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How Star Wars Surprised the World

 
 
Fred Goodwin, CMA
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      05-28-2006
How Star Wars Surprised the World

http://www.americanheritage.com/ente...-effects.shtml
http://tinyurl.com/fvs66

In the late 1970s most movie theater owners simply weren't interested
in a movie set in space. The last truly successful science-fiction film
had been 1968's 2001: A Space Odyssey; more recent fare, such as the
ecological fable Silent Running (1972), had bombed. So on May 25,
1977-29 years ago today-Star Wars opened on just 32 screens
nationwide.

It didn't look like a logical career move for its creator, the
director George Lucas, either. After the unexpected smash success of
his American Graffiti (1973), which earned him two Oscar nominations
and millions of dollars, the then-29-year old director was a hot
commodity in Hollywood. For a follow-up he decided to develop an idea
he'd been tinkering with for years: a space fantasy, complete with
elaborate sets and dazzling special effects. He struck a deal with 20th
Century Fox for $150,000 to write and direct the movie that would
become Star Wars.

He already had some experience with the sci-fi genre, having filmed the
grim, low-budget Orwellian tale THX 1138 (1971). He now aimed to tell a
more optimistic and straightforward story of good versus evil, right
versus wrong-a story that he felt would particularly appeal to
children. But he struggled with the Star Wars script for more than two
years, seeking inspiration from sources such as 1950s sci-fi movies,
1930s Flash Gordon serials, and quasi-mystical contemporary sci-fi
novels such as Frank Herbert's Dune. He also studied the work of the
writer Joseph Campbell, whose research into various cultures'
archetypical hero mythologies, detailed in his 1949 book The Hero With
a Thousand Faces, helped provide a template for the Star Wars plot.
"There's a whole generation growing up without any kind of fairy
tales," Lucas said later. "And kids need fairy tales."

After constant writing and revising, he eventually had enough material
for three movies. But the first one, he knew, had to be a success, and
his perfectionism drove him to oversee every aspect of its production.
He spent months auditioning relatively unknown actors. Some who were
rejected would later become major stars, including Christopher Walken,
Nick Nolte, Jodie Foster, and Amy Irving. The role of Luke Skywalker
(who was originally going to be named Luke Starkiller) went to the
unknown Mark Hamill. Harrison Ford, who had had a bit part in American
Graffiti, was cast as Han Solo, and Carrie Fisher, the daughter of the
actress Debbie Reynolds and the singer Eddie Fisher, won the part of
Leia.

With an initial budget of only $8.5 million, production began in March
1976 in the deserts of Tunisia, in Africa, and one disaster followed
another. On the second day of shooting it rained-the first winter
rain the area had seen in 50 years. The controls for the robot R2-D2
constantly malfunctioned, and a whole day was spent on a shot of the
robot moving only a few feet. Sand damaged camera equipment beyond
repair, and windstorms destroyed expensive sets that had been shipped
in from England.

The production later moved to the sprawling Elstree Studios outside
London, and none of the British crew took the project seriously. This
was, after all, a movie with robots and a furry "Wookiee."
Technicians inadvertently damaged sets with explosions, one of which
caused a stuntman to be hospitalized. The actors, meanwhile, tried to
make sense of Lucas's standoffish directorial style. After one take
he admonished them by saying, "Uh. . . let's do it again, only this
time . . . do it better."

Returning to California after the overseas production wrapped, Lucas
discovered that his special-effects team, the newly founded Industrial
Light & Magic, had completed only 3 of 365 special-effects shots yet
had spent more than $1 million of the $2 million special-effects
budget. The next day he was hospitalized overnight with chest pains.
Suffering from hypertension and exhaustion, he vowed that once he
completed Star Wars, he would never direct another film.

He and his crew worked around the clock to finish the movie, enduring
numerous additional setbacks. The special effects went 35 percent over
budget, and the entire film's budget ballooned to more than $10
million; Mark Hamill suffered a car accident that severely injured his
face, making reshoots with him impossible. Many Fox executives were
certain the movie would be an unmitigated flop.

On May 25, 1977, Star Wars' release date, Lucas spent the day mixing
foreign-language versions in a sound studio in Los Angeles. He called
his wife and asked her to meet him at a local hamburger joint for
dinner. As they approached the restaurant, the noticed that the streets
were clogged with traffic, and crowds of people were filling the
sidewalks. He had forgotten that Star Wars was playing at the famous
Mann's Chinese Theatre, across the street from the restaurant. The
crowds were there to see his film.

Word of mouth quickly spread that the movie was a one-of-a-kind
experience, and moviegoers, particularly children, attended it in
droves all over the country. Some $3 million in tickets were sold in
the first week of release-in only those 32 theaters. By the end of
1977, more than 1 in 20 moviegoers had seen Star Wars several times. By
April 1978 it had grossed a staggering $215 million in the United
States alone, smashing box-office records. It would go on to rake in
six Academy Awards, as well as millions of dollars from product
merchandising, including Star Wars calendars, soundtrack albums, and
action figures. Five sequels would follow, and the seemingly tireless
Lucas would direct three of them.

Star Wars not only rejuvenated the moribund science-fiction genre; it
also ushered in the era of the summer blockbuster movie-which, for
better or worse, transformed the way the movie industry does business.
Film companies would increasingly channel millions into big-budget
escapist fare and forgo smaller, low-budget films. Lucas's Industrial
Light & Magic would go on to revolutionize visual effects in film. Such
spectacle is an integral part of American movies to this day, driving
budgets-and box-office grosses-ever higher. For the movie industry,
Star Wars was a fairy tale with a very happy ending.

-David Rapp has written about history for American Heritage,
Technology Review, and Out. He has a degree in film from New York
University.

 
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Cicero
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      05-28-2006

"Fred Goodwin, CMA" <(E-Mail Removed)> wrote in message
news:(E-Mail Removed) oups.com...
> How Star Wars Surprised the World


It surprised me that it is so highly rated in the IMDB top 250. It comes in
at Number 11.


 
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Aaron Lawrence
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      05-28-2006
On a pleasant day while strolling in alt.video.dvd, a person by the name
of Cicero exclaimed:
>
> "Fred Goodwin, CMA" <(E-Mail Removed)> wrote in message
> news:(E-Mail Removed) oups.com...
> > How Star Wars Surprised the World

>
> It surprised me that it is so highly rated in the IMDB top 250. It comes in
> at Number 11.


It's a popularity contest. Why be surprised? Star Wars is obviously very
popular.

--
aaronl at consultant dot com
For every expert, there is an equal and
opposite expert. - Arthur C. Clarke
 
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Dan Kimmel
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      05-28-2006

"Fred Goodwin, CMA" <(E-Mail Removed)> wrote in message
news:(E-Mail Removed) oups.com...
> Star Wars not only rejuvenated the moribund science-fiction genre; it
> also ushered in the era of the summer blockbuster movie-which, for
> better or worse, transformed the way the movie industry does business.



Some would credit Spielberg's "Jaws," released two years before, with
creating the "summer blockbuster" mentality.


 
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Barry Margolin
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      05-28-2006
In article <(E-Mail Removed)>,
"Dan Kimmel" <(E-Mail Removed)> wrote:

> "Fred Goodwin, CMA" <(E-Mail Removed)> wrote in message
> news:(E-Mail Removed) oups.com...
> > Star Wars not only rejuvenated the moribund science-fiction genre; it
> > also ushered in the era of the summer blockbuster movie-which, for
> > better or worse, transformed the way the movie industry does business.

>
>
> Some would credit Spielberg's "Jaws," released two years before, with
> creating the "summer blockbuster" mentality.


True. The difference that Star Wars made was that sci-fi and
action/adventure movies became the standard genre for these
blockbusters. So it begat all the superhero movies, the Indiana Jones
sagas, and the rest of the Star Wars.

--
Barry Margolin, http://www.velocityreviews.com/forums/(E-Mail Removed)
Arlington, MA
*** PLEASE don't copy me on replies, I'll read them in the group ***
 
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Goro
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      05-28-2006

Barry Margolin wrote:
> In article <(E-Mail Removed)>,
> "Dan Kimmel" <(E-Mail Removed)> wrote:
>
> > "Fred Goodwin, CMA" <(E-Mail Removed)> wrote in message
> > news:(E-Mail Removed) oups.com...
> > > Star Wars not only rejuvenated the moribund science-fiction genre; it
> > > also ushered in the era of the summer blockbuster movie-which, for
> > > better or worse, transformed the way the movie industry does business.

> >
> >
> > Some would credit Spielberg's "Jaws," released two years before, with
> > creating the "summer blockbuster" mentality.

>
> True. The difference that Star Wars made was that sci-fi and
> action/adventure movies became the standard genre for these
> blockbusters. So it begat all the superhero movies, the Indiana Jones
> sagas, and the rest of the Star Wars.


and themarketing. Don't forget about the merchandising that is now
ubiquitous.

-goro-

 
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Derek Janssen
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      05-28-2006
Dan Kimmel wrote:

> "Fred Goodwin, CMA" <(E-Mail Removed)> wrote in message
> news:(E-Mail Removed) oups.com...
>
>>Star Wars not only rejuvenated the moribund science-fiction genre; it
>>also ushered in the era of the summer blockbuster movie-which, for
>>better or worse, transformed the way the movie industry does business.

>
> Some would credit Spielberg's "Jaws," released two years before, with
> creating the "summer blockbuster" mentality.


At the time, it was still treated a Bestseller Book, just like "Love
Story" and "The Godfather"--

Considering that up until 1977, big studio budgets were for Bestselling
Novels, and special effects were for Terrifyingly Realistic Irwin Allen
Disasters, think SW's later-generation influence was perfectly summed up
in one TV/radio ad:
"Never before has so much studio resources and new technology been
apent...just for fun. "

Derek Janssen
(E-Mail Removed)
 
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franky
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Posts: n/a
 
      05-29-2006

> He already had some experience with the sci-fi genre, having filmed the
> grim, low-budget Orwellian tale THX 1138 (1971). He now aimed to tell a
> more optimistic and straightforward story of good versus evil, right
> versus wrong-a story that he felt would particularly appeal to
> children.


And when the prequels came out, those children, now grown up, hung
**** on them because the films failed to grow up with them. Poor
George.


 
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Halmyre
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Posts: n/a
 
      05-29-2006
Goro wrote:
> Barry Margolin wrote:
>
>>In article <(E-Mail Removed)>,
>> "Dan Kimmel" <(E-Mail Removed)> wrote:
>>
>>
>>>"Fred Goodwin, CMA" <(E-Mail Removed)> wrote in message
>>>news:(E-Mail Removed) egroups.com...
>>>
>>>>Star Wars not only rejuvenated the moribund science-fiction genre; it
>>>>also ushered in the era of the summer blockbuster movie-which, for
>>>>better or worse, transformed the way the movie industry does business.
>>>
>>>
>>>Some would credit Spielberg's "Jaws," released two years before, with
>>>creating the "summer blockbuster" mentality.

>>
>>True. The difference that Star Wars made was that sci-fi and
>>action/adventure movies became the standard genre for these
>>blockbusters. So it begat all the superhero movies, the Indiana Jones
>>sagas, and the rest of the Star Wars.

>
>
> and themarketing. Don't forget about the merchandising that is now
> ubiquitous.
>
> -goro-
>


Didn't Lucas get all the merchandising rights for Star Wars because the
studio didn't think it worth having?

--
Halmyre

ceci, n'est pas un signature
 
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Sean O'Hara
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Posts: n/a
 
      05-29-2006
In the Year of the Dog, the Great and Powerful Goro declared:
> Barry Margolin wrote:
>
>>True. The difference that Star Wars made was that sci-fi and
>>action/adventure movies became the standard genre for these
>>blockbusters. So it begat all the superhero movies, the Indiana Jones
>>sagas, and the rest of the Star Wars.

>
> and themarketing. Don't forget about the merchandising that is now
>


Merchandising! Merchandising! Merchandising! Where the real money
from the movie is made.

--
Sean O'Hara | http://diogenes-sinope.blogspot.com
Bureaucrats write memoranda both because they appear to be busy when
they are writing and because the memos, once written, immediately
become proof that they were busy.
-Charles Peter.
 
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