Fellow fiction readers and Force-users, I’m not the kind of guy who reads nonfiction. Something about it makes me feel like I’m doing something horrible, like learning! Despite that, I thought I’d try to read more nonfiction this year. In honor of the 40th anniversary of the release of the first Star Wars movie, I decided one of those nonfiction books should be George Lucas: A Life by Brian Jay Jones.
Usually, I find nonfiction to be a little dry. I think that’s another reason I tend to shy away from such books, but that’s definitely not the case with this biography. Jones’s book about the life and films of Lucas—the man behind such movies like THX 1138, American Graffiti and those darling ‘lil Star Wars films—reads in such an easy-going, conversational way. Jones writes as if he’s telling you a story, not boring you with a dull lecture. It probably didn’t hurt that I was hungry to learn more about Lucas and his methods after I did a marathon of his films.
Collecting stories, quotes and facts from years of archival interviews as well as hundreds of supplementary sources—including The Making of Star Wars: The Definitive Story Behind the Original Film—Jones paints a rich picture not only of the birth of Star Wars, but of the creation of the entire Lucasfilm empire. It tracks every one of Lucas’ influences and inspirations and how he melted them together and made them his own. For anyone like me, someone who has been fascinated by Star Wars and its surrounding lore for decades (god, I’m old), this book is a rich and comprehensive reading experience that gave me a newfound appreciation for Lucas.
Keeping his opinion of Lucas out of the narrative he constructs, Jones presents just the facts about Lucas and his empire (but he does mention on the book jacket that he will always believe Han Shot First). At times, Lucas might come across as stubborn, or even obstinate, but it’s obvious that he has a keen eye for business, knows how to anticipate trends and has an unending desire to tell stories on his own unwavering terms.
Creatively, it’s admirable seeing an artist so focused on his vision. Lucas’s drive is something any artist (any person, really) should try to emulate. If not for his determination, we might not have the cultural landmark that is Star Wars. Imagine the kinds of grand epics living inside you that are just waiting to explode out. With this book, Jones helped me respect Lucas as an artist (seriously, THX 1138 might be better than the entire Star Wars saga). On page 160, Jones pulls a blurb from an old Filmmakers Newsletter (I told you, hundreds of supplementary sources) that particularly resonated with me. Lucas says: “My thing about art is that I don’t like the word ‘art’ because it means pretension and bullshit and I equate those two directly. I don’t think of myself as an artist, and I don’t think I ever will. […] I’m a craftsman. I don’t make a work of art; I make a movie. If it does what I want it to do then somebody else can come along and figure it out.”
My thing about art is that I don’t like the word ‘art’ because it means pretension and bullshit and I equate those two directly. I don’t think of myself as an artist, and I don’t think I ever will. […] I’m a craftsman. I don’t make a work of art; I make a movie. If it does what I want it to do then somebody else can come along and figure it out. —George Lucas
Leading off with Lucas’ early life in Modesto, California, and following along with Lucas as he toils in obscurity, Jones touches on every milestone in Lucas’s life along the way. From the near-fatal car crash Lucas survived in high school, to his friendship with Francis Ford Coppola and their grand designs of freeing themselves and other like minded artists from the restraints of the corporate movie-making system, to the purchase of Lucasfilm by Disney in 2012, no detail is left out. It makes George Lucas not just a great nonfiction book, but one of the best books I’ve ever read, period. Even if the writing hadn’t been so stellar, I still would have enjoyed this book because of all the new information I learned about Lucas. For instance, did you know he dated “Blue Bayou” and “Somewhere Out There” singer Linda Ronstadt? Well, he did! It’s such an obscure piece of trivia, but a welcome addition to my cache of random facts to whip out at parties that impress no one.
Plus, George Lucas: A Life taught me that nonfiction doesn’t have to be dull! In fact, I’m so impressed with Brian Jay Jones’s writing that I’m considering picking up his biography of Muppet-creator Jim Henson. That might have to wait as I’m reading Joseph Campbell’s The Hero with a Thousand Faces, just another of Lucas’s many influences in creating that galaxy far, far away…
Pairs well with a nice plaid:Request George Lucas: A Life
Ross works as a Clerk at the Mt. Washington branch of the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh. He loves reading books and watching movies and will often ramble about the two here. He honestly doesn’t care whether or not Han shot first.