"… By contrast, George Lucas’ THX-1138, a first feature that is the outgrowth of a prize-winning short subject he made in college, is a much more intriguing adventure. He has dispensed with complexities of plot as well as character simply to show us a man (his name is the film’s title) trying to escape a world he never made (but which we may be in the process of making) some five centuries hence. Lucas seeks to sustain our interest merely by presenting his plight through a series of striking visual images, absolutely pure movie stuff that owe nothing to conventions borrowed from literature, and he comes amazingly close to bringing it off.
It’s a white-on-white world, this underground city where automatons exist, their lives planned and controlled by computers. Sex is forbidden, procreation is by test tube only. THX gets into trouble when his roommate deprives him of his daily dose of sex repressant. This makes him too nervous to work successfully at his job, inconsolable by the God (actually a recorded announcement) whom you can dial on the phone, undistractable by the wall-sized TV which offers, among other amenities, a fix of violence whenever you need it — without your having to sit through a boring plot to get to the good part.
Lucas has a million such grabby ideas. Children are educated by having knowledge dripped into their veins. The cops are robots, judges computers, jail a white void. Lucas’ tone toward his macabre material is one of controlled irony; the result is the most exciting directorial debut in a long time. If THX-1138 never quite makes us really care about these people who were rendered subhuman long before the movie began, it still is an intelligent, deftly made visual trip — the best of its kind since 2001 and, in its basic pessimism a more devastating portent of things to come.”
review by Richard Schickel, 1971; excerpted from “Film 71/72”