He was a short, nerdy, geeky, scratchy-voiced little guy, and the most powerful genius I have ever known.

The last time I saw him was forty years ago at a party at Randal Kleiser’s house up Laurel Canyon on a street appropriately named Wonderland. Randal, a consummately sweet, decent fellow after all these years, is a well established Hollywood director of such blockbuster successes as Grease and the sensuous, seductive Blue Lagoon, among others.

It was April 1978, a year after the release of the first Star Wars movie (or was it the fourth?). Randall had invited all his old USC film school pals to his house to honor George on the unparalleled success of the movie. I ended up in the corner of the crowded living room beside Marcia Lucas, George’s first wife. She described Skywalker Ranch, ‘the Empire,’ as ‘Fortress Lucas.’ “He never wants to go out,” she told me. “All he wants to do is to watch TV and eat TV dinners,” by which she meant quite literally Swanson’s TV Dinners.

Notwithstanding his creative movie making genius, she said, his true genius was finance. He had bamboozled Star Wars’ releasing studio, 20th Century Fox, into letting him own the sequel rights and all ancillary considerations—toys like light sabers, coffee mugs, comic books, capes, costumes, and u-name-it. That’s the equivalent of the United States Bureau of Printing and Engraving sending you not merely the money they print but the plates they use to print it.

Indeed, over scores of years hasn’t George printed fresh Star Wars currency multiple times?

I would meet an attorney who told me she was one of perhaps forty people who worked in George’s ‘overnight office,’ that is, a division of Lucas Film supporting short term international loans to nations and corporations covering, for example, a Bahraini five-hundred million dollar note for, say, three days during the following week, for a commission of, say, one and a half percent.

That may not sound like a lot, but for three days it is the equivalent a.p.r. of perhaps 100%, effectively doubling one’s money in just a year. Charging one and a half percent interest over three days for a credit card debit could get you arrested for usury.

It was apparent to all of us at USC film school that George Lucas was surely a graphics genius. His student films, most notably THX 11384 EB, were stunners for their look. In collaboration with our classmate Paul Golding, for example, he made the short film Herbie, which consisted entirely of reflections in the fenders of an old Packard, and yet managed all the same to fascinate and engage observers.

Even merely the proposals for his student films are works of art that will surely land, if they have not already done so, in his Museum of Narrative Art, scheduled to arise in Los Angeles over the next several years. He used transparent overlays and press-on letters purchased from office supply stores. He trimmed and sculpted the card-stock folders with surgically sharp Exacto blades.

I’m probably the only person on the planet who has seen the early, short version of THX more times than George himself. This is because during my student days at USC I helped pay my tuition by working as a tour guide at what was then called the Department of Cinema. The tours ended with a screening of USC student films, THX among them. I could have walked out of the room while it screened but always stayed to watch.

One day there was a joint screening cross-town at UCLA of student films from that institution and also USC. When THX ran, there was virtual consternation among the UCLA students. In those days UCLA stood for artsy-craftsy cinematic tone poems and USC was considered the industry school, producing crypto- and quasi- wanna-be Hollywood fare. UCLA students were outraged that so much money—apparently tens of thousands of dollars—must have been spent in producing THX.

In truth, however, George made the movie for approximately two hundred dollars.

There was at USC film school during that time a contingent of U.S. Navy film makers in training. They had tons of government production equipment, which George purloined. He also pressed the Navy guys into crewing for him on THX.

The funny thing about the Navy fellows was that both they and the rest of us, wretched, rancid hippies like me, were all avoiding service in Vietnam. We hippies were exploiting our college draft deferments. The Navy men, already in the service, were similarly avoiding shipment to the Far East by joining the film education alliance with USC. That placed them in Los Angeles instead of, say, Long Binh province.

The UCLA crowd dinged George for his technical prowess, accusing him of being a slave to technology.

In the discussion following the screening I pointed out to the crowd that just because a film is blurry and out of focus, and just because there are clumsy, herky-jerky jump cuts, and just because nobody had bothered to set the f-stop, does not mean that a film is a work of art.

Some years later, under the guidance of George’s mentor, UCLA alum Francis Ford Coppola, THX was produced as a feature length film at Warner Brothers. Upon its release it sank like a stone. It looked like exactly what it was: a brilliant ten-minute film extruded into a shapeless, lackluster, two hours of who-knows-what.

Clearly, George’s career was pretty much over.

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