00:00:02 OPRAH WINFREY: "Hattie Mae, this child is gifted," and I heard that enough that I started to believe it.
00:00:08 ROGER BANNISTER: If you have the opportunity, not a perfect opportunity, and you don't take it, you may never have another chance.
00:00:14 LAURYN HILL: It all was so clear. It was just, like, the picture started to form itself.
00:00:19 DESMOND TUTU: There was no way in which a lie could prevail over the truth, darkness over light, death over life.
00:00:32 CAROL BURNETT (quoting CARRIE HAMILTON): “Every day I wake up and decide, today I'm going to love my life. Decide.”
00:00:35 JOHNNY CASH: My advice is, if they're going to break your leg once when you go in that place, stay out of there.
00:00:40 JAMES MICHENER: And then along come these differential experiences that you don't look for, you don't plan for, but boy, you’d better not miss them.
00:00:51 GEORGE LUCAS: I grew up in a small town in Central California. It was a farming community. We had a couple of movie theaters. You'd go to the movies once in a while. I grew up before television, so I didn't really discover film, or even any interest in film, until I was, like, a junior in college.
00:01:08 ALICE WINKLER: But that, my listening friends, is the guy who created the biggest movie phenomenon of all time. In this episode of What It Takes from the Academy of Achievement, the force behind “the Force” — George Lucas. I’m Alice Winkler.
00:01:40 George Lucas recorded two interviews for the Academy of Achievement’s archive, one in 1995 and one in 1999. I’ll play you excerpts from both in this episode, but also a clip from a speech he made to students at an Academy gathering in 2014, where he revealed the true meaning of “the dark side” and “the light side.” It will lead you to greater happiness. So listen carefully.
00:02:08 And then, you know, follow us on Twitter @WhatItTakesNow for even more happiness. But this story begins about 20 years before George Lucas dreamed up Darth Vader, before he changed the art of animation, before he pioneered the transition of film from celluloid to digital. It begins back in Modesto, California, where George Lucas was not watching TV or movies much. His dad ran a stationery store, and he fantasized about a much faster life in cars.
00:02:42 GEORGE LUCAS: When I was young, from at least my teenage years, they were completely devoted to cars, and that was the most important thing in my life from about the ages of 14 to 20.
00:02:56 ALICE WINKLER: Lucas was, in his own words, a consummate underachiever. He didn’t care about school. He had plans to be a mechanic and a racecar driver, but then he got in an accident, a terrible accident.
00:03:10 GEORGE LUCAS: The thing with the auto accident, I was a terrible student in high school, and the thing that the auto accident did — and it happened just as I graduated, so I was at this sort of crossroads, but it made me apply myself more because I realized more than anything else what a thin thread we hang on in life, and I really wanted to make something out of my life.
00:03:31 And I was in an accident that, in theory, no one could survive, so it was like, "Well, I'm here, and every day now is an extra day. I've been given an extra day, so I’ve got to make the most of it," and then the next day is, “I've been given two extra days.” And I've sort of — you can't help in that situation but get into a mindset like that, which is, you've been given this gift, and every single day is a gift. And I wanted to make the most of it.
00:04:04 ALICE WINKLER: So he went to a junior college and fell for anthropology and sociology, fields that explore why people do what they do. He had always had a talent for art and for building things, and somehow, suddenly, all his likes and all his talents came together in one place, and that place was film. So he transferred to the University of Southern California’s School of Cinematic Arts.
00:04:31 GEORGE LUCAS: When I look back on it now, if I'd have gone to art school or if I'd have gone on to another university that I was planning to go to and, you know, study anthropology, I probably would have ended up back in film. No matter which route I would have taken, I'm almost positive I would have ended up eventually in film. So mostly I just followed my inner feelings and passions and said, "I like this, and I like this," and I just kept going to where it got warmer and warmer until it finally got hot, and then that's where I was.
00:05:01 ALICE WINKLER: Still, when he started to tell the people in his life about his plans, they tried to talk him out of it. He wasn’t related to anyone in the film industry, didn't have any good contacts, and that was the traditional way in back in his day. But as Han Solo would later say, "Never tell me the odds." Lucas set his sights on getting through film school.
00:05:24 GEORGE LUCAS: And when I was in film school, the big issue was getting to make a movie: "When are we going to get to make a movie?" Well, in my very first class, which was an animation class, they gave us 32 feet of 16-millimeter film, which was exactly one minute of film, and they said, "Here, test the camera. See how it goes up and down and what happens when you move the things around, and learn how to use the camera," this big animation camera. It was a giant crane. And I turned it into a movie. I turned it into a one-minute movie. I put a soundtrack on it. It got entered into a lot of film festivals.
00:05:54 It won zillions of film festivals. It kind of revolutionized a kind of animation of what is — what then was called kinestasis, which is doing fast movements sort of over photographs and that sort of thing. And I said, "This is great," and all the other students said, "Well, how did you do that?" I said, "I just did it. They gave me a little, tiny piece of film. I made a movie out of it." And I kept doing that, and all the other students would sit around the campus saying, "I wish I could make a movie. I wish they'd let me do this in this class. I wish — " You know, if somebody gave me a hundred feet of film, I made a movie out of it.
00:06:27 And the other kids basically didn't. They had the same hundred feet of film. They had the same camera, and they just said, "When am I ever going to get to make a movie?" And I just kept making them.
00:06:37 ALICE WINKLER: As the sage Yoda would say, "Do or do not. There is no try." George Lucas realized at film school that he’d found the thing he was really good at and could lose himself in, the kind of thing he could do from nine in the morning until ten at night without glancing even at the clock, and he was not about to be deterred.
00:07:02 GEORGE LUCAS: You know, it's very important that you find something that you care about, that you have a deep passion for, because you're going to have to devote a lot of your life to it, and you're going to have to really be focused on it. And you're really going to have to overcome a lot of hurdles, a lot of people saying you can't do it. You're going to have to take a lot of risks, and you have to find something that you love enough to be able to take those risks, to be able to jump over the hurdles, to be able to break through the brick walls, that you're going to — that are always going to be placed in front of you.
00:07:27 If you don't have that kind of feeling for what it is you're doing, you'll stop at the first giant hurdle. So I think — and you'll never make it unless you persevere, unless you overcome a lot of very difficult obstacles.
00:07:38 ALICE WINKLER: Put succinctly by Qui-Gon Jinn, "Your focus determines your reality."
00:07:45 GEORGE LUCAS: And the secret is just not to give up hope, and it's very hard not to because if you're really doing something worthwhile, I think you will be pushed to the brink of hopelessness before you come through the other side. And you just have to hang in through that. When I — well, first of all, when I went into film school, everybody said, you know, "What are you doing? This is kind of a complete dead end for a career," because nobody had ever made it from a film school into the actual film industry.
00:08:16 You just — you know, maybe you go to work for Lockheed or some industrial company to do industrial films, but nobody actually made it into the entertainment business. I had no interest in going into the entertainment business, so I didn't really care. I was more interested in just doing films, going back to San Francisco, doing, you know, experimental films and that sort of thing, and maybe making documentaries and that sort of thing. So I wasn't — I didn't care.
00:08:42 Then I finished school. I went to San Francisco, and everybody said, "Why are you going to San Francisco?" I said, "That's where I live," and they said, "You can't possibly work in the film business living in San Francisco." And I said, "Well, that's — I want to live where I want to live, and I will make films because I love to make films." And I struggled. I mean it took me years to get my first film off the ground, and as I talk to film students now, especially, I say, "The easiest job you'll ever get is to try to make your first film."
00:09:10 Because that's the easy one to get, is the first film, because nobody knows whether you can make a film or not. You've made a bunch of little projects. You've shown off you have talent, and you talk real fast, and you convinced somebody that you should be doing a feature, and they let you do a feature. After you've done that feature, then you really have a heck of a difficult time getting your second film off the ground, because then they look at your first film and they go, "Oh, well, we don't want you anymore."
00:09:37 So I tell struggling kids who think it's very, very difficult to get your first feature off the ground that that's a piece of cake. It's the second one that you have a problem with, and it took me three, four years to get my — from my first film to my second film, of banging on doors, trying to get people to give me a chance. You know, writing, struggling, with no money in the bank, and, you know, working as an editor on the side, working as a cameraman on the side, getting little jobs, eking out a living, trying to stay alive, and pushing a script that nobody wanted.
00:10:14 MUSIC: SINCE I DON'T HAVE YOU
00:10:14 I don't have plans and schemes
And I don't have hopes and dreams
00:10:26 GEORGE LUCAS: Finally I managed to get that film made, which was American Graffiti, and then after that was a huge success, it was not as difficult anymore. But, my first six years in the business was hopeless, and there are a lot of times when you sit and you say, "Why am I doing this? I'll never make it. It's just not going to happen. It's just — you know, I should really go out and get a real job and try to survive, and — " You know, because I'd borrowed money from my parents.
00:10:53 I'd borrowed money from my friends. I was sort of — you know, it didn't look like I was ever going to actually be able to pay anybody back, which is part of living. You do have to eat, pay rent, and pay back your friends who are supporting you.
00:11:07 MUSIC: SINCE I DON'T HAVE YOU
00:11:07 I don’t have happiness and I guess
00:11:14 ALICE WINKLER: I want to go through this early filmography for a minute, before Star Wars, before Indiana Jones — let's not forget that one. The first feature film George Lucas made, in 1971, was THX 1138, a dystopian sci-fi tale starring Robert Duvall.
00:11:34 MALE VOICE: You have asked "Are we happy? Are we happy and effective?” Consultation with leading experts in the field makes it perfectly clear, perfectly clear, that we are all now programmed for perfect happiness, perfect happiness.
00:11:53 ALICE WINKLER: THX 1138 grew out of a student project Lucas had made at USC. It got “meh” reviews and kind of bombed at the box office, which is one of the reasons it took Lucas quite awhile to get the next one made. By the way, THX 1138 did later develop a cult following, and here’s one of the important things to know about it. Francis Ford Coppola produced it. Coppola also produced Lucas’s next film, American Graffiti. If you haven’t seen it or don’t remember it, American Graffiti is pure nostalgia, set in 1962 in the teenage, car-obsessed, rock-and-roll culture George Lucas grew up in.
00:12:36 It captures that very American moment just before the Civil Rights Movement and the women’s movement and the Vietnam War, when everything would change, including Hollywood. American Graffiti featured some little-known actors, like Richard Dreyfuss, and Harrison Ford as the out-of-town drag racer in a cowboy hat.
00:12:59 BOB FALFA: Hey, you're supposed to be the fastest thing in the valley, man! But that can't be your car. That must be your momma's car. I feel embarrassed to be this close to you!
00:13:08 JOHN: Yeah, well, I'm not surprised you're driving a field car!
00:13:10 BOB FALFA: Field car? What's a field car?
00:13:13 ALICE WINKLER: The movie is a series of vignettes, really, with great, classic '50s music and not too much plot. George Lucas had a hell of a time getting it written.
00:13:24 GEORGE LUCAS: I was still struggling with my I-don't-want-to-be-a-writer syndrome.
00:13:27 ALICE WINKLER: His friend and producer Francis Coppola told him, "If you're going to make it in this business and you want to be a director, you're going to have to learn how to write, so you're going to have to write your own script."
00:13:40 GEORGE LUCAS: That was a very dark period for me, so I sat down myself and wrote the screenplay. And the most difficult part was, during the writing of the screenplay, I kept getting phone calls from producers saying, "You know, I hear you're great — " I had made a film called THX, which had no story and no character, really. It was kind of an avant-garde film. And so I had all these producers calling me saying, "I hear you're really good at material that doesn't have a story. I've got a record album I want you to make into a movie."
00:14:07 Or — you know, things like that, and they were offering me a lot of money, and — but they were terrible projects.
00:14:18 ALICE WINKLER: Again, Yoda comes to mind here: "Fear is the path to the dark side."
00:14:24 GEORGE LUCAS: And so I had to constantly turn down vast sums of money, while I was starving, writing a screenplay for free that I didn't like to write because I hated writing; but I did finish it, and I did write the screenplay, and eventually I got a deal to make the movie.
00:14:40 You know, when the times are hard like that you simply have to say, "This is what I want to do. I want to make my movie. I don't want to take the money." And you just walk forward, step by step, and get through it somehow, and I got through. It actually only took me about three weeks to write that script, and I just every day would sit down at eight o’clock in the morning, and I'd write until about eight o’clock at night, and I just said, "I am going to finish this, as painful as it is."
00:15:05 ALICE WINKLER: But despite his resolve, George Lucas said, writing continued to remain the most daunting task for him as a filmmaker, but also the most important.
00:15:17 GEORGE LUCAS: Because the whole core of the idea of making a movie starts with the script and starts with the idea, and if you can do that, you are your own studio. Nobody can stop you because all you need is a pencil and a tablet, or a laptop, or whatever, and you're on your way.
00:15:33 ALICE WINKLER: Journalists Gail Eichenthal and Irv Drasnin, who both interviewed Lucas for the Academy of Achievement, tried to get him to describe his process.
00:15:43 GEORGE LUCAS: My struggle is there's a movie there. I can see it, only I can't see it in order, and I can't see it very clearly, and the struggle is to try to — you sort of look through the fog, and suddenly there is a scene or two. Then you put it down, and then you go through, and there's more fog, and you — and pieces aren't always in the right place, and you begin to realize, "Oh, this piece goes over here. That piece goes over there," and you begin to see it as a whole thing.
00:16:10 Also, you might not see it very clearly. In the case of Star Wars, I saw it. I do several drafts, and it became clearer and clearer. There are certain themes and ideas and images that sort of came in and fit, but a lot of the connecting stuff didn't. I couldn't figure out exactly how the story worked. But if you stay at it long enough and work at it hard enough, you can actually see the movie, and once you've got that part done, and you finished the screenplay and you looked at it, the movie — I could run the movie in my head.
00:16:39 And I've already seen the movie, so when I direct the movie, or I go to cut the movie, or anything, I already know what the movie looks like. And the difficulty is, is the real movie doesn't end up as good as the movie in your head, and there's a big — a lot of frustration about the compromises you have to make or things that didn't turn out the way they're supposed to turn out. You have to live with a lot of that, and you have to learn — even in writing, you have to learn that once you start writing something, the characters begin to talk back to you.
00:17:07 And once you've set up situations, they start telling you the story, and you can't start telling them what to do because they won't do it. They say, "I am not that character. I don't do that. I do this," and it leads you along a different path. So you get these sort of flashes of images of various scenes and moments and everything, and then you get the characters sort of walking in the scenes, because once the characters become alive, it takes a little while for them to become real enough to have an opinion about things.
00:17:36 But once they have an opinion about things, you sort of sit back and watch the movie, and that's how you get to the final draft of the script.
00:17:43 ALICE WINKLER: Despite the little moments of magic George Lucas is describing here, filmmaking, he says, is not very glamorous at all. Mostly, it's just extremely hard work.
00:17:55 GEORGE LUCAS: You know, it's not a matter of how well can you make a movie. It's how well can you make it under the circumstances, because there are always circumstances, and you cannot use that as an excuse. You can't put a title card at the head of the movie and say, "Well, we had a really bad problem. You know, the actor got sick, and it rained this day, and we had a hurricane," and, you know, you can't — "The cameras broke down." You can't do that. You simply have to show them the movie, and it's got to work, and there are no excuses.
00:18:24 ALICE WINKLER: And the logistics aren’t the only hard part, as Lucas often cautions aspiring filmmakers who ask him how to get into “the biz.”
00:18:32 GEORGE LUCAS: It always comes up, you know, "What do you do? What do you do?" I say, "Well, learning to make films is very easy. Learning what to make films about is very hard, and what you’ve really got to do is focus on learning as much about life and about the various aspects of it first, and then learn just the techniques of making a movie because that stuff you can pick up pretty quickly, but having a really good understanding of history, literature, psychology, and sciences is very, very important to actually being able to make movies.”
00:19:08 ALICE WINKLER: Worthwhile ones, anyway. Some of the things George Lucas knew a lot about were anthropology and mythology, outer space, and fast vehicles. Mm-hmm. Before American Graffiti had even come out, he started planning and writing his next project, a modern mythology for younger audiences. Cue the Star Wars theme.
00:19:42 GEORGE LUCAS: I ended up in a funny situation, where I had written a screenplay, but the screenplay was so big that I couldn't possibly make it into a movie. So I went down, and I said, "Okay, well, I'll get rid of the first two-thirds of it." That's a two — the second two acts, "And I'll just do the first act. I can make that into a movie. That's sort of big enough," but then I had all this other work that I'd done. I'd spent a whole year doing this, and I said, "You know, I'm not going to give this up. I will make all three movies, and I'll make this into three movies. That's the way I'm going to do it."
00:20:11 I won't just put this on the shelf and forget it and say, "Okay, I am doing this movie." And at that point, I made a pact with myself that I was going to make all three movies. And in order to do that, as I started to make my deal with 20th Century Fox, I acquired the sequel rights, because I didn’t want them to bury the sequel. I wanted to make these movies, and I was determined to make these movies regardless of whether they wanted to or the movie made any money or not.
00:20:38 ALICE WINKLER: Science fiction was not something that did well at the box office, which seems hard to imagine now, since the Star Wars films are woven so tightly into the fabric of our culture, but when George Lucas was trying to sell the studios on the idea, he kept hitting brick walls again. Their lack of faith, in the words of Darth Vader, “is disturbing.”
00:21:02 GEORGE LUCAS: You know, the executives could only think in terms of what they’ve seen, and it's hard for them to think in terms of what has never been done before. It dealt with robots and Wookiees and things that, generally, most people — they couldn't read it and say, "I understand what this is all about." They just were completely confused by it.
00:21:26 And really, on top of that, it was aimed at being a young — a film for young people, and most of the studios said, "Look, that's Disney's. Disney does that. The rest of us can't do that, so we don't want to get in that area." So I had so many strikes against me when I did that, I was lucky that I found a studio executive that just believed in me as a filmmaker and just disregarded the material itself.
00:21:51 ALICE WINKLER: Lucas had the confidence of his convictions and a vision for what these films would be, so to make sure he would have the financial means to make all three films, he came up with the “merchandise idea,” as he called it. Until 1977, movies were not released with licensed action figures, Happy Meal toys, special edition LEGO kits; and no matter whether you think of that stuff as trash or treasure, all roads lead to George Lucas. It sounds contrary to logic, but he came up with the merchandise idea to avoid being commercial, to avoid being beholden to the Hollywood studios.
00:22:32 GEORGE LUCAS: Everything is sort of a struggle, again, to survive, which is, the studio won't put enough money into your movie to get it into the theaters, to do the advertising, so I said, "Well, I can't — I don't have any money. I don't have any, but I can maybe make a T-shirt deal, and I can maybe make a poster deal, and I can maybe get these out at science fiction conventions and things before the movie comes out and promote the movie." So I did it as sort of self-preservation.
00:22:58 I'm a San Francisco filmmaker. I'm an independent filmmaker. I don't have a lot of resources, so I really have to think about how I'm going to get not only through this movie but hopefully have it make enough money to allow me to get to do the next movie. And as it turned out, the film was so successful we were able to make toy deals, and we began to start the whole idea of action figures, of tie-ins, of toys that go along with movies.
00:23:24 And over the years, that's one of the things that's helped me stay independent, be able to finance my own movies, and stay in business, really.
00:23:32 ALICE WINKLER: "In my experience, there is no such thing as luck." That one from Obi-Wan Kenobi.
00:23:39 GEORGE LUCAS: You know, it's — and I've gotten myself into a position where I can more or less experiment using my own resources, and if I fail, I fail. That's the reason that I've generated the money in the first place, is to be able to try things, and if it doesn't work, it doesn't work. I like making movies. I mean I like the process. I like trying out new ideas.
00:24:00 There's nothing worse than the frustration of having somebody who you feel doesn't get what you're doing trying to turn it into something else. I think for most creative people, they don't like others looking over their shoulder saying, you know, "Why don't you make that green? Why don't you make that blue? Why are you doing this? Why are you doing that? I don't like that. Don't put that in there." You know, I want to — you know, it's sort of like Michelangelo and the pope, in terms of doing the Sistine Chapel. It's a very irritating thing, and I'm sure Michelangelo was very irritated with the pope.
00:24:35 ALICE WINKLER: Another way that George Lucas was able to maintain his independence as a filmmaker was by having other independent filmmakers as friends. His circle famously included Steven Spielberg, Martin Scorsese, Francis Ford Coppola, and Brian De Palma. They came of age, more or less, in the 1960s and were determined to do things in new ways for a new era.
00:24:59 GEORGE LUCAS: I guess the advantage that my generation had is, when we were in film school, and we were starting in the film business, the door was absolutely locked, and it was a very, very high wall, and nobody got in. Therefore, all of us beggars and scroungers down at the front gate decided that if we didn't sort of band together, we wouldn't survive, and that if one could make it, that one would help all the others make it, and we would continue to help each other, so we banded together.
00:25:27 I mean that's how cavemen figured it out. Any society begins by realizing that together, by helping each other, you can survive better than if you fight each other and compete with each other. And my friends and I, even though we have become successful, part of the reason we became successful is that we were always helping each other. If I got a job, I would help somebody else get a job. If somebody got more successful than me, it was partly my success. I wasn't — my success wasn't based on how I could push down everybody that was around me.
00:25:58 My success was based on how much I could push everybody up, and eventually they — their success was the same way, and in the process they pushed me up, and I pushed them up, and we kept doing that, and we still do that. And even though we all have, in essence, competing companies, the key to it is to have everybody succeed, not to gloat over somebody else's failure. And that's what's helped us along, and we continue to do that, and we do it with younger filmmakers.
00:26:26 And there's no way of getting through any kind of an endeavor without help from friends, and trying to be the number one person, ultimately, is a losing proposition. You never know in life when you're going to need help, and you never know whom you're going to need it from.
00:26:45 ALICE WINKLER: "Somebody has to save our skins," in other words — that one from Princess Leia Organa.
00:26:51 GEORGE LUCAS: I mean it's one of the basic motifs of fairy tales, is that you find the poor, unfortunate along the side of the road, and when they beg for help, if you give it to them, you end up succeeding. If you don't give it to them, you end up being turned into a frog or something. And it's not just a kind of public service thing. It's a way of life. It makes — you know, it helps you personally, but it also — you know, it's a good business decision. Let's put it that way.
00:27:19 ALICE WINKLER: A very good business decision, if the careers of Lucas, Spielberg, De Palma, Scorsese and Coppola are any indication, each wildly successful in turn. When George Lucas's number came up, how did he handle it?
00:27:34 GEORGE LUCAS: Success is a very difficult thing. It's much more difficult than one might think, and when I first had a successful movie, which was American Graffiti, fortunately it wasn't — it was huge, but it wasn't so huge in terms of monetary things, and it came so slowly that I was able to assimilate it a little bit. Star Wars was much more difficult, and I had a lot of friends who had been very — had become very successful, and they said, "Boy, watch out. Boy, when that one hits, you're really going to be thrown for a loop."
00:28:05 I said, "Oh, no, no. I went through American Graffiti. I can handle this. I know — " But when Star Wars finally — you know, the reality of it hit and all of the attendant things that go on around it hit — psychologically, it's a very, very difficult thing to cope with. And it's hard to explain exactly what happens psychologically, because a lot of the constraints that you've had are now gone.
00:28:29 Instead of scrambling to find one opportunity somewhere to do something, you suddenly have an endless supply of opportunities to do anything. Yeah! So — because the first thing you do — and I've seen it with a lot of people — is, you know, you go out and you say yes to everything, because it's all wonderful, wonderful things that are offered to you. And here you've spent your whole life just begging and, you know, using every means at your disposal to get one person or two people to say yes to your project or to say, "Yes, I'll do this. Yes!"
00:28:59 And then suddenly everybody says yes. Suddenly everybody wants you to do everything and anything you want, and it's — then you have to start learning how to say no. And tons of opportunities coming your way, wonderful opportunities, and you just — but you can't do them all. If you start doing them all, your life gets very unfocused. You get overwhelmed, and you collapse, basically.
00:29:23 ALICE WINKLER: Lucas says that the wave of invincibility turned into a morass of depression. It’s just the price of success, he believes. Everyone thinks they're going to be able to handle it if it happens to them, but they can’t. So here’s what George Lucas figured out that helps him.
00:29:40 GEORGE LUCAS: I've made it a habit, that I still keep, when a movie comes out. I always go off on a beach so I miss all the craziness that goes on, all the — you know, the hoopla and the hype and the success and how much it's making or whether it's doing good or whether it's doing bad. I just miss it all. I just go off on a beach. I don't talk to anybody, and a couple of weeks later I come back and it's all over with. And so, I heard the results, but I didn't have to live through them.
00:30:08 ALICE WINKLER: George Lucas didn’t write or direct the latest Star Wars installment, The Force Awakens. He really had little to do with it, in fact. Remember, he sold Lucasfilm to Disney in 2012, giving them the rights to do what they wanted with the saga, but if you happen to be on a beach vacation during the week Star Wars VII is released, keep your eye out for the man with the thick silver hair and beard who is avoiding the newspapers, the reviews, and the photos of people dressed up in Star Wars regalia, lining up around the block to buy tickets.
00:30:43 George Lucas might well be lying on a lounge chair, listening to the waves, happy to avoid the hoopla of the moment, but what he cannot avoid is the hoopla that’s unfolded over his creation for the past 40 years, which brings us to the topic of Lucas's legacy. Journalists Irv Drasnin and Gail Eichenthal, who interviewed the filmmaker for the Academy of Achievement, asked which of his many contributions he thinks will have the most lasting impact.
00:31:15 GEORGE LUCAS: On the professional side, I've helped move cinema from a chemical-based medium to a digital-based medium — I guess that'll be one of the landmarks. And then I've left these stories, these little tales that have been imprinted on the media, you know — I guess it'll be digital by the time it's finished — which, you know, will or will not be of interest to people in the future.
00:31:47 I've done the best I can. They've obviously made a big mark while I'm here, but the interesting thing you find out if you study history is that, you know, you can make a huge mark during your lifetime and, you know, a lifetime later it's forgotten. And you make something that you don't think is very important during your lifetime and you'll — you know, it lasts for a thousand years. So you can't really focus too much on that part of it because you really don't know what history is going to throw at you in terms of what's important and what's not important.
00:32:17 ALICE WINKLER: And one last line from Han Solo: "Great, kid. Don't get cocky." George Lucas hopes that his philanthropic efforts will be part of what history deems important. Lucas is the wealthiest person in the film business, according to Forbes magazine, and he’s also one of the most generous. He has already given away a substantial fortune to educational causes, and he’s pledged to give away the four billion dollars he made in the sale of Lucasfilm to Disney. But among the gifts Lucas has given the world is a modern day mythology with an important lesson for all time.
00:32:57 He laid it out beautifully when he concluded his speech to students at the Academy of Achievement Summit in 2014, so I will end this episode of What It Takes with his words.
00:33:11 GEORGE LUCAS: If you keep your eyes wide open and don't have prejudices about what you're going to do, and you follow your bliss or your passion or whatever it is, even if it's stupid, like you can't possibly get a good job there, “I don't wanna go there,” you know, all these kinds of — you know, because in the end, I got — my dad wanted me to go work in his store. He was a guy that did stationery and stuff, and I said, "I'm never going to do that. I'll tell you one thing for sure. I will never run a company, ever."
00:33:46 I'm a filmmaker. I'm a — you know, I'm a creative person. I only want to be creative. And so in the end, I followed all these paths, and because I needed to make sure I controlled the vision, and not have it be deluded by a lot of other people, I ended up with a company, and the company was successful, and the movies were successful, and, you know, I ended up running a big, giant company with thousands of people, and — but now I'm still following my thing, and I've sold my company.
00:34:13 I've retired. I'm doing little — the little art films I was going to do originally, and just putting my own money in it. My friends, they get rich. They buy yachts, and I said, "Well, I'm going to take all the money I would use to buy the yacht, and I'm going to put it in a bank account, and then I'm just going to piss it away on making movies, and nobody will ever see them."
00:34:30 And so I don't have to worry about anybody saying anything. So that's where I am now, and that's how you make it work. You never know where you're going to end up, but you have to be open about it, and you have to follow your passion, and you'll go someplace. And if you're following your passion, you don't have to get rich. I happened to get rich, but that was by accident, and now I have the joy of giving it all away because I didn’t want it in the first place.
00:34:54 So it's like, you get yourself stable, and everything seems to work out. But if you're looking for fame and money and all those things, you'll never find it, and if you do find it, you'll never be happy. The secret, ultimately, which was the bottom line of Star Wars and the other movies, is, there are two kinds of people in the world, compassionate people and selfish people. Selfish people live on the dark side. The compassionate people live on the light side.
00:35:23 And if you go to the side of light, you will be happy because compassion, helping other people, not thinking about yourself, that gives you a joy that you can't get any other way. Being selfish, following your pleasures, always buying things and doing stuff, you're always going to be unhappy. You'll never get to the point. You'll get this little instant shot of pleasure, but it goes away, and then you're stuck where you were before, and the more you do it, the worse it gets.
00:35:53 You finally get everything you want, and you're miserable because there's no — there's nothing at the end of that road. Whereas if you are compassionate and you get to the end of the road, you've helped so many people, thousands of people you may have helped, you may have stopped from suffering or anything, that gives you a very warm feeling. Thank you very much.
00:36:17 ALICE WINKLER: George Lucas. This is What It Takes, and our Twitter handle is @WhatItTakesNow. Please make sure to follow us to learn about upcoming episodes and to get great bite-sized bits of info that don't make it into the podcast. Tremendous thanks, as always, to the Catherine B. Reynolds Foundation for making What It Takes possible. I’m Alice Winkler.