View Full Version : May the 4th Be With You

Mr Rid
05-05-2013, 03:27 AM
In May of 1977, the highest grossing and most influential movie of all time opened in just 32 theatres, and was directed by a filmmaker who had never worked on a set before, "hated storytelling" and was "not into plots."


Some things you never knew about Star Wars.

"I expected not to ever make a hit movie. That wasn't my agenda." "I was working under the assumption that the film will be a disaster and it wouldnt be promoted and will just die a horrible death."

At the time, Lucas was extremely depressed and disappointed over the production of Star Wars as it was plagued with problems, budget compromises, equipment failures, constant studio pressure and haggling, weather problems (the Tunisian desert location had its first heavy rains in 50 years), and British crew stopped working dead at 5:30 each day regardless of schedule. The hell of pressure Lucas went thru is why he never wanted to direct the sequels or any movie ever again. Nothing about Star Wars' production turned out how he imagined, including the now famous special effects. It was much too ambitious for the budget, and a miracle it was ever green lit (after 2 and half years into major development, and after United Artist and Universal had passed on it), mainly due to Lucas' breakout success of American Graffiti (a top ten grosser) and his low salary- $200,000 to direct, write and produce. Few people could visualize what Lucas was going for, and Fox heads were constantly poised to pull the plug as the budget ballooned from $8 to $11 million. George collapsed with chest pains at the end of a nightmare production and ILM had spent half the FX budget making amazing toys but only had one shot in the can.

Fox hated the title but couldnt think of a better one.

Harrison Ford earned $750 a week. Mark Hamil was working at MacDonalds at the time he was cast.

Lucas' previous movies, THX and American Graffiti had at most 40 people on the payroll, while Star Wars had 950.

Lucas would get memos from the execs like 'Shouldnt the Wookie have pants?'

Production went several weeks over schedule and the first cut was a disaster. If producer Alan Ladd had not defended Lucas' vision every step of the way or had been replaced (as often happens with producers, as Ladd had produced another bomb during production), Star Wars would have been dropped.

I only read of two people who were impressed with early screenings- Spielberg,"It's going to make a lot of money", and one Fox VP was in tears,'This is the greatest film I have ever seen!' But most of the suits and Lucas' friends, including Scorsese, Coppola, Ballard, Barwood, DePalma were all shaking their heads. DePalma commented, 'What's all this Force s***? And 'Wheres all the blood when they shoot people.'

Key story influences were Castenada, Joseph Cambell and The Meaning and Importance of Fairy Tales by Bruno Bettelheim. The script was re-written four times.

Christopher Walken was nearly chosen for the role of Han Solo, as well as a black actor, Glynn Turman.

Luke Starkiller's name was changed to Skywalker since the former name reminded to much of the recent Manson murders.

When David Prowse was cast as Vader he did not know he would be wearing a mask and his voice would be dubbed. Orson Welles was first contacted to supply the voice.

Lucas considered Toshiro Mifune to play Kenobi, and an all Japanese cast. He also considered a cast of all little people.

"Faster, more intense" was Lucas' famous instruction to actors. Lucas seldom went beyond 3 takes.

Sound editor Sam Shaw said Star Wars required ten times the amount of sound work of a typical film.

The Libyan government sent people to inspect the Sandcrawler set to make sure it wasnt a secret weapon.

In mid production, Lucas decided Kenobi's character should die which Guinness did not agree with and Lucas had to convince Guinness to stay on.

Harrison Ford kept changing his lines, telling Lucas 'You can write this stuff, but you cant say it!'
Ford, Hamil and Fisher were always joking around and improving, like the scene where the elevator door opens and Luke and Han as stormtroopers are facing the wrong way. Hamil improved 'Prisoner transfer from cell block 1138.'

Lucas distanced himself by setting up Industrial Lihgt & Magic apart form the studio (they hired specialists that union workers could not fill the shoes of) because he saw the Hollywood system as distasteful and threatening, that is was not about creativity but about making money. The newly formed ILM barely completed the final Special FX shots just weeks before release. ILM began in a warehouse in Van Nuys with no air conditioner, where one of the model makers Grant McCune is still working today. Kubrick's 2001 had 205 FX shots with 18 months dedicated exclusively to FX, with $6.5mil out of total budget of $10.5mil in 1967. Star Wars had 365 shots to be completed over 2 years with an FX budget of $2.3mil. FX supervisor John Dykstra was the only one saying it could be done.

Ratings board males fell asleep in a screening of Star Wars. At a screening for the board of directors, only two loved it, the rest were neutral to hating it. But at the first audience screening, people stood up, screaming, and applauding from the beginning shot and all the way thru to the end. Producer Ladd was in tears for first time at a movie. The novelization was the fastest sellout of a sci-fi book Ballantine had ever had. It was the biggest opening day ever in 50 years of Grauman's Chinese theater.

After Ridley Scott saw Star Wars he said he realized 'I'm not even in the same universe as this guy.' His next films were Alien and Blade Runner. James Cameron saw it and thought, 'well if I'm gonna do this I'd better get going.'

Star Wars was the only time sequel rights and half of the merchandising went to one person. His success allowed Lucas to finance much of Empire Strikes Back with his own money, keep control, and move operations the hell away from Hollywood.

For me, the most impressive thing about Lucas was his intention to give young people hope, in a positive spiritual frame, and an alternative to drug culture. That is exactly the effect it had on me. There are so many people working in Hollywood today who refer to Star Wars as the source of their inspiration to work in movies.

At a cost of $10,000, computer graphics were created for monitors in a Death Star set but the set could not be appropriately prepared in time for shooting and was dropped.

Lucas' salary was only $200,000, but he made millions off merchandising rights which the studio had no expectation of.

"I have come to the conclusion there is a force larger than the individual. It is controlled by the individuals, and it controls them. All I'm saying is that the pure soul is connected to a larger energy field that you would begin to understand if you went all the way back and saw yourself in the purest sense." -Lucas during production of Star Wars.


05-05-2013, 03:56 AM
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05-05-2013, 04:08 AM
Great post Mr Rid, a fascinating read.

Always thought it a shame that Jack Kirby was never given more credit for so many of the concepts and characters underpinning the movie inspired by DC's epic Fourth World comic series. Homage or something beyond? Interesting thread here:

Mr Rid
05-05-2013, 04:46 AM
I think any similarities are due more to Kirby and Lucas hacking/retelling the same classic mythologies and old action serials. Lucas studied every fairy tale, legend and myth, but was mostly inspired by Flash Gordon and other serials of his youth. I think Vader as Luke's father is from religious ideas on 'sins of the father'. Darth Vader's appearance seems mostly inspired by 'The Lightning' character from an old Fighting Devil Dogs serial.


Lucas drew more specific inspiration from Kurosawa's Hidden Fortress that followed two humorously bickering peasants, like R2 and 3P0.

Mr Rid
05-05-2013, 05:10 AM
The making of computer animation for Star Wars.

Larry Cuba's Arabesque from 1975, he used to pitch Lucas on the use of computer animation.


Mr Rid
05-05-2013, 12:44 PM
Was watching Merlin (Sam Neill version) on Encore and it never dawned on me before how similar Arthur is to Luke. When young Arthur comes of age, an old wizard appears and reveals to Arthur the shocking truth that his father was actually the ruthless King Uther, and that great power resides within him. Arthur was born in secret, and the meddling wizard had taken baby Arthur away to be raised by good people, so Arthur would turn out pure and honorable unlike his twisted father. Merlin had been a friend and mentor to Uther until Uther turned selfish and scheming over some chick he had no business being with. The wise old wizard gives Arthur a special sword that belonged to his father, trains him to be 'the one' and to kick a** and bring justice/balance to the world where sorcerers and goodly knights are a dying breed.

Lucas also grew up with westerns, and Solo is of course the classic loner, gunslinger-for-hire type, out for himself, quick money & easy dames, brawling in saloons, and riding only with his faithful savage sidekick (Tonto?).

05-05-2013, 01:48 PM
Yes...clearly it must have been in Lucas mind..the myth of King arthur and merlin, who can escape it...I also like the myth about Merlin himself, and the myth of the devil trying to give birth to a son through Incubus, but the incubus demon pregnated a pure virgin, thus the offspring being half demonic and halfe human and both god and bad.

The saga connects with a lot of classic myths and the father son syndrome so to speak, and the sins of our fathers..and which path to choose in life, good or bad and the choices we can make and the temptations to go wrong ways etc.
Lucas spoke a lot of that in a documentary about the Star wars saga.

starwars and the empire strikes back came together so well with almost everything, and I just canīt imagine how the score might have affected the movie without John Williams fantastic score.

Im curious whatīs up on the rumours of gathering Carrie Fisher, Mark Hamill and Harrison Ford again for another Star Wars...I wonder how the synopsis for that looks?

05-05-2013, 03:22 PM
think too much is made of the importance of the myth in the storeys ark, for me I always felt that Lucas' real leap was in taking sci-fi out of it's B movie mentality of being a two three sets max sort of cheapo production with third rate FX and raising it to full feature film status, I mean just watch the thing and count the sets and the setups it totally blows you away, even high class fifties sci-fi like the MGM classic Forbidden Planet managed only around five or six major sets. Every one seems to go oh! he read that famous book on mythology and the rest is history, no, he made a mainstream action flick that just happened to be set in space in some alternate future universe and budgeted it as such, no one outside of MGM had ever done this before.

05-06-2013, 05:46 AM
IMO Star Wars is the reason the FX industry even exists. Every somewhat creative kid who saw that movie wanted to get into the business. Some people say that the stories were cheezy, the acting was horrible, and the whole thing is silly, but it has had an effect on just about everyone who loves movies, whether they realize it or not.

05-06-2013, 11:54 AM
Nice reading, thanks Mr Rid.

05-06-2013, 03:06 PM
Thanks David, a good read. I remember queueing up to see Star Wars (and Empire, my favourite of the three) and having to wait for the film to finish and go again before I got a seat.


Mr Rid
05-07-2013, 05:44 PM
As a kid, most of my friends were enthralled with bands. But a voice on a record or someone prancing on a stage just never transported me like sitting vulnerable in the dark, before the grand spectacle of Oz (scared the s*** out of me), or Harryhausen's magic on a giant screen with booming sound, or the madcap swashbuckling of the Musketeers. Music couldnt evoke the same range of gut terror to hilarity, the wonder and itch to see what will happen next. No one knew what a blue screen was, and the exotic world of Star Wars was so advanced, many teens were asking themselves the same question I was, 'HOW the hell did they do that?' In the course of searching the answer, we became intrigued with filmmaking and the idea of transporting others in turn. I found a purpose. Screw school...and everyone and their dog already had a band...'I wanna make movies!' Dawn of the Dead had me wanting to learn how to shock with makeup. Eraserhead next transported me inside out about what film could be.

Lucas' central vision was of a 'dogfight in space.' Previously, all spaceships were shiny sleek and boringly gliding right to left with a static camera. But SW ships were all grungy, dented and intricate, swirling and rushing at the lens amidst dazzling fire and neon shards. The quick editing set a new tempo for action. Lucas had ingeniously invented 'animatics' (moving storyboards) that are now common. With an early VCR, he'd been taping old WWII dogfight movies and docs, and splicing them together for a temp version of the TIE fighter attack. The clips inspired Dykstra to concoct the computerized motion-control camera that allowed them to attain such dynamic motion.

Richard Edlund with motion control rig-

As a 12 year old, Ben Burtt's sound design was as astonishing to me as the visuals (theaters jumped to upgrade after SW' excellent use of Dolby 4 track). Who ever thought that screaming sound would work for the TIE fighters, or that metallic twang of the blasters instead of the usual cheezy syhthesized bleeps? And who didnt want to own an effing lightsaber? Could I make a real one somehow? Forget Kojak and Columbo, when are we getting those jetpacks and robot servants they've been promising since the 50s? And no more dizzy distressed damsels and Farrah Fawcetts, with that spunky chick with the bun-weave blasting stormtroopers and ordering the jocks around. Whether anyone gets it now or not, what Lucas pulled off was truly visionary.

Burtt looking for Chewbaccas-

You just had to be there. Audiences cheered, and booed villains thru the whole movie. It was a joyous cosmic event at precisely the right time and place, setting off a global phenomenon like nothing before or since. People were tired of all the political cynicism, and were ready to feel hopeful about the future again. The timeless themes reinvented with a dash of post modern humour, wondrous visuals, and rollercoaster FUN that resonated with the kid in all demographics and cultures. It brought magic to the movie theater again. People responded, and the studios responded with massive merchandising that we naively devoured, and we LIKED it that way. Unfortunately, a tsunami of tentpole hyper-marketing and FX-porn swelled and swallowed Hollywood whole, as studio execs scrambled to emulate the formula, and audiences kept going back hoping to feel the same innocent thrill. But you can only lose your virginity once.