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The Forgotten Tale of George Lucas’s Writing Tower

November 23rd, 2021 · 12 comments

In early 1973, George Lucas was living modestly with his wife, the film editor Marcia Lou Griffin, in a one-bedroom apartment in Mill Valley, a small town in Marin County, just north of San Francisco over the Golden Gate Bridge. Lucas’s situation drastically changed that summer when Universal released his second feature film, American Graffiti.

The movie was a major hit, earning over $60 million in its first year alone, before eventually going on to rake in $250 million in the decades that followed. Given that Graffiti was made on a shoestring budget of only $775,000, it still ranks as one of the most profitable movies of all time. Lucas, of course, enjoyed immense personal benefit from this success. His fledgling production company, LucasFilm, received $4 million from the movie in 1973, an amount worth over $16 million in today’s dollars.

I recently read about this particular beat in Lucas’s long narrative in Chris Taylor’s exhaustively-researched 2014 book, How Star Wars Conquered the Universe. As Taylor details, Lucas resisted the urge to follow the path of his friend Francis Ford Coppola, who had made a fortune the previous year with the runaway success of The Godfather, and then promptly spent the money on a “massive” Pacific Heights mansion and a private jet lease. He and Griffin instead bought a rambling Victorian house on Medway road in the Marin County village of San Anselmo.

What caught my attention most, however, is what Lucas did next.

According to Taylor, Lucas worked from old photographs of the house to reconstruct a two-story tower, including a fireplace and wrap-around windows offering a scenic view of nearby Mount Tam. It was in this tower, in the two years that followed, that Lucas sequestered himself most afternoons to sit at a three-sided desk he built out of old doors and grind out a new script for a movie concept that had long fascinated him, but was proving immensely difficult to reduce into a digestible story. His working title for the project: “The Star Wars.”

To my dismay, I couldn’t locate any extant images of Lucas’s writing tower. (The best I could find was the photo reproduced above, which shows Lucas in the house at Thanksgiving in 1977.)  But as with last week’s essay about Eoin Colfer devising the mega-bestselling Artemis Fowl series in a well-constructed backyard shed, I think this case study underscores the more general point that, for professional creatives, spending money to upgrade the aesthetics of your workspace is not just an exercise in expression, but is perhaps instead one of the best business investments you’ll ever make.

12 thoughts on “The Forgotten Tale of George Lucas’s Writing Tower

  1. Bhavya Prakash Gupta says:

    Interesting Read! Mr. Newport, there is an intriguing article in the Atlantic about how work and leisure are blurring in the American work landscape. I was wondering what you think about it and what this amalgamation of leisure and work means for deep work.

  2. Divyanshu Bora says:

    Hello, Sir. It’s Divyanshu Bora here from Assam, India. Currently, I’m a student of 12th standard, Science stream, who’s been highly inspired from your book titled “Deep Work”. First of all, I’d like to thank you for paving a path to understand the real meaning of “deep work” for a seventeen years old boy like me and letting him to quit one of the toxic stuffs that has been ruining humanity for a long time i.e. social media. To be very frank sir, I’ve come to know your TED Talk which has completely blown my mind by your different way of analyzing the real meaning of “deep work” and letting me to go through your books as well. Sir, right from my childhood I really have been passionate to pursue higher studies in Cosmology. How can I contact you sir? Is there any way to directly contact you? I’d be honored to receive guidance from a person like you sir.

    Yours sincerely
    Divyanshu Bora
    Assam, India

  3. Divyanshu Bora says:

    One of the favourite articles of mine from this blog website. Just loved it sir.

    Yours sincerely
    Divyanshu Bora
    Nagaon, Assam, India

  4. Jim C. says:

    I wonder if the fact the writers built the space themselves had an impact.
    That is, would the space have been as productive if they simply had something built for them.

  5. KM says:

    This clip about him starting to write the Phantom Menace shows a small room with a three-sided desk. Even if it’s not the same space, it’s clearly in the same vein.

    1. Study Hacks says:

      I believe that is the same 3-sided desk that he used for the original star wars script in his tower (he used it for all six movies he was involved in creating). But the room itself, by that point, would be at Skywalker Ranch.

    2. V says:

      Thanks for sharing that. great clip

  6. PeterB says:

    The Hemingway house in Key West, FL has a great example of this. Detached from the main house and connected by a raised walkway is the 2nd floor room he used to write( I believe everything is left as it was. You can get a sense of how the walk over to the room would move someone into deep work.

  7. Chris Jones says:

    Couldn’t agree more. I think investing in your workspace makes working within in more desirable. When my workspace reflects the person I am and the one I wish to become it unlocks more creative flow for me.

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