'Star Wars' director surveys 300 pics in new tome

There’s a sudden surge of new books dealing with movies and movie stars. There’s Peter Biskind’s “Star: How Warren Beatty Seduced America,” Clint Eastwood and Richard Schickel teaming on “Clint: A Retrospective” and a Robert Redford bio is expected this summer. But only one is accompanied by laudatory quotes from the likes of Steven Spielberg, Martin Scorsese and Ron Howard. That heralded book is almost a thousand pages long and is something of a curiosity.

Titled “George Lucas’s Blockbusting: A Decade-by-Decade Survey of Timeless Movies Including Untold Secrets of Their Financial and Cultural Success,” the massive tome consists of a survey of some 300 major movies spanning 1913 through 2005, along with random data and analyses prepared by a number of journalists and academics.

It’s unclear why Lucas takes a possessive credit on the book, but he did write a concise preface buttressed by a second foreword by Francis Ford Coppola. The book as a whole was edited by Alex Ben Block and Lucy Autrey Wilson, who did a superb job in compiling a mass of data and information.

In his one-page preface Lucas explains that, as far back as film school, he’d felt the need for a “comprehensive view of our past and a foreshadowing of the future.” He caused the book to happen because he thought “it’ll be a great tool for anyone interested in the art and business of making movies.”

It was inevitable that he’d get his old pal Coppola to write an introduction, which begins with the question: “Just what is a ‘blockbuster’ movie?” However, it’s still odd casting in that Coppola has always been an “indie film” guy who disdained the blockbuster mentalities. In his intro, he acknowledges that the main reason he finally agreed to direct “The Godfather” was that Lucas, among others, kept reminding him that he was broke.

Making a prospective blockbuster is a “grueling process,” Coppola writes, and “if your timing is off you can waste millions of dollars making a movie few want to see.” Directors of hit pictures have usually had to overcome the opposition, if not the venom, of studio chiefs and other financiers, he writes, and hence the most important trait they require is “courage.”

Coppola himself, to be sure, has always disdained sequels and franchise films, and Lucas himself considered “Star Wars” to be a personal film, not a tentpole. Nonetheless he decided that a sort of encyclopedia of hits would be a valuable tool and hence caused it to happen.

His volume contains a mass of valuable information, and also some inevitable misspellings and random errors (accounts of individual films are neither sourced nor annotated). But the book will be a big help to film students and fans — and where else would you find a filmmaker taking a possessive credit on a book?

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