George Lucas: A Life - Review

The mastermind behind the three films which made up your childhood - as well as the three films which quickly destroyed it - is an enigmatic figure in public and the press, reserved and sometimes taciturn when it comes to letting some of the personal out in the PR. Although the behind-the-scenes nightmares which unspooled from the production of the original Star Wars trilogy are themselves firmly embedded in fan consciousnesses through a host of anecdotes and making-of books, comparatively little has been firmly put together regarding the man at the center of them all.

In many ways, George Lucas: A Life is therefore a somewhat overdue examination of the man's life and times, as well as a closer look at how he fits within the enormous pop culture mechanisms of Star Wars and Indiana Jones. Though the book doesn't contain any one-on-ones with Lucas himself, and is instead comprised of snippets from interviews and previously-documented interactions, this is very much a solid, fastidious book in compiling everything known - and some things which were hitherto unknown about the infamous film producer/director. Brian Jay Jones, who previously garnered accolades with his biography of Muppets mastermind Jim Henson, acquits himself well in that regard as the self-appointed chronicler of one of Hollywood's once-favoured sons.

Unfortunately, if you're going to take your time getting something done, don't be surprised if someone else gets it done quicker. Much of what's covered in Lucas' biography here is material which has already been in the public sphere for a long time; particularly, Chris Taylor's superlative tome How Star Wars Conquered the Universe has already given much of the comprehensive narrative behind Lucas' car crash and subsequent shift into cinema. Though I haven't actually checked, a lot of Jones' work even reads as if it's lifted mostly from the same sources Taylor used for his book, with little personal flair or narrative embroidery to set it apart from what Taylor has already written.

The lack of flair is itself a chief issue with the book. Though Jones cannot be said to be uninformative, his work comes across as dry because of that fact. Little attention is given to crafting an engaging story for the life of this highly influential figure, a man whom Jones seems to treat more with respectful description rather than any kind of subjective scrutiny. Particulars of Lucas' career are presented as matter-of-fact, whilst simultaneously the inferences into how Lucas' mind works at key points of his career are also hampered by the lack of any introspection provided by the man himself. An early standout section is Jones recounting how Lucas and his first wife, Marcia, came to meet and date at the beginning of his career, surmising how Lucas felt during that time; Jones is left mostly to estimate or, perhaps, embellish where Lucas' thoughts lay at those kinds of crucial moments. Despite my acknowledging that a one-on-one with Lucas himself might've been too tall an order for Jones, I firmly believe these sections of the book would've benefited from Lucas sketching his own thoughts on the matters, rather than them being left predominantly to Jones' interpretation.

At the bare minimum, George Lucas: A Life is a competently-executed biography. Those who've not already read the work of Taylor and others will almost certainly get more from it than I did, and to Jones' credit it is certainly a compendious, diligently-researched work. It's just a pity that such work comes with little to engage the reader beyond the surface; this reads less as a captivating story of a man's life and more as a somewhat scientific appraisal of a person who made a bit of an impact on Hollywood. A summation of somebody as complex as George Lucas deserves more than just a staid recap.

- Chris

George Lucas: A Life is available in bookstores now.

Review copy kindly supplied to Geek of Oz by Hachette Australia.


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