Zanuck: ‘George Lucas is the Thomas Edison of our time’

March 06, 2010 | 12:56 a.m.

George Lucas


You don’t hear too many Hollywood titans gushing about their peers and rivals, but when I sat down for lunch recently with “Alice in Wonderland” producer Richard D. Zanuck, the subject turned to George Lucas. I mentioned that Lucas is not the easiest person to talk to sometimes and that he has a reputation for liking ideas more than people.

Zanuck quickly defended Lucas. “Well, if so, thank goodness for all of us that that’s how his brain works. Look at the impact he’s had and the work he’s done. He’s like Walt Disney.”

Zanuck said he first met Lucas at an advance screening of “The Sugarland Express,” which was Steven Spielberg’s first feature film. Zanuck was the producer of the movie and his two memories of the screening were the fact that Goldie Hawn showed up in a silly disguise (so fans wouldn’t recognize her) and that Spielberg introduced Zanuck to a painfully shy friend of his named George.

Through the years, Zanuck, whose family name is steeped in Hollywood history, has come to view Lucas as a signature figure in American film history. The fact that Lucas took his massive profits from “Star Wars” and used it in the name of industry innovation made a deep impression on Zanuck, the producer of “Jaws,” “Cocoon” and “Road to Perdition.”

“He’s the only person with the exception of Sam Goldwyn who literally put his own money in; Sam financed and owned 100% of all those great pictures he made, and no one else has ever done that, not like he did. George put it back into ILM and Skywalker Ranch and THX sound. He put it into the greatest equipment, all of it up-to-date… He’s the only one who ever gave back to the industry in terms of the technology investment. And I guess James Cameron, now, but that’s on a different scale. He’s really been an innovator like nobody else. He’s the Thomas Edison of our time.”

— Geoff Boucher

George Lucas 2006

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John Dykstra’s favorite “Star Wars” scene

PHOTO: George Lucas at the World Business Forum in New York on Oct. 6, 2009. (Craig Ruttle/Bloomberg) Bottom, Lucas in 2006 (LucasFilm Ltd)


7 Responses to Zanuck: ‘George Lucas is the Thomas Edison of our time’

  1. SebiMeyer says:

    Since you have to be 13 or above to post here, I doubt there are many who would defend his second Star Wars trilogy. Those made Howard The Duck look good in comparison.
    But I guess it doesn't say anywhere in your article that he is actually still making good movies.

  2. John T says:

    I know Daryl Zanuck is a little, well, old, so I’ll forgive him this. Because he’s got it very, very wrong. I’m sure Emperor George is basking in it, though — getting adulation from the kind of producing exec who used to disdain him.
    George Lucas wrote THX-1138 with huge help from his friends, well documented in the “makings of” on the DVD. Gloria Katz and Willard Huyck basically created “American Graffiti.” And they did more than a quick little polish on that “Star Wars” thing. “Empire”? Written and directed by someone else. “Jedi”? Written and directed by someone else. Which brings us to the prequels. And if that’s what Zanuck’s basing his comments on, he’s WAY off. It’s not that those are bad “Star Wars” movies, it’s that they’re bad movies. Period. I feel badly for Hayden Christensen, Natalie Portman and Ian McDiarmid, because they did the very best they could. (I’ll leave McGregor out of it.)
    So, in short, George Lucas contributed to and put his name on two good movies. His contributions to the “Indiana Jones” movies are limited — except this last one, and look what happened to THAT piece of …
    Zanuck mentions ILM. Yeah, Lucas funded them, and that’s about it. He has no hands-on involvement in the company. So, in the sense that Edison more or less funded his own developments, I guess there’s a comparison. Except Edison actually CREATED HIS OWN INVENTIONS. Lucas probably wouldn’t even know how most of ILM works, and that’s not casting aspersions. This is not the area he’s interested in; he has said he’s not a technical person.
    Skywalker Sound? Again, a product of his film production, not something he actually CREATED himself.
    LucasArts? I guess if putting your name on mediocre videogames is equivalent to Edison … ?
    George Lucas has made a lot of money producing some very popular films (and now ruining the series he made successful through the kiddie-cartoon of “The Clone Wars”). Bully for him. That’s great. He made a lasting contribution to popular culture. He created some production companies because he wanted to control the system himself — but you could argue that Michael Bay is the new George Lucas because he bought a visual effects company. And what about Peter Jackson? Or, um, Steven Spielberg? Francis Ford Coppola? Jeffrey Katzenberg? Heck, you could argue Michael Eisner did as much (or more) for the industry than Lucas has.
    And then this Thomas Edison comparison? Or Walt Disney? By all accounts, Walt Disney was what we would today call a “micro-manager,” and while he didn’t give a lot of credit to the people who worked for him, they’re something of legends themselves these days, and everyone of them relates how incredibly involved Walt Disney was in every facet of his operation. He may not have been the artist, but he was the soul, the inspiration, the heart. There’s a reason he was, for a while, the most recognized man in the world. If George Lucas died today, would Time Magazine place a crying R2-D2 on its cover? He might warrant a page inside, but there’s no comparison — George Lucas is not Walt Disney. Or Thomas Edison.
    All I can think is, Daryl Zanuck must have a script he wants to show George Lucas. But his fawning, preening comments are really kind of embarrassing and a little insulting to Thomas Edison and Walt Disney.
    (Oh, and Mr. Zanuck? THX is not a sound system. Never was.)

  3. Lucas is one of those figures who seems to be simultaneously loved and reviled–often for the same work. But now that comments center so much (again, both pro and con) around his Star Wars work, I fear that Lucas won't get widespread recognition for the other movies he's done.
    And whether he's considered "great" or "overrated," it really SHOULD be on the basis of more than just Star Wars….

  4. Captain Rick says:

    I wouldn't go THAT far, on Edison or Disney.

  5. Mark says:

    When George Lucas dies he will be given the credit he so obviously deserves. What a lot of people don't seem to realise is that every single Hollywood blockbuster filmmaker has been copying George Lucas since 1977.
    I sincerely hope that George returns to films like THX 1138 and American Graffiti in the next few years, they are two of the most stunning films of the 70s and, along with the original Star Wars, show Lucas to be an amazingly talented filmmaker. If he had only made those three films his place in film history would be assured. Add to that ILM, Skywalker Sound, Pixar, the creation of Indiana Jones, EditDroid… the list is endless. Daryl Zanuck is right on the money, and i'd take his opinion over some fanboys who were disappointed by the Star Wars prequels.

  6. Mark says:

    @John T: If George Lucas died today you bet it would be a Time cover story. You seem to hold a grudge against Lucas, but whether you like it or not for the past 35 years he has been an American cultural icon.
    Just to correct one of your missives, despite the fact that Marquand is credited as director of Return of the Jedi, the truth is Marquand was completely overwhelmed by the production and Lucas effectively ghost-directed the movie.

  7. […] Ranch and THX sound. He put it into the greatest equipment, all of it up-to-date,” Zanuck told Hero Complex last year. “He’s the only one who ever gave back to the industry in terms of the […]

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