george lucas writes star wars -- 5/25/18

Today's selection -- from George Lucas: A Life by Brian Jay Jones. In 1973, George Lucas began to write Star Wars:

"[When Francis Ford Coppola took his idea for Apocalypse Now, George Lucas] figured 'what the heck, I've got to do something,' said Lucas. 'I'll start developing Star Wars. ' Only at this point, it wasn't Star Wars. Not even close.

"As Lucas sat down to write in his little office in Mill Valley in February 1973, all he had was the merest spark of an idea. After a skeptical King Features had declined to sell him Flash Gordon, Lucas decided he could just as easily make up his own characters in a similar vein. 'It's your basic superhero in outer space,' he explained. 'I realized that what I really wanted to do was a contemporary action fantasy.' ...

Main poster Tora! Tora! Tora!

" 'One of the key visions I had of the film when I started was of a dogfight in space with spaceships -- two ships flying through space shooting each other. That was my original idea. I said I want to make that movie. I want to see that.' Trying to get the dogfight in his head down on paper was diffi­cult, however, so Lucas began taping old war movies on television, compiling footage of airplane battles from films like The Bridges at Toko-Ri and Tora! Tora! Tora! 'I'd just edit it according to my story,' he said later. 'It was really a way of getting a sense of movement of the spaceships.' Eventually he would have more than twenty hours of tape, which he would transfer to 16 mm film, then tightly edit down to a reel about eight minutes long. 'I would have the plane going from right to left,' explained Lucas, 'and a plane coming toward us and fly­ing away from us, to see if the movement would generate excitement.' While he didn't know it yet, the reel of dogfighting, swooping, tail­spinning aircraft would be one of the most important bits of film he would ever put together -- the wet concrete he would pour into the mold for the cornerstone of his own film empire.

"On April 17, Lucas began writing another treatment, this one titled The Star Wars. This draft contained the dogfight in space that Lucas wanted to see, as well as a more fully realized plot that channeled bits of Flash Gordon and Kurosawa's The Hidden Fortress. Lucas poured everything he had ever loved about the Saturday morning serials into his treatment, with plenty of chases, close scrapes, exotic creatures, and general derring-do. From The Hidden Fortress he borrowed a few key plot points -- namely, a princess being escorted through enemy territory by a wise and battle-scarred general and, more important, two bumbling, bickering bureaucrats to serve as comic relief.

"Luke Skywalker makes his first appearance, though in this early draft he's an aged general guarding a young princess on the planet Aquilae. He and the princess meet two squabbling bureaucrats who have escaped from an orbiting space fortress, and the four of them travel to a spaceport to find a pilot to take them to the planet Ophuchi. Skywalker -- handy with a 'lazer sword' -- recruits and trains a band of ten boys to be warriors before escaping the planet in a stolen ship. There's a dogfight -- there would always be a dogfight -- a chase through an asteroid field, and a crash on Yavin, a planet of giant furry aliens. The princess is captured, and Skywalker leads an assault on the Imperial prison, escaping amid yet another spectacular dogfight. There's an awards ceremony -- and there would always be an awards ceremony as well -- where the princess is revealed 'as her true goddess self.'

"Even at fourteen handwritten pages, this rather busy proposal still seemed too 'vague' to Lucas. But he nonetheless had it bound in a black leather binder with The Star Wars embossed in gold on the cover and gave it to agent Jeff Berg to take to United Artists for a look. Berg confessed that he didn't understand a word of it, and didn't really know how to pitch it. Lucas did, even if his description was all over the place. '[It's] a space opera in the tradition of Flash Gordon and Buck Rog­ers,' he explained. 'It's James Bond and 2001 combined -- super fan­tasy, capes and swords and laser guns and spaceships shooting each other, and all that sort of stuff. But it's not camp,' he insisted. 'It's meant to be an exciting action adventure film.' For Lucas, enthusiasm always trumped clarity.

1973 Treatment -- "The Star Wars"

"On May 7 Berg brought Lucas's treatment to United Artists, putting it in the hands of David Chasman, the same executive who had believed in American Graffiti. Lucas knew the treatment he was giving Chasman was a lot to comprehend -- getting the images in his head to come through on the page would always be difficult -- so he had included ten pages of illustrations to try to convey the look and feel of what he had in mind: photos of NASA astronauts, amphibious tanks, and drawings of space heroes clipped from comic books. Chasman was intrigued, but he was also on his way to Cannes, and promised Berg he'd review the materials and be in touch shortly. It took three excruciating weeks for Chasman to wire his answer: No."



Brian Jay Jones


George Lucas: A Life


Copyright 2016 by Brian Jay Jones


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