WASHINGTON - Less than two weeks before the release of the new
movie, George Lucas received the nation's highest award for achievement in the arts.
The accomplishments of Lucas and four others were celebrated at the Kennedy Center Honors on Sunday night, with President Obama and first lady Michelle Obama in attendance. The president arrived after delivering a national address.
Lucas created the Star Wars and Indiana Jones movie franchises, ushering in the age of the Hollywood blockbuster, and he broke barriers with his use of special effects and sound.
During a ceremony for the honorees Sunday afternoon at the White House, Obama said Lucas created films with "timeless themes and cutting-edge technology."
Star Wars: The Force Awakens, the seventh movie in the franchise and the first made without Lucas' involvement as director, producer, or writer, opens Dec. 18.
The other honorees were singer-songwriter Carole King, actress and singer Rita Moreno, conductor Seiji Ozawa, and actress Cicely Tyson.
Moreno became the first Latina to win an Academy Award when she was honored for her performance as Anita in West Side Story. She's one of a handful of artists to win an Oscar, Emmy, Grammy, and Tony. "She's still a leading lady of her era, a trailblazer with courage to break through barriers and forge new paths," Obama said.
Tyson, a longtime star of stage and screen, has said the honor validated her decision to turn down many roles as she tried to find meaningful work as a black woman. At 90, she's starring on Broadway alongside James Earl Jones in The Gin Game.
Ozawa, who was born in China to Japanese parents, began conducting as a teenager in Japan after World War II. He went on to lead the Boston Symphony Orchestra for 29 years.
King was inducted into the Songwriters' Hall of Fame nearly 30 years ago for her influence on pop music. Obama said King's Tapestry was one of the first albums he ever bought; it's also one of the highest-selling albums of any genre.