Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Damn. I hate coming to the end of a really good book.

I just finished re-reading The Making of Star Wars, by J.W. Rinzler--incredible. For a major Star Wars geek like me, this book is the holy grail: a deep account of everything that went into the original Star Wars. Not Star Wars, Episode IV: A New Hope, but just plain Star Wars--the astonishing movie that blew my young mind in the spring of 1977. I saw the movie about forty times that summer, sitting through multiple showings at a time (I couldn't afford to pay for every viewing--it cost $3.50!), and read everything about the film I could get my hands on (I still cherish my Star Wars issue of American Cinematographer), so I thought I knew just about everything there was to know about how it all came together.

But no--this book tells the whole story; the story I've been waiting to read for over thirty years.

From George Lucas's original inspiration (coming off his "failures" with THX-1138, Apocalypse Now, and the as-yet-unreleased American Graffiti) to the endless contract negotiations and studio interference, to the technical challenges, compromises, and breakthroughs that made the movie what it is. Many of these stories I've heard before, but reading them all as part of a chronology, in context, is like taking a time-machine back to '77 and actually witnessing the events unfold. It's a drama as interesting as the movie itself, with idealistic heroes (Lucas and Fox producer Alan Ladd, Jr.; the ILM crew, battling impossible deadlines in their sweltering, flea-ridden warehouse) and powerful villains (clueless executives snoozing through previews; dismissive English film editors botching the work print). But in the end it's a testament to cooperation--making Star Wars required an extraordinary communal effort by many, many talented people. And one thing that comes across very clearly (at least to me) is that the movie they made is far better than the one George Lucas originally set out to make. It was only because of the enormous difficulties and budget limitations that Star Wars was boiled down to its pure essence. Had Lucas had his way, the film might now be just another soft-focus relic of the Seventies, an expensive, cluttered mess like Lucky Lady, Heaven's Gate, or 1941. George was never satisfied with Star Wars...but that is exactly why the movie is so good.


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