; video game producer LucasArts Entertainment Co.; Lucasfilm Ltd. and Lucas Licensing Ltd. While most mortals would be happy just to count the dollars these various companies have made, Lucas has used a sizeable portion of his profits to fund his projects and secure his creative independence.

At every turn, what would have been an ordinary person's life's work was only one piece of the larger puzzle for Lucas. In retrospect, it's difficult to know which was the greater accomplishment: summoning the dream itself or sustaining that vision with perfect clarity while constructing it brick by innovative brick. Yet, Lucas' epic tale is at root no different from any entrepreneur's. He had a dream. And he made it come true.

Or, in the words of Lucas' friend and colleague Steven Spielberg, "The only explanation I can offer [for Lucas' genius] is this: One day, in a brilliant flash of white light, he saw the future, and he has spent the past 20 years showing it to us."

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This article was originally published in the January 2000 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: The New Genius.

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