by Chris Lucas
May 4, 2020
George Lucas idolized Walt Disney.
Born in 1944, Lucas came of age as a youngster just as Walt was exploring live action films and theme parks. 1954’s 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea was one of the first films George saw, and it became a favorite.
Lucas, whose family visited Disneyland the first week it was open and made frequent trips there, wanted more than anything to work for Disney.
As his interest in filmmaking grew, Lucas started to use the newest tools available to him in the 1960s, while tinkering and developing even more, just as Walt and his staff did in the 30s and 40s. Walt loved trains, and included them in his films and parks. George Lucas did the same for cars and other speedy vehicles. Lucas thought, perhaps, he could make live-action films for Disney one day.
He developed a myth-based science fiction adventure story in the 1970s that was a throwback to the serials and Disney special effects films he loved as a kid.
Unfortunately, Disney wasn’t in the sci-fi business and showed little interest in Star Wars. Their first and only feature film of that genre up to that point was 1962’s Moon Pilot.
Disney wasn’t the place for Star Wars, so George had to go to FOX. But Lucas learned a valuable lesson from Walt: always control the characters and marketing plans for merchandise. It made Lucas a billionaire.
Eventually, like other Hollywood Studios after 1977, Disney played catch up with Star Wars. The Black Hole, in 1979, was their answer. It was a great attempt, and paid homage to Star Wars, but couldn’t match the box office results.
In 2012, George Lucas sold his company - Lucasfilm, Ltd. - to Disney for $4 billion. He’s earmarked the majority of that money for philanthropic purposes, and for assisting and inspiring the next generation of filmmakers and artists, just as Disney did for him.
George Lucas never got to meet Walt Disney, but we’re sure that Walt would have been very proud of this fellow visionary filmmaker and creator of fantastic worlds.
Chris Lucas is the author of Top Disney: 100 Top Ten Lists of the Best of Disney, from the Man to the Mouse and Beyond.