This excerpt is from an article written just prior to
the original release of "The Empire Strikes Back"
it appeared in issue 22 (possibly June 1980) of
Starburst Magazine, then being published by Marvel Comics Ltd.
Tony Crawley is the writer credited on the feature. Other regular
contributors were John Brosnan, Phil Edwards,
John Fleming and Mat Irvine.
(All images are copyrighted 1980 by Lucasfilm Ltd)
THE MAKING OF STAR WARS
THOUGH IT HAS TAKEN THREE YEARS,
THE SEQUEL TO THE PHENOMENALLY
SUCCESSFUL MOVIE STAR WARS, IS
FINALLY WITH US
TONY CRAWLEY LOOKS AT THE
MAKING OF THE FILM AND SOME
OF THE PROBLEMS FACED BY
THE CREATIVE PEOPLE INVOLVED
One of Ralph McQuarrie's pre-
It's that time again. George Lucas science fantasy
time! As Star Trek finally disappears inside Disney's
Black Hole, the world's stage is set for the
Star Wars sequel. Well, not the sequel the
continuation ... the next chapter. Part Two! Well,
no, not quite that either. Part Five, to be precise, in
George's nine-part saga set in that distant galaxy
far, far away. In short: the world's most
expensive and most successful movie serial is
coming back. The Empire Strikes Back is about
to make its strike, folks.
Whatever George likes to call it, however he likes
to number it, it is for all intents and purposes, a sequel,
and probably the world's most eagerly awaited sequel
since Godfather II. And as Godpop II, as it's more
familiarly known, is just about the only sequel film to
have improved upon its forerunner, there's a lot
riding on the new Lucasfilm production. Not least,
George's reputation as the maker of the world's
most successful movie . . . which has been earning as
much as 140,000 dollars a day.
The assassin Boba Fett.
Since Star Wars came out way back in
1977, it has been milked, ravaged,
dissected, re-directed and thoroughly
ripped-off from Italy to Canada. There
have been so many badly-made, horren-
dously-conceived, quickie copy-cat
movies, that even the most devout sf
movie fan has become a little tired of all
those clones of Luke, Leia, Han, Darth
Vader and the robots running and
spinning around in a flurry of movies,
most of which seemed to have cost about
56 and a half pence or the producer's son's pocket-
money — which ever was the cheapest.
Their scripts were lamentable and the
special-effects diabolical. This sick
succession of cash-in movies have all but
killed the good name of science fiction,
or if you prefer, science-fantasy, in the
George Lucas, therefore, has a lot to
answer for... and a lot to make up for.
He has nothing to beat, of course. But he
has had to work damned hard to make
sure he retains our interest.
So what chances does Empire have of
making any impact on our jaded palates?
Quite a lot, as it happens ... or as we
fervantly hope it happens. If only because
of the way that George Lucas and his
production partner, Gary Kurtz, go
about making movies. Star Wars has made
them not only millionaires (and then some),
but film-makers with the greatest
degree of independence in
Hollywood, or indeed the entire film
world, since the days when Chaplin, Pick-
ford and Griffith first set up their own
shop, United Artists.
As I write all this, however. The
Empire Strikes Back is still shrouded in
almost total secrecy. I know a little of
what went on behind the scenes since
shooting began in Norway on March 5,
1979, but George 'n' Gary have most of
their secrets well under wraps until
opening night in America — and the
European premiere at the Odeon,
Leicester Square (farewell. Black Hole!)
on Wednesday, May 21.
So at this juncture, I cannot exactly
report if they've worked the oracle a
second time, if they've lived up to their —
and indeed our — high expectations. We
can only report what's been going on ...
and why ... as we await the outcome.
George Lucas, after all, is in the
position of someone like Dr Christian
Barnard after he performed the world's
first heart-transplant operation. What
does he do for an encore? Barnard, as it
happened, did not do a great deal —
everyone else did instead. For the last few
years, it looked as if the same thing was
happening to Lucas — except the Star
Wars transplants proved so ineffectual.
Hence our anticipation of his new operation!
The initial problem with the new movie is not
the story, not the effects — which are bound to
be even more super-polished this time, because
of the extra money available, and indeed because
of George's own in-house effects work via one
of his new companies, Industrial Light and Magic.
No, the numero uno problem with the new flick is
the cast. Obviously, all the favourites are back in line
- Mark Hamill as Luke Skywalker, Carrie Fisher as
Princess Leia, Harrison Ford as Han Solo, Dave Prowse
inside Darth Vader's breathing mask, Kenny Baker and
Anthony Daniels locked into the metallic overalls of
R2-D2 and C-3PO, Peter Mayhew all furred up anew
as Chew-bacca, and yes, even Sir Alec Guiness'
Obi-Wan (Ben) Kenobi in a special reprise stanza.
That is both good and bad news. Naturally, we
all want to see these guys back in action
again. But we have already ... in so many other
sf movies of late. Of course, the originals have to
be better than the cheapjack clones — or
should be. For Star Wars, George Lucas chose
an ensemble cast; the main trio of Hamill,
Fisher and Ford had to gel together as
a unit, or he would have selected another
threesome entirely. Last time, his screen
newcomers were in unknown territory. George
directed and he alone knew where and
how he wanted them to go. But it's
obvious that he cannot merely rely on
the same crew of characters. New creations
have to be brought in. Billy Dee Williams,
in the main, as Baron Lando Calrissian,
"the charismatic boss" (it says here) of
a mining colony in space, and an old
buddy of Han Solo. Fine. A black
man in space is hardly new, but
rarely touched upon either. . .
But since 1977, Star Wars has become more
than a movie. It is a multi-million-dollar
business corporation. And so, merchandising
requires new characters . . . The toy manufacturers
cannot keep churning out R2 and 3PO toys from
here until doomsday. And so, enter a cuddly, friendly,
eight-foot high beastie called a Tauntaun — you say, town-town.
It's no vast rival of Chewie, you ride
this beast like a camel. Or you do
on the frozen planet of Hoth.
There is also another very special new creation,
around which the shrouds of secrecy still hang heavy.
Very heavy indeed. The clue is the best
known new name on the Empire poster. Frank
Oz. He's Jim Henson's partner on The Muppet Show,
responsible for, among others, Fozzie Bear, Animal,
Sam the Eagle and, of course, Miss Piggy. Now he has
come up with a new character for George. He created,
designed, activated and acted . . . Yoda.
The new characters will mix in with the old,
who are changing format rather than face.
Carrie Fisher, for example, is turning into a kind
of John Ford Western heroine (the way Luke Skywalker
was a Fordian youth last time). "She's now torn between
two men," explains producer Gary Kurtz. The men are
Luke and Han, of course. "She will be
more positive and less passive," adds Gary.
Unfortunately, he didn't say that to me, otherwise
I would have asked what on earth he was talking
about. Leia was hardly ever passive in the first film . . .
Kurtz sounds more on the ball when he discusses
the "new" Luke. "He was naive — now he is growing up
and learning how to use The Force. The nucleus of the
whole saga is his mental and spiritual training.
He is the prime user of The Force but he
still is not ready to take over entirely
from Ben Kenobi," Well, of course not.
He has at least four more chapters to go
if George manages to make his entire serial .
"Now we have familiarised the audience
with the basic environment, we can introduce
even more imaginative extensions of it, while
at the same time bringing some more emphasis
to heightened emotional relationships between
the characters." — Gary Kurtz, producer.
According to Kurtz, Harrison Ford has a problem, too.
Or rather, Han Solo has . . . Oh, I don't know, the way
Kurtz articulates it, it sounds as much Ford's problem as Solo's.
"It's one of decision," says Gary. "Does he want to take part in
this new organisation that is growing up against the Galactic Empire
or does he want to go off and fight as a freelance?" Or put it another
way: does Ford want to stay with the series, the new organisation
that is growing up against the Hollywood empire, or does he want
to go off making as many films as he can, as indeed he has since 1977 . . ?
On the subject of the film itself, Kurtz has this to say: "We feel that now
we have familiarised audiences with the basic environment, we can
introduce even more imaginative extensions of it, while at the same time
bringing some emphasis to heightened emotional relationships between
the characters." Very American is Gary Kurtz. I think he means that
Han Solo gets to kiss Princess Leia ...
The new director, as by now I'm sure we all know, is Irvin Kershner,
making his first sf film at age 57. "I happen to love science fiction,"
he says, "and I've been reading it since I was a kid. Perhaps hindsight
will place Star Wars into perspective, but this is certainly true - it
appealed to the child in us all." George Lucas wrote the story for
the new film. Leigh Brackett, a prolific and talented screenwriter
and science-fiction novelist, completed the first draft of the script
just before her tragic death in March, 1978. Brought in for the final
polish was Lawrence Kasdan, now a firm member of the Lucasfilm
set-up. His original script, Raiders of the Lost Ark, is about to start
shooting at George's old hunting-ground, Elstree studios, with
Steven Spielberg directing. Spielberg will also direct Larry's
next script. Continental Divide (NOTE: Speilberg did not end up
directing the film, the script was filmed instead by director,
Michael Apted and released in 1981). Just as many of the first cast
were brought back for the new adventure, so were various key
specialists behind the scenes. Robert Watts became associate
producer, Norman Reynolds, art director last time, takes charge
of production design. Paul Hirsch, from De Palma's Obsession
and The Fury, remains the film's editor, Stuart Freeborn
is make-up supervisor, and handles all "special
creature design." John Mollo designed the costumes and John
Williams, naturally, penned the new score. Williams, Reynolds
and Mollo were among the seven Oscar-winners on Star Wars,
by the way.
pre-production design painting by Star Wars regular, Ralph McQuarrie.
New to the team were Ken Russell's favourite camera ace. Peter
Suschitzky, and Brian Johnson, replaced John Dykstra — the
Battlestar Galactica rip-off merchant — as supervisor of the mechanical
special effects at Elstree. Once shooting was over, Brian, who has
worked on everything good in sf from 2001 to Alien, joined up with
Richard Edlund and Dennis Muren, for the creation of the
post-production effects at George's Industrial Light and Magic facility.
Brian's bunch have all been toiling like mad for the past year in California,
working on the miniatures and opticals ("the buck stops at opticals,"
says George), plus various stop-motion and animation sequences for
animals and other mechanical creatures. Their work will, so I hear,
somewhat bury the achievements to date of the great Ray Harryhausen.
(To Be Continued)