Modesto is a small California town that gains its livelihood from its shops and its farms. Beyond its few streets lies the walnut ranch where George Lucas was raised. The town has one cinema on its main street. "Films by Jean-Luc Godard," George Lucas says, "do not play Modesto."
It follows that Lucas grew up away from the sophisticated influence that a major city would have offered. His adolescent passion was drag racing. He was one of the "Superkids," a member of the developing teenage subculture that separated from its community to form a mobile, affluent group on its own. He cruised Modesto's "strip" at night, chasing girls, listening to the blare of the car radio. He was determined to be an auto mechanic and a racing driver, someone who had access to the marvelous, sleek machines that sped legally on tracks instead of perilously on country roads. The dream left little time for schoolwork. He dropped out of high school and barely made junior college. There, he took photographs for racers, and thought of becoming a painter; he also studied sociology.
His interest in film came accidentally. He helped build a racing car for Haskell Wexler, the cinematographer; and he narrowly escaped death in a car crash. The meeting and the accident convinced him that he should use his visual talents rather than his mechanical ones. Painting was a gamble, and photography was problematic. The simplest and easiest solution seemed to be film school. Wexler helped Lucas to get into the University of Southern California. "I got there on a fluke," Lucas says, "and coming from a small town with one little theater, I didn't really have that much background. Producer and director were for me the same general category-the person who made the movies."