Star Wars

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“Star Wars” (1977) is the grand-daddy of the modern sci-fi movie era. George Lucas took his scripts for “Star Wars” and “Indiana Jones” all over town, with no takers. Hollywood was convinced that sci-fi space epics were a dead genre, and nothing like Indiana Jones had been popular since Buck Rogers - type serials of the 1930s. Then 20th-Century Fox decided to take a chance, based entirely on the success of his previous block-buster “American Graffiti” MonsterVision host segments for American Graffiti


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Why was “Star Wars” such a blockbuster? “The Science Fiction Image” by Gene Wright says it’s at least partly because the film borrowed popular elements from previous stories: the basic plot is a retelling of T.H. White’s Camelot stories with Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) in the young King Arthur role and his lightsabre replacing the sword in the stone. OB1 (Ben) Kenobi (and later Yoda) take Merlin’s tutor role, Guinevere becomes Princess Leia of Organa, the evil Black Knight (who turns out to be a certain member of King Arthur’s family) becomes Darth Vader, Sir Lancelot is Hans Solo (Harrison Ford), robot C3P0 bears a resemblance to the robot in Metropolis (1926) and the tin woodsman of 1939’s The Wizard Of Oz, while both C3P0 and R2D2 resemble a pair of bumblers in a 1950’s Japanese classic by Kurosawa about a farm boy’s quest for a missing princess. Chewbacca is the misunderstood lovable monster of King Kong and Mighty Joe Young. Lucas says he based the cliffhanger format of Star Wars on Flash Gordon, which was then remade by someone else in 1980. SW Producer Gary Kurtz says the space battles involved models and computer-controlled cameras. “We programmed the movements into the computer from dogfight scenes from old WW2 movies.”

The Empire Strikes Back (1980) was later retitled “Star Wars, Episode IV” when Lucas decided to make nine SW movies, with 3 prequels to be made after the sequel to “Empire Strikes Back.” In 1983, Return Of The Jedi was released. The original title, “Revenge Of The Jedi,” didn’t test well (apparently the test audience was put off by the thought of a sci-fi revenge movie with the good guys as the revengers). As of 2003, Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace and Episode II: Attack Of The Clones have been released, but Episodes 7 to 9 (about the rebuilding of the empire) are looking more doubtful every year unless Lucas’ grandchildren produce them.

Kenny Baker played R2D2 (with voice of Anthony Daniels as C3P0) in all the movies, though hidden inside the robot. He got to be seen in front of the camera as one of the seven little guys in Time Bandits. Darth Vader was played by David Prowse, a popular British actor known to kids there as the tall green man in a series of safety films. James Earl Jones came in and spent a few days in a sound studio doing the voice, and finds it interesting that his career is so identified with a role that had no on-screen acting on his part. He has since played a starring role with Arnold Schwarzenegger in Conan the Barbarian and with Kolchak’s Darren McGavin in “Countdown To Looking Glass” (Jones is the General in charge of the military after Washington D.C. is accidentally nuked by Moscow).

George Lucas was unhappy with theater sound quality and founded his own “Industrial Light & Magic” to develop cutting-edge sound and special effects. ILM even provided the special effects for Mel Brooks’ SW spoof “Spaceballs” MonsterVision host segments for Spaceballs
Star Wars Holiday Special

Full-size X-Wing Fighter disintegrates on launch with rockets in desert

John Dykstra had previously done the special effects for Douglas Trumbell’s 1972 movie “Silent Running,” in which Bruce Dern is an astronaut in charge of Earth’s remaining forests, in a giant spaceship in orbit. Dern’s only company in space – two loveable mute robots. After ILM took over special effects for the SW series, Dykstra went on to do the special effects for Star Trek: The Motion Picture (1979), the TV-series Battlestar Galactica (1978-79), and the movie “Firefox” (1982), in which Clint Eastwood is a veteran fighter pilot sent to Russia to steal the world’s first hypersonic fighter plane. Unfortunately for Clint, the Russians had already built a second one, and it’s right behind him (the plane looks suspiciously like the SR-71 Blackbirds flown by the Air Force during the Cold War, so I guess the Russkies stole the blueprints and built their own, armed version in Clint's movie).

Music for “Star Wars” was provided by John Williams, a legend in Hollywood movie soundtracks. With the success of Star Wars, Hollywood let Lucas make Raiders Of The Lost Ark (actually written before SW, while Lucas was still in film school with fellow student Steven Spielberg). Harrison Ford starred as Indiana Jones and John Williams provided the music. Ark spawned two sequels, and the TV-series “Young Indiana Jones” (starring a teen version of Indy). The most recent sequel, 1989’s “Indiana Jones & The Last Crusade,” costarred Highlander’s Sean Connery as Indy’s father, still clashing with Nazi nasties.

Find Star Wars toys, costumes, & prop replicas at Entertainment Earth

"Star Wars: The Clone Wars" opens in theaters August 15, 2008. The CGI-animated movie is set between the most recent two Star Wars movies. The Jedi Knights and their clone army of the Galactic Republic take on Count Dooku's Confederacy of Independant Systems. Young Anakin Skywalker has a Padawan apprentice named Ahoska. The movie will be followed this Fall by a spinoff TV-series on Cartoon Network, and Lucasfilm has a multiyear agreement from Turner for the series.

Mark Hamill and Carrie Fisher found themselves hopelessly typecast by SW. Hamill appears in the sci-fi movies Time Runner and The Guyver, as well as providing voices in the new Batman cartoon series (as the Joker) and in Scooby-Doo on Zombie Island (easily the best in the Scooby-Doo animated movie series, it co-stars Adrienne Barbeau of Swamp Thing and Halloween as a witch in the Louisiana bayou) as characters who sound nothing like Luke Skywalker.

Carrie Fisher hasn’t had a movie yet that wasn’t still in the shadow of SW, her biggest Hollywood hit so far didn’t even have her in it: “Postcards From The Edge” (1990) was a critical and box-office success, starring Meryl Streep and Shirley MacLain, based on Carrie Fisher’s novel about a young woman living in the shadow of a famous show-biz mother (Carrie Fisher’s real-life mother is Debbie Reynolds, most recently seen as the good-witch star of Disney’s “Halloweentown” movies). After the second SW movie, Fisher tried to lose her Leia image with the “Wizard Of Oz” spoof “Under The Rainbox” (1981) with Chevy Chase, Alan Arkin, Mako, Pat McCormick of Cannonball Run 2, Eve Arden and Billy Barty as a Nazi midget.
Hollywood Hall of Shame by Harry & Michael Medved says of it:
45 years after Hollywood thrilled the world with "The Terror of Tiny Town" — a musical Western with an all-midget cast — Orion Pictures felt ready for a costly variation on the same theme that managed to dwarf Tinseltown’s previous achievement. This tasteless comedy centered on the adventures of several hundred plucky midgets who find themselves at MGM in 1938 for the filming of The Wizard of Oz and who manage to defeat a nefarious plot hatched by Nazi munchkin Billy Barty. Those sizzling inter national sex symbols Carrie Fisher and Chevy Chase provide love interest for normal-sized viewers, but the lasting impression one takes away from the the atre is one of idiotic, interminable slapstick that remains decidedly short on positive production values. To date, the producers have hardly found a pot of gold Under the Rainbow, earning only $8.3 million on an investment of more than $20 million.
[Note: this movie also offered a busload of Asian tourists who pull up with a banner on the side of the bus "Japanese American Photography Society" (the first 4 letters in big print), for fans of subtle humor].
The original "Wizard Of Oz" (1939) had a lot of fans, as recalled by Judy Garland's daughter, Liza Minnelli:
"I was in the ladies room with her when I was about 14 and this drunk lady came in and started saying, "Oh, Judy, whatever happens, never forget the rainbow." And Mama said, exiting grandly: Madame, how could I forget the rainbow, I've got rainbows up my ass."
Rolling Stone 5-10-73

Not to be confused with “The Wiz” (1978) of which the Hollywood Hall of Shame says:
In 1975, a musical reworking of The Wizard of Oz with an all black cast became a smash hit on Broad way. In response to its critical and commercial success, Uni