Throwback Thursday: Two classic Lucas films show Lucas’ growth as a filmmaker

Charles Liu

“Star Wars: The Force Awakens” has awakened filmgoers at the box office, becoming the highest grossing film of all time in North America. Nearly 40 years after the original release of “Star Wars” in 1977, the space opera franchise is still going strong.

The man who started it all, George Lucas, isn’t involved with developing the series anymore, but his impact is still felt in the new installments and throughout Hollywood. “Star Wars” established the mold for modern blockbusters — energetic performances, epic stories and revolutionary special effects.

But before Lucas became a big name in Hollywood, he started out with smaller pictures that relied more on dialogue and character than action and spectacle. The Daily Texan recommends  checking out these original Lucas films to see the filmmaker begin to hone his craft.

THX 1138 (1971)

“THX 1138” is a science-fiction picture about a city where people take drugs that suppress sexual activity and enable them to undertake life-threatening jobs. After failing to take his prescribed drugs, factory worker THX 1138 (Robert Duvall) sleeps with his roommate, LUH 3417 (Maggie McOmie).

At work, THX’s disobedience is discovered, and he has no choice but to escape the city alongside fellow criminals SRT 5752 (Don Pedro Colley) and SEN 5241 (Donald Pleasance).
Lucas’ bleak vision of the future disturbs and entrances with its minimalistic set design and off-putting, oppressive atmosphere. The cast captures the horror of life in this dystopian world, and for Lucas, “THX 1138” marks the beginning of a long and impressive career.

American Graffiti (1973)

“American Graffiti” is a heartfelt look at car culture, based on Lucas’s own experiences in 1960s Modesto, California. It takes place over the course of a single night, chronicling the last hurrah of high school graduates Curt (Richard Dreyfuss), Steve (Ron Howard), John (Paul Le Mat) and “Toad” (Charles Martin Smith) before they head off to adulthood. They contend with romance, insecurity and growing up in side-by-side plot threads which eventually converge in a climactic drag race between John and his nemesis, Bob Falfa, played by a then-unknown Harrison Ford.

With “Graffiti,” Lucas demonstrates his ability to empathize with adolescents and connect with younger filmgoers. Out of his entire filmography, this is his most real, most human picture. The dialogue is engaging and lively, and the setting is marvelously depicted. “American Graffiti” is also worth checking out as a piece of film history — it was a major stepping stone in the careers of Dreyfuss, Howard, Ford and Lucas himself.