Application of the Auteur Theory to George Lucas’ Movies Star Wars and American Graffiti

June 7, 2022 by Essay Writer

When applied to film directing, auteur theory posits that the director is indeed the author of the film, imprinting it with her or his personal vision. This can be an excellent starting point for analyzing certain films, both thematically and stylistically, and is in fact exactly how the auteur theory got started. The theory gives enormous, almost total responsibility for a film’s success or failure (artistically, not at the box office) to the director (Goodykoontz & Jacobs,2019, Ch. 8.3, Para. 1).

The director I have chosen is George Lucas and the two films I decided to discuss are American Graffiti and Star Wars. George Lucas was able to take his audience out of their everyday life and put them into a virtual reality. Most of the characters in the film American Graffiti were based on aspects of George Lucas’s life story at different phases throughout his youth. These autobiographical shadings make the film ring true because Lucas can relate to the characters and is able to write what he knows. Critic, Alan Jones states, “American Graffiti is wonderfully evoking the feel and spirit of the era, this is one of those rare movies you live through rather than watch” (Jones, 2014, page 2). “Throughout the history of cinema, we find a handful of directors who have changed the concept of what is possible within the medium”21(Goodykoontz & Jacobs, 2019, Ch.8.2, Para.7).

In 1977 Star Wars was a film that was beyond its time. Lucas was known for his creativity and his ability to use his imagination and create another world that impacted all of his audience. His creations were so impactful that to this day, even 42 years later kids still walk around and act like they are fighting one another with lightsabers. Star Wars changed the direction of film, for the better.

Although auteur theory was not universally accepted, George Lucas was able to dream and create films which have changed the film industry, he used real life experiences that made his audience relate to his films, all while altering the course of filmmaking and culture, and created new sounds and visuals no one has heard or seen before. “It may seem obvious, but, at least according to Sarris, technical competence is one requirement of the auteur; he famously wrote, “A great director has to be at least a good director” (Goodykoontz & Jacobs, 2019, Ch. 8.3, Para. 3).

Directors like George Lucas, who can dream and create films which have never been done before are one in a million. “Techniques of cinematography, editing, and sound were discovered by trial and error, both to enhance the impact of a story and to make it easy for audiences to follow” (Goodykoontz & Jacobs, 2019, Ch. 8.6, Para. 1). In Lucas’s film, American Graffiti, lighting played a big role. Most of the film was located outside and during the nighttime. This required certain lighting and skill that the film crew who Lucas had did not have. A friend of Lucas’s, Haskell Wexler, who was a cinematographer was willing to lend his expertise and act as the visual adviser and lead cameraman.

Bill Maley who was the lighting director worked hand and hand with Wexler. They had to come up a strategic plan in order to illuminate the actors and reflect the display of headlights of cars passing them on the face of the actors. They used several operated dome lights inside the cars, allowing the actors to be visible. Lucas wasn’t going to give up on making sure this film fit his expectations, he was willing to go above and beyond to make sure it was perfect.

Camera technology called the Dykstraflex was used throughout Star Wars. This camera technology was created by John Dykstra, hense the name. The Dykstraflex was developed precisely for Star Wars and was a motion-controlled camera system. This helped with creating the ability to make the starships look as real as possible and helped to show Han Solo in the Millennium Falcon go faster than the speed of light.

“When an auteur finds a collaborator, who shares his or her vision and can help achieve it, they tend to develop an ongoing working relationship” (Goodykoontz & Jacobs, 2019, Ch. 8.5, Para. 2).

In American Graffiti and Star Wars, George Lucas worked very closely with Francis Ford Coppola. George Lucas met his mentor as a film school student in the late 1960s. The first feature-length film Coppola helped Lucas produced was American Graffiti in 1973.

After the success of American Graffitti, Lucas began to work on the film that changed his entire career and is what quite possibly made him an auteur director. In an interview with Bill Moyers, Lucas’s says, “In film, Francis Coppola became my mentor, and taught me how to write screenplays, and taught me how to work with actors” (Lucas, 2012, 00:42). “Interior meaning involves the distinguishable personality spread over a director’s collected work. What is she or he trying to accomplish? What is he or she trying to say?” (Goodykoontz & Jacobs, 2019, Ch. 8.3, Para. 7).

A hallmark that is used most often throughout Lucas’s films would be sound and design. They are expressive of his stylistic personality.American Graffitti is flawlessly interlaced with music that brings you all the way back to the years of 1955 through 1962. Lucas used music throughout this film in order to establish each scene. From songs like sixteen candles by The Crests to I only have eyes for you by The Flamingos. Lucas uses songs to begin almost each scene and end every scene. These songs were crucial to set the tone and to describe the characters emotions.

Lucas’s vision for Star Wars was to create a film that contained sounds no one had heard of before. Ben Burtt was the sound designer on Star Wars and was ready to make his dream a reality. As Lucas was coming up for the characters that would be used in the film Star Wars, he knew that he didn’t want some of the characters to speak any English. Ben Burtts was able to capture noise from nature and animals and use them to develop and establish characters like Chewbacca and R2-D2. In 1973 American Graffiti was known as a film that everyone could relate to their teenage years. It reminisces on high school graduates who are taking advantage of their last day of freedom.

In Star Wars, Lucas opened our eyes to the possibilities of filmmaking and things have never been the same. The genres Lucas is well known for are science fiction and fantasy. Star Wars is an example of both genres whereas American Graffiti is centered around drama and comedy. Lucas grew up loving science and history, he studied it throughout his adult life. After Lucas directed American Graffiti, he realized that his heart belonged to history, science, and fantasy. He hasn’t looked back since.

The type of story which is consistent with American Graffiti and Star Wars is the concept of dealing with change and the feelings of fear and anxiety of leaving one’s familiar environment. This is used in American Graffiti when Curt Henderson (Richard Dreyfuss) is having second thoughts about leaving for college on the night before he is supposed to leave. Curt is nervous about leaving home where he is secure and starting some place new.

This is also used in Star Wars, when Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) is asked by Obi-Wan to join him in learning the Force. At first Luke isn’t sure about doing so because he has the fear of failing. Auteurs like Lucas captivate his audience and create films that have not been seen before.

George Lucas went above and beyond to make sure his films met his expectations. Whether that meant creating different ways to get the perfect lighting or having new technology created in order to make his film look as realistic as possible. Lucas’s stylistic personality is portrayed through sound and design. He is very particular in what music or sounds he likes to use throughout his films.

In American Graffiti he played classic rock-n-roll whether it was the background music in the fancy fast cars or the music playing at the school dance. In Star Wars, he wanted to use only sound that was unique and real, something that had never been done before. His goal was to create something that sounded believable to everyone. Auteurs like Lucas, have a vision for their film and will do anything to create it.


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