The Stages of the Film-Making: Star Wars
Star Wars: Episode IV A New Hope is an epic science fiction film of 1977 by George Lucas. The film is the first part of the saga by the year of release, and the fourth in the story chronology. It became an epochal event in the history of cinema. Unexpectedly, Star Wars became something much more than just entertainment. The first films of Star Wars became a phenomenon that may be compared to the dawn of a new religious movement. Now "a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away...." is known all over the world. It is a romantic and massive story about the struggle between good and evil, love and hate, betrayal, and heroism. The first episode of Star Wars captured the minds of millions. This paper will analyze the aspects of development, production, distribution, and exhibition of the film, outline the difficulties that arose during the process as well as factors contributing to a film’s success.
The scenario of the colossal saga was created by George Lucas in the mid-seventies. At the time of filming, he was only 32 years old and had already made two feature films (Hearn and Howard 89). The scenario of Star Wars was a 200-page volume. Lucas worked on it for more than a year. The scenario included all the events of the universe of Star Wars, including the trilogy of modern times as well as hundreds of detailed characters (Hearn and Howard 89). When writing the script, Lucas was inspired by a Japanese adventure film The Hidden Fortress (1958) by Akira Kurosawa. The famous term Jedi came from the Japanese word jidaigeki, which stands for the historical stories about samurais. Luke Skywalker, the protagonist of Star Wars, is a direct descendant of Flash Gordon, the hero of a popular comic book published in the thirties. Luc was the personification of the ideal hero of adventure comics (Scanlon).
From the very beginning, Lucas wanted to set up two trilogies and describe the events from the end, i.e. to film the second half of the script immediately, and the first part was to be filmed later to create an intrigue (Hearn and Howard 94). At first, he was going to make one film only, and then decide whether it is worth making the second and the third episodes. ucas finished his work on the script in May 1974. He spent more than a month on the casting, during which he changed some of his priorities. For example, he gave up the Asian image of Leah and made an alien monster not Han Solo, but his friend Chewbacca. Lucas’ plan required substantial expenditures. The film company 20th Century Fox approved the budget of 8.250.000 million dollars, which at that time was a substantial, but not a huge sum (Hearn and Howard 96). In the process of filming, more than five million dollars were needed additionally. At the same time, Lucas reserved the right to create and release sequels and merchandise based on Star Wars (Hearn and Howard 95).
After gathering the preliminary material, the script, and the sketches with the images of the main characters, Lucas started to promote his project. Namely, he started negotiations on the production startup. For this purpose, it was necessary to enter into a contract with Warner Brothers and find the necessary funding. The search for funding took six months. For a very long time, his attempts were. Paramount and The Warner Brothers refused to work with George Lucas, referring to the unpopularity of the film’s topic. Universal Studios and United Artists studios rejected the project as well (Scanlon).
Ultimately, the film company 20th Century Fox gave a chance to the project (“Star Wars: The Year's Best Movie"). However, they requested the director to sign an agreement requiring a fee to be paid in advance (Rinzler and Jackson 39). Furthermore, the film company put a proviso on the preliminary release of a book about the events in the fourth episode. Perhaps, this was done in order to test the waters and find out if the public was interested. George Lucas created a novel co-authored with Alan Foster. The book was a huge success, for which Lucas later received the prestigious award Hugo (Rinzler and Jackson 39).
In summer 1976, Lucas received financing and started working on the film. The main filming location was Tunisia, North Africa, where he brought a team of 130 people from England and the United States (Rinzler and Jackson 41). Here, the first pictures of the new film were made, recreating the world of the desert planet Tatooine, which, according to the plot, was inhabited by the robots who survived from the Empire (Rinzler and Jackson 41).
There was little time left as several months had been spent on the production of the book and negotiations with other companies. Thus, the team had less than six months for the whole process, including the installation and voiceovers. Several tons of decorations were brought to Africa by plane in order to create the entourage invented by the director (Rinzler and Jackson 41-42). The decorators worked for months, raising the desert city of Mos Eisley, where Luke and Obi-Wan met with the space smuggler Han Solo. The film crew spent a total of three months in Tunisia, having shot all the material almost without incidents, but yet not without trouble: in the midst of the filming, there was a sandstorm, which literally swept away a part of Mos Eisley into the desert, delaying the process of filming for a week (Rinzler and Jackson 42).
After Tunisia, the film crew moved to a more controllable environment of Elstree Studios near London, where they shot the next scenes. To save time, the shooting took place simultaneously in three halls, and Lucas moved between them on a bicycle. Working for twelve hours a day seven days a week, the team was able to complete the work in just eight weeks (Rinzler and Jackson 45). Creating the numerous special effects that are present in the film took a major part of the time.
The process of distribution was no less intense due to the increased pressure that 20th Century Fox put on Lucas in terms of the time of release. Lucas founded his own company Lucasfilm Ltd. and hired Charlie Lippincott as a marketing director for Star Wars. Due to the lack of support from 20th Century Fox for the release of licensed products (T-shirts, posters etc.), Lippincott was forced to search for other companies. He signed an agreement with Stan Lee, Roy Thomas and Marvel Comics to produce a comics adaptation of the film and a contract with Del Rey Books Publishers on the novelization of release (Rinzler and Jackson 56).
Star Wars was an incredibly ambitious and innovative project. However, on the day of the premiere, the picture was released only in thirty cinemas in the US. The producers simply did not have enough funds to cover more cinemas. After the first success of the film, its fame spread, and the studio hastily released hundreds of copies that were distributed to all cinemas of the country. The month to follow made George Lucas a multimillionaire (Rinzler and Jackson 59).
The positive feedback of American Graffiti allowed Lucas to reconsider the agreement and secure the rights to the film and its sequels. This transaction allowed him to reserve the exclusive rights to all materials of Star Wars, including unwritten ones, and the right to a large part of the profits from the sales of various advertising and related products. Lucas received 100 000 dollars salary as a director (Scanlon). As it turned out, the main part of the money earned by Lucas on Star Wars was the proceeds of merchandise. At that time, this market was underestimated because no one was interested, for instance, in the figures of the heroes of The Godfather. However, Star Wars was aimed at a completely different audience with very different consumer demands (Titelman 98).
Despite the fact that various products under the Star Wars brand became available after the film release, only one company, Kenner Toys, agreed to issue the Star Wars toys under license. However, it did not expect that the film would be successful; thus, after the film suddenly gained a huge success around Christmas time, the stores did not have enough toys to meet the unprecedented demand for them. Kenner Toys was forced to sell empty boxes with vouchers that could be exchanged for toys in March 1978. The revenues from related products such as toys, T-shirts, etc. exceeded 20 billion dollars (Titelman 99).
Initially, the release of Star Wars was scheduled for Christmas 1976, but because of delays, the film release was postponed to summer 1977. However, fearing that the premiere of Star Wars will coincide with the premiere of other major summer projects such as Smokey and the Bandit, 20th Century Fox postponed the date of the premiere to the eve of Remembrance Day, Wednesday, May 25, 1977 (Titelman 101).
Having been released on the screens, the film gained a huge success and became one of the most successful in history, making 220 million dollars in the US and 337 million dollars abroad only during premieres in cinemas (Hollywood AP). By the end of 1978, the year of international distribution of Star Wars, the final revenues from the movie amounted to 410 million dollars (Harmetz). Not only Star Wars became a success by itself, but it also saved 20th Century Fox from bankruptcy. During the first three weeks, the share price of 20th Century Fox doubled and reached a record high. With Star Wars, George Lucas supplied 20th Century-Fox with a new lease on life (Arnold).
The film was issued several times, with some of the versions differing significantly from the original. The most significant changes were made in the special edition of 1997 and in the DVD edition of 2004, where CGI effects were modified and some of the scenes were tweaked. This version of the film was also released in Blu-ray format in September 2011.
In addition to the success with the audience, the film was also praised by the critics. At the Oscar ceremony in 1977, the creators of the film were awarded six statuettes in the categories the Best Art Direction, the Best Costumes, the Best Editing, the Best Original Music, the Best Sound, and Best Visual Effect. Alec Guinness was nominated for the Best Supporting Actor award, Gary Kurtz for the Best Producer (best film), and George Lucas for the Best Director and the Best Original Screenplay (“The 50th Academy Awards 1978”).
To sum up, Star Wars: Episode IV A New Hope is the third feature film of George Lucas. He was inspired by space operas like the series of Flash Gordon and samurai films of Akira Kurosawa, which created their own unique universe. Lucas started working on the Star Wars with a budget of 8 million dollars, which was not a sufficient sum; however, when released, the film became one of the most popular ones in the history of cinema. In addition, it later received six Academy Awards. Each stage of the film production was marked by certain difficulties. First of all, at the stage of development, Lucas took a risk of creating a scenario on the topic which seemed unpromising and unpopular. The production process of Star Wars: Episode IV A New Hope reveals how the films are made in a limited time frame in a foreign location. Also, the distribution stage of production gives an understanding of the necessity and importance of merchandising and marketing promotion of the film. Lucas got the main income from selling the items related to the film. The exhibition stage of Star Wars is a striking example of the unpredictability of the filmmaking industry at large. Episode IV A New Hope was accepted only by few cinemas; however, during the following month of the release, the film got incredible popularity and achieved record box office. Thus, considering the above-mentioned aspects, it can be concluded that exploring the stages of the production process of Star Wars: Episode IV A New Hope may greatly contribute to the understanding of the whole film-making industry.