#329. George Lucas

For a director who has only directed six films in his career, George Lucas is one of the most recognizable names in the industry. Of course, this is also partly because of his film studio, Lucasfilm is responsible for the Star Wars and Indiana Jones franchises. When the main draw of a movie is the visuals and sounds involved with immersing the viewer in the world of the film, it’s no wonder that Industrial Light & Magic and Skywalker Sound are the great workhorses of Lucasfilm. What is almost ironic about George Lucas’ career is that, while he has written more films than he has directed, many actors and fans find the dialogue in these films to be clunky at best. Love him or hate him, George Lucas has made an indelible mark on film and on pop culture. This week’s two films highlight some of the best products of George Lucas’ career.

Star Wars: A New HopeStar Wars: A New Hope
Year: 1977
Rating: PG
Length: 121 minutes / 2.02 hours

The film that launched a thousand starships, Star Wars (1977) was an amazing, technical feat that we almost take for granted today. Most of the practical effects in this film, both on the ground and in space, have rarely been lived up to. While he didn’t direct The Empire Strikes Back (1980) or Return of the Jedi (1983), he did write each of them to maintain his vision of the Star Wars universe. George was back in the director’s chair for the prequel trilogy, writing and directing all three films in this less-than-exemplary follow-on to the cult hit he had created decades before. Despite not winning any Oscars from the original Star Wars, he was nominated for Best Director and Best Writing for his efforts. Strangely enough, both Harrison Ford and Alec Guinness did not like Lucas’ writing, especially for their dialogue.

A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away, Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher) of the Rebel Alliance is trying to get the plans for the Death Star into her compatriots’ hands but is captured in the process. Fortunately, her droids manage to track down Obi-Wan Kenobi (Alec Guinness), who charters a spaceship to travel to Alderaan with his new compatriot, Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill). Flying in the Millennium Falcon, piloted by Han Solo (Harrison Ford), the group arrive to find the planet destroyed by the Death Star. After being captured by the moon-like weapon, they manage to rescue the Princess and escape despite the loss of Kenobi at the hands of Darth Vader (David Prowse/James Earl Jones).). Now that the Rebels know the weakness of the Death Star, they launch an assault on the weapon to destroy it for good.

American GraffitiAmerican Graffiti
Year: 1973
Rating: PG
Length: 110 minutes / 1.83 hours

It’s almost odd to think that the man who brought the world Star Wars was the same one who also wrote and directed American Graffiti (1973). Earning his first Best Director and Best Writing Oscar nominations for this film, American Graffiti was George Lucas’ breakout success, even if it wasn’t his first film. Distinctly different in genre and tone from his very first film, THX 1138 (1971), American Graffiti examined a coming-of-age story set in a time of transition between high school and college. Perhaps due to its relatability to anyone who has ever been a teenager, this film has managed to place as high as #62 on the American Film Institute’s Top 100 movies list. Unfortunately, the sequel, More American Graffiti (1979) failed to live up to its original, much like the Star Wars prequels would in years to come.

After graduating high school earlier that year, a group of teens set out to have one last “hurrah” on the final day of summer vacation. Each of them has different destinations and dreams, many of them revolving around attending college in the next few days. In their last moments together before continuing their life elsewhere, these teens set out to drive around their hometown of Modesto, California looking for a good time. While some of them find missed opportunities, others take risks that have life-changing effects on their future plans. Each one of them realizes their childhood will soon be over, so they do the best they can to live it up in those final moments before flying away to attend college, get a job, or go to war. In the end, many of their decisions are based on love, which makes for a series of challenging goodbyes.

2 sum it up: 2 films, 2 great George Lucas movies

Bacon #: 2 (Hook / Phil Collins -> Balto / Kevin Bacon)

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#283. Ewan McGregor

When does an actor become recognizable? Is it when they are cast in a series of films beloved by their respective fandoms? Is it when they have an award-winning performance? Is it when they have appeared in enough films that they just “become known”? It seems that the convergence of two or more of these factors are what usually thrust an actor across the threshold of being an “unknown” to being a recognizable name in Hollywood. Whatever the specific reason, Ewan McGregor is a recognizable actor today. Maybe it was from his role as Obi-Wan Kenobi in the Star Wars prequel trilogy? Maybe it was from being in an Oscar-nominated film or two? Maybe it was from the long list of acting credits to his name. This week’s two films highlight some of the roles that made Ewan McGregor a recognizable actor.

Moulin Rouge!Moulin Rouge!
Year: 2001
Rating: PG-13
Length: 127 minutes / 2.12 hours

In the world of film, sometimes acting isn’t enough. The most versatile actors can sing and dance, but these skills can likely be taught so that an actor can fill the role they were meant to play. For Ewan McGregor, he clearly has a recognizable voice, as shown by a few animated films that utilized his voice acting talent. Robots (2005) and Valiant (2005) put McGregor in the lead role for their respective films, but this was at least four years after he truly proved his vocal prowess. There have been quite a few films (and even films about these types of films) where an actor or actress has their singing voice dubbed over (West Side Story (1961) being a prime example of this). In Moulin Rouge! (2001), it is clear that the actors are using their own voices to sing. McGregor’s distinctive voice would definitely present a challenge to be dubbed over, that much is certain.

A cross between love at first sight and a case of mistaken identities, Christian (Ewan McGregor) finds himself smitten with Satine (Nicole Kidman), the star of the Moulin Rouge. The confusion came when Christian was at the dance hall to pitch an idea for his theatre friends and Satine thought that he was the mysterious Duke of Monroth (Richard Roxburgh). Unfortunately, once the air was cleared, the damage was already done. Christian and Satine fall in love, but now the financial future of the Moulin Rouge is in jeopardy, seeing as the Duke wants Satine for himself if he is to provide his patronage to the dance hall. On the surface, Satine agrees to this, but only on the condition that Christian’s play is performed. But what Christian and the Duke don’t know is that Satine is dying from tuberculosis, a condition made worse by her singing in the play.

TrainspottingTrainspotting
Year: 1996
Rating: R
Length: 94 minutes / 1.56 hours

Years before Ewan McGregor did his best Alec Guinness impression in Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace(1999), he showed that he had the physical dedication to his roles in Trainspotting (1996). Obviously the type of body training needed for action films like Star Wars and The Island (2005) is different than losing a lot of weight to play a heroin addict, but the commitment is still the same. And while Trainspotting definitely had its trippy moments, much like Big Fish (2003) would later in McGregor’s career; it was still delightfully dark with its comedy. We’ve seen McGregor come back to the dark comedy with I Love You Phillip Morris (2009) and The Men Who Stare at Goats (2009), but I, for one, am curious if this year’s Trainspotting 2 (2017) will continue the unique look at drugs that its predecessor did twenty years ago.

Mark Renton (Ewan McGregor) is just one of a group of heroin addicts who have become friends. Of his own volition, he decides to go off of heroin, but does so via opium in an incident that takes place in “the worst toilet in Scotland”. Once the withdrawal ends, he hooks up with a girl who happened to be underage, thus pushing him back into heroin. In this daze, Renton and his friends end up killing the infant daughter of Allison (Susan Vidler) through sheer neglect. While the rest of the crew gets in trouble for shoplifting, Renton is pardoned with the caveat that he has to get clean. Unfortunately, this causes him to overdose and his family locks him in his childhood room to endure the withdrawal symptoms, including hallucinations. Now that he’s on the road to recovery, the gang wants to get back together for one last drug deal that could net them a lot of money. Renton obliges, but ends up having the last laugh.

2 sum it up: 2 films, 2 excellent Ewan McGregor performances

Bacon #: 2 (Valiant / John Cleese -> The Big Picture / Kevin Bacon)