Saturday, January 22, 2011

Star Wars: Happy 100th!

No, "Star Wars" isn't turning 100.  I am!  This is my 100th post!  (Yay, me!  And posted a little late due to a new job, so another yay there too!)  Of course, I couldn't just write about any old film on this auspicious occasion.  It had to be a big one, mind-blowing and life-changing.  So, after much deliberation with myself, my geek side won out, and I decided there was no other choice than "Star Wars" (1977), the original, the one that started it all.

I already wrote about the first sequel "The Empire Strikes Back" in my favorites last year, but let's go back to the beginning.  "Star Wars" is the story of a young man who longs to leave the farm he grew up on and find adventure out in the world...and other worlds too.  His uncle keeps holding him back, but when two droids show up at his door, he's thrust into that adventure he longed for faster than he could ever have imagined, adventure that he was destined for.  Now, with the help of a wise old man and a cocky smuggler, he must learn the ways of an ancient practice and save a princess and her rebel forces from death and destruction.

George Lucas started writing the script for "Star Wars" back in 1973, after he finished filming "American Graffiti."  He described it as a space opera when he shopped it around Hollywood, though, and everyone laughed him out of their offices.  Finally, he went to see Alan Ladd Jr. at Twentieth Century Fox.  Ladd saw "Graffiti" and the talent in Lucas, and agreed to finance "Star Wars."  So, with a budget of only $8 million, Lucas was on his way to the film that would change his life forever.

During casting, Lucas looked at almost every young actor in Hollywood.  For the part of Han Solo (who was originally supposed to be a big, green, scaly creature), he saw Nick Nolte, Kurt Russell, Christopher Walken, Sylvester Stallone, even Billy Dee Williams.  Harrison Ford was never on his list though, because Lucas wanted to work with fresh faces, no one he'd worked with before.  (Ford, of course, got his start in "American Graffiti.")  However, Lucas had asked Ford to help out with casting by reading with all the potential actresses, and after hearing him read the part over and over again, Lucas realized Ford was the best choice for Han.  As for Princess Leia, Lucas looked at lots of actresses including Cindy Williams (whom he'd worked with in "Graffiti") and Sissy Spacek.  Fortunately for Spacek, Lucas was sharing the casting sessions with his friend Brian De Palma, who was casting "Carrie."  When Carrie Fisher was finally hired for Leia, it was on one condition...that she lose 10 pounds.  It's one of Fisher's favorite stories to share about her surreal "Star Wars" experience - they sent her to fat camp to lose the weight.

Finally, casting was done and they were on their way to Tunisia to start filming.  Because of the small budget (which only increased to $12 million during production, still making it the least expensive of all the "Star Wars" films), everyone tried to save money where they could, like flying coach everywhere instead of the standard first class (about which Lucas got an earful from Fisher's mother Debbie Reynolds).  Yet filming still fell to problems right at the start.  On the first day of filming, Tunisia had its first rainstorm in 50 years.  Props malfunctioned left and right.  Even costumers had lots of trouble making the C-3PO costume stay on Anthony Daniels in the heat.  After Tunisia, everyone flew to England, but there were still issues.  Lucas had to argue with the custodial staff of Elstree Studios to stop cleaning and buffing all the sets every night.  (Lucas wanted a dirtied-up, lived-in feel to everything.  They even rolled all the R2-D2s around in the dirt, and kicked them a bit.)  Lucas even had troubles with the British crew, who were very lackluster about working on "Star Wars" because they thought it was just some cheesy kids movie.

The cast had their own mishaps during filming as well.  At one point, one of C-3PO's leg pieces split all the way down to Daniels' foot and stabbed him.  Mark Hamill held his breath for so long in the trash compactor scene that he burst a blood vessel in his face that was difficult to cover with makeup, so many of the rest of his shots are from only one side of his face.  Hamill and Fisher did manage to successfully perform their one big stunt - the swing across the unreleasable bridge - without injury.  Even though she didn't have any more stunts, Fisher did have a daily pain to deal with.  Lucas wouldn't allow her to wear a bra under her costume, because "there is no underwear in space."  So Fisher had to use gaffer's tape for support instead.  (Lucas finally explained his reasoning to Fisher years later.  He said that when you go into the weightlessness of space, your body expands, but your bra wouldn't so you would be strangled by your own brassiere.  Sure, Lucas, suuuure that's the reason.)

Of course, nobody expected "Star Wars" to become the success it did.  Not only did everyone think it was just a silly space drama, no one had even come close to creating such a popular movie.  Kenner Toys had acquired the merchandising deal for "Star Wars" in a hope of selling just a few toys.  Honestly, they even thought the movie would bomb.  They were so unprepared for the massive demand for toys in Christmas 1977 that they ended up selling vouchers when the stock ran out.  These "empty box" toys sold in the masses but were not even able to be delivered until March.

Like I said, "Star Wars" is the movie that started it all.  No other film had been so successful, had created such a fan base, had created a merchandising empire all its own.  Yet, now it's what every studio in Hollywood tries to match.  So, have some geeky fun this weekend and watch the beginning again.  Have a great weekend, everyone!  Be back Tuesday.

(Post-tidbit:  I actually did rewatch "Star Wars" this week but it was this great new edit done by a fan.  It's called "Star Wars: Revisited" and can be found here.  It's an amazing edit, and I highly recommend watching it if you get the chance.  He corrected mistakes, edits, even added his own visual effects, which are beautiful.  If the "Star Wars: A New Hope Special Edition" from the 90s had been like this, I would have liked it a lot more.  He's currently working on "Empire," a 3-year labor of love so far.)

1 comment:

  1. The force is strong with this blog. Congrats on the great milestone!!