The Difference Between George Lucas and Gene Roddenberry

George Lucas and Gene Roddenberry have a lot in common. Both created masterpieces of entertainment set in outer space: Star Wars and Star Trek, respectively. The main difference between them is that one’s failures led to his success while the other’s successes led to his failure.

Gene Roddenberry’s “Failures”

Gene Roddenberry and George Lucas shaking hands, Fishbowl BlogGene Roddenberry created a TV show called Star Trek in 1966, but it was canceled after just three seasons. A decade later, Roddenberry managed to get his show made into a feature film (thanks to the success of Lucas’s Star Wars) and, even though it made a lot of money, it wasn’t a very good movie. So he was mostly kept out of the sequels, which turned out to be much better than the original.

Instead of wallowing in his failure to make movies, Roddenberry returned to primetime television with Star Trek: The Next Generation in 1987. This new show earned much higher ratings than the original Star Trek show had, but only after his influence on the show waned in the third season. Ironically, Roddenberry’s creations were most successful when he kept his hands off them. He was smart enough to entrust essential operations to those who could do a better job than him.

George Lucas’s “Successes”

George Lucas created the first Star Wars film under incredibly difficult conditions. From writing the ambitious script to shooting in Tunisia and England to inventing new equipment for the special effects, each step was plagued with problems. Yet he created a nearly perfect movie out of all of that.

Lucas realized he wasn’t particularly suited to directing such epic films, so he passed off directing duties to Irvin Kershner, giving him a lot of creative control over the sequel, The Empire Strikes Back. Few people wanted to direct the Star Wars sequel because it would be a thankless job. If the movie failed, they would be blamed, but if it succeeded, Lucas would get most of the credit. Unfortunately, they turned out to be right. The sequel was a huge success, and Lucas made the mistake of taking credit for its success.

With his newfound confidence, Lucas micromanaged Return of the Jedi, preventing it from reaching its potential. Years later, after making Star Wars: The Phantom Menace, Lucas could have realized his mistake and handed over creative control to a better filmmaker. But his success in the past convinced him he could do the job himself. So he went on to make two more movies that were financially successful, but which lacked almost everything that made the original films good. Lucas is financially successful, but a creative failure.

What Does This Have to Do with Anything?

At this point, if you’re a regular visitor to this blog, you’re probably thinking, “What has this got to do with running a business?” And if you’re a new visitor, you’re probably thinking, “Okay, now how is this guy going to shoehorn a business pitch into a Star Wars vs. Star Trek discussion?” To answer these two questions, a. specialization and b. very subtly.

Specialization Is Our Specialty

Business owners are usually passionate and knowledgeable about certain parts of their business, but not all. If you want to be successful, you need to emulate Roddenberry and shun Lucas. It’s tempting to think you’re right about everything or to take credit for others’ successes. But the real way to be successful is to realize you need others’ strengths. That way, you can all specialize and be more effective in what you’re good at doing.

Whether you struggle with accounting, information technology, inventory management, human resources or any other aspect of running a business, the important thing is to recognize your weaknesses so you can start to address them. You can either gain new skills or hire people who have the skills you need. You should find a balance between handling every task yourself and entrusting every task to employees.

Live Long and Prosper

George Lucas can’t coast on his brand name forever if he keeps churning out inferior products. No business owner can. By specializing in what you do well and leaving challenging tasks to the experts, you’re more likely to succeed despite your failures than to fail despite your successes.

May the driving force within your business help it live long and prosper!

The photo of George Lucas and Gene Roddenberry shaking hands is from Star Trek: The Official Fan Club Newsletter from 1987.


About Robert Lockard

Robert Lockard is a copywriter with Fishbowl. He writes for several blogs about inventory management, manufacturing, QuickBooks and small business. Fishbowl Inventory is the #1-requested inventory management software for QuickBooks users. Robert enjoys running, reading, writing, spending time with his wife and children, and watching movies. His favorite movies include Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, Fiddler on the Roof, Back to the Future and Lawrence of Arabia.
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9 Responses to The Difference Between George Lucas and Gene Roddenberry

  1. racy_rick says:

    This was an interesting read, but it posits that star trek wasn’t really very successful and Star Wars was. These shows also have a difference in the way they were marketed and how toys were created for the shows. The star wars fans were kept interested between the original movies with great figurines and ships. Star trek seemed to have some figurines in the mid to late 90’s, but missed the point about toys, a lot.

    Also, Star Trek is a very cerebral show and doesn’t lend itself to be watched by very young kids and understood. Kids don’t care whether we need dampening fields when we are going faster than light. They just want to see lasers and spaceships. Oh Star Trek has that, but it is not the focus. On the other side of that Clone wars was basically one huge star battle and that was cool, but they totally lost the story. It should never have lost the extra scenes between Anakin and Padme. Star Trek shows us that we don’t always need a love scene for a science fiction movie.

    The next generation of kids will find star trek through the vast amounts of media. If I wanted to watch star trek when I was a kid I’d have to stay up late to watch at weird times and even then I couldn’t get through a season easily. Now I can queue up DS9 seasons on Netflix (which I am at the middle of S3 after watching all of ENT and TNG).

    The game has changed. No longer do these large franchises need to be super-successful right away on TV as that is no longer where all of the money is at. Perhaps projects like Pioneer One and other independent franchicses on the way will eliminate the TV aspect altogether.

    After being a big star wars fan in my youth I’ve come to respect Star Trek and in a few months I will have watched every show from every season. I probably won’t be getting the clone wars animated cartoons any time soon.

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  5. Appreciate the use of article here, Robert.
    **By the way, you dovetailed your point in nicely at the end.

    Many thanks, sir!

    • You are quite welcome, and thank you, too. I love your blog, by the way. It’s so good to see so much common sense in one place. Plus, I love the way you used Star Wars and Star Trek so deftly in that blog post. Spock in Carbonite. Brilliant. 🙂

      • I’m humbled by the kind words, Robert.
        My Sis and I are just tryin’ our best to highlight some of the idiocy that abounds, and to elicit a couple laughs along the way.

        BTW, is this blog your primary place, or is the movie review site, or both?
        Looked around the movie site, and I have it bookmarked, as well.
        Interesting stuff; looking forward to reading more.

        I hope you’ll stop by again, and please feel free to comment at ANY time, whether you agree with me on a topic or if you feel I’ve gone round the bend.

        Thanks again, Robert — talk with you soon…

      • Blogging gets confusing with all the hats we put on. My Deja Reviewer blog is one I write for in my spare time, and the Inventory System Software one is the one I write for in my actual job. Actually, the George Lucas vs. Gene Roddenberry post was one that inspired me to start a movie blog because I had so many ideas I couldn’t relate to business terms.

        You definitely have a new fan of your writing. 🙂 I can’t wait to visit often and see your most recent stuff and go back and see what you’ve come up with before.

        Sorry for not responding for a while, by the way. This weekend I was busy moving and I haven’t had access to the Internet for a few days.

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