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George Lucas Brings Excitement Back to Your Galaxy

By Carl Bennett

Copyright © 1977, 2001-2018 by Carl Bennett. All Rights Reserved.

“Academy Award” and “Oscar” are registered trademarks of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.

Originally published in Scintillation 13, Volume 4, Number 2, June 1977, pages 25-32.

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Photos courtesy: 20th Century-Fox Film Corporation.

Note about this reproduction: Punctuation, spelling and typographical errors have been corrected. Breaks in words and paragraphs indicate the original publication’s page breaks for reference purposes.

This article was largely written from 20th Century-Fox promotional material in 1977, but seemed to make good use of the many available quotes from George Lucas that it contained. For the most part I tried to keep a level head and discuss Star Wars (1977) as popular entertainment, not from fannish enthusiasm. I didn’t seem to succeed. For historical perspective: Note that the anticeptic Logan’s Run (1976) had won the Academy Award® for Special Effects earlier that year. It wasn’t hard to get excited about Star Wars when fake-looking plastic miniatures and badly-edged matte opticals, with visible exposure and color differences, were all it took to earn an Oscar® the year before.

— Preface, Copyright © 2001 by Carl Bennett.

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“I think that anyone who goes to the movies loves to have an emotional experience,” says director George Lucas. “It’s basic — whether you’re seven, seventeen or seventy. The more intense the experience, the more successful the film.”

George Lucas is among the half-dozen new filmmakers that have appeared over the past ten years to gain instant recognition for their ingenious talent for creating movies. Among them: Francis Ford Coppola, John Milius, Martin Scorsese, Steven Spielberg and Brian DePalma. These men grew up watching movies and developed a fanatical love for the form. In some cases, they studied film together and helped each other make movies. Now they are in their idols’ place directing and producing the finest of Hollywood’s new films.

Lucas has made three feature-length films in his nearly decade-long career as filmmaker. THX 1138, American Graffiti and Star Wars. The latter two have been enormously successful.

George Lucas attended the famed University of Southern California Film School, where he produced eight films in rapid succession. During his studies at USC, with half the film class helping him, he directed a science fiction short entitled THX 1138:4EB, which won many awards including the competition at the Third National Student Film Festival for 1967-68.

In 1967, Lucas was one of four students chosen to make short documentaries on the shooting of McKenna’s Gold. Although it dealt more with the mysteries of the desert than the production, Lucas’ short was the favorite of director Carl Foreman. Lucas then won a scholarship which allowed him to observe the shooting of Finian’s Rainbow and have a chance to make friends with the director, Francis Ford Coppola. While working as Coppola’s assistant on The Rain People in 1969, Lucas made a forty-minute documentary about the making of the movie entitled Filmmaker, which has been recognized as one of the best films on moviemaking.

Coppola acted as executive producer on Lucas’ first professional feature length motion picture, THX 1138, which was an expanded version of his student film. While the film got good critical reviews, it didn’t do well financially. Coppola again acted as producer with Gary Kurtz on Lucas’ second feature length picture about adolescent life in a Southern California town, entitled American Graffiti. The film was a huge success and became a phenominal box-office hit, snagging five Academy Award nominations for 1973, including best picture, best director and best screenplay. The film also won the Golden Globe Award for Best Motion Picture in the Comedy classification, and both the New York Film Critics and the National Society of Film Critics awards for best screenplay.

George Lucas’ new motion picture, Star Wars, cleared over 6 million dollars the first two weeks showing in 44 theaters

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Photo courtesy: 20th Century-Fox Film Corporation.

across the country. Star Wars is already destined to be the darling of the Academy and critics’ circle awards for 1977 against such strong competition as Sorcerer directed by William Friedkin, A Bridge Too Far directed by Richard Attenborough, Steven Spielberg’s Close Encounter of the Third Kind, New York, New York directed by Martin Scorsese, and Francis Ford Coppola's own Apocalypse Now.

Truly, Star Wars has little chance against the likes of Coppola, Scorsese and Spielberg, but with an expected gross of between 100 and 150 million dollars, it will be encouraged and publicized beyond any of its competition.

“I’ve always loved adventure films,” said George Lucas. “After I finished American Graffiti, I came to realize that since the demise of the Western, there hasn’t been much in the mythological fantasy genre available to the film audience. So, instead of making ‘isn’t-it-terrible-what’s-happening-to-mankind’ movies, which is how I began, I decided that I’d try to fill that gap. I’d make a film so rooted in imagination that the grimness of everyday life would not follow the audience into the theater. In other words, for two hours, they could forget.

“I’m trying to reconstruct a genre that’s been lost and bring it to a new dimension so that the elements of space, fantasy, adventure, suspense, and fun all work and feed off each other. So, in a way, Star Wars is a movie for the kid in all of us.”

The “isn’t-it-terrible” film Lucas referred to was his THX 1138, a responsible dystopian vision of a soulless future. While THX 1138 is a cult classic, representing perhaps the finest of the dystopian science fiction films, its appearance in 1971 made it unacceptable entertainment for audiences who weren’t well read in traditional science fiction. Around 1972, George Lucas announced his plans to write and direct a ‘Flash Gordon-Buck Rogers’ kind of movie — one that brought back the flavor of the old adventure serials.

“It’s fun — that’s the word for this movie,” says Lucas. “Young people today don’t have a fantasy life anymore; not the way we did. All they’ve got in Kojak and Dirty Harry. There are all these kids running around wanting to be killer cops. All the films they see are movies of disasters and insecurity and realistic violence.

“I want to open up the whole realm of space for young people. Science fiction is okay, but it got so involved with science that it forgot the sense of adventure. I want Star Wars to make them think of things that could happen. I’d like them to say, ‘Gee, wouldn't it be great if we could go and run around on Mars?’ Kids today seem to be having a very boring childhood, and I wanted to make something to relieve that boredom. Kids may not be a lot more worldly than they were, but I still think they’d like to have some sort of honest, clean . . . I mean, they should be able to go to the movies and see something!

“The reason I made Star Wars is that I want to give young people some sort of faraway, exotic environment for their imaginations to run free. I have a strong feeling about interesting people in space exploration. I want them to get beyond the basic stupidities of the moment and think about colonizing Venus and Mars. And the only way it’s going to happen is to have some kid fantasize about getting his ray gun, jumping inhis spaceship and flying off into outer space.”

It is true that today’s children have little stimulus to exercise their imaginations. Around the turn of the century when there were frontiers yet to be explored, travelogues and exotic adventure books were tremendously popular among the reading young. A young girl or boy could fantasize about travelling into a steamy jungle on a safari to bag a lion, or to frozen seas of ice and living among the eskimos while they spear seal and whale. The more adventurous imagination would travel to moons of grey-green cheese or watch a red sunrise while standing next to a dried-up canal on Mars.

Lucas, I’m sure, can sense how American children are gradually being raped of their imaginations — with the imaginations go the childhoods. A child without a childhood grows up to be a dull, shallow person without motivation. From there the implications are plain. Motivationless people are easily manipulated.

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Photos courtesy: 20th Century-Fox Film Corporation.

Today in our information-packed society, a kid can see lions-and-tigers-and-bears in a half an hour on one channel, and slow-motion violence in a den of international spies threatening to blow up the Pentagon on another.

Perhaps Bradbury’s Mars shouldn't be the shunned outcast in science fiction that it has become these last ten years since facts have discredited former fantasies and theories. Bradbury has been, and still is, writing about and from his childhood — Lucas, in Star Wars, is speaking from his.

“I wasted four years of my life crusing like the kids in American Graffiti and now I’m on an intergalactic dream of heroism,” said Lucas. “In Star Wars, I’m telling the story of me.

“I wanted to make an action movie — a movie in outer space like Flash Gordon used to be. Ray guns and running aroundin spaceships and shooting at each other. I knew I wanted to have a big battle in outer space, a sort of dogfight thing. I knew I wanted to make a movie about an old man and a kid. And I knew I wanted the old man to be a real old man and have a sort of teacher-student relationship with the kid. I wanted the old man to also be like a warrior. I wanted a princess, too, but I didn't want her to be a passive damsel in distress.

“What finally emerged through the many drafts of the script has obviously been influenced by science fiction and action adventure I’ve read and seen. And I’ve seen a lot of it. I’m trying to make a classic sort of genre picture, a classic space fantasy in which all the influen-

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Photos courtesy: 20th Century-Fox Film Corporation.

ces are working together. There are certain traditional aspects of the genre I wanted to keep and help perpetuate in Star Wars. I hope it is a big success and a lot of people do space fantasy adventure movies because I want to go and see them.”

THX 1138 differs as much from Star Wars as it does from American Graffiti. THX 1138 is a science fiction film, as opposed to the space fantasy film that Star Wars is. THX 1138 has all the traditional trappings for a dystopian look at future society; under Lucas’ writing and direction it turned out to be an exceptional film with a remarkable amount of immeshed wit and satire. Lucas, who had been reading science fiction nearly all of his life, knew just where to twist the plot line to make the film story rise above the form.

Lucas is, I believe I can safely assume, the first film director to incorporate entropy in his vision of the future. In THX 1138, robot police malfunction, holograms become solid free-thinking beings in an already-over-populated society, and tight budgets are enforced by municipal governments (THX escapes the underground city because the expenditures allowable for his recapture and rehabilitation are over-budget).

In Star Wars, little Jawas deal in salvaged robots, used floater-transport prices are down when newer models reach the market, piracy is a normal (but still illegal) practice in the galaxy, and the main characters even get trapped in a gigantic garbage masher aboard the immense Death Star space station.

“The trouble with the future is most futuristic movies is that it always looks new and clean and shiny,” Lucas says. “What is required for true credibility is a used future. The Apollo capsules were instructive inthat regard. By the time the astronauts returned from the moon, you had the impression the capsules were littered with weightless candy wrappers and old Tang jars, no more exotic than the family station wagon. And although Star Wars has no points of reference to Earth time or space, with which we are familiar (and it is not about the future but some galactic past or some extra-temporal present), it is a decidedly inhabited and used time and place. We don't explain everything. All the hardware is taken for granted.”

Many things must be taken for granted in lieu of fun. This point will be the downfall of many of the negative critics who try to defeat Star Wars on technical or logical grounds. Star Wars wasn’t put together to work in our universe. Anyone who cannot suspend their disbelief for two hours has neither a sense of humor or a sense of adventure. What is important for the audience is the initial impact. Because of Lucas’ careful attention to his ‘used future’ much of the film looks as though it were shot ‘on location.’

This care for the visual credibility of Star Wars had already put many other so-called science fiction films to pitiful shame. Logan’s Run, a special-effects Academy Award winner for 1976, cannot hold a candle to the brilliancy of Star Wars.

There are many vivid scenes in Star Wars, and many of them will be the most talked about in science fiction film history: the Delany-esque bar scene on Tatooine where well over a dozen different alien species are gathered for drink and conversation; the breath-taking jump into hyperspace (a science fiction conven-

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Photos courtesy: 20th Century-Fox Film Corporation.

tion about which no other director knows even the slightest); the 12 O’Clock High type of dogfight sequences and bomb-run passes along the Death Star trench that pull you out of your seat; the light sword duel between Obi-wan Kenobi and Darth Vader.

The humor of Star Wars is Lucas’ safety factor. From the very first minutes of the film he wants to make sure no one takes Star Wars too seriously — there’s only room for serious fun.

One valid complaint the movie-going audiences of America might have is the inherent weaknesses of character in the space fantasy form. These past few years Hollywood has done a good job of showing on the screen realistic dramas about very real people. American audiences are not as unsophisticated as some pessimists might claim, as they are sensitive to hokey interpretations of character and bad acting. While no one in Star Wars is a bad actor, they (as one national magazine noted) ‘co-star’ with the special effects in the film. Perhaps the most developed and interesting of the characters are the two that have captured most of the Star Wars audience’s heart: Threepio and, especially, Artoo.

I do not hestitate to say that, most likely, this is no accident. Popular culture’s preconception of science fiction (due to past big media productions) is dominated by straight faced logical robots and aliens in a colorless society — a future that sounds like present-day New Jersey. Threepio and Artoo, minus the metal and beeps and whines, are characters swiped from English sitting-room comedy. The humanistic traits of the two comic robots serves as both refutation of this myth and as an ingenious film continuity device. Together in Star Wars, they are the central characters from which the action of the film truly radiates.

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Photos courtesy: 20th Century-Fox Film Corporation.

In a nutshell, the story of Luke Skywalker in Star Wars is as follows: Luke Skywalker is living on an arid planet much like Frank Herbert’s Arrakis (in fact, tribute is paid to Herbert is a shot of Threepio wandering the Tatooine desert; in the background lies the gigantic skeleton of what appears to be a sandworm) with his aunt and uncle, helping them on their moisture farm. Chance brings Threepio and Artoo into the possession of Luke Skywalker. Artoo seeks out the desert hermit, Ben Kenobi, in an attempt to deliver a message to an ‘Obi-wan’ Kenobi from the captured rebel Princess Leia. Ben is the retired Obi-wan Kenobi, the last of the Jedi Knights, who once protected the galaxy before the rule of the evil Empire. Luke and Obi-wan enlist the aid (for a sizable fee) of the giant wookie Chewbacca and the pilot of the Corellian pirate starship Han Solo to take them to the rebel base on the planet of Alderaan. In the pirate ship, the Millennium Falcon, the foursome accompanied by Threepio and Artoo find that the immense Death Star space station operated by the Empire and the evil governor, Grand Moff Tarkin, have blown Alderaan to asteroid-sized bits. The Millennium Falcon is captured but the crew have concealed themselves and attempt to rescue the princess. With help from everyone around, from Obi-wan to Artoo, the crew manages to escape from the Death Star to reach another rebel outpost.

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Photo courtesy: 20th Century-Fox Film Corporation.

With the concealed technical readout plans of the Death Star in Artoo’s memory banks, the rebels find a slim possibility of destroying the Death Star and launch an attack, with Luke Skywalker in the squadron much as his own father had in the days of the Jedi Knights.

Testimony to Lucas’ careful consideration for the visual texture of Star Wars is given in documentation of the production expenditures of 9.5 million dollars.

At first, Lucas wanted the planet of Tatooine to be a dense jungle planet. Research teams attempted to find a location that fit the visual picture Lucas had, and though there are many jungles in Central and South America, they weren’t right for Tatooine. Instead, Lucas made Tatooine a desert planet, and soon the perfect location was found in Tunisia on the edge of the Sahara Desert.

In March 1976, shooting began in an oasis town called Tozeur in Tunisia. In eight weeks, construction crews turned a desert and a town into another planet. Some filming was done on the salt lake, Chotte el Djerid, outside of Tozeur; some on the sand dunes of the Tunisian desert a few miles outside of Nefta. The Jawas and Sandpeople sequences were shot in a volcanic canyon outside of Tozeur.

Crews then moved to Matmata, a town noted for being predominently inhabited by troglodytes — people who makes their homes in caves cut from the sides of crater-like holes in the ground. The home of Luke’s aunt and uncle is actually the Hotel Sidi Driss in Matmata and is characteristic of the average desert dwelling there.

After two and a half weeks of filming in Tunisia, the cast and crews moved to the EMI Elstree Studios in London for fifteen weeks of interior shooting — from Millennium Falcon cockpit to the interior of a gigantic garbage masher.

Special effects were completed in nearly a year of post-production work by John Dykstra, his crew and George Lucas in Los Angeles. There, most of the 363 special effects you may have heard about were done. The effects include everything from the traditional film mattes to sophisticated computer composite shots which are simply awesome on the Panavision screen.

Along with Paul Hirsch and Richard Chew, Marcia Lucas, who is married to George Lucas, spent eight weeks editing a single ten-minute sequence for Star Wars in the extremely extensive editing session. Marcia’s past track record is very good, having won an Academy Award with Verna Fields for editing George’s American Graffiti. She also edited Martin Scorsese’s Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore, Taxi Driver and New York, New York, and also Francis Ford Coppola’s upcoming Apocalypse Now.

Being a crazed film fanatic, I appreciate the tremendous amount of work that went into the creation of Star Wars. Lucas says it’s purely there for the fun of it. Personally, I’ve not had so much fun since I was seven years old, watching Godzilla stomp the hell out of Tokyo, if even then. George Lucas’ Star Wars is a tremendous success by my standards, and again his work has secured my respect for him as a Filmmaker Grande.

Star Wars. A Lucasfilm Ltd. production, released by 20th Century-Fox. 5/77. In Technicolor and Panavision. Produced by Gary Kurtz. Written and directed by George Lucas. Music by John Williams. Director of photography: Gilbert Taylor, B.S.C. Production designer: John Barry. Special photographic effects supervisor: John Dykstra. Special production and mechanical effects supervisor: John Stears. Edited by Paul Hirsch, Marcia Lucas and Richard Chew. Special dialogue and sound effects by Ben Burtt.

Luke Skywalker: Mark Hamill; Han Solo: Harrison Ford; Princess Leia Organa: Carrie Fisher; Grand Moff Tarkin: Peter Cushing; Ben Obi-wan Kenobi: Alec Guinness; See-Threepio: Anthony Daniels; Artoo-Detoo: Kenny Baker; Chewbacca: Peter Mayhew; Lord Darth Vader: David Prowse; Owen Lars: Phil Brown; Beru Lars: Shelagh Fraser; Chief Jawa: Jack Purvis.