Tuesday, May 09, 2017

Another gem from the Secret History

In December 1975, as documented in Making of Star Wars, pg. 107, George Lucas wrote some notes for Alan Dean Foster describing the books that were to follow the novelization of the first film to keep fan interest up after the movie and to potentially be adapted as low budget sequels to Star Wars (only one of these novels was actually ever written, Splinter of the Mind's Eye and it wasn't ever turned into a movie.  There were three unrelated Han Solo and Chewie spin-off novels that also followed the movie, but there was never any intention that they could be movies per se.  But it shows exactly where Lucas' head was on the eve of making the first movie—he started principle photography only two or three months after this was written.)
"I want to have Luke kiss the princess in the second book.  The second book will be Gone With the Wind In Outer Space.  She likes Luke, but Han is Clark Gable. Well, she may appear to get Luke, because in the end I want Han to leave. Han splits at the end of the second book and we learn who Darth Vader is... In the third book, I want the story to be just the soap opera of the Skywalker family, which ends with the destruction of the Empire. Then someday I want to do the backstory of Kenobi as a young man—a story of the Jedi and how the Emperor eventually takes over and turns the whole thing from a Republic into an Empire, and tricks all the Jedi and kills them. The whole battle where Luke's father gets killed. That would be impossible to do, but it's great to dream about."
A few curious things to note here.  First, if you've ever read Splinter (and if you haven't, then you should) it's got all kinds of sexual tension between Luke and Leia.  It's very clear that at this stage Lucas had absolutely no inkling of Luke and Leia being twins (in fact, in the script, which is somewhere between the third and fourth (final) draft at this point, Luke is said to be 20 and Leia 16.

In retrospect, this looks like it could almost be a hint of the Vader = Annikin Starkiller (he didn't change the name until the last minute as a reaction to the Charles Manson affair, and Anakin was spelled differently then) but clearly it's not, because he also makes explicit reference to Luke's father's death.  In fact, at this point in the script, it wasn't even Darth Vader who had killed Pappy Skywalker—there's no hint of him having been tracked down and murdered, merely the implicit assumption that he was killed in battle.

That's kind of the theme of The Secret History of Star Wars; proving that it was originally conceived as the story of Luke Skywalker, and that Leia was his love interest and Vader was just a bad guy; not even necessary, the bad guy of the series.  The whole business about Vader being Pops Skywalker and Leia being the unknown, hidden twin sister were much later developments; even the early two or three drafts of the Empire script didn't have any hint of the former, and even the first few drafts of the Jedi script didn't have the latter.

But what's maybe a bit more interesting is that with Splinter and with Daley's Han Solo trilogy, published in the late 70s and very early 80s (I think the third book came out in 1980, in fact) we get a very different view of what the Star Wars universe was meant to look like; before it had a drastic and dramatic evolution during the scripting of The Empire Strikes Back.  Again; I'm a big fan of Empire, but at the same time, that's the movie that irrevocably changed the series.  While the change was great for Empire as a movie, it seems to have been considerably less so for the series overall.  Turning everything in the history of the galaxy into a Skywalker family drama strains credulity.  Turning Obi Wan and Yoda into lying, manipulative people who are disloyal and perfectly happy sacrificing their friends to pragmatism significantly undercuts the prime attraction of the series; the overt heroism, which was sadly lacking from other contemporary movies of the 70s.  And Luke's whole experience on Dagobah is mercifully short, because it's incoherent, bizarre and too foreign to make any sense from a Western storytelling point of view.  That was always the part of the movie where my eyes kind of glazed over and my attention wandered—foreshadowing of pacing and exposition problems of the prequels, had I been smart enough to extrapolate that back in the 80s, or even the 90s.  Mercifully, those parts are brief.  Empire really did upset the tone of the series completely and turn it into something that it previously had not actually been.

Of course, it's hard to watch Star Wars now without thinking of what we know from watching Empire and Jedi and the prequels and everything else.  But reading Splinter and the Han Solo novels, and rewatching Star Wars with an eye towards trying to perceive it only for what it is, and not for what came later, gives a fascinating glimpse into what Star Wars might have been.

Now... another thought that occurs to me; the pulp tradition is not the Hero's Journey.  Pulp characters tend to be capable, competent, confident, and experienced.  Pulp characters are characters like Flash Gordon, The Shadow, Doc Savage, John Carter, Conan, Solomon Kane, Eric John Starke, Northwest Smith, etc.  In light of that, it's interesting that in the third draft of the Star Wars script, Luke is actually an archaeologist (although not a two-fisted adventuring archaeologist; his problem is that he's kinda studious and caught up in his profession and needs to be coaxed into heeding the "call to adventure.")  And if you read Splinter, it has a number of parallels to Raiders of the Lost Ark.  I wonder sometimes how the story would be different also if Luke weren't a callow, wet-behind-the-ears farmboy yearning for an escape; a kind of beta-male projection of Lucas' own teenaged years in Modesto when it was a small town and he didn't get along with his dad, etc. (A friend of mine's mother grew up in Modesto and is only a couple of years older than Lucas. She doesn't claim to have known him well, but she knew who he was.  He was the nerdy, quiet, awkward beta male that he always kind of appears to be even now—which is part of the problem.  He doesn't really understand the alpha male psychology all that well.  He probably got lucky with the scripts—as much as 30% minimum of the dialogue of the Star Wars scripts is unofficially credited to friends of his from film school Gloria Katz and Will Huyk.  Lawrence Kasdan and Irvin Kershner probably are as much to be credited with Empire's success as Lucas.)  The earlier drafts are wooden, stilted, and cold—they added the charisma, the humor, the zip—something that the actors could use to create some chemistry.  Without them, we get... the prequel screenplays.

Some more quotes; from Lucas in 1977: "It was one of the original ideas of doing a sequel that if I put enough people in it and it was designed carefully enough I could make a sequel about anything.  Or if any of the actors gave me a lot of trouble or didn't want to do it, or didn't want to be in the sequel, I could always make a sequel without one."

Garu Kurtz added to this thought in a 1977 television special: "We've had a lot of speculation about the sequels to Star Wars, and we are working on story material that will develop into potentially one or more motion pictures that will use the same characters. I like to consider them different adventures rather than direct sequels."

Mark Hamill, in 1978: "They always wanted to set up their own little James Bond series—taking the environment George has set up but keeping it limitless in terms of what the characters can do. For the sequel, he's going to add new characters.  It won't be a direct sequel to the first story; it'll be a series of adventures, you know, in that galaxy.  If the Star Wars series runs as long as I think they're going to run, I'll be Ben Kenobi's age when I do the last one!"

Alan Arnold in 1978: "[Gary Kurtz] described [Star Wars] as 'a new chapter in the Star Wars saga,' because the intention is never to refer to it as a sequel for the simple reason that future George Lucas stories do not have a chronological sequence."

Lucas again, in 1977: "I think the sequels will be much, much better.  What I want to do is direct the last sequel. I could do the first one and the last one and let everyone else do the ones in between... I would try to get some good directors, and see what their interpretation of the theme is.  I think it will be interesting, it is like taking a theme in film school, say, okay, everybody do their interpretation of this theme. It's an interesting idea to see how people interpret the genre.  It is a fun genre to play with... I've put up the concrete slab of the walls and now everybody can have fun drawing the pictures and putting on the little gargoyles and doing all the really fun stuff.  And it's a competition.  I'm hoping if I get friends of mine they will want to do a much better film, like, 'I'll show George that I can do a film twice that good,' and I think they can, but then I want to do the last one, so I can do one twice as good as everybody else."

Time Magazine, in 1978 reported: "Lucas has set up four corporations: Star Wars Corp. will make Star Wars II, and then, count them, ten other planned sequels. [emphasis added]"

Later in the same article, in reports that Lucas was planning on 23 years of constant filming with 2001 as the projected finish date—"but with no real concepts or stories in mind, beyond some generic speculation."  Notably, twelve was the number of episodes that the classic Republic serials had had.  This twelve episode plan was officially announced in the Star Wars fanzine Bantha Tracks.

As Kaminski says: "Unlike the contemporary view of Star Wars, the series was not planned as an elaborate, self-contained story divided into six chapters—it was to be in the vein of Adventure Theater, with different 'adventure of the week' type of films, and even the time periods of the films could differ and be presented in a non-linear fashion."

In a way, you could say that that's what the Expanded Universe was—but as Star Wars put out more and more roots, and more and more constraints, and as the writers and artists who worked in the medium were more (or less) on the same page as Lucas' original vision, the Expanded Universe was often less than one would hope—more an extended fan fiction hagiography of increasingly esoteric characters that appeared only briefly on screen than real exploration of stuff that was original but in the Star Wars context—with a few exceptions.  Some of the Old Republic stuff is a good exception, maybe the Clone Wars cartoon (in spite of its semi-official stance and the fact that the creators consulted frequently directly with Lucas) and some other novels, video games and comic books here and there.  The original Timothy Zahn trilogy probably qualifies.  But that's it.

Keep in mind that even during principle photography, the "series", if it were ever to become one, was called The Adventures of Luke Skywalker and the specific chapter was called "Star Wars."  Only later did the chapter title become the series title (after the movie was a huge success and it would have been brand confusion to call it anything else) and, as noted, it was only ever really supposed to have been about Luke Skywalker and his adventurers—with the exception of possible spin-offs to explore other characters here and there.  I don't think Han was supposed to have been as popular as he ended up being, and it's obvious that Lucas didn't envision that Darth (his name, back in those days rather than a title as can plainly be seen based on how other characters address him) would capture the public's interest as much as he did—he really only has less than ten minutes of screen time, and that is a major expansion of his role from earlier drafts.  It appears McQuarrie's brilliant concept art, written somewhere between the second and third draft of the scripts, of Darth Vader fighting Luke's brother Deak Starkiller (the original "damsel in distress" that needed to be rescued) inspired him to promote Darth Vader from being merely a somewhat generic Imperial henchman to someone of more prominence.


But if you watch Vader's interaction with Imperial officers in Star Wars (as opposed to Empire) it's obvious that he got yet another promotion after Lucas saw how popular he really was, and he became the Emperor's literal right-hand man and among the most important figures in the Empire period.

The helmet and mask was McQuarrie's own invention; McQuarrie decided that if he had literally just crossed the vacuum of outer space while boarding the ship that obviously he's need it, and Lucas agreed.  It wasn't intended back then that he wear it all the time; it was a situational thing.  Lucas had him taking a drink from a flask, for instance, in the third draft of the script.  But the look was just so cool, that he ended up keeping it and not removing it—it made him more menacing as well as more mysterious. It wasn't actually clear that Vader was even human under that mask, and much of the early commentary on the film focused on calling him "robotic."

Also; note the holstered blaster on his hip.  This image right here was pivotal in the transition of the Sith from a tribe of force-using pirates co-opted by the Emperor to fairy-tale, Arthurian style "black knights"—although still vestiges of the past remained.

1 comment:

Simon J. Hogwood said...

"Mark Hamill, in 1978: . . . If the Star Wars series runs as long as I think they're going to run, I'll be Ben Kenobi's age when I do the last one!"

Well, he nailed that one.