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Star Wars: The Multi-Billion Dollar Franchise That Never Should Have Succeeded

Our American Stories / Lee Habeeb
The Truth Network Radio
November 25, 2022 3:00 am

Star Wars: The Multi-Billion Dollar Franchise That Never Should Have Succeeded

Our American Stories / Lee Habeeb

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November 25, 2022 3:00 am

On this episode of Our American Stories, before he brought us to a galaxy far, far away, George Lucas made two other, often forgotten, movies. His first film THX 1- 1-3-8 was produced by friend and Godfather director, Francis Ford Coppola, but despite the talent behind it, was anything but a box office success. His second film, American Graffiti, was a surprise success, and led to the opportunity to begin his third film… Star Wars. Chris Taylor, author of How Star Wars Conquered the Universe: The Past, Present, and Future of a Multibillion Dollar Franchise, brings us the story behind why Star Wars never should have been the success it was.

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Send them to OurAmericanStories.com. Our listeners' stories, well, they're some of our favorites. George Lucas is best known for creating both Star Wars and Indiana Jones, two iconic American film franchises that shaped our childhoods or our children's childhoods. But before he brought us to a galaxy far, far away, Lucas made two other, often forgotten, movies. His first film, THX 1138, was produced by friend and Godfather director Francis Ford Coppola.

But despite the talent behind it, it was anything but a box office success. His second film, American Graffiti, was a surprise success and led to the opportunity to begin his third film, Star Wars. Today, Robbie brings us Chris Taylor, author of How Star Wars Conquered the Universe, the past, present, and future of a multi-billion dollar franchise. You know, Marshall Lucas once said that, I think that damn movie was running through the reels in George's head like the day I met it. And a lot of people say this, that he was sketching out visions of star troopers, you know, in his notebooks instead of going to parties while he was at USC.

Like, he was still a nerd. And his nerdery was very much attached to Flash Gordon, which was, you know, a serial that he saw on TV growing up in the 50s. The idea of a non-static space battle was something that intrigued him for many years.

Because, of course, you watch Star Trek, the original series in the late 60s, and you see a lot of spaceships just sort of hanging out there. You know, it looks weird now because George Lucas changed all of that with the special effects that we see in Star Wars of spaceships that could do dogfights, right? You know, World War II movies, he had another influence. But bring it back, always bring it back to Flash Gordon and that idea of Saturday morning serials and science fiction or rather space fantasy that was easy to consume, accessible, didn't matter which episode you were jumping in on. You know, you can talk about the catalyst for this and Gary Kurtz, the producer of Star Wars, talked a lot about this kind of moment in the early 70s.

They've just done THX 1138. It's kind of a mess. Warner Brothers doesn't like it. You know, there's a lot of indication that he was thinking about American Graffiti and his untitled space opera as a package. They're looking at what's playing at the movies, decide that there's nothing that either of them would really like to see because they're kind of both, you know, nerds in a sense. And they start talking about Flash Gordon, about the joys of seeing Flash Gordon when they were young and how there isn't any version of any movie like that. So, of course, Lucas first wants to go and get the rights to actual Flash Gordon itself.

That doesn't pan out. Dino De Laurentiis kind of beat him to the punch. But this is actually a liberating moment for Lucas because he realized that he doesn't need Flash Gordon. You know, he's able to let go of that legacy and start creating his own space opera. And it starts off, you know, not where you would expect it with like, hey, here's Han Solo, here's Luke Skywalker, here's, you know, the names do enter it fairly early on, but he starts with Mace Windu.

And the character, of course, becomes Mace Windu, played by Samuel L. Jackson in the prequels. And he writes a page and a half of treatment. The Star Wars might be in his mind at this point, but it's just this really weird convoluted stuff. He doesn't even like it.

He puts his pen down halfway through and it takes him a while to come back to it. But he's sort of constantly making lists of names that sound cool. You know, Han Solo is on that one, possibly from the Solo cups.

You know, all of the names have kind of this legacy to them, right? It's R2D2, which comes from Reel 2, Dialogue 2 in American Graffiti. That is actually a true story, not a Star Wars legend. You know, he's always listening. He always has his ear open for things that sound cool, sound science fiction-y, you know, and he files away the fact that he and his wife drive with their dog in the front seat of their car, their big Alaskan Husky, you know, sitting there in the front seat, called Indiana, by the way, you know, to give rise to two films in many ways. But, you know, that idea of the dog being the co-pilot, you know, came from something in his own life. So that's sort of the real beginnings of Star Wars. Star Wars is a real movie, and then it is greatly helped by the fact that he basically becomes a millionaire after American Graffiti. And, you know, he's kind of thinking about what he wants to do next, and he realizes, you know, with all those profits, the unexpected flood of profits that he makes, he can actually take his time and make this science fiction, space opera, space fantasy movie that he has been dreaming about for years. And the vast majority of time is just spent trying to create a draft of this movie where anyone can understand what the hell he's talking about. Because he is not, as he has proved with his previous two movies, he's not normally the best kind of script editor in the world. He's always needed someone to come in and kind of work on his own scripts. And it's just basically him going through every studio in Hollywood, every one of the majors, and they're all kind of refusing.

It's not a great thing. It's hard to pitch science fiction movies at this time in history. We do have to remember that. George met Ralph McQuarrie, the artist, which would turn out to be the only way Star Wars got made was because of Ralph McQuarrie's paintings. Because, again, nobody knew what the hell he was talking about. This allowed him to visualize it. And with that visualization came one studio and a lone executive.

Fox and, of course, Alan Ladd Jr. is the only one who wants to take a bet. Laddie, as he was known, had seen American Graffiti. He didn't really understand what Lucas was trying to tell him about Star Wars, but as he told me, he said, I believed in his brain.

But getting a studio to agree to make his film was just the first of many uphill battles Lucas would have to face. And you're listening to author Chris Taylor tell us the story of how Star Wars conquered the universe. When we come back, more of this remarkable story of imagination, of entrepreneurship, and so much more.

The story of Star Wars here on Our American Stories. Lee Habib here, the host of Our American Stories. Every day on this show, we're bringing inspiring stories across this great country.

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Visit a Mattress Firm store near you or go to mattressfirm.com. And we're back with our American stories and Chris Taylor telling us the story of George Lucas and the creation of Star Wars. Before the break, we just heard how Lucas had shopped Star Wars around Hollywood, facing rejection after rejection. 20th Century Fox executive Alan Ladd, Jr., or Laddie, was the only one who thought Lucas was worth taking a chance on.

Back to Chris. A budget hadn't even been set. Like, he had to spend his own money. Kind of a nutty way to make a film when you look back on it, but... You get the sense that he knows he's sitting on something big.

He doesn't know how big. At some point in the process, he suggests that it could be as big as a Disney movie. The average Disney movie, it could make, like, $12 million, which is roughly kind of what he's expecting the budget to be. It is roughly what the budget ends up being, which is an overshoot, which is more than Fox allotted him. It's supposed to be $8 million.

You know, he ends up spending close to $12 million. But, yeah, he thinks he's basically just going to make his money back, because that was the thing with science fiction movies in this day and age. Small budgets, because the stuff was just for kids and there wasn't that much money there, and you didn't, you know, no point in spending big on it, and kids won't notice the difference anyway if it's good or bad, if the special effects are good or bad. You know, 2001 didn't make its money back until 1975, which is crazy.

We think of that now. Like, it's a stone-cold classic. Why did people not go see it?

They just didn't. And it wasn't until, actually, you know, Star Wars was sitting in limbo waiting for its budget to appear that 2001 gets re-released and finally, you know, makes a profit. So that's all Lucas is expecting.

You're just like, George, you have no idea what you're sitting on. But, yeah, he's just a terrible scriptwriter. It takes him four drafts to get close, and even then he has to draft in Willard Huck and Gloria Katz to do a rewrite of, it's been estimated roughly a third of the dialogue in the original Star Wars, is theirs. Despite the progress being made on the script, 20th Century Fox wasn't making things easy for Lucas. They froze all spending in mid-October of 1975, pending a board meeting on December 13th, with filming scheduled to start only a few months later, in March of 76. Fox is really dragging its heels. There's no budget in sight. It really does take until that 1975 meeting, after 2001 has been a success and after the Fox board has seen the Macquarie paintings, they can finally visualize what this thing is supposed to be. Because without that meeting, without them deciding that budget, it never would have been made. I mean, it was barely made as it was.

It really is. Resources stretch to the absolute limit, right? George seems to be in the 70s. He seems to spend a lot of time around the dying parts of the industry. Like the internship that he had at Warner Brothers that got him to meet Coppola in the first place. Only reason he met Coppola is because he was supposed to work in the animation department at Warner Brothers and they just closed it.

He seems to be in the 70s. He seems to spend a lot of time around the dying parts of the industry. And they just closed it. He sees that the animation industry is more open. He sees that the special effects industry is more open. So kind of has no choice but to start his own.

And it's sort of weird. Again, I think this is something that we have a hard time grasping in the 21st century, because there's obviously so much work for special effects houses in this day and age that it can support a vast global industry. But yeah, you just created one of the most legendary special effects houses because nobody else had. Well, yeah. And he kind of had the money to do it. Again, this is why the American graffiti money was so important, because he could never have just gone cap in hand to Fox and said, oh, yeah, by the way, on top of the budget for this film, I also need to start a special effects house. Can you maybe spot me some cash for that?

No. So, yeah, industrial light and magic started in a warehouse in Van Nuys. These ideas are cameras, computer-controlled cameras. That's really the secret source of ILM. But also it takes so long to get off the ground that it almost gives George a heart attack, that they're working so slowly that they've only got one shot done by the time George comes back from principal photography in London.

So, yeah. But that's kind of a sign of the fact that ILM had to reinvent everything from the ground up. That's why there was only one special effects shot in the can, is because there's so much work on the technical side to be done. Now, Lucas is casting throughout 75 with Brian De Palma working on Carrie at the same time. Skywalker, there are many other options, but Mark Hamill kind of wins that one pretty easily. Carrie Fisher almost didn't get it because she was in acting school in London at the time. Her mother, Debbie Reynolds, packs her off to London. She goes off to learn proper pronunciation on things, which is why if you watch Star Wars, she seems to have half of a British accent for half the movie.

That's why she was in London, repeating things like, I've got to have a proper copper coffee pot. But, yeah, she just comes in, and it was actually Fred Roos, the casting guy on Godfather, who tells, he's sort of an unofficial casting executive for Star Wars, kind of unpaid, just because he knows George well through Coppola. The most interesting piece of casting, and one that's thrown up a lot of legends over the years, is that of Han Solo. We know that there were many other actors who could have done it. But also, we hear that, and this is true, George did not want to cast Harrison Ford because he had been in American Graffiti, because the thing that George was terrified of critics saying when Star Wars comes out is, oh, it's just American Graffiti in space.

So I think as a director, you're always terrified that your last movie is going to influence the perception of your current one. So he was a jobbing actor. He was also a carpenter, and the myth has grown up that Fred Roos, casting director, was so certain that Harrison Ford was right for the Han Solo role, that he brought Harrison Ford in to do some carpentry on a door in his casting studio to kind of throw Harrison Ford in his path.

And I sat down with Fred Roos in person. I was like, is this really the case? And he kind of sheepishly admitted that the legend, as good as it sounds, is not true, and that, in fact, he just actually needed a door. And Harrison Ford was the only carpenter he knew, so he just brought him in to make that door anyway. So it wasn't, it was inspired in retrospect like a lot of the Star Wars stories, and a lot of it was just more haphazard than you think.

And sometimes a carpenter making a door is just a carpenter making a door. Unfortunately, even though the cast was in place, that didn't mean that everything would go smoothly from there. Quite the opposite. They had location shoots to film in Africa and filming at a studio in London, which did anything but inspire confidence in Lucas. The shooting in Tunisia itself is an absolute nightmare. You get this part of the world that's not supposed to have any storms, have its biggest storm for 40 years, a lot of the equipment is destroyed, the first day of shooting goes terribly, the droids especially are all over the place. This is kind of a thing throughout the filming of Star Wars that R2-D2 didn't function in.

And if you pause every scene in Star Wars where R2-D2 is rolling forward and just kind of look at the trajectory of where he's going, it's almost always into a wall. And then you imagine those scenes on Tatooine, aka Tunisia, supposed to have gone a lot more differently and look a lot more impressive than it did. Again, we have this sort of happy accident of the fact that the Tunisia shoot went so badly, the desert scenes had to be so stripped down that it kind of ended up looking accidentally like a Western. And that, you know, people saw that, oh, like, oh, John Ford, you know, that really... But no, he was not as much... This was not as much of a Western homage as we imagine. It was just he didn't have the budget to throw in all of the creatures and all of the stuff that was in his imagination. This is how much of a mess the script is in.

Luke's name, I mean, Luke's name in the script, as far as they are concerned, while they're in Tunisia, is Luke Starkiller. Ben, you're listening to Chris Taylor, author of How Star Wars Conquered the Universe, tell a heck of a tale about perseverance, about accidents. George Lucas was crazy.

He took his own money from American Graffiti and started a special effects company. The story of Star Wars, how it almost never happened, and how it came to be here on Our American Stories. Our 2022 iHeartRadio Jingle Ball presented by Capital One.

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Listen to Chasing Sleep on the iHeartRadio app, Apple Podcasts, or wherever you get your podcasts. And we're back with Our American Stories and author Chris Taylor, who is telling us the story of how the original Star Wars came to be. George Lucas was actually reworking the script as they were filming in Africa. It was still shooting to be done in England, but Lucas wasn't exactly hopeful. However, not all was lost. Much of the Western feel in Star Wars was due to production impairments, a happy accident. Back to Chris Taylor with the story of Star Wars. So it's a mess.

It's all over the place. The script is being revised at the last minute. And then when he gets to London, it turns out to be not better than in Tunisia in a lot of ways in terms of his inability to communicate with the crew. And the London crew especially are really just not happy with this weird, shy, glasses-wearing, big-bearded, big-haired, interloper guy who can't even, you know, kind of mumbles at you.

And they're like, who is this dude? And they're just kind of making jokes about him and about the movie the whole time. You know, the studio has been cleaned, which is exactly what Lucas didn't want. You know, the deaf star, we think of it, oh, it was supposed to be gleaming and bright.

And no, it wasn't. You know, George had this idea that Tunisia actually really helped him with all of the dirt and muck that got him and everything. The idea of the used universe is a really big one in George's head. And so, you know, things get a bit scuffed up. Things get a bit used. You have this sense of almost every object in Star Wars that it has been used before. It's a bit dirty.

And that's what helps us believe it, right? You look around the room you're in, maybe it's a bit mismatched. The things you bought on this date, things you bought on that date, that's a bit scuffed. That's got dust on it, right? And we've never seen that in science fiction before, but not on the Death Star because the crew in the UK have cleaned the set and would clean the set every day. He's like, no, this is not what I want.

But of course, it kind of works. It's beautiful for all the reflections on Vader's helmet. Again, not meant to be the case, turns out brilliantly. But yeah, George had a terrible time in London, a terrible time with the crew, a terrible time with Gilbert Taylor as the award-winning cinematographer who kind of was as dismissive as the crew of George's shortcomings, especially when George kind of got on the wrong side of him by looking through the camera, right? Doing the stuff that a cinematographer is supposed to do because George had done that previously on both of his previous movies, THX 1138 and American Graffiti, had been small.

They'd been low budget. This is his first time on anything like a Hollywood epic. And here he comes face to face with Gil Taylor. He's worked with Kubrick. He's worked with Hitchcock. He's worked with Polanski. And he's kind of telling George, no, you don't look through the camera, son. That's my job. So George is in a funk the whole time.

Gary Kurtz is having to try to negotiate with the crew to get them to take this seriously. It is the hottest summer on record, the summer of 1976 in the UK. Still famous even now. Still, 76 is known as one of the biggest, hottest, nastiest, sweatiest, you know, gave rise to the famous Sun tabloid headline, Few What a Scorcher, in that summer. That was the summer of 76, and that's when Star Wars is being filmed. And it's just so much of a mess, and they don't have, like, a lot of the costumes aren't ready, and just a lot of stuff happening all over the place that just makes it feel like a mess. They get round to the end of shooting. Fox won't give them any more budget, and they still have to film all of the scenes on the Tantor IV, you know, which is the ship at the very start of Star Wars.

This is one that famously gets shot at by the Star Destroyer passing overhead, and it's the one that 3PO and R2 are, and Darth Vader invades it, et cetera. All of those scenes of those rebels sort of lining up in front of the door, the famous scene producing the tension of, like, Darth Vader's gonna walk through the storm. We know that, like, they don't say a word, but really, really great masterclass in building up tension in the first few minutes of a movie. And it really was just filmed at the last minute, you know, and the last day with a second unit.

I think Gary Kurtz wants to direct the second unit, you know, and they're just shuttling back and forth. They're trying to get all these scenes filmed. You would never guess it today, looking at that scene, that it was just such on a shoestring, on the last day, kind of thrown together kind of thing.

But it works, and they were just so lucky in that sense and in the things that they were able to do. The resources of the original Star Wars were just stretched gossamer thin, you know. Everything was, like, on the point of breaking. And you can see how if you're coming back from that shoot and you're going to, I believe it was Alabama, where Steven Spielberg was filming Close Encounters at that time, you would think this is such a mess.

Like ILM, I started this special effects house. They've only got one shot in the can. That's what he discovers, by the way, when he comes back from Spielberg's shoot from Close Encounters. He goes back, he checks in on ILM in the Van Nuys warehouse. Dyke's just like, hey, we've only got one shot, but we've figured out a lot of stuff. You want to see the shot? Looks a lot like 2001. That's it.

That's all I've had for my months and months of investment and my own money into this, the special effects, that are either going to save or damn this film. Yeah, so he sees that and he flies back to San Francisco from, you know, down in LA. Finally, he's heading back home and almost straight from the plane, he starts feeling like he's going to have a heart attack. Has to check himself into hospital instead of going home in Marin.

And turns out, no, it's not a heart attack, but he's also told he's having an incredible amount of anxiety, a lot of stress, and he should probably go take some rest. Which is kind of good advice. But yeah, George is kind of put through the wringer. This also explains why, while he and Spielberg are together on the set of Close Encounters, they swap points.

I think it's two points each. So Spielberg gets 2% of the profits of Star Wars. Lucas gets 2% of the profits of Close Encounters. Not an unusual thing to do, but also an indication of each of them thought that the other ones was going to be the better movie. And you can see George thinking, after that mess of a shoot with my special effects house, just nowhere in this process, obviously I'm going to win that bet, obviously. Star Wars is going to be a disaster.

My name is going to be Mudd in Hollywood, but that's fine because I'll just make my personal films and I'll have my 2% of Close Encounters to keep me going. And Lucas seemed justified in his feeling when the movie's release is pushed from Christmas of 1976 to the summer of 1977. And the novelization still does come out in the fall of 76, which is just bizarre looking back on it to us these days, like, oh, the whole story of Star Wars was out there? Like, for months before the movie hit theaters?

Really weird. So, you know, the release date slips, not unusual, but it slips because the special effects are so far behind schedule. And they're so far behind schedule that George, when he screens his rough cut of Star Wars for his friends, including that screening where Brian De Palma tore him to pieces, he's screening a shot with kind of temporary placeholder special effects, which is basically he's using, especially for the Death Star sequence at the end, he's using a lot of shots from World War II movies. And what a story we're being told by Chris Taylor, how Star Wars conquered the universe. My goodness, all of those early scenes done at the last minute on the last dime. And it just shows you that, indeed, Benjamin Franklin's quote, necessity is the mother of invention. My goodness, it's the mother, the father, the grandmother, and the grandfather here. It, indeed, drives the film. It was a hot mess. And maybe, indeed, that's why this worked.

When we come back, more with author Chris Taylor, the story of how Star Wars came to be, and almost didn't, here on Our American Stories. When the world gets in the way of your music, try the new Bose QuietComfort Earbuds 2, next-gen earbuds uniquely tuned to the shape of your ears. They use exclusive Bose technology that personalizes the audio performance to fit you, delivering the world's best noise cancellation and powerfully immersive sound, so you can hear and feel every detail of the music you love. Bose QuietComfort Earbuds 2, sound shape to you.

To learn more, visit Bose.com. Sometimes, we all feel a little foggy in the morning. We forget our phone at home or leave a cup of coffee on the roof of our car and drive away. That's what junk sleep will do to you. It's that tossing and turning all night that comes from sleeping on the wrong mattress.

That's no way to live. You need a restful night's sleep to be at your best every day. So head to Mattress Firm and get started on the quality sleep you deserve. Mattress Firm's highly trained sleep experts will help you find the perfect mattress. They'll use Mattress Matcher technology to connect you with the ideal sleep products just by getting the answers to six simple questions. And then, finally, you can start getting the rest you need. No more sending e-mails to the wrong people. No more putting your car keys in the dishwasher. Talk to a sleep expert at Mattress Firm and unjunk your sleep today.

Visit a Mattress Firm store near you or go to mattressfirm.com. And we're back with our American stories and our last segment on the making of the original Star Wars. Chris Taylor, author of How Star Wars Conquered the Universe, was just sharing how Star Wars' release was pushed back from December of 76 to the summer of 77 due to delays in the special effects.

Lucas had even gone to the hospital for what he felt was a heart attack brought on by extreme stress. Things were not looking good for Lucas and his passion project, Star Wars. The release date slips, not unusual, but it slips because the special effects are so far behind schedule. And they're so far behind schedule that George, when he screens his rough cut of Star Wars for his friends, including that screening where Brian De Palma tore him to pieces, he's screening a shot with kind of temporary placeholder special effects, which is basically he's using, especially for the Death Star sequence at the end, he's using a lot of shots from World War II movies to illustrate, like, oh, you know, the attack on the Death Star's gonna happen here, you know, cut to Spitfire from World War II, you know, downing a couple of German Messerschmitts.

Just the explosion of the Death Star, like, when they filmed that on set, it was just a guy holding a piece of paper and going bang, you know? But, yeah, so all of that is waiting until right and the last minute. You know, this is part of the reason why George and Marsha are just kind of sleepless and dazed on the day Star Wars is released, because they're still working. They're still tweaking it.

They're still changing it. They, uh, you know, obviously, again, this is a, the looping of the dialogue is an area where you see a lot more happy accidents, like the casting of James Earl Jones as the voice of Darth Vader. You know, he wasn't paid that much money. It was just a couple of days' work, because, by the way, Darth Vader, George didn't think he was a very scary villain. He's only on the screen for ten minutes in the original Star Wars. He didn't seem scary until you add the sound effect and until you add James Earl Jones' voice and Ben Burtt breathing through a scuba mask. You know, that's what really sells Darth Vader.

You know, it all brings, comes together. But he's worried that Darth Vader isn't going to be seen as that big of a villain, like he almost wants to kill him off. Um, so, you know, a lot of this stuff doesn't come through at the last minute. Obviously, James Earl Jones was a great get, uh, really, really makes the film. Part of George Lucas' pessimistic outlook on Star Wars certainly stemmed from the numerous delays in production, and another part came from his perfectionism and the idea that this movie would never live up to his expectations, a feeling he still has to this day.

Yeah, George was definitely heads down in the studio in those final days, uh, working on the audio. And I believe what, what Lucas is doing on May the 25th, 1977, the day that Star Wars is released, by the way, a Wednesday, kind of weird to us this day and age, the Wednesday before Memorial Day weekend, like, what are you even doing releasing it then? It's just bizarre. Like, kids aren't off school. This is supposed to be a movie for kids.

What are you even doing? You know, just kind of a sign that, that Fox wasn't even thinking, uh, about that sort of thing. It was actually trying to get theaters to take a movie called The Other Side of Midnight, which we don't even remember today, it was a gritty seventies drama, by saying, well, you, you have to take, uh, Star Wars if, if you want The Other Side of Midnight, and it wasn't until, you know, a month or so after Star Wars comes out, they flip it. They're like, oh, no, you had to take The Other Side of Midnight if you want Star Wars.

Um, so, they're, they're just not thinking about it. It just gets released, and I, I think George isn't thinking about it either, because there was no premiere party. So, he's, he's sleepless, Marsha's sleepless, and supposedly, they go to Hamburger Hut, which is a restaurant, uh, that is, uh, on Hollywood Boulevard, it was on Hollywood Boulevard, right opposite Man's Chinese Theater. I guess he didn't realize which 32 theaters it was being released in around the country, and the one of them was right here.

I can believe that he would sit in there for a hamburger, which is his favorite food, with Marsha, and just sort of kind of get over that kind of sleeplessness, you know, that kind of, where you've pulled an all-nighter and nothing seems real, and then you look out the window, and you see, oh, my movie's playing over there. This movie that I'm still fixing, that's weird, um, is playing over there, and there seems to be a line. Uh, but, yeah, we, we, we should remember that he, you know, that my favorite story about this, about where his head was, is the fact that he calls, George Lucas calls up Mark Hamill on the day, on May 25th, and he says, hi, kid, you famous yet? So he was obviously aware that it's kind of, it's doing okay, at least at this one theater. Little remembered fact, uh, it wasn't actually Star Wars, that there was, that was the most popular, uh, movie of, of that week, it wasn't Top of the Box Office, it was Smokey and the Bandit. Uh, and that was simply due to the fact that it was on more screens. I mean, Jaws, I believe, which was the best-selling movie up until that point, um, opened in over a hundred, and, uh, you know, it was kind of a hit from the beginning.

Thirty-two is like, that's just such a sign of defeat and failure. To open your movie on just thirty-two screens, even forty would have been a sign of defeat, and a sign that not only Fox didn't believe in, but the movie houses themselves didn't believe in it. But then, that too, kind of turns out to work in Lucas' favor, because it means that there are lines. If you've got supply and demand matched perfectly, no lines. But the interesting thing about Star Wars is, it very early on becomes famous for being famous, and it becomes famous for having its lines, and journalists kind of latch onto that.

Like, there's no mention of the lines in the first day reports. There's mention that it's done pretty well, like, you know, variety is a gargant, it's per screen average, which is part of the reason why you see eight other theaters by the end of the week going, oh, yeah, uh, actually, I'll take that. You know, and it kind of snowballs from there, but part of the reason that it's snowballing is because everywhere it goes, it has lines, and because the lines become famous for being lines, Star Wars becomes famous for being a thing that people will wait in long lines to see. And, I mean, I always go back to the San Francisco Chronicle's report, which I believe was the first report on the line, and the movie theater owner is just aghast at the kind of people who are waiting in these lines, like, you know, the long hairs, the acid freaks, the stoners, you know, the people playing chess in line, but also, like, people of different ages. It's not one particular age group.

It's not just limited to kids. So the lines are sort of this great physical example of how it is not just for children, it's not just your average science fiction flick. We can go too far in saying, oh, it wasn't going to be a hit or it wasn't supposed to be a hit, but we can definitely say that it became a phenomenon because of the supply and demand problem, because of the lines. Then it starts to open up in other countries because, of course, you know, America is the global center of culture, and, you know, you hear about American movies certainly growing up in the UK. You would hear about American movies long before you would see them. That was definitely the case with Star Wars.

My first encounter with Star Wars was on the back of a box of cereal when I was about four years old. It's just, people start to realize that it is just so rewatchable, and we think of that as sort of being a normal thing now. Like, of course, that's what directors are going for. They want to make a movie that you'll want to rewatch, and, you know, Lucas was the first to do that.

It's just so compelling. The story is so compelling that it just taps into something deep and primal in our brains, which is probably a good point to, I'll just throw in the, you know, the legend being that George Lucas based it on the hero with a thousand faces, right, Joseph Campbell and all of that kind of, you know, archetypal hero narrative. You know, in these days, Star Wars is used as a great example of that. But, you know, in terms of Lucas thinking that he had produced this hero's narrative that audiences were just going to fall for, no, he had no idea.

He had no idea what he was doing. And to quote Charlie Lippincott and his marketing director, he was just farting around. . And a terrific job on the production and storytelling by Robbie Davis. And a special thanks to Chris Taylor, how Star Wars conquered the universe. And go to bookstores, go to Amazon, however you get your books. Buy it. If you're a Star Wars fan, buy two. And if you're not a Star Wars fan, watch the movie again.

Give it another shot. And my goodness, happy accidents. None bigger than the voice of James Earl Jones as Darth Vader. No one saw the scenes as scary until, well, you add the soundtrack, you add Jones' voice and that eerie, breathing sound. Think about that premiere night. What is Lucas doing? Grabbing a burger after tweaking a film.

He was sure wasn't going to do well. And then those lines. The story of how Star Wars conquered the universe.

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Whisper: medium.en / 2022-11-26 22:38:21 / 2022-11-26 22:57:08 / 19

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