4 Classic Movies Directed by George Lucas

A cinephile who graduated from film school at USC, director George Lucas was at the forefront of filmmaking's transition from New Hollywood to the blockbuster era of the 1980s. Alongside friend Steven Spielberg, Lucas almost single-handedly changed the business of moviemaking, while creating the most famously lucrative film franchise of all time with Star Wars.

Not only was Star Wars financial hits at the box office, the films permeated popular culture and were ever-present through merchandizing via toys, T-shirts, and even breakfast cereals. The permanence of Star Wars in the cultural zeitgeist ultimately hamstrung Lucas, however, and he took a long break from directing in order to focus on producing and special effects. Here are three films directed by George Lucas, and one that he might as well have.

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'THX 1138' – 1971

Warner Bros.

A dystopian sci-fi thriller set in a not-too-distant future, THX 1138 was Lucas' first feature length movie and was adapted from his award-winning short film that he made while attending the University of Southern California. The film was set in a 1984-like world, where sexuality is banned and heavily sedated humans go about their mundane existence with shaved heads. Robert Duvall stars as the titular THX 1138, who learns that roommate LUH 3417 (Maggie McOmie) has been weaning off her meds, leading to a romantic tryst that impregnates her. THX lands himself in prison for his misconduct, but manages to escape with the help of two other prisoners (Donald Pleasance and Don Pedro Colley). After co-founding the studio American Zoetrope with Francis Ford Coppola, THX 1138 was shot on a shoestring budget with minimalist production values, but still managed to gain fans among the college crowd and has over the decades become a cult classic.

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'American Graffiti' – 1973

Universal Studios

Lucas moved away from American Zoetrope to found his own company, Lucasfilm, Ltd., which he used to make his next film, American Graffiti, with the help of Universal Pictures. A coming of age film set on the last day of summer 1962, American Graffiti followed a group of teens as they get ready to make the jump into adult responsibility. The film focuses lon Curt Henderson (Richard Dreyfuss), a high school graduate uncertain about going to college with friend Steve Bolander (Ron Howard), despite landing a $2,000 scholarship. Meanwhile, nerd Terry (Charles Martin Smith) wants a date with dream girl Debbie (Candy Clark), 22-year-old drag racer John Milner (Paul Le Mat) prepares to do battle with the cocky Bob Falfa (Harrison Ford), and Steve wonders about his future with girlfriend Laurie (Cindy Williams). Despite being made on a low budget, American Graffiti tapped into early 1960s nostalgia and went on to become the third highest-grossing movie of 1973, which gave Lucas carte blanche to make his next movie.

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'Star Wars' – 1977

20th Century Fox

The space opera that launched an entertainment empire, Star Wars was both a blessing and a curse for George Lucas. Set a long time ago in a galaxy far away, Star Wars told the tale of a young farm boy named Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill), who longs to leave his uncle's farm and train as a pilot. Luke is pulled into a civil war between the small, but scrappy Rebel Alliance led by Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher), and the evil Galactic Empire, led by Jedi master Darth Vader, after acquiring two droids, R2-D2 and C-3PO, carrying detail blueprints for the massive Death Star. Luke meets another former Jedi, Obi Wan Kenobi (Alec Guinness), and flees his home planet of Tatooine with the help of smuggler Han Solo (Harrison Ford), leading to an epic battle for the fate of the Alliance. The movie was a giant box office hit, and spawned numerous sequels and prequels, as well as TV spinoffs and Star Wars-related merchandise that raked in untold millions. But at the same time, Lucas felt trapped by his creation and eventually sold off his interests in the franchise to the Walt Disney Company for a cool $4 billion. The original Star Wars was a critical and commercial hit, and earned 11 Academy Award nominations, including Best Picture and Best Director.

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'The Empire Strikes Back' – 1980

20th Century Fox

While this wasn't directed by Lucas, he had enough of a heavy hand in its making that he might as well have. After the enormous success of Star Wars, Lucas had full command of the franchise, putting up his own money to completely finance The Empire Strikes Back, and decided not to direct so he could concentrate on being an executive producer and overseeing special effects via Industrial Light & Magic. He hired one of his former USC professors, Irvin Kershner, to direct the new installment, which follows the remnants of the Rebel Alliance being tracked down by Darth Vader and the Galactic Empire. Following a tough battle on the snow planet Hoth, Han Solo and Princess Leia flee to Cloud City under the supposed protection of Lando Calrissian (Billy Dee Williams), while Luke Skywalker trains under Jedi master Yoda on the jungle planet of Dagobah. But nothing is as it seems, as Lando betrays his guests out of self-interest and Luke discovers a disturbing secret about Darth Vader. Darker and richer in characterization, The Empire Strikes Back has long been held up by most fans and critics as being the best of the entire series, which is why it's surprising how the film was snubbed by the Academy come Oscar time.