Reviewer: Biography 'doesn't tackle important questions'
'Mythmaker: The Life and Work of George Lucas'
William Morrow, $27.50
Review by L.D. Meagher
December 7, 1999
(CNN) -- He was always more comfortable with machines than with people. That's the central insight biographer John Baxter offers about filmmaker George Lucas. As a result, "Mythmaker," his portrait of the "Star Wars" creator, is full of interesting factoids but it doesn't shed a lot of light on his subject.
Not that it isn't a lively account of the way Lucas and his contemporaries reshaped the world of movie making. Baxter mentions a lot of very famous people and unearths some interesting episodes from their lives. But in the end, we know little about Lucas we didn't already know, and we learn almost nothing about what makes him tick.
From his seemingly idyllic childhood in Modesto, California, to his seemingly meteoric rise to the top of the Hollywood heap, Lucas has been an enigmatic figure. He doesn't make friends easily, and his friendships don't seem particularly enduring. Baxter chronicles his tempestuous relationship with his peers, especially Francis Ford Coppola and Steven Spielberg, but he can find no explanation for what brought them together. And the falling out between Lucas and Coppola becomes, in Baxter's hands, more of a falling away.
In many ways, Baxter frames the story of George Lucas by telling the stories of Coppola and Spielberg at the same time. But the author squanders an opportunity to compare and contrast the styles, successes and failures of these three enormously talented men and settles for cataloging their ups and downs. The picture he paints is very broad, but not very deep.
"Mythmaker" is, on one level, fun to read. It's crammed with gossip. There's the story of the off-screen dalliance that affected all three of the original "Star Wars" movies. There's the emotional tug-of-war between Spielberg and his first wife, and the slow disintegration of Lucas' own first marriage. There are lots of stories about Coppola and how he managed to let his seemingly endless potential slip through his fingers. It sometimes seems that Baxter is compiling answers for a "New Hollywood" edition of Trivial Pursuit.
"Haskell Wexler, who was shooting a huge rock concert at nearby Altamont with the Maysles brothers, offered Lucas a few days' work as a cameraman," he writes, "and Lucas was there on the day when Hell's Angels employed as security men murdered a member of the audience, Meredith Hunter. John Milius insists that Lucas shot the scenes of the killing which were later used in the documentary Gimme Shelter. Lucas says he can't remember."
Baxter bases his account of "The Life and Work of George Lucas" on interviews with many of the filmmakers associates. Unfortunately, he never talked to Lucas himself. He quotes liberally from interviews Lucas gave to various media outlets over the years, but there's a sort of second-hand quality to his descriptions of events. To make up for it, the author expends copious quantities of ink describing each film Lucas has made, as a producer or as a director. There are some great on-the-set stories about "American Graffiti" and the "Star Wars" saga, and some nice "behind the scenes" moments (for example, the story about how Lucas originally intended to direct "Apocalypse Now"). On that level, "Mythmaker" is an enjoyable book.
On another level, it leaves the reader unsatisfied. It doesn't tackle the important questions about who Lucas is behind that reclusive facade. Is he still the kid from Modesto who refused to work at his father's stationery shop? What motivates a man who is uncomfortable around people to pursue a career in one of the most collaborative industries ever conceived?
You won't find the answers in "Mythmaker." But if you want to know the terms of the deal Lucas made with 20th Century Fox for "The Empire Strikes Back" or have always wondered if there was a link between "Raiders of the Lost Ark" and the German film "Das Boot," this is definitely the book for you.
Filmmakers score with 'Lucas in Love'
|Back to the top||
© 2001 Cable News Network. All Rights Reserved.|
Terms under which this service is provided to you.
Read our privacy guidelines.