Before I quit my job at the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh to play at being a writer, I was a regular contributor to the Eleventh Stack blog. I was free to write about pretty much any material in the Library’s catalog. It was great! On Thursdays, I’ll revisit some of my old faves. A version of this post first appeared on April 21, 2017.
Before 2017, I was not someone who read nonfiction. Something about it always made me feel like I was doing something horrible – like learning! Despite that, I decided to read more nonfiction that year, and as 2017 was 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 (affiliate, and below).
Before George Lucas, I found nonfiction to be a little dry, which was another reason I shied away from it, but this book completely changed my mind. Jones’ biography about the life and films of Lucas – the man behind such movies as 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 biennial marathon of his films.
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’ 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.
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 vibrant picture of not only the birth of Star Wars, but of the creation of the entire Lucasfilm empire. It tracks each of Lucas’ influences and inspirations and illustrates how he melded them together and made them his own. For anyone who has been fascinated by Star Wars and its surrounding lore, this book is a rich and comprehensive reading experience that gave me a newfound appreciation for Lucas.
At times, Lucas might come across as stubborn, even obstinate, but it’s obvious that he has a keen business mind, knows how to anticipate trends and has an unending desire to tell stories on his own unwavering terms.
With this book, Jones helped me see 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 issue of Filmmakers Newsletter (I told you, hundreds of supplementary sources) that particularly resonated with me.
“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
It was a loooooong walk to the place where I felt comfortable calling myself an artist. I used to think artists were people who made things out of stone or pieces of metal, who used brushes and their hands. Me, I just agonize about how to rearrange the entries of the dictionary. However, I realized that art is something that lives in all of us, and to be an artist simply means allowing it to move through you. This book helped me come to that realization.
Creatively, it’s admirable seeing an artist so focused on his vision. Lucas’ 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 grand epics living inside you that are just waiting to explode out.
George Lucas: A Life is 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 The Maker. For instance, did you know Lucas 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! It started me on a nonfiction journey that continued with Joseph Campbell’s The Hero with a Thousand Faces, another of Lucas’s many influences in creating that galaxy far, far away…
Since writing this post, I purchased my own copy of Joseph Campbell’s book and will talk obsessively about it with anyone who dares to listen. I’ve also pretty much given up reading fiction. Thinking about it, the last fiction book I read may have been Jesse Andrew’s Munmun. However, this week I finished the nonfiction audiobooks White Fragility by Robin Diangelo and started The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle. I want to read more fiction, but it just doesn’t capture my attention the way it used to. Oh well. I guess that’s growth.