The Secret History of Star Wars ⓘ
APRIL 17 , 1973 was a chilly Tuesday in San Francisco, USA. Rain peppered the Bay area here and there, springtime not yet disappeared. From the radios of GTOs, Oldsmobiles and Volkswagens the sounds of Deep Purple’s Smoke on the Water, David Bowie’s Space Oddity and the current hit by Donnie Osmond, The Twelfth of Never, could be heard. The banks open at 9 and a parade of trenchcoats hustles its way through Market Street, newspaper boxes crowded with readers attracted by headlines about President Nixon’s first statement before the Senate committee in the Watergate trial. Elsewhere in the city, the San Francisco Giants are getting ready to face the Atlanta Braves later that day after losing their previous game to the Cincinnati Reds.
As all of this is happening, something far more interesting is occurring in a small corner of the suburbs, just outside the city. Medway Avenue, Mill Valley. A small house occupied by a young married couple crests the top of the hill, a white 1967 Camaro in the driveway. Inside, the house is silent, light rainfall pattering against the window panes, and a figure sits at a desk, deep in thought. He is young, only twenty-eight years old. A beard covers his thin face, his eyelids fallen closed behind thick glasses. In front of him is a blue-lined yellow pad of paper. It is blank. Finally, the young man picks up the number two hard-lead pencil that sits on the desk before him and touches its tip to the empty page. His tiny printing scrawls out a simple title: The Star Wars.
Four years later, a new film was opening in theatres around the country bearing that very title, written and directed by a man hardly anyone had heard of named George Lucas. No one in the film community had anticipated its arrival but one thing was sure by the time it was released: the world of cinema would never be the same again.
Star Wars has undoubtedly become one of the prime mythologies of the twentieth century, a tale so well known that it is studied in university courses alongside Shakespeare and Dostoevsky. It is one which has permeated the culture unto which it was released with such far-reaching influence that it has literally become a religion—on the 2001 UK census, thousands declared their official religion Jedi Knight, leading to its (shortlived) official recognition; according to reports, there were more Jedi than Jews, and the phenomenon spread to Australia where 70,000 proclaimed themselves followers of Jediism. Given that the six films have collectively sold nearly a billion theatrical tickets alone, this should hardly be surprising. If critics may trivialize its study on the grounds that the films are merely juvenile entertainment pieces, the Star Wars saga nonetheless remains among the most well known and influential stories of the modern era. Anthropological studies not just of twentieth century culture and entertainment, but of modern folklore, must place Star Wars and its five sequels and empire of spin-offs at or near the top of the list of important works.
Perhaps most incredible of all, the entire story of this culture-shaping saga has sprung from a single mind, its first seeds planted that day back in April of 1973. George Lucas has been labelled many things in his day, from the world’s greatest storyteller to the world’s greatest sell-out; he’s been attacked by critics just as often as he has been praised by them. Interest in the creation of the Star Wars films has been immense, and indeed, there are few films whose productions are rivaled in public curiosity. For many, Star Wars’ impossible story and otherworldly visuals were the first realisation that human artists are responsible for the creation of a film.
The story behind the story of Star Wars was as interesting as the film itself—that of an underdog filmmaker who struggled through many years of toil, crafting a tale too large for even one film to contain. Written from the study of Joseph Campbell and the research of thousands of years of mythology, and fused with the action and adventure of matinee science fiction serials, Lucas had a massive, expensive epic on his hands, and divided the story into three separate films. He had also developed a backstory for his elaborate tale, which together totalled six chapters, and sought to make Episode IV first, due to technical and storytelling reasons. When the film by some miracle went into production, it was beset by problems of all kinds and Lucas was sure it would be a failure—and was shocked when it became the biggest sensation of the year, garnering ten Academy Award nominations and winning seven. With financial independence, George Lucas finally had the freedom to finish the story he had started, the remaining chapters set aside all those years, and thus completed his Star Wars Saga. This is the accepted story of Star Wars’ history.
The accepted story
Lucas even tells it in his own words:
The Star Wars series started out as a movie that ended up being so big that I took each act and cut it into its own movie…The original concept really related to a father and a son, and twins—a son and a daughter. It was that relationship that was the core of the story. And it went through a lot of machinations before I even got to the first draft screenplay. And various characters changed shapes and sizes. And it isn’t really until it evolved into what is close to what Star Wars now is that I began to go back and deal with the stories that evolved to get us to that point…When I first did Star Wars I did it as a big piece. It was like a big script. It was way too big to make into a movie. So I took the first third of it, which is basically the first act, and I turned that into what was the original Star Wars…after Star Wars was successful and I said “Well gee, I can finish this entire script, and I can do the other two parts.”
For as long as that beloved trilogy endured—at least two generations—this was the account of its creation. The Adventures of Luke Skywalker, as the series was called, and his metamorphosis from wide-eyed farm boy to Jedi master, set alongside the battle between Rebel Alliance and Galactic Empire, divided into three acts. As George Lucas reminded Alan Arnold in 1979, “The Star Wars saga is essentially about Luke’s background and his destiny.” But as the prequels were eventually released and the collective focus of the films changed fromLuke Skywalker to Darth Vader, so too in turn changed Lucas’ account of its origins:
You have to remember that originally Star Wars was intended to be one movie, Episode IV of a Saturday matinee serial. You never saw what came before or what came after. It was designed to be the tragedy of Darth Vader. It starts with this monster coming through the door, throwing everybody around, then halfway through the movie you realise that the villain of the piece is actually a man and the hero is his son. And so the villain turns into the hero inspired by the son. It was meant to be one movie, but I broke it up because I didn’t have the money to do it like that—it would have been five hours long.
Michael Kaminski 104M GSRs