The “Lucas Effect”

in Creativity is a Real Thing


While it might sound strange to read it, there is such thing as “too much” creativity, specifically too much left unchallenged on a large project. George Lucas is considered the father of the Star Wars series with the first film that started it all, but it’s easy to forget the checks and balances that made the first trilogy iconic and that were absent on the trilogy that followed.

What is the Lucas Effect?

On Premium Beat, John Francis McCullagh describes the Lucas Effect — coined after George Lucas, the creator of the Star Wars series — as what happens when you allow a single creative voice having overwhelming or complete creative control over the direction of a large scale project. In this case, it refers to a comparison of the iconic first trilogy in the Star Wars film series (episodes IV, V and VI) and its comparatively less popular — and frequently derided — prequel trilogy (episodes I, II, III).

“The Lucas Effect is wild creativity with reckless abandon. It’s not knowing how to edit your story, not realizing when you’ve gone too far — or if you’ve crammed too many characters and subplots into one story,” McCullagh says.

What happened?

The Star Wars universe is certainly the brainchild of George Lucas, but what many might not know is that he actually only wrote the first film, “A New Hope,” and other talented artists were charged with taking that vision to completion over the next two films. Here’s why that trilogy succeeded and the second, modern trilogy didn’t:

  • Juggling: To make sure his story was told, Lucas had to step away from directing and writing to focus on being a producer for the first three films due to financial and technological limits.

  • All in one basket: For the prequels, he wrote, directed and edited all three films.

  • Everyone believed the hype: Because of the success (and track record) of the first three films, everyone believed Lucas would succeed again.

  • No checks and balances: Without the distribution of creative vision and control, there were no voices to challenge Lucas’ ideas, some argue too many of which, ended up in the final films. There’s also a good chance that there was decision fatigue at play too.

To see how this effect pops up again, the Indiana Jones series was another where Lucas played a strong role in the writing process. That said, director of the trilogy Steven Spielberg, acted as a gatekeeper for a lot of his friend’s ideas, but by the time remakes became the formula a full two decades later, he’d given more creative control to Lucas, who also wrote the fourth film.

The Carry Over

We might not all be filmmakers, but the key idea that can carry over to other projects is simply that if you’re the “boss” of a project, it helps to understand (if not try) as many of the other positions involved as possible. For filmmaking, there’s an especially important triangle of the writer, director, and editor, but other large undertakings will likely have a similar key creative structure.


Walking in another artist’s shoes lets you make informed decisions and interact better with other people on the project (read: you know how hard their job is) when it comes time to relinquish responsibility, which will need to happen eventually. This also means you’ll get more value out of input and you might see some good ideas where you might have been tempted to just dismiss it right away with “it’s my vision, my call.”

The Takeaways

  • On bigger projects with more moving pieces and people, there’s no harm in allowing input even if you don’t have to entertain it all, especially from people who understand you and the project’s potential well.

  • But on personal work, there’s merit to figuring things out yourself and finding your vision without overanalyzing, before finally looking to references once you’ve definitively hit a wall.

  • If you don’t have someone to challenge your ideas when you want, find someone or distance yourself from it so you can come back with a less attached perspective.

  • The rush of creative flow is exhilarating, but that doesn’t mean you need to implement your first or even all of the ideas that come of it.