As was discussed in part one, Lucas’s attempt to acquire the rights to Flash Gordon with the goal of making a blustered feature length film failed. He didn’t know it at the time but that failed attempt would turn into a blessing in disguise. Since the seeds of writing his own space fantasy had been fertilized much earlier, it wasn’t until after this setback however, that he put all his attention into developing an actual treatment.
Lucas began writing in January 1973 eight hours a day, five days a week, first by scribbling small notes and inventing odd names. He would then assign each name possible characterizations, many of which wouldn’t survive the process and make it to the final script. The ones that did survive he used to compile a two-page synopsis titled “Journal of the Whills” which told the tale of a “Jedi-Bendu” space commando being trained by the legendary Jedi Mace Windu.
When his story would prove to difficult to understand he would look to Akira Kurosawa’s 1958 film The Hidden Fortress for inspiration and begin writing a new treatment called “The Star Wars” in the spring of 1973.
The 13-page synopsis that had similar thematic parallels with Kurosawa’s film, was still too bleak and strange for studio’s to bite on and most thought all the new special effects would cost too much. Science fiction in the 1970s wasn’t popular and studio’s weren’t looking for the next “thing” rather looking to what was popular last year for investments. Nevertheless the deal was eventually done and Lucas was free to start hammering out a proper script.
“It’s the flotsam and jetsam from the period when I was twelve years old. All the books and films and comics that I liked when I was a child. The plot is simple—good against evil—and the film is designed to be all the fun things and fantasy things I remember. The word for this movie is fun.” – George Lucas
Since commencing his writing process in January 1973, Lucas had done various rewrites and revisions eventually ending with four different screenplays for Star Wars, searching for just the right balance of characters and storyline. It was always what he would call, “a good idea in search of a story.” He would get much help from trusted friends and colleagues sharpening the humor and the dialogue, too things Lucas admits, are not his strong points. It is estimated that roughly 30% of the final draft was written by other sources.
Lucas began delving deep into the science fiction genre by watching films and reading books and comics. His first script incorporated ideas from many old sources but new ones as well. Outside of the usual sources like Buck Rogers and Flash Gordon, he began researching where Alex Raymond and others had gotten there ideas from. He would discover the works of Edgar Rice Burroughs author of Tarzan and the John Carter of Mars series of books. After reading that series, he would then go further back and find who and what had inspired Burroughs which turned out to be a science-fantasy called Gulliver on Mars, written by Edwin Arnold in 1905.
Aside from the above mentioned The Hidden Fortress, Lucas was also very heavily influenced by Joseph Campbell’s work, in particular The Hero’s Journey and The Hero with a Thousand Faces. Even though these two men (Campbell, Kurosawa) would represent the bulk of the influence when it came to developing a narrative for the original scripts, the final draft would end up combining elements from all of Lucas’s favorite influences including J.R. Tolkiens Lord of the Rings series and Frank Herbert’s Dune.
By May 1974, he had expanded the film treatment into a rough draft screenplay, adding elements such as the Sith, the Death Star, and a general by the name of Annakin Starkiller. He changed Starkiller to an adolescent boy, and he shifted the general into a supporting role as a member of a family of dwarfs. Lucas envisioned the Corellian smuggler, Han Solo, as a large, green-skinned monster with gills. He based Chewbacca on his dog, Indiana (whom he would later use as namesake for his character Indiana Jones), who often acted as the director’s “co-pilot” by sitting in the passenger seat of his car.
The script would also introduce the concept of a Jedi Master father and his son, who trains to be a Jedi under his father’s friend; this would ultimately form the basis for the film and, later, the trilogy. However, in this draft, the father is a hero who is still alive at the start of the film.
The title of the film would also change with each draft. Starting with the above mentioned “Journal of the Whills” synopsis, it would start with The Star Wars, then change to Adventures of the Starkiller, to The Star Wars – From the Adventures of Luke Starkiller, to Star Wars: The Adventures of Luke Starkiller, to finally Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope. While the tag, “From the Journal of the Whills” would stick around on paper, it was eventually dropped from the public script along with the Whills themselves of course.
The fourth and final draft was completed on January 1st, 1976 but the script wasn’t fully completed until after filming had begun that spring. Regarding the process of rewrites he says:
“What finally emerged through the many drafts of the script has obviously been influenced by science-fiction and action-adventure I’ve read and seen. And I’ve seen a lot of it. I’m trying to make a classic sort of genre picture, a classic space fantasy in which all the influences are working together. There are certain traditional aspects of the genre I wanted to keep and help perpetuate in Star Wars.”
Among the many things that changed once production started, two in particular that would have a major impact were changing Luke’s name from Starkiller to Skywalker and altering the title to simply The Star Wars and later Star Wars. He would continue to make changes to the script during filming, including adding the death of Obi-Wan after realizing he served no purpose in the ending of the film.
“The crawl is such a hard thing because you have to be careful that you’re not using too many words that people don’t understand. It’s like a poem.” – George Lucas
When Lucas showed his friend Brian De Palma the original opening crawl, which consisted of six paragraphs with four sentences each, De Palma remarked, “The crawl at the beginning looks like it was written on a driveway. It goes on forever. It’s gibberish.” De Palma offered to help Lucas refocus the draft and would go on to edit the text that would eventually be used in the film in what would become one of the most famous opening shots in movie history.
Next chapter we’ll take a closer look at the actual story and the mythology Lucas used to create the narrative and the characters themselves…
Till next time…MTFBWY.