November 3, 2017
“The Force is strong with this one.” —Darth VaderWhen the Force was introduced to the modern world, it changed pop culture forever. Star Wars made one want to be a part of the story. Every young kid, and even adults, wanted to be a Jedi. The ability to pull out your lightsaber and duel any enemy that came your way was rushing through the imaginations of all. It was the decade of the 1970’s where this all began. The 1970’s was a wave of unforgettable and mind blowing movies. New directors were emerging and making their mark in the movie industry permanently. Movies were becoming more bold and taking new directions never before seen. And like many of these movies that were released in the 1970’s, a franchise was born into this world the magnitude of which stretches as far as the galaxies it includes in its story: Star Wars.
George Lucas from a young age was fascinated with the idea of space. It was almost a fantasy that this young boy imagined throughout his early life about what the possibilities could be beyond our own solar system. This young love of space stayed with Lucas until adulthood and blossomed into something so great no one could imagine. As an adult, Lucas was watching television while he worked on the script of his first film THX 1138. As George wrote, his script supervisor would type. This is when Lucas’s mind wandered and he spoke about another idea for a movie he had in mind. “He started talking about holograms, spaceships, and the wave of the future,” Mona Skager recalls when working aside Lucas in the script process of THX 1138. It was obvious that a future movie about science fiction was a part of George Lucas’s destiny. Lucas says, “I had thought about doing what became Star Wars long before THX 1138.”1 Lucas says that all of his favorite comic books had really meant a lot to him, and that adventure in outer space was most definitely something that he had intended to do. But the Star Wars franchise did not follow immediately after he came up with the idea for it. Lucas began production on another movie idea of his, American Graffiti. During this movie’s post-production, Lucas sent scouts out to the Philippines and Hong Kong to focus on possible locations for his next movie, Apocalypse Now. In 1973, Columbia Pictures dropped Apocalypse Now, and Lucas attempted to take it to other studios, but was met with disappointment. No studio wanted it. This is when Lucas was faced with a harsh reality. “I was in debt. I needed a job very badly, and I didn’t know what was going to happen with Graffiti, so I started to work on Star Wars rather than continue with Apocalypse Now…. So I figured what the heck, I’ve got to do something. I’ll start developing Star Wars.”2As this decade advanced, it has become known as “ The American New Wave.” There was Martin Scorsese, Francis Ford Coppola, Stanley Kubrick, and Stephen Spielberg. Movies were being released such as The Godfather (1972), A Clockwork Orange (1972), Jaws (1975), and The Exorcist (1973). There was an obvious shift in movies during this decade. The box of limitations was broken, and directors were being bold and making productions that are still extremely popular today. This decade was creative and with restrictions on language, violence, sexual and adult content being greatly loosened, it was a pivoting point on what movies used to be and what they could become. There was a lot happening in the United States during this decade, including themes that continued from the 60s, like the civil rights movement, rock and roll, the hippie movement, and the culture of drug use. And it was Hollywood’s “new wave,” of “movie brats” that would grab hold of the times and make history with their films. It was no longer the norm to accept mediocre films, but it was time to explore all of the possibilities. And of course, viewers were becoming bored of returning to the movie theater to see the same array of movies. It was time to excite viewers and get them engaged and even disturb them. It was the beginning of this in the 1970’s that shaped the movie industry into becoming a different kind of industry.3 When beginning to write Star Wars, George Lucas had to get his mind moving in various directions. He had to think of themes from small to large, as well as all of the details, such as names of the characters and the planets as well. Lucas made a roster of names that included, “Emperor Ford Xerxes XII, Xenos, Monroe, Lars, Owen, Mace, Wan, Star, Bail, Leila, Cain,” and many more. Lucas combined the names together to create first and last names of characters, and then began to assign them roles. Therefore, Lucas compiled a growing list, including “leader of the Hubble people” becoming Han Solo, Lord Anakin Starkiller as“King of Bebers,” and Luke Skywalker as “Prince of Bebers.”4 The same process was used to give names to other objects as well. “Alderaan” and “Brunhuld” became city planets, capital of the “Border System,” and “Aquilae” and “Yoshiro” became desert planets.
After Lucas offered the script to other movie companies, the conclusion was made that the cost of production for Star Wars would be three million dollars. With this number in mind, and movie studios passing or ignoring the offer, a man named Jeff Berg at Fox became interested in meeting George Lucas. After he had seen Lucas’s previous work, he thought it would be in the company’s interest to meet with Lucas to discuss any ideas he had been developing. With the company’s knowledge that science fiction was a hot topic, a deal was a rising possibility. On July 13, 1973, Tom Pollock sent Twentieth Century—Fox a letter outlining the terms. $15,000 was needed for development, $50,000 was needed to write the script, and $100,000 to direct. The outline stated that the movie would cost three million to make, and that this was not negotiable and had to be met. After a back and forth on the outline and memo sent by Pollock, Lucas made the deal with Twentieth Century—Fox. But the deal was almost ironic. Lucas signed the deal as is because he was so in debt and still did not know how his American Graffiti movie would be received. It was only a few weeks later that this movie became a hit and Lucas was again financially sound. Lucas recalls that if only the movie had been released sooner, he could have made a much better deal for Star Wars.5
In 1975, the production of began in a unique way. Artists were hired to create production illustrations and models for the set. This would provide tangible objects to begin making cost estimates and get the production up and moving. Ralph McQuarrie was hired to do the paintings of the sets on glass for the Star Wars movie. He had known Lucas for a few years, and Lucas even mentioned to him before that they should meet up again whenever he got to making the science fiction film he had been thinking about. Now a few years later, McQuarrie was hired on a weekly salary basis to come up and paint the now famous backdrops for the first Star Wars film. McQuarrie would paint his scenes on glass, but would leave spots blank where the live action would take place. It was then photographed into the shot and the live action was placed into the scene using a computer.6
In order to construct and build the spaceships for Star Wars, another artist was hired, Colin J. Cantwell. The models too, were built to help outline the budget, but in the end they were vital to the special effects of the entire movie. Cantwell made the spaceship models that would be shot in front of a blue screen from various angles. This would be put before the desired background they produced on the computer to give the effects of actual spacecrafts flying through space. It was these special effect shots, and these artists that would ultimately break the budget. Colin J. Cantwell by himself would cost $20,000 and the movie’s budget for development was only $15,000. George Lucas ended up paying out of his own pocket money he made from American Graffiti. Without this contribution from him, there is no telling what Star Wars would have ended up looking like on the screen.7
The search for the cast began. It was decided to cast new, fresh faces for the movie, and in August of 1975 the doors were open for auditions. The casting took three weeks and it would last from as early as eight in the morning and wrap up around six or even eight thirty at night. The casting agents would see as much as 250 actors each day. George Lucas was specific. He wanted someone who made a good first impression, as this would be the same impression given off to the audience. He admits, “In the beginning I was very open. We had two male characters, so I wanted the farm boy to be shorter than Han Solo, so they didn’t conflict visually. I also made the decision in the casting to lower the age considerably from what I’d had in mind, because I wanted to make a movie about kids for kids, though in a way, its an adult kid’s movie.”8 But in the end, it was decided that even though the princess was supposed to be about sixteen, and Luke about eighteen, they needed to bring in people over the age of eighteen to comply with the long working schedule. Within the first week they saw many actors that were interested. There was John Travolta and Tommy Lee Jones who came in during the first three days. But it was Mark Hamill who came in the second day. Mark Hamill went on to play the leading role in Star Wars as Luke Skywalker. The rest of the cast was soon brought on including Carrie Fisher as Leia Organa, Harrison Ford as Han Solo, Alec Guinness as Obi-Wan Kenobi, and David Prowse as Darth Vader.9
Difficulties arose further along down the production process. There were new technologies that movie makers were still teaching themselves. One of the most vital pieces was the motion-control camera to be used during the special effects. This was a grand process in order to get the scenes of each spacecraft flying through space, with a star field, laser, and maybe a planet in it as well. This process required that each shot be taken individually, then all combined with an optical printer that would process them all to be seen together. Also, the lightsabers that appear to be so luminescent on screen were enhanced by computers. The actor swung around a reflective piece as his lightsaber during filming, then the bright light that shines from the saber was added later.10This was just one of the advancements on the technology that was movie and television related in the 1970’s. In 1972, the AVCO CatriVIsion was introduced. It was the first videocassette recorder to play tapes of pre-recorded popular movies. Later in 1975, the VCR was offered for sale and had a major boom in sales. With this new technology, you could stock up on your favorite movies and watch them at home. This was a major innovation of the time. It revolutionized the times by introducing such equipment that meant a change to home life. It only took a matter of years before each movie studio was releasing their movies to be played on VCRs. This meant a new and yet another bonus to the movie makers, as they could now advertise their movies outside of theaters as well.11 The first day scenes were shot with Mark Hamill, Anthony Daniels, who portrayed C-3PO, and Kenny Baker, who was R2-D2, on location in Tunisia, which was to be Luke’s home planet of Tatooine. And each day shooting this movie phenomenon included a wide variety of characters, including Peter Mayhew as the famous and beloved Chewbacca. The production of many more creatures emerged throughout the movie, from Sand People to the Jawas. The on-screen story of trying to rescue Princess Leia and the fight between good and evil introduced a revolution in pop culture around the entire world.
The film was released in May and it was George Lucas’s idea to release it Memorial Day weekend, right before school was let out for the summer. So, on Wednesday, May 25, 1977, Star Wars was released in theaters. And the reaction was unbelievable. There were lines going down for blocks from theaters; everyone was eager to see Star Wars. The fan base was roaring. This movie ignited people of all ages to love Star Wars with a deep admiration. The movie alone was not enough for people, and everyone wanted more. Immediately, clothing, toys, mask, posters, and more were made to give fans an even closer attachment to the movie. The eager fans of the seventies made this franchise one of the biggest franchises the world had ever seen. They bought models and replicas of the Millennium Falcon, wore Chewbacca masks, and showed off their Star Wars shirts for all to see.
This devotion and loyalty has led this franchise to be what it is today. The intriguing story of the movie series is still alive today, and people have never lost interest in it. If one walks down one of the toy aisles in Walmart or Target, one will see at least a dozen Star Wars toys. Each Halloween, thousands dress up as characters from one of its eight movies. And now that more Star Wars movies have been released, billions of dollars are being made thanks to the millions of people that go out and watch these movies.12 Today in theaters, hundred of millions go into making some of the biggest movies released today. That is hard to comprehend when the beginning budget for Star Wars was only three million. Today, in movies, extensive and expensive equipment is used, and it can take many years to make one movie. Today cameras can cost upwards of $15,000. The software that movie makers use today to give their movies added effects are far beyond what Lucas had in 1977. For example, CGI, or computer generated imagery, has soared in developments since it was introduced in 1976. No longer were dangerous stunts needed, and movies could have added visual effects to what the viewer was getting to experience. With the digital advancements today, anything is possible on the screen. Without the growth the movie industry has seen in technology, most of our favorite movies would not be half of what they are. From cartoon movies to live action, it is obvious that when one looks over the years, one cannot deny how movies advance as the times do as well. And for those who are twenty years old today, they can remember the VCR from their early childhood. But for the younger kids that are maybe ten years old or younger, they have never seen one. It is never in their spectrum of thought that there was once a time where you could not go out and buy your favorite movie, go home, and put it in the DVD player. The world has changed drastically when it comes to movies. In theaters we now have 3D, and at home we have Blu Ray Discs. Some pay months in advance for movie tickets, then pre-order the DVD online. There is an undying love for moviegoers, and as time goes on, more advancements are sure to come.
No one truly acknowledges the massive amount of hard work that goes into making just one movie. But what sets Star Wars apart is the heart that went into making it, the hundreds of tiny details that show the dedication put into it, and the love it continues to receive. The 1970’s was a decade where imagination soared. The previous possibilities were shattered and everyone wanted to step outside of the box. Not only were creative minds flowing, but in technology, products were being introduced to further advance movies that we have grown from using today. The true visions in one’s mind could finally be broadcast in full effect on the screen before them. And as you are reading this, I am sure there are many out in the world right now, eyes glued to the glowing screen of their television, reading the famous blue font, “A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away…” and hearing the famous Star Wars theme begin playing in the background.
At this point it can be safe to assume that many people around the world hold Star Wars very close to their hearts. My father was six or seven when he was taken to go see it on the big screen. Definitely gave other filmmakers inspiration to go out there and make something that will change the world. Very detailed article and I had no clue that Lucas at one point was struggling to get his ideas off the ground but I’m glad everything was able to work out for him.