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George Lucas and The Making Of STAR WARS — THE MOVIE

I just had a brilliant idea.

Awhile back I read J.W. Rinzler’s terrific book, The Making of Star Wars.

It’s a fantastic, in-depth account of all the drama that went into the making of (what else?) the original Star Wars.

It’s loaded with obscure technical details, crew anecdotes, photos, and rare documents that immerse the reader in the experience of being there at the beginning of it all–witnessing the genuinely epic struggle between an idealistic young filmmaker named George Lucas and the evil empire that was (and is) Hollywood.

Needless to say, it’s one of my favorite books.

I recommend it highly to anyone who was ever obsessed with that movie, as I was, or anyone interested in filmmaking in general.

But the more I think about it, the more I realize it’s not just a geektastic making-of book.  The Making of Star Wars has all the elements of a powerful, classic story.  It’s David versus Goliath.  It’s Rocky and Rudy and Hoosiers and even a bit of Citizen Kane…and it would make a great movie unto itself.

Back in the ‘80s, when I was living in New Mexico, I went to an art-house screening of a 1969 Francis Ford Coppola movie called The Rain People, starring Robert Duvall and James Caan.

The movie itself was not of great interest to me, but afterwards there was a Q&A with two guys who had something to do with the film (I can’t recall what), as well as a documentary featurette directed by the movie’s cinematographer—a young unknown (in ’69) named George Lucas.

What was interesting about the documentary was the little glimpse it offered of the George Lucas’s secret ambition.

The Rain People was a tiny, slice-of-life type movie about a pregnant housewife who drives cross-country to escape her soul-sucking existence.

To shoot it, Lucas and the film crew went on the road in a couple of rented RVs.  In order to liven up the tedious drives between locations, they would fire bottle rockets back and forth between the moving vehicles, with Lucas providing Vietnam-like CB radio coverage:  “Incoming! Incoming!  Oh my God!”

Silly as these hijinks may have been, they must have triggered something in the imagination of George Lucas, because he would soon be planning similar aerial battle scenes in Apocalypse Now…and another to-do project he called The Star Wars.

After the commercial failure of Lucas’ THX-1138, and before American Graffiti proved a hit, he handed the reins of Apocalypse Now to Coppola, the better to focus all his attention on writing about galactic rebellion.   (There are still traces of George Lucas all over Apocalypse Now, including Harrison Ford’s cameo, Colonel Lucas.)

Star Wars was not an easy sell in recession-era ‘70s Hollywood.  Lucas’s incoherent treatment was rejected by every studio in town…until it caught the eye of Alan Ladd Jr. at Twentieth Century Fox.

Fox had had some success with science-fiction, namely its Planet of the Apes franchise.  Thanks to Ladd, Lucas got a handshake deal and some development money, but the studio was very wary of committing to the project, so Lucas was forced to finance much of the preproduction himself. This turned out to be a good thing, as it put him in a stronger bargaining position when the studio finally got around to writing up contracts.

In fact, he got the greatest deal of all time.

But Star Wars almost destroyed George Lucas.

No one understood what he was doing.

The studio, the cast, the crew, even his best friends from USC all told him it wouldn’t work.  DePalma hated it; Coppola was baffled.  People undermined him at every turn, sneering at his choices, so that he had to micromanage every aspect of the film to make sure it was done right.

Even so, there were many painful compromises.

So much went wrong:  the test screenings were a disaster, the executives were clueless, the special effects were crap, and the budget was running out.  Shuttling between production units in Tunisia, England, and Burbank, Lucas almost collapsed from strain.

His marriage was destroyed.

But in the end he did it.  He won.

Against impossible odds, George Lucas was victorious.

See?  It’s a movie!

And I know the perfect actor to play the young George Lucas:  James Franco.

Who else would you cast besides Franco?

What about it, Hollywood?  Get to work!

1 Comment

1 Comment

  1. Anonymous

    March 2, 2011 at 6:44 pm

    That's a GREAT idea!!!

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