As long-time readers will suspect, I’m a big sci-fi nerd. Like many of my generation of kids born and raised in the 1970’s and 1980’s, George Lucas’ Star Wars was instrumental in our childhood. I myself had a HUGE collection of toys, and watched the movies so many times I lost count. Eventually, as a teenager, I started to finally lose interest, and sold my entire action figurine collection to my friend Chris for $0.25 each. I felt like I was rich at that point. As it turns out, that was quite possibly, the absolute worst financial decision of my life…but more on that later…

George Lucas is a fascinating individual. Despite being responsible for some of the biggest blockbusters in history, he has always been an independent filmmaker, and also a highly successful entrepreneur. His companies, Lucasfilm, LucasArts, Industrial Light & Magic and THX are all household names which have had major impact in cinema. Much of his wealth came from his foresight in retaining the merchandizing rights of Star Wars toys, games and other paraphernalia. It was an astute business decision to forgo up front revenue in favour of the much more lucrative long-term earnings of merchandizing.

Lucas has long valued education as one of his strongest passions. So much so, that in 2006, he had already made the largest donation in history to a film school, of approximately $175 Million USD. The money went to the USC Film School, where he learnt his craft.

His passion for supporting education started a lot earlier than this, however. In 1991, he founded the George Lucas Educational Foundation, which has spent 33 years focusing on improving pre-kindergarten to Grade 12 education and runs a resource website at It provides around $10M a year in support to a variety of educational projects in the United States.

In 2012, Lucas sold Lucasfilm to Disney in a $4 billion deal. At the time, Lucas announced that he would donate most of those earnings to Charity. He’s also pledged to give at least half of his net worth away during his lifetime. At least some of those earnings went into the private foundation he and his wife set up, which today has about $1 Billion in assets. (On a side note: his wife Mellody Hobson, is a fantastically successful investment manager, chair of Starbucks, and part-owner of a football team who is even more fascinating than Lucas himself. She in a 2019 interview that their first date was terrible, as Lucas barely uttered a word. It wasn’t until she started talking about her love of education that he came alive, and the rest was history.)

One of my favourite things about Lucas is that despite his incredible success, and worldwide fame, he appears to have stayed very down-to-earth introvert. I saw a social media post of him a few weeks ago, sitting in shopping mall food court, having lunch by himself, much to the stunned amazement of the person who snapped the photo.

These are the donations you are looking for…

There’s a lot of really importan things that those of us non-billionaires can learn from George Lucas’ philanthropic efforts. While he is working with a level of wealth few in the world enjoy, I do think that he demonstrates behaviour and actions that any of us who are chronic savers can learn from. You might even say we can be his Padawans of Philanthropy….so let’s use a few famous lines from Star Wars to highlight his lessons:

“This is the Way” – Din Djarin
First and foremost – is that timing of donations is very important. If you have a large monetization event, like the sale of a business, a cottage, or stock holdings, make sure you time your donations to match. If you aren’t sure where to donate, take a look at a community foundation that offers donor-advised accounts (sometimes called DAFs) that can allow you to donate now, but send the money to a variety of charities later. This lets you separate the timing of the tax receipt from the actual gifting. DAF offerings and rules vary widely – so its best to look around and see what works best for your situation.

“Do or do not, there is no try” – Yoda
Lucas has made an all-in effort by supporting one main area of support – education. While he’s supported dozens if not hundreds of educational programs, he is laser focused on making the most impact he can in this area. One of my friends used to be the point person for a large business that was often approached to support numerous charitable causes. In her words, “they are all wonderful, but you can’t support them all, or you won’t have any impact”. Its been my experience that this is wise advise – its far more effective to narrow your areas of interest, so that your gifts have more focused impact.

“No one is ever really gone” – Luke Skywalker
Leaving behind a gift that outlives you is the ultimate statement. George’s foundations will definitely last longer than his lifetime, and may even outlive Star Wars itself. Certainly the impact of the various educational causes he’s supported will stretch for generations. The same is true for any of us – especially when we give from our estate. Take the time to think about the meaningful messages you want to pass to those you love, and to society as a whole.

“Difficult to see; always in motion is the future…” – Yoda
At different stages in his life, Lucas has taking different approaches to his philanthropy. His educational foundation, one of his early efforts, is separate from his family foundation that he established at the sale of Lucasfilm to Disney. For many of us, the kinds of philanthropic journey we will take will change throughout our life, and that is perfectly fine.

“Never tell me the odds” – Han Solo
Lucas has a vision for what he wants to accomplish – be it in film, philanthropy or business. He’s made a habit of breaking the mold, and doing things no one else has managed, because he had the vision to see something through to completion. Imagine if all of us took this approach to everything in our lives, including the impact we want our giving to have?

Be an action figure.

I think George Lucas is one of my favourite action figures – despite his success, he’s appears down to Earth, and has a clear vision for how he wants to change the world. If everyone took the same approach, regardless of their level of wealth, I think we’d all be in a better place. I admire his dedication to Education, and the passion that clearly drives him in so many ways.

I found my own lack of faith disturbing…

It’s rather ironic then, that my own worst personal financial decision ever relates to Star Wars. As a kid, I had just about every action figure and Star Wars toy ever made. Most of them were in pristine condition. Somewhere around age 15, I had decided that I had outgrown my childhood dreams of becoming a Jedi. One of my friends, perhaps the biggest star wars fan that has ever lived, went around our small town, offering $0.25 per action figure. In the span of a few months, he bought pretty much every single collection. I felt rich at the time, exchanging my toys for so much money.

Fast forward 20 years or so – and while I’m volunteering at a charity with his wife, I relayed to her how I wished I had kept my action figures as they had since become valuable collectors items. She laughed, and said they had an entire room in their house where he still has every single Star Wars toy he bought from us, and refers to it as “his retirement investment account”, and won’t let her even touch them for fear of getting fingerprints on them.

I looked up the value of some of the items I had sold to him a few years ago – many of my action figures now are worth $50-100 each, and would be worth over $1000 if still in original packaging.

Being a numbers guy, I ran some estimates. I sold them for $0.25 each in 1987, which is $0.59 in 2024 dollars. Being a rarer item, my original 1978 Luke Skywalker in his X-Wing costume is now worth $100 today. Turns out my buddy is up just under 3400% on his investment. That’s a compounded annual interest rate of 17.1%!!

May the force be with you… and may you make better life choices with your Star Wars toys than I did…