George Lucas is one of the most famous filmmakers in the world. He started the Star Wars universe and he’s raked in money and prestige from that. Lucas is more successful than almost every single filmmaker to ever live. On top of all that, though, Lucas is something else to me. He is not a good filmmaker.
Bear in mind that Lucas has actually not directed many films. He also hasn’t written too many films either. Sure, Lucas has story credit on several films, including every Indiana Jones movie, but those are Spielberg films. Fair or not, I’m giving him the bulk of the credit there. This isn’t just about the lousy Star Wars prequels, either. He’s directed one good movie, the original Star Wars, which still has plenty of problems. He wrote another solid movie in Return of the Jedi. The reason why I’m writing this, though, is because I recently watched American Graffiti, and it is not good.
This was the introduction of Lucas to many people. It was only his second film, and his first – THX 1138 – is based on his student film from college. American Graffiti was his first major release, and he wrote it, directed it, edited it, and did just about everything. It’s what I would call some major Boomer-ass shit. It’s a movie set in California in 1962 about some teenagers about to go off to college hanging out. Lucas based it on his own teenaged year in California. It’s set mostly all in one night and is sort of like Dazed and Confused but not good. There are romances budding and falling apart. There are fancy cars and drag races. All the teenagers basically just cruise the streets.
I will give Lucas credit for knowing how to cast. This was an early look at actors like Richard Dreyfuss, Cindy Williams, and sort of Ron Howard not as a kid actor. This was the last time he was billed as “Ronny” Howard and the movie came out right before Happy Days debuted. Oh, we also got a look at a young guy who was working as a carpenter named Harrison Ford. Also, the music was good.
That’s about all I can say positively about American Graffiti. Lucas has always struggled with character building, and the characters here are lousy and one dimensional. The storylines are fairly ridiculous and only work intermittently. Mostly, it’s not funny. It’s weird when Lucas tries to be funny. He doesn’t seem to have much of a sense of humor. Honestly, there were so many times I came close to turning the movie off. Had I not been watching it while I was exercising, I probably would have. It’s not good at all. To have a cast like this and make a thoroughly mediocre movie is impressive in its own way. A few years later Lucas would make Star Wars and he never left the world of sci-fi and the supernatural again. He still isn’t great at that, but American Graffiti makes me wonder just how bad he would have been at telling human stories.