(Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images)

When writer-director George Lucas released the first “Star Wars” film in 1977, no one could foresee that the epic fictional space saga would quickly turn into a cultural phenomenon. As a writer, director and executive producer, Lucas has amassed an iconic filmography boasting over 30 films such as “THX 1138, “American Graffiti,” the entire “Star Wars” saga, the entire “Indiana Jones” franchise and many more.

In addition to being a brilliant storyteller, 2015 Kennedy Center Honoree George Lucas, became an innovator in visual FX, CGI and film technology via his Industrial Light & Magic division of Lucasfilm. He also supports and encourages the future of filmmaking via educational endowments to his alma mater USC and the George Lucas Educational Foundation.

Early Success

It seems hard to believe George Lucas was ever interested in anything else besides filmmaking. However, in high school he was an avid racecar enthusiast, which fueled the idea for his first major hit film, “American Graffiti.”

The engaging 1973 dramedy was a coming-of-age story about the course of events over a single night for a group of teenagers set in 1962. It starred Richard Dreyfuss, Ron Howard, Cindy Williams and his future “Star Wars” star Harrison Ford. Lucas directed the critically-acclaimed movie via his newly-founded studio Lucasfilm, LTD. The film received a Best Picture Oscar nomination and Lucas also garnered Oscar nods for Best Director and Best Original Screenplay.

Star Wars and Indiana Jones

Now established, 33-year-old Lucas took a creative leap toward hyperspace in a galaxy far, far away. The “Star Wars” saga spawned an international frenzy that caused the first installment to quickly become the highest grossing film of all time. Lucas and his “Star Wars” franchise effectively birthed a new age of “blockbuster” films.

The “Star Wars” plot has transcended generations and engaged audiences in a way that no one dreamed was possible. Everyone pulled for fearless Jedi Knight Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill), gutsy Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher) and arrogant bad boy space pirate Han Solo (Harrison Ford) to defeat the Dark Side and preserve the universe in the first triumphant trilogy of films. To date, “Star Wars” remains the ultimate battle of good versus evil and moviegoers still can’t get enough of the story.

Lucas proved he could tell more than one tall tale and capitalized on Harrison Ford’s mass appeal in “Star Wars” to cast him in the lead role in his next multi-film epic adventure. Fictional archaeologist Henry “Indiana” Jones fights Nazis in “Raiders of the Lost Ark,” the first of four films in the Oscar-winning Indiana Jones action-adventure franchise, which was directed by Lucas’ longtime friend Steven Spielberg.

Technological Achievements and Educational Endeavors

George Lucas revolutionized the film industry and helped usher in the digital age with the stunning CGI and special effects used in “Star Wars,” “Indiana Jones” and all of the films released under the Industrial Light & Magic umbrella. ILM is responsible for several movie-making milestones including the first in-house completely computer-generated sequence in “Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope.” As of 2009, ILM has received 15 Best Visual Effects Oscars and is the largest visual effects vendor in the film industry. ILM has essentially changed the way we experience films.

George Lucas was presented the National Medal of Technology as well as the National Medal of Arts by the President of the United States for his extraordinary technical and creative contributions to American film. He is an American Film Institute Lifetime Achievement honoree, a Science Fiction Hall of Fame and California Hall of Fame Inductee and a Disney Legend. Future filmmakers should be proud to follow in their wise master’s hallowed cinematic footsteps.

The 38th Annual Kennedy Center Honors” will air Tuesday, Dec. 29 (9:00 – 11:00 PM, ET/PT) on CBS. Stephen Colbert returns to host for the second yer in a row.

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Lori Melton is a freelance writer. Her work can be found on Examiner.com.

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