On this day in 1973, the nostalgic teenage coming-of-age movie American Graffiti, directed and co-written by George Lucas, opens in theaters across the United States. Set in California in the summer of 1962, American Graffiti was nominated for five Academy Awards, including Best Director and Best Picture, and helped launch the big-screen careers of Richard Dreyfuss and Harrison Ford, as well as the former child actor and future Oscar-winning filmmaker Ron Howard. The film’s success enabled Lucas to get his next movie made, the mega-hit Star Wars (1977).
George Lucas was born May 14, 1944, in Modesto, California, and attended film school at the University of Southern California. He made his directorial debut in 1971 with the futuristic feature THX 1138, which was based on an award-winning project he produced in film school. His next movie was American Graffiti, which followed two young men (Howard and Dreyfuss) who spend a final night cruising around town with their buddies before they are both scheduled to leave for college the next morning. One of the producers of the film was Francis Ford Coppola, who a year earlier had emerged from relative obscurity to direct the instant classic The Godfather. In addition to his Best Director nod, Lucas was also nominated for the American Graffiti screenplay, which he co-wrote with Gloria Katz and Willard Huyck.
Lucas’ career-making space odyssey, Star Wars, broke box-office records and ushered in a new wave of filmmaking centered around special effects and fast-paced storylines. The film was nominated for 10 Academy Awards and ultimately collected six Oscars, for Best Effects, Best Costume Design, Best Art Direction, Best Music, Best Sound and Best Film Editing. Star Wars made millions in merchandise tie-ins and spawned multiple sequels, becoming one of the most popular franchises in movie history. Lucas struck gold again with the screenplay for 1981’s Raiders of the Lost Ark, which was directed by Steven Spielberg and starred Ford (whom Lucas also directed in three Star Wars films) as the globetrotting archaeologist Indiana Jones. Raiders of the Lost Ark also became a successful multi-film franchise.
In 1975, Lucas founded Industrial Light & Magic, a company that has provided cutting-edge visual effects to a long list of films, including the Star Wars series, the Indiana Jones films, E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial, Jurassic Park, Forrest Gump, Men in Black and the Harry Potter movies.