The story of how George Lucas ended up in the world of filmmaking is the stuff of legend. It's not simply a tale of writing what would become an Oscar-nominated script and it getting picked up by a studio, it's a tale of serious hard work and a happy co-existence with supportive and like-minded friends who banded together to make movies.
A key person who helped lay the land for George Lucas to make movies was the determined and immensely talented Francis Ford Coppola. By the time Lucas met Francis in the late 1960s, Coppola was well-established as a busy maker of movies (he'd already directed 1963's Dementia 13, 1966's You're a Big Boy Now, and 1968's Finian's Rainbow).
Lucas first worked as an aide for Coppola on the 1969 film, The Rain People, and this led to a lifelong friendship between the two. Lucas would go on to make a short 1968 documentary titled Filmmaker about the making of The Rain People.
Determined filmmakers on the rise, the Coppola Connection to Star Wars began in earnest when Coppola produced Lucas' first film THX 1138. It proved to be a cult hit over time (especially when reconsidered after Star Wars blew up) and laid the foundation for Lucas' path to Star Wars.
Before that happened, Lucas directed American Graffiti which was again produced by Coppola.
And then there is Apocalypse Now.
The making of Apocalypse Now is perhaps almost as legendary as the movie itself, but that's a tale to be told elsewhere. The key thing here is that Lucas was involved in helping John Milius develop his idea for the film with the intention of directing it. History shows things went the other way when Coppola directed it himself, leaving Lucas to focus on Star Wars.
It's important to understand the influence Apocalypse Now had on George Lucas. This film was about the Vietnam War, which Lucas did not support. What George did was carry over the concept and, in many ways, Star Wars is an allegory for the Vietnam War. Think of the Rebels being represented by the Viet Cong and the Evil Empire being represented by the United States of America.
Here are some other Coppola Connections to Star Wars:
- By the time Hayden Christensen was cast in Attack of the Clones, there's probably no doubt that he was most well-known for his part in director The Virgin Suicides. That movie was directed by Sofia Coppola who, of course, is Francis' daughter.
- Apocalypse Now is notable for Harrison Ford having a short role at the beginning of the movie as Colonel Lucas, so named after George.
- Lucas has said that he put some of Francis' trademark “swagger” into the character of Han Solo.
- Coppola's son Gian-Carlo was name-checked in The Phantom Menace for the Naboo vehicle called the Gian Speeder.
- George Lucas did second unit directing on The Godfather.
- Sofia did a cameo role as Padme's handmaiden Saché in The Phantom Menace (pictured below).