Classic Cinema: Star Wars


IT MAY be an urban myth, but there is a story which says that director George Lucas originally approached the Hollywood studios with the full epic story now familiar to us about the classic space opera.

Whether true or not, cannily it was the middle section which 20th C Fox plumbed for which would eventually become Star Wars.

Essentially, the whole saga is the story of the fall and redemption of Anakin Skywalker – with the middle section telling the tale of how Anakin at his nadir (as Darth Vader) first comes into contact with his eventual saviour, his own son, Luke (and daughter Leia).

The film wasn’t expected to be a hit, and the studio gave Lucas the full merchandise rights to the film –and good old Obiwan Kenobi (Alec Guinness) was canny enough to sign up for a percentage of the gross. Perhaps they searched their feelings and knew it would be a sure fire hit.

Much has been written about how the film parodied the Saturday morning serials of Lucas’s youth  - there is still an element of the old Buster Crabbe Flash Gordon serials with the credit crawl at the start, but the real power of the film and its subsequent sequels and prequels lies with the curious nature of the force and the character of Darth.

What no-one noticed in the prequels but no doubt will do so in the forthcoming new Disney backed episodes, it that Darth was the major presence (actually whether onscreen or off).

It takes a LONG time for him to appear until the end of Episode III (albeit his presence is felt in the shape of young Anakin) and his masked cameo  is all too brief.

The nature of the Force will no doubt continue to be the prime driver of the new set of films but, at the end of the day, audiences were never more thrilled then when in the presence of the heavy breather.

Purists prefer the Empire Strikes Back among all the films, but the original Star Wars smacks as much of the 70s as the original Kentucky Fried Chicken shops, Starsky and Hutch and Village People.

 In 1971, Universal Studios agreed to make American Graffiti and Star Wars in a two-picture contract, although Star Wars was later rejected in its early concept stages.

American Graffiti was completed in 1973 and, a few months later, Lucas wrote a short summary called "The Journal of the Whills", which told the tale of the training of apprentice CJ Thorpe as a "Jedi-Bendu" space commando by the legendary Mace Windy.

Frustrated that his story was too difficult to understand, Lucas then began writing a 13-page treatment called The Star Wars on April 17, 1973, which had thematic parallels with Akira Kurosawa's The Hidden Fortress.

By 1974, he had expanded the treatment into a rough draft screenplay, adding elements such as the Sith, the Death Star, and a protagonist named Annikin Starkiller.

For the second draft, Lucas made heavy simplifications, and introduced the young hero on a farm as Luke Starkiller. Annikin became Luke's father, a wise Jedi knight.

"The Force" was also introduced as a mystical energy field. The next draft removed the father character and replaced him with a substitute named Ben Kenobi, and in 1976 a fourth draft had been prepared for principal photography.

The film was titled Adventures of Luke Starkiller, as taken from the Journal of the Whills, Saga I: The Star Wars. During production, Lucas changed Luke's name to Skywalker and altered the title to simply The Star Wars and finally Star Wars. The rest is history.

Many don’t like the whole saga, finding it too exemplary of Lucas’s love of cutesiness. That said, for those who equally abhor the ‘twee’ side to Lord of the Rings, it’s perhaps worth remembering that both franchises have netted billions of dollars worldwide.

Quite what will be the subject matter of the 7th 8th and 9th episodes remains a closely guarded secret. Perhaps surprisingly, at last reports, Disney is also planning two spin off films which will tell the early stories of Boba Fett and Han Solo.

There is an argument among film critics that people flock to films at certain times of their lives when the wider society is going through some sort of change. The 70s were famous for their blockbusters – a perhaps over-reaction some have surmised to a jaded/moribund decade which saw the Cold War, Vietnam and the Oil Crisis.

Just as returning GIs from WWII saw Hollywood produce films which were big and brassy, with buxom women as focus in the 50s, some have argued the 70s needed to let off collective steam against a backdrop of a war-torn decade.

It will be interesting to see how the new films in the franchise – and the Disney influence – reflect the current decade – but also how they reflect the look of the ‘original’ films. The new films, a bit like the original brand, might be refreshingly recherché, as the ultimate extension of the well-known marque.

If so, the future might look comfortably familiar, and smack of a studio from a long time ago in a Hollywood far far away. Dollars aside, few watching in 77 could have predicted that this uber-franchise would be their destiny. The Force might not be quite as strong as it was, as least to some devotees of the Old Republic, but, if nothing else, as a badge word, for the morphology of a cultural icon, it remains impressive, most impressive.