This is the 29th post in a daily series. Read about it here and see the list of previous posts here. A new post about “Star Wars” will be posted every day for 40 days leading up to the franchise’s 40th birthday on May 25th.
Throughout 40 Days of Star Wars, we’ve poked fun at George Lucas’s vision for the prequels, poked fun at his sensitivity around “The Star Wars Holiday Special,” derided his changes to the original trilogy, and fumed at his tone-deaf reactions to any criticisms about said changes.
But today is Lucas’s birthday, so we can let those things go — for today — and say nice things about him.
When Lucas sold Lucasfilm to Disney in 2012 for $4.05 billion, Lucasfilm announced Lucas planned to “donate the majority of the proceeds to his philanthropic endeavors.” The move was seen as a good deed, but to those who had been following him closely, this was not a surprise.
In 1991, he founded The George Lucas Educational Foundation as a nonprofit to promote innovation in education. That foundation includes the site Edutopia, which focuses on project-based, hands-on learning. In an interview with Forbes, he explained why that approach was so important:
In today’s world, students need three fundamental skills: they need to know how to find information, how to assess the quality of information, and how to creatively and effectively use information to accomplish a goal. These skills are critical for college, careers and life in today’s Internet-connected world.
With project-based learning, students learn by designing and constructing actual solutions to real life problems. Other important learning strategies include social and emotional learning — where kids learn how to cooperate, to lead, and to work well with different types of people. And, of course, digital technology is having an enormous impact as students collaborate with social media and benefit from advances such as simulations. We need to lean into these opportunities, in every district and every school.
Lucas’s commitment to improving education led him to sign Bill Gates and Warren Buffett’s Giving Pledge in 2010, promising to give at least half of his wealth away by the time of his death. In his pledge letter, Lucas wrote:
I am dedicating the majority of my wealth to improving education… 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.
That Lucas would want his money to go toward promoting creativity and imagination in children is fitting for a man whose legacy will be creating an entire franchise to that inspired millions to creatively use their imaginations. Through the “Star Wars” movies and other films, Lucasfilm and Industrial Light & Magic have been at the vanguard of special effects. Those movies have inspired kids for years, and now the money made from that can be used to help teach the kids of those kids.
As much as we rag on Lucas for the special editions or the prequels, we would have no “Star Wars” without him. To be sure, it took a village to make the movies and build the franchise, but it all started with Lucas. His idea, turned into a labor of love, changed the world. He changed the film industry, and by extension, had a big impact on the toy industry. But beyond that, he had a more intangible influence, creating something that would forge a bond between friends and family members. I certainly have gotten to make several friends through talking about “Star Wars,” and can’t thank Lucas enough.
Happy Birthday, George Lucas, and may the Force be with you.