One of Hollywood's highest honors, the award Thursday came as Lucas was bidding goodbye to his six-film sci-fi epic about the Skywalker clan, with the final chapter cruising to a $400 million-plus domestic haul.
AFI actually approached him a decade ago or more about the career prize, said Lucas, who turned 61 days before last month's debut of "Star Wars: Episode III - Revenge of the Sith."
I said, "You know, I'm too young. Look, I'm not ready yet," Lucas told The Associated Press. "Then they came back again, and I said, 'Look, wait until I'm over 60. Then I'll do it.' As soon as I turned 60, they called me."
Never a prolific filmmaker, Lucas has focused largely on "Star Wars" since the mid-1970s, along with producing the "Indiana Jones" movies and TV series.
Before that, he was a filmmaking wunderkind who directed the cult sci-fi satire "THX 1138" and the enormously popular "American Graffiti." Now planning to return to his roots and make out-of-the-mainstream art films more akin to "THX 1138," Lucas jokes that since he views the six "Star Wars" installments as one long movie, he's receiving a career honor while barely getting started in show business.
"If you think about getting their award for a body of work but you think of "Star Wars" as one movie, then I've only done three movies, and the only achievement is I actually finished "Star Wars,"" Lucas said.