4 Often Overlooked Collaborators that Helped Make George Lucas a Billionaire

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Unless you have been living under a rock that is at the bottom of the ocean on one of the moons of Neptune,  you may have heard there’s a new Star Wars movie opening today. The anticipation of which could be explained as: feverous. Up to this point, the film franchise has made over $4.5 billion at the box office alone. That doesn’t count merchandise, licensing or home video (remember that?) sales.

Funny story, Steven Spielberg made more money off of a single bet he made with George Lucas in 1976, that Lucas’ Star Wars would out-perform Spielberg’s Close Encounters of the Third Kind, than 99.9% of people will ever make in their entire lives. Damn.

Which goes to show you that while in the process of making the first Star Wars movie – Lucas had no idea the money-maker that he was sitting on. How could he have known?

Artists have their muses, the best bands in the world have their producers and writer/directors have a whole crew behind them. This didn’t all come from the mind of one man and, yet, he is seen as the man behind it all. Safe to say he got by with a lot of help from his friends. Here are some of the minds that helped Lucas realize (and perfect) his vision and, subsequently, allowed him to sell his company to Disney for $4.06 billion dollars:

Irvin Kershner

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Kershner’s influence on Star Wars is two-fold. Firstly, he was one of Lucas’ favourite teachers in film school and secondly, he directed The Empire Strikes Back. Ask 100 people what their favourite Star Wars movie is and the majority people will probably say The Empire Strikes Back.

With Lucas wanting to focus on the technical aspects of the film, Kershner was able to impart his own style. One of the most famous lines in the movie a simple “I know” from Han Solo would not have been possible without Kershner’s encouragement for improv on set.

What’s hard to remember now is that when the first Star Wars was written, it was a stand-alone film. There were no ideas for the next two (or twenty films). It took the work of many, like Kershner, to breathe life and personality into the film, the locations, and the characters.  In addition, being Lucas’ senior and mentor, he had close to free reign on his desired style of the film.

It takes a humble and smart person to realize, as Lucas did, that they may not be the best person for the job. Even if it’s the exact job they had previously.

Marcia Lucas

Marcia Lucas was the film editor for A New Hope and the Empire Strikes Back, winning an Oscar for the former. She was also married to George Lucas from 1969 – 1983. As the old saying goes “behind every great man is a great woman” which is very sexist, obviously, but fitting for Star Wars as Marcia is one of the unheralded heroes of the production.

It was her idea that (spoiler alert) Obi-Wan Kenobi should die and had a hand in completely reworking A New Hope’s final climax, without her influence, vision, and honesty – Star Wars itself may not have been as big as hit as it was and, in turn, may have been the only Star Wars movie ever made.

While an Oscar is a great recognition, it seems her influence on the film franchise has been understated, as is Lucas’ openness to her suggestions and help.

Ralph McQuarrie

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Movie scripts are an interesting thing. If you have ever read one it can be easy to see how bad movies keep getting made. They are a big piece of the finished product but, ultimately, just a piece. They leave a lot open to interpretation. So it’s one thing for Lucas to write about Darth Vader, Chewbacca or Jabba the Hutt and it’s another thing entirely to bring them to life. Which is exactly what McQuarrie did.

As the concept artist for the original three films, it was McQuarrie’s designs that created these iconic characters final looks and it was his painting that helped sell a movie studio on the idea for Star Wars in the first place.

A world without Star Wars?

A real possibility without the creativity of one man. Lucas, somehow, always had a penchant for finding the best talent.

Lawrence Kasdan

Kasdan, like Kershner, came into the Star Wars fray during Empire Strikes Back. In fact, he wrote the scripts for Empire and Return of the Jedi, not Lucas. Great things can happen when you get on someone’s radar. Kasdan sold a screenplay to Steven Spielberg (there he is again) which lead to him writing Indiana Jones which turned him into the perfect man to pen Star Wars on Lucas’ behalf.

While Lucas had points in place such as (spoiler alert) Darth Vader being Luke Skywalker’s father, it was Kasdan who brought the whole thing together. It’s easier to sum up Kasdan’s influence in one sentence:

He had nothing to do with the three prequel films. That’s as much praise as you can put on someone, complimenting them through deniability. Like when a sports team loses a key character player, one can see what Star Wars and Lucas became without Kasdan.

And Lucas knew this, he asked for Kasdan’s help on Episodes 1, 2 and 3 – which Kasdan declined.

Honourable Mentions

In fairness, this entry could be called, “789 collaborators that made George Lucas a billionaire.” To forego the special effects wizardry of Dennis Muren or the sound effects created by Ben Burtt who is responsible for sounds such as Darth Vader’s breathing, R2-D2’s beeps and the hum of lightsabers. All infamous sounds today, never heard before 1977. Not to mention the score for the movie that makes this video so darn catchy. We have John Williams to thank for that and countless other scores.

But this all comes back to Lucas and his willingness and desire to collaborate with others. While you can look at those decisions and say they were the right ones to be made for the movie, it still required George Lucas to look at his original vision and the ideas put before and say that he was wrong. That someone else’s vision was better. Not an easy decision to make. Not when it’s an idea that had been with him for so long.

The designs of Vader and Chewbacca and the sounds, etc. They call came from concepts, each character would have had a number of different versions of brainstorming, but Lucas helped make the calls. He knew that his movie could only be good if he surrounded himself with great people.

People he trusted.

People who could say “No” to him.

People who were the best at what they did.

Which is why people are a little too quick to criticize George Lucas. It’s easy to pile on. But compiling a team like that, historically great people, that in and of itself is what makes Lucas a great decision maker and visionary. Sure, he’s not batting 1.000 and he completely missed out on these points when creating the prequel trilogy of movies that came from 1999-2005. Which is why he wasn’t allowed within 50 feet of the new Star Wars set.

Every piece contributed in some way. Every person, every character. To the extent that we are sitting on a movie that will more than likely have the biggest opening weekend of all time.

That is until the next one comes out in 2017.

And don’t forget kids, Han. Shot. First.

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