Saturday, May 26, 2007

Happy Birthday Star Wars!

The Star Wars universe began this weekend, thirty years ago.

Isn't that crazy!?

As mentioned before, I've been reading the new Making of Star Wars book. It's insane.

Here's a few quick items you can take note of when you're building your own personal epic.

  • You've got to read: Joseph Campbell, Tolkein, Bruno Bettleheim, and more fairy tales and myths than the law allows. That's what Lucas was consuming as he wrote and rewrote, edited and revised the script over three years. And that's just for the story. Then, of course, he was taking in films as well: Kurosawa's Hidden Fortress, which provided the plot, and films such as The Dam Busters and Battle of Britain and Tora! Tora! Tora!, which provided the manuevers for the challenging dogfight sequences.

  • Your only friend is history: Who knows what the future will be like? We all thought we'd have our flying cars by now. So Star Wars looks back. Simply put, the production would not have been possible without World War II. The uniforms, aesthetic and philosophy of the Nazis and the ongoing imperial machinations of America during the Vietnam conflict supplied the belief system and look of the Empire. The Y-wing and X-wing fighters were designed after WWII bombers and jets. Same with a lot of the pilot garb and maneuvers from the war films. Of course, we all know this historical research extended to ancient times from other cultures such as the samurai, which provided Darth Vader's helmet, Luke and Obi Wan Kenobi's garb, etc.

  • Your future is used: Lucas's biggest contribution to science fiction, though, was the idea of the used future. The idea that things shouldn't be polished, sterile, clean. They should be dirty, rusty, used. Ships and guns should look like they might not work at all. This is an amazingly simple concept that makes perfect sense. And it has been used in so many genres and films since then: Alien/Aliens, Lord of the Rings, etc.

  • Your best costumes and ideas are junk: Literally. They built the moisture collectors on Tatooine out of airplane junk; used faucets to make comlinks; cannibalized actual World War II weapons to make blasters; old photographic flash units to make lightsaber handles, and on and on. Most of this stuff came from junkyards, garage sales, bins and warehouses of junk, damaged goods and products that were yesterday's news. They even used scrapped technology, like the Vistavision camera and other junked high-end equipment in their struggle to create detailed FX projections at ILM.

  • You'll figure it out as you go along: All the great films I've heard of have terrible, draining shoots. Star Wars was no exception. And with malfunctioning robots, monsoon rain in the desert, no money, scant pre-production time, you already know...And that's just the technical stuff. On the story side, Lucas was still figuring out all the details we hold dear. Luke was on the set for days being called Luke Starkiller!

  • You better have geniuses for friends: It helps to have close friends like Coppola and Spielberg reading the drafts of your script. Brilliant actors like Harrison Ford still waiting to make it, begging to get in your film. And to have friends like De Palma (who was casting for Carrie at the time) helping out during your casting sessions. The important thing to realize here, though, is that you have to have faith and vision. Many of the folks around you, if not geniuses, are most likely very talented in their own right: how can you gather together, pool your resources and do something that's never been done?

  • You better be rich: This is the most important. Star Wars would not have happened without American Grafitti, which in turn, would not have happened without The Godfather (Coppola produced American Grafitti using his Godfather war chest). But let me say it again: Star Wars would not have happened without American Grafitti, which grossed over $100 million in 1973 and became one of the highest grossing films of all time. This made Lucas respected...and rich. This made Lucas capable of putting up the $473,368 (which would be $1,713,454.18 today!) needed to set up Industrial Light & Magic, hire Ralph McQuarrie to start the crucial sketches and designs needed of robots, landscapes, vehicles, characters, stormtroopers, etc. This meant Lucas could pay salaries himself, begin casting his film, roll up to the last seven days before filming, the very gates of the shoot itself...with Twentieth Century Fox nodding its head yes, while not laying down one greasy dime for production...
Sounds like someone else I know, but more on that another time.

It's a celebration, b*tches! Happy Birthday STAR WARS! You changed my life.

1 comment:

Hilt_in_Hand said...

this is fantastic... the main reason star wars' story was such a success is because of its abundance of archetypes... we can all thank Joseph Campbell for that.

isn't thre a show coming on about this?