Friday, 4 September 2015

Journal of Whills: Part 14 - Pen to Paper

I thought another way to churn out more ‘Star Wars’ related articles would be to give a few recounts of how that first film came to be in 1977. Of course this is just a vague outline, if you want the full and extensive description of how a fan of Samurai films, westerns and Flash Gordon Serials became the director of the highest grossing film of all time (adjusted for inflation it remains the second highest of all time, only beaten by ‘Gone with the Wind’) then I would heavily recommend picking up a copy of ‘How Star Wars Conquered the Universe’. But anyway, I’ve covered the influences of George Lucas, and now it’s time to put pen to paper.
Lucas would write four different screenplays for ‘Star Wars’, shaping the structure, character and plot several times over in the process. The writing process began in 1973, and only by 1974 had Lucas finished a rough draft, incorporating elements of the Sith, the Death Star and various characters such as Anakin Starkiller. This character in particular would undergo several changes, shifting from a young boy, to a war wizened general. There was also a secondary character called Han Solo, ‘oh’ you’re thinking ‘there’s a familiar name’. But it’s not in the form you imagine as here he is a green skinned alien with gills, but it’s alright because his co-pilot is a large hairy being called Chewbacca. So there’s a lot going on, something familiar (not at the time of course) but not in the form we know it as. The best example of this can be seen by the fact that this early script also featured a Jedi Master and apprentice as father and son, the father is not only a hero but alive from the start of the film. I have a feeling that will change, and by feeling I mean I know it because it’s in the past, that’s like saying I have a ‘feeling’ that the Allies will win World War 2.
Where was I? By the time Lucas completed the second draft the story had been simplified (by this point Lucas had decided that such a story would require more than one film to tell it) and it was now decided that Starkiller would be a simple farm boy, and his first name would be Luke. We’re getting closer to what we know, but there’s still a long way to go. Another new idea was to start and end the film with a text crawl, one to set up the story and another to preview the next instalment. Luke also had several brothers and a father that would now only appear briefly at the end of the film and there was a concept of light and dark sides and the Jedi who fall prey to the dark side. Dark side of what, a mystical energy field called ‘The Force’. Then came a breakthrough as Lucas was able to hire concept artist Ralph McQuarrie to create some images for the film, it was these concept posters that helped sell the script to studio boards.
Draft three in the summer of 1975 then gave the concept its newest name ‘The Adventures of Luke Starkiller as taken from the Journal of Whills’. Okay, not that catchy and the title actually goes on, with ‘Saga 1: The Star Wars’ being added. But that was one of the few things that was different from the final product, Luke was back to being an only child, the mentor was not his father but an old hermit known as Obi Wan Kenobi and now the script was finally approved by the board of 20th Century Fox. Time to start making movies.
Except it wasn’t because there were a few more things to clear up. Just as one deal was secured Lucas’ earlier film ‘American Graffiti’ was finally released and became a smash hit, gaining critical praise and becoming one of the highest grossing films of the year. One renegotiation later and Lucas found himself dealing with a bigger budget and more respect, until they heard the full idea. But no matter, Lucas had the money and finally finished the fourth and final script. The name Luke Starkiller was changed to Luke Skywalker as he felt it gave off a more positive attitude for his main protagonist, as in someone that’s walking among the stars rather than killing them. Then there’s the title which abandoned the whole first section and simply went with ‘The Star Wars’ and then simplified again into ‘Star Wars’. And in the process Han Solo went from being a green alien to a human that would launch the career of Harrison Ford, the greatest action star of all time, god call.
The end crawl was also abandoned, but Lucas maintained that an opening crawl would be the best way to start the film, the only problem was that he had six paragraphs of it, at four sentences each. Luckily Lucas had a few friends in the movie business who were willing to help out and director Brian De Palma (‘Carrie’, ‘Scarface’ ‘The Untouchables’, and ‘Mission: Impossible’) did just that. Having described the first draft as ‘gibberish’ he offered to rewrite it. The version he came up with, based on the original by Lucas but simplified and shortened, is the one that you can still see today in the finished product as that was the roll they used for the actual film.
So with writing out of the way what was to come next for this up and coming director with his ramblings about space operas. Find out soon, because like most successful things in the film industry this instalment has just been a ruse to ensure that you will return for the next instalment. If ‘Maze Runner’ can do it, why can’t I?

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