You don't have to be a Star Wars super fan to know who George Lucas is. The acclaimed filmmaker, who is also famous for creating the story behind the Indiana Jones series, has been one of Hollywood's biggest names for more than 40 years now. In honor of the four-time Oscar nominee's 75th birthday on May 14, here are some fascinating facts you might not know about him.
1. Making Movies Wasn't His First Choice
Lucas didn't always want to be a filmmaker. In fact, it was only after failing at a handful of other careers that Lucas made his way into show business. According to The Hollywood Reporter, as a teen Lucas dreamed of becoming a professional race car driver until a near-fatal accident while he was in high school derailed those plans. After graduating from high school, Lucas attempted to join the Air Force but was rejected because he had too many speeding tickets.
2. He Once Worked as a Camera Operator for the Rolling Stones
One of Lucas’s earliest film jobs was serving as a camera operator on Gimme Shelter, Albert and David Maysles' critically acclaimed 1970 Rolling Stones film that documented the band’s free 1969 concert at the Altamont Speedway in California, which ended with the death of four concertgoers (including the stabbing death of Meredith Hunter, which was captured on film).
3. His Dog Was a Major Influence on His Work
George Lucas with his dog Indiana, 1975. pic.twitter.com/HF3nH6uDUC— RaidersAdventureBlog (@blog_raiders) April 6, 2019
The Alaskan Malamute Lucas owned while writing the first Star Wars film inspired two now-iconic characters: The dog’s name, Indiana, became the name of Harrison Ford’s character in the Indiana Jones series. And the look of Chewbacca, Han Solo’s faithful sidekick in the Star Wars series, was based on Lucas's pup.
“I had an Alaskan Malamute when I was writing the film [Star Wars, Episode IV: A New Hope],” Lucas once shared. “A very sweet dog, she would always sit next to me when I was writing. And when I'd drive around, she'd sit in the front seat. A Malamute is a very large dog—like a 130 pounds and bigger than a human being and very long-haired.”
4. Star Wars Wasn't an Easy Sell
While the Star Wars franchise has turned into one of the most successful film series in movie history, the first film was not immediately embraced by potential backers. According to Lucas, his “space opera” was turned down by both United Artists and Universal. And it was only because of the success of his previous film, 1975's American Graffiti, that he got people at 20th Century Fox to believe in him. Really, Lucas couldn't blame them for being skeptical of its commercial appeal. “It was crazy—spaceships, and Wookies, and robots," Lucas said. "It was just unlike anything that had ever been seen before."
5. He Based Han Solo Partially on Francis Ford Coppola
The reason Han Solo from the Star Wars series is such a lovable character might be because he was loosely based on one of Lucas’s good friends. After spending time with director Francis Ford Coppola on the set of Apocalypse Now, Lucas decided to add some of the Oscar-winning director's characteristics to Han.
6. He Won a Razzie
Although Lucas has been nominated for four Oscars, two Golden Globes, three Emmy Awards, and various other prestigious awards, he has also received five Golden Raspberry (or Razzie) nominations, which celebrate the worst films made in any particular year. Between 1989 and 2003, Lucas earned five Razzie nominations and eventually took home the award for Worst Screenplay in 2003 (for Star Wars: Episode II - Attack of the Clones).
7. His Favorite Star Wars Character is Many Fans' Most Hated
Though the Star Wars universe is filled with hundreds of memorable characters, Lucas—to the horror of many fans—has long maintained that the much maligned Jar Jar Binks is his favorite character. The goofy Gungan, who is featured in the prequels, is widely considered to be the series's most unlikeable character. Earlier this year, while discussing the 20th anniversary of The Phantom Menace, Lucas stated that the 1999 movie is one of his favorites in the series "and, of course, Jar Jar is my favorite character." (Yes, he was dead-serious.)
8. He Was Roommates With Another Famous Director
Many members of Lucas’s group of friends, including Ron Howard and Steven Spielberg, went on to become famous writers and directors in their own right. As did Lucas's college roommate, Grease director Randal Kleiser.
“[George and I] arrived at USC at the same time,” Kleiser told Bustle in 2015. “He had a house in Topanga Canyon and needed a roommate, so I moved in. I had the bottom half of the house and he had the top. We worked on each other's first movies. I was an actor on his very first film, and he shot some of my stuff.” Kleiser also revealed that this led to the late Carrie Fisher, who played Leia Organa in Star Wars, being considered for the role of Sandy in Grease.
9. He Stood Before Congress to Argue Against the Alteration of Classic Films
In 1988, Lucas and Steven Spielberg went to Washington, DC to speak before Congress about the necessity of adopting the Berne Convention, a global agreement that protects an artist's copyright around the world and makes it unlawful for someone to alter it. (Ted Turner's penchant for colorizing classic black-and-white movies was a thorn in the side of many filmmakers at the time.)
“People who alter or destroy works of art and our cultural heritage for profit or as an exercise of power are barbarians," Lucas said. “[And] if the laws of the United States continue to condone this behavior, history will surely classify us as a barbaric society.” Of course, Lucas himself would later digitally alter some of his own films, much to the annoyance of Star Wars purists.
10. He Plans to Give Away Half of His Fortune
Lucas—who is the force behind some of the highest-grossing movies of all time, and sold his Lucasfilm to Disney for $4 billion—has an estimated net worth of approximately $6.1 billion. But philanthropy, particularly when it comes to improving education, has always been a part of Lucas's life. In 2010, he signed the Giving Pledge, which is a promise to give away half his wealth during his lifetime.
"I am dedicating the majority of my wealth to improving education," Lucas wrote in a 2010 editorial for The Hollywood Reporter. "It is the key to the survival of the human race. We have to plan for our collective future—and the first step begins with the social, emotional, and intellectual tools we provide to our children. As humans, our greatest tool for survival is our ability to think and to adapt—as educators, storytellers, and communicators our responsibility is to continue to do so."
This article also appears on Mental Floss.