One of the most successful filmmakers of all time, George Lucas is best known for directing the Star Wars and Indiana Jones franchises. And while fans are well versed in Lucas’s legendary history as a director, many don’t realize how close he may have come to never making those series at all. At the age of 23, Lucas was diagnosed with diabetes at a crucial moment that changed the course of his life. Read on to find out the surprising way he learned of his condition—and how it may have shaped the years that followed.
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According to the British health organization Diabetes U.K., Lucas learned he had diabetes at the age of 23, when he was drafted to fight in the Vietnam War. “During his physical, the doctors discovered that he had Type 2 diabetes and told him that he couldn’t go to Vietnam,” the site explains.
While the director himself has remained tight-lipped about his diagnosis, the organization later added that Lucas “set a great example for millions of diabetic patients around the world by keeping his blood sugars levels under control for about 50 long years.”
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If Lucas had successfully been drafted to the Vietnam War, there’s a chance the world would never have been introduced to Star Wars. Vanity Fair reports that he began writing his first treatment for the Star Wars screenplay in 1972, three years before the end of the war.
According to a 2014 article in The New York Post, the director had carefully considered the parallels between his film and the Vietnam War, viewing both America and the Empire as “a large technological empire going after a small group of freedom fighters.”
He elaborated during his conversation with Vanity Fair in 2014. “With the Vietnam War we were going from a very idealistic, patriotic-thinking country to a ‘Hey, wait a minute, who’s in charge here? This isn’t what everybody says it is. We’re going to stand up against the system,'” he said. “And then, in Star Wars, I was taking that same thing and saying, generationally speaking, it’s really up to the sons and daughters, the new generation, to make up for the mistakes of the last generation.”
This wasn’t the first time Lucas’s health and filmmaking were intertwined. Lucas says he first decided to pursue filmmaking as a senior in high school, while recovering from a serious car crash.
“Right before I graduated, I got into a really bad car accident, and I spent that summer in the hospital thinking about where I was heading,” Lucas said in an interview with his daughter, Katie Lucas, for Seventeen Magazine. “I was going to go to a four-year college and be an anthropologist or to an art school and be an illustrator when a friend convinced me to learn photography at the University of Southern California. Little did I know it was a school that taught you how to make movies! It had never occurred to me that I’d ever have any interest in filmmaking.”
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Lucas’s difficult health circumstances seemed to pave his path to filmmaking, but he contends that despite the challenges, he had youth on his side at the time. “A lot of great thinkers—like Einstein and Newton—come up with their best ideas when they’re young because they don’t yet think in the way that the establishment teaches them,” he shared with Seventeen. “Sometimes your lack of knowledge frees your mind to be creative and think in a different way.”
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