Star Wars is a phenomenon that is hard to quantify. It has enraptured the hearts of millions of people around the world, and the reasons are not always clear. Maybe it is the charismatic and dramatic vision of the future with all of its costumes, battles, relationships, and technology. Or, maybe it is simply that Star Wars came at a time with nothing like it had been seen before, and the enthusiasm for continued films in the series have been milked from this passion. Whatever the case, Star Wars had a unique beginning, and I would like to tell you about it in depth in the following paragraphs.
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George Lucas, the creator of Star Wars, was a director with some fame before he showed his galactic feast to the public. With American Graffiti in 1973, Lucas gained notoriety as a director. Yet, it was only until his production of Star Wars was shown in 1977 that he truly became a household name.
The idea for Star Wars derived from various influences. Lucas has credited the film Hidden Fortresses by Akira Kurosawa as a great inspiration. According to Wookieepedia, “Lucas has said that the movie influenced him to tell the story of Star Wars from the viewpoint of the humble droids, rather than a major player. It also played a role in the conception of Darth Vader, whose trademark black helmet intentionally resembles a samurai helmet” (Wookieepedia). Lucas has also said that Star Wars began as a project to remake the Flash Gordon movie serials of the 1930s. When Lucas heard the license was not available, he moved onto to create an inspired work. The research of Joseph Campbell, especially in the form of the book The Hero With a Thousand Faces, also profoundly inspired Lucas to work on Star Wars (Wookieepedia).
So, with all these influences, in his second direction of Star Wars, he vied to use Flash Gordon vocabulary within a universe of futuristic samurai. With the third direction, the book The Hero With a Thousand Faces came into play. After writing two drafts of Star Wars, a reading of The Hero With a Thousand Faces aided Lucas in making his story more cohesive and expansive. In addition, Lucas has mentioned the influence of J.R.R Tolkien’s books and how the author handled myth with delicacy (Wookieepedia).
Getting the money to direct such a film was not easy at the time. Gary Kurtz presented the film to Universal Pictures, but the executives did not take to it well, and wanted Lucas to work on more films like American Graffiti (Clarke, Gerald). Besides, science-fiction films were not the rage then, and Universal Pictures was not interested in squandering money. After Walt Disney Productions rejected it, finally in June of 1973, 20th Century Fox agreed to give $150,000 in order for Lucas to write and direct the film (Clarke, Gerald). However, eventually over 8 million dollars were approved for the cost of producing the film (Kurtz, Gary).
With a secured deal, Lucas put together a special-effects team called Industrial Light and Magic. Much of what the team was trying to create had not been done before for science-fiction films. According to Wookieepedia, “Since most major motion-picture companies no longer had special-effects teams, or they thought the American public was no longer interested in non-realistic films, George Lucas had to create one from scratch” (Wookieepedia). Finding actors was not all the simple either. Lucas searched for relatively-unknown actors. The most trying part was finding actors for the droids and other more fantastical characters. But by mid-1976, production on Star Wars began (Wookieepedia).
The filming started in Tunisia, North Africa, with temperatures reaching up to 105 Fahrenheit. Wookieepedia states that, “Through it all Alec Guinness, the Academy Award-winning actor who was cast as the wise mentor Obi-Wan Kenobi, kept up a positive attitude and inspired the cast” (Wookieepedia). After the filming was finished in Africa, all the cast and crew went to Elstree Studios in London to film the Death Star sequences. However, there were many issues with the Industrial Lights and Magic team’s work, and soon 20th Century Fox was calling for the termination of the project. They gave Lucas a few weeks to finish the filming, and he and his crew worked tirelessly to finish before the deadline (Wookieepedia).
The editing of the film was somewhat of a nightmare. Lucas was appalled at the first shoot of the film and fired his editor. He demanded that some segments should be re-shot, and this forced the premier to be made in the summer of 1977 instead of in the Christmas of 1976. With the first showing of the film to Steven Spielberg, who enjoyed it, and Fox executives, who praised it, Lucas felt more confident about his film. This was despite having no score yet for the film yet. Spielberg recommended John Williams, who had made a epic score for the film Jaws. Apparently, epic scores were risky at the time, but Lucas felt comfortable in Spielberg’s opinion (Wookieepedia).
On the release day, Wednesday, May 25, 1977, it showed in fewer than 32 theaters. However, it quickly beat box office records, and Fox decided to expand its release (Kurtz, Gary). Lucas was largely skeptical that Star Wars would be successful, and so was Fox. However, it quickly became a cultural phenomenon. In fact, Star Wars essentially revamped 20th Century Fox, with its stock price skyrocketing. The lines to the film were many blocks long for many months, and the magic of Star Wars was born (American Heritage).
Initially being a concept with a confluence of influences, George Lucas created Star Wars based on his passions. This love and care for its subject matter translated well into a film, which eventually became a global cultural phenomenon. Now that Disney is making Star Wars films each year, most people say the magic of Star Wars continues to this day.
“Star Wars.” Wookieepedia, starwars.wikia.com/wiki/History_of_Star_Wars#History.
Clarke, Gerald (May 30, 1977). “Star Wars: The Year’s Best Movie.” Time. New York City, NY: Time Inc. 109 (22): 57.
Kurtz, Gary (November 11, 2002). “An Interview with Gary Kurtz.” IGN. p. 3.
Staff (May 25, 2006). “How Star Wars Surprised the World.” American Heritage. American Heritage Publishing Company.
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