As we celebrate the 45th anniversary of A New Hope, a lot of praise will deservedly be given to the man at the heart of the franchise. That being said, there really are four people who made Star Wars STAR WARS. Each of them deserves to share an equal part of the praise heaped upon the 1977 blockbuster.
George Lucas created the story. Despite the way the prequels turned out (more on that in a sec), it cannot be overstated that Star Wars’ entire existence is due to George Lucas wanting to do his own version of Flash Gordon. He had the idea and he had the drive to make it a reality. Is he a particularly good director of actors? No, and he would admit as much. Is he a particularly good screenwriter? No again. But there’s a difference between being a screenwriter and a storyteller and George Lucas is in the top two or three storytellers in American history. Every time I read about George RR Martin being referred to as “The American Tolkien” I can’t help but think “We’ve already got one, he just told his story on film instead of paper.” Again, in terms of crafting dialogue and guiding actors into expressing those words in a believable and moving way, you’d be better off finding someone else, but if you’re looking for an idea, a three-act plot, and a hero’s journey? George Lucas is the man.
Countless more words could be written about George Lucas, but it’s the other contributors to the film’s success that deserve consideration here…
Marcia Lucas edited A New Hope from a bloated mess into a tight adventure. She took what, in the first completed screening, was a steaming bucket of hot urine, and cut it down, moved things around, and turned it into a lean, mean romp that essentially saved cinema. Hollywood films in the 1970s were mostly dark, drab, and depressing. They very much reflected the dour and cynical mood the country was in at the time. George had the idea for a classical throwback fantasy story, albeit set in space and told in a modern special-effects heavy way. But, were it not for his then-wife, the movie would have been a slow, meandering slog, with too many characters, too little thrust, not enough adrenaline.
Perhaps the simplest and clearest example of Marcia’s contribution to Star Wars’ success is found in the climactic finale of the picture. George Lucas’ original cut of Star Wars not only featured Luke failing to blow up the Death Star the first time but also didn’t even feature the Death Star attempting to blow up Yavin IV at all. In the original cut, the Death Star was just hanging out in space when the Rebels simply sneak over and attack it. It was Marcia who noted there needed to be stakes in the climax. So, with basically no more money to spend on reshoots, Marcia took previously-cut footage of Governor Tarkin (taken from scenes just before Alderaan was destroyed) and overlaid them with some overdubbed lines and basically faked a whole third act plot point.
When it came to the actual Death Star attack, as said, George’s first idea was for Luke to make the run at the exhaust port using the targeting computer. He would, of course, fail, as the Y-wing attackers did. Then, on his second attempt, he would use the force and blow the station up. Marica instantly recognized the flaws here: Why show the same failure twice over? Once the Y-Wings fail with their computers the point is made. Why show the hero fail? It just builds to the big moment and pulls the rug out from under the audience. Wisely, she cut the middle out and, using some clever editing and ADR, managed to make it seem as though Luke’s trench run was a one-and-done affair, building to the big moment and nailing the finish perfectly.
Marcia is easily the most overlooked and underrated player in the whole enterprise and it’s only thanks to her talents that Lucas’ good ideas were chiseled into an excellent movie.
Gary Kurtz was the producer. He was the middle-man between 20th Century Fox and the young, hotshot director. At the time Lucas was given the green light by Fox to make Star Wars, he had only released one major feature film (the small budget hit American Graffiti) and one indie film (THX1138). He was not “untested” but he had hardly solidified himself as a guy you could just cut a check to and set him loose to make whatever he wanted. Lucas had to have a producer to tell him “no” on occasion and, in Kurtz, he had a great one. Kurtz was the prototypical no-man, who reigned in a lot of Lucas’ wildest ideas and tweaked them to work with as wide an audience as possible.
The importance of Gary Kurtz to the franchise is best viewed by how the movies tapered in quality without his presence behind the scenes. To use a sports analogy: A coach can win national championships and titles galore for many years but then, seemingly out of nowhere, find himself unable to scrape together even a winning season. What happened? The game passed him by. It happens to us all. A coach can lose his edge, and the things he did that used to work suddenly no longer do. George Lucas used to have a rebellious streak but, over the years after Return of the Jedi, he softened up, lost the fire, and settled into being a reclusive multi-billionaire. His divorce hit him hard and he surrounded himself with yes men. When he sat down to make the Prequels in 1995 he refused to see that he lost his touch as a screenwriter and really never had it as a director. He didn’t have Lawrence Kasdan around to write his stories and he didn’t have his (now ex) wife Marcia to edit them into lean, mean adventure films. He had an overall story that wasn’t bad but had no means to properly express it on the page or screen. Who was there to tell him no? Who was there, when they all watched the first cut of The Phantom Menace, to say “there are a number of things that need fixing”? No one. He had Rick McCallum producing, but he was nothing more than a yes-man.
It was Gary Kurtz who pushed for less technobabble and more fantasy elements incorporated into the story. In fact, it was Kurtz who said “we have to market this as a space-fantasy, not a science-fiction,” a distinction that basically won over the entire sci-fi community (which had been skeptical of the movie before release). It was Kurtz who told Lucas to get Luke off of Tatooine as quickly as possible (early cuts had well over an hour’s worth of footage set on the desert planet, with Luke just meandering around). It was Kurtz who told Lucas to play up the love triangle aspect between Han-Leia-Luke. It was Kurtz who told Lucas not to reuse the Death Star in ROTJ and it was Kurtz whom Lucas fired during the making of ROTJ because he was tired of being told “no” all the time. And yet, were it not for Kurtz, Star Wars might have been a well-edited story, but it wouldn’t have been a well-told one.
Finally, there’s John Williams, the heart and soul of the franchise. He can hardly be called underrated or overlooked. In fact, perhaps the one and only thing all Star Wars fans agree on with regards to the entire nine-film “saga” is how amazing the soundtracks are for each movie. As maligned as Episode I was soon after release, everyone—even the most ardent of haters—was singing the praises (and humming the tune) of Duel of the Fates. As much of a mess as Episode II was, it still produced the hauntingly beautiful Across the Stars. As rushed and horribly written/acted Episode III was, you can’t deny the impact of Battle of the Heroes or the amazing final nine minutes of film, devoid of dialogue and little more than a montage of images set to some of Williams’ best work. Then, when it seemed like Star Wars was done, Disney brought it back and, to calm the worries of fans who thought it wouldn’t be the same, so too was John Williams brought back. That first teaser trailer for The Force Awakens would not have landed as hard “right in the feels” had it not been for the Williams score blasting through the speakers. Say what you will about the Sequel Trilogy; it has its highs and lows. What can’t be denied, is the goosebump-inducing music that accompanies every moment.
Sci-fi (or space-adventure, if you will) movies in the 70s, commonly featured contemporary music. The idea of using classical accompaniment was considered antiquated. John Williams brought a gravitas to the silly space movie. He brought weight, passion, and emotion to scenes that might have come off as corny or pretentious without it. This thirty-second moment is arguably the finest scene in the entire franchise…
Please accept YouTube cookies to play this video. By accepting you will be accessing content from YouTube, a service provided by an external third party.
If you accept this notice, your choice will be saved and the page will refresh.
It’s the perfect depiction of wistful yearning for adventure, and Williams’ score simply makes it. Star Wars wouldn’t be Star Wars without it, and it wouldn’t have happened without the bearded man holding the baton.
Countless others could have been included in an article such as this. Time and space do not allow us room to talk about the sound design of Ben Burtt, or the amazing team at ILM, including John Dykstra, Richard Edlund, Dennis Muren, and many more, or the cast who perfectly captured the roles in this silly space-fantasy movie. This was about the small handful that took a novel idea and turned it into a phenomenon.
Star Wars is 45 years old, but the film remains timeless thanks to the story of George Lucas, the editing of Marcia Lucas, the producing of Gary Kurtz, and the music of John Williams.