MODESTO — The fans expected to come out to see Modesto native son George Lucas' public homecoming Friday could well be called "The Fast & The Force."
Automotive enthusiasts and sci-fi geeks, along with average lookie-loos, will be lining the streets as Lucas makes his appearance Friday as grand marshal of the North Modesto Kiwanis American Graffiti Classic Car Parade.
His return, while riding in a 1946 apricot-colored Mercury convertible (as opposed to a hovering landspeeder), will be the first time many residents of his hometown will see the iconic filmmaker in the flesh.
Although he was born and raised in Modesto, graduated from Downey High and attended Modesto Junior College, many in town know Lucas only as a figure far, far away, making movies in Marin County.
His return for the 40th anniversary of his seminal film "American Graffiti" and the annual celebration of cars and Americana that it inspired has revved up interest.
Modesto resident Monique Potter plans to attend and sees it as a source of city pride.
"George Lucas is an icon and a great example for a role model," she said. "I was raised in Modesto and will be attending the tradition of 'American Graffiti.' It's nice to know that even when you get famous, you don't forget your roots and where you came from. I think he is wonderful."
Others acknowledged the rarity of Lucas' public appearance. Organizers of the parade believe this will be his first public event in town since 1973 when "American Graffiti" premièred. At the time, he was given a key to the city, which North Modesto Kiwanis event coordinator John Sanders said Lucas still has.
Modesto Mayor Garrad Marsh will give Lucas another award at 6:30 p.m. in a brief ceremony before the parade starts.
And then at 7 p.m. it will be time to cruise around downtown Modesto an act that helped inspire Lucas to write and direct his ode to boys chasing after girls in cars. Lucas is scheduled to make two laps of the downtown route, which loops along I and J streets between 10th and 17th.
The parade route has been moved north one block to pass the "American Graffiti" statue erected in 1997 to honor him. Lucas was unable to attend that dedication but certainly will get an eyeful of his landmark Friday.
The parade is free to spectators, and drivers have until Friday afternoon to register their 1979-or-earlier vehicles to be in the parade and the weekend's North Modesto Kiwanis American Graffiti Festival and Car Show.
But while car culture will be the theme, the films that made Lucas most famous will be hard to ignore.
Members of the 501st Legion Central California Garrison, a "Star Wars" costume organization, plan to be around downtown Modesto on Friday afternoon and early evening. Group organizers said, though, that they were politely declined a role in the official events.
Don Harmon, a member of the Mid-Valley Chevy Club, said Lucas' draw has brought more cars out for the group's lead-up car shows all week.
"I've met people all ages who are excited," he said. "I talked with a girl in her 20s at a jewelry store this week who was in tears saying she was such a big George Lucas fan and loved his movies."
Still the focus Friday will be on the cars with their gleaming chrome and instant nostalgia.
Waterford residents Dale and Cindy DeYoung will be riding in their first Graffiti parade. The couple have a souped-up 1923 Ford Model T. While Lucas wasn't the reason they decided to come out this year nor are they "Star Wars" fans the husband-and-wife team said his presence didn't hurt.
"Oh, yeah, it's great to have him come back," said Cindy DeYoung. "He started everything here, the beginning. We'd love to meet him if we could."
Also joining Lucas this year in the parade will be another Central Valley Lucas, Ben Lucas no relation. The two men share only a last name and a love of American automotive innovation. Ben and his wife, Bev, will be driving their green 1955 Chevy pickup with its license plate "LUCAS 55."
"I always get stopped, and people ask if I'm related to him. I say, 'I'm a Lucas, but not a George.' I wish. But since George was coming into town, thought it'd be appropriate to take part," said Ben Lucas.
Winton resident Danny Garcia, a member of Modesto's Skanless low-rider club, polished his 1953 Chevy truck at the downtown Modesto Mid-Valley Chevy Club show Wednesday evening. He said the added excitement because of Lucas has made this year's Graffiti more fun.
"It shows respect, whether people have hot rods or low riders or classic cars, we're all the same," he said. "We all love cars."
Of course, Lucas' impending appearance wasn't for everyone. Eighty-year-old Modesto resident Mancil Holden sat in front of his 1931 Ford roadster in a cowboy hat and suspenders. Was he excited about the moviemaker's return?
"Not at all," he said. "I'm just here for the cars."
Bee staff writer Marijke Rowland can be reached at email@example.com or (209) 578-2284.