George Lucas is the most money-successful film-maker there has ever been. Of the eight films he has directed or produced (he eludes the conventional Hollywood division of labour), Star Wars and The empire strikes back have sold getting on for $900m worth of tickets. C-3PO and R2-D2 are as well known as Pope John Paul or Mickey Mouse. Lucas's second movie and first hit, American Graffiti (produced by Francis Coppola, conceived and directed by Lucas), was the most profitable investment in Hollywood history: it brought in $117m against a production cost of $750,000. Raiders of the Lost Ark (conceived and produced by Lucas, directed by Steven Spielberg) has taken $335m at the box-office (production cost $22.8m) and looks set to run in first-release theatres for as long as The Sound of Music. Lucasfilm Inc., the merchandising branch of Lucas's empire, has turned over some $2bn from leasing out trademark-protected imagery. Darth Vader popsicles and Princess Leia knickers have contributed to Lucas's personal fortune, currently estimated at $60m. The Return of the Jedi, which concludes the middle trilogy of the Star Wars sequence (the narrative order of the epic baffles me), broke records when it opened in America earlier this year. Lucas has recently visited England - a country he detests, though much of his filming has had to be done here - to defend Jedi against the video pirates. Five thousand pounds seems a paltry price for him to have put on the head of the Hastings Han Solo who smuggled out the film's master copy. But George has always been careful with money, however vast the sums he generates. Having made $30m by his 30th birthday, he treated himself to a used Ferrari. 'I have,' he confesses, 'this simple-minded, small-town, conservative business attitude. I'm just like a small shopkeeper.'
LRB 6 October 1983 | PDF Download