Today, 45 years ago, Star Wars was released in theaters. Doomed to disaster, he changed the world

Today, 45 years ago, Star Wars was released in theaters. Doomed to disaster, he changed the world


Forty-five years ago, the Earth discovered that long ago, in a distant galaxy, a young farmer on the desert planet Tatooine would have realized that he was the person appointed to restore balance in the eternal and universal struggle between Good and Evil, otherwise known. like the two sides of the Force - “an energy field generated by all living things. It surrounds us, it penetrates us, it holds the whole Galaxy together "(Obi-Wan Kenobi).

The US theatrical release of Star Wars, George Lucas' third feature film, a young promising director until then noticed only by cinephiles and insiders, it would change history and not just that of cinema. 45 years later, not only is Star Wars one of the most profitable and significant franchises ever, it has even given rise to a religion, recognized as such in more than one country (it happens in the United States, Great Britain and also in Turkey, where a small but indefatigable percentage of the population has professed adept of Jediism since the early 2000s).

It is almost impossible to find a similar phenomenon in the whole history of human cultural production, not just cinema. Not even the "rival series", Star Trek, could or could aspire to that much, and we told why in an ad hoc episode of AstroWired, our podcast on the relationship between science fiction and space.

A case unique No, nothing compares to the effect of Star Wars on people, or at least on the imaginations of three quarters of the Earth's population. An effect, moreover, fed and replicated by different generations, which since 25 May 1977 continue to queue up any news, film, series, video game, toy, digital platform or Star Wars theme park you decide to add to your epic.

An epic, ├ža va sans dire, which in five scarce decades generated a (small) nation-state economy: when, on October 30, 2012, Disney acquired George's economic-narrative empire Lucas spent $ 4.05 billion. While the figure might seem exaggerated, the opposite was true: by then, the stellar franchise had already grossed more than five billion at the box office. Above all, however, his overall induced, in particular thanks to the de facto merchandise invented by Lucas even before the term was in use in the film industry, soared over 22 billion dollars. It was no coincidence that six years after the acquisition, Disney had recovered the investment and was already marginalizing it: at the end of 2018, thanks to the releases of The Awakening of the Force, The Last Jedi and those of the spin-offs Rogue One and even Solo, Mickey Mouse had grossed 4.8 billion from cinemas alone.

Not bad for a film that, 45 years ago, no one had thought could return its costs. Indeed, according to those who had had the opportunity to preview it, in January 1977, Star War s would have decreed the end of Lucas - condemning him to the pavement - and that of those who protected him.

Today, to celebrate the anniversary of a film that changed the life of those who saw it, let's go back to telling its genesis. That of a near disaster just before generating one of the most devastating successes in Hollywood. Those who prefer to hear this story could do so with this other episode of AstroWired. Instead, let everyone else get ready to read.

May the Force be with you…

A Star Wars image (image: 20th Century Fox / Lmk / Ipa)

That day when everything went wrong in the galaxy Memorize these names: Jeff Berg and Tom Pollock, David Chasman, Ned Tanen, Alan Ladd Jr., Francis Ford Coppola and yes, of course, George Lucas.

True, there are many, perhaps too many. But in various ways they are the protagonists of this story, and not always for a good reason. In reality, however, only two of the list were present at that memorable and fundamental evening. The evening when it all began. The night when everything went wrong.

In hindsight, the day hadn't started under the best auspices. That morning in early 1977, at the agreed appointment at Burbank airport, Steven Spielberg, Brian De Palma, historical collaborators Willard Huyck and his wife Gloria Katz, with Time critic Jay Cocks, reached Lucas surrounded by a mist that only those who have lived in Northern California or in the rice fields around Vercelli can imagine.

When the fog lifted, Martin Scorsese could not be seen anyway. The gossips, who would have a few moments of pause that day, immediately thought that the absence was attributable not so much to the director's famous fear of flying, but to the uncertain fate of New York New York, which would have made it doubly embarrassing for Scorsese to criticize. the work of others. The agreement, in fact, was to be all in Burbank to reach the Parkhouse in San Anselmo, where Lucas would show the first montage of his new film to his closest friends and Fox producers. All following Alan Ladd Jr., the new vice president of creative activities, best known at the time for being the son of the great actor of the same name.

It didn't take long to realize how much the gloomy morning was an omen.

The producers, all but one, were in turmoil in the second minute. That stuff, workaholic gossips, looked like "the wizard of Oz done badly, a bad copy of a bad Disney movie." That reading today has a completely different effect, but then ... Then the comment seemed even harmless compared to De Palma's obsessive yelling. “What the hell am I? - he shouted to his friend George in the open, pointing to Princess Leia's twisted braids - Danish pastries? And above all this Darth Vader is your villain? Is it really the best you can do? " .

Marcia Lou Griffin, at the time Mrs. Lucas and rising star of editing, left the room in tears long before the screening ended. Just enough time to whisper to her friend Katz, recalling Peter Bogdanovic's attempt to make a musical: "The love of science fiction finally arrived. It's terrible. "

A bet and a note Among the iconic characters of Star Wars, the two droids C-3PO and R2D2, played by Anthony Daniels and Kenny Baker (image: 20th Century Fox / Lmk / Ipa)

Tremendous could have been serious, since Lucas was risking everything with that film. Including heart attack and financial ruin. To make it happen, he was investing every dollar left and all the credibility as a young author gained with The Man Who Escaped from the Future and American Graffiti. There would be no other chance. And no one, better than him, knew it. So much so that the only opinions opposed to the collective slash were of no use: "trust George - Spielberg told him in the Chinese restaurant where the whole clique went by car cursing the Force at every red light - trust me, you will exceed 30 million by the end of 'year. I'm ready to bet on it ”. And, in fact, he slipped a note in an envelope with the proceeds he predicted: 33 million.

“We will know at the first time - commented Alan Ladd jr. everyone else had given trust (and funds) to the space wizard of Oz - if the audience starts applauding when Han Solo returns during the attack on the Death Star, we will remember this film for a long time ”. The vice president's paper passers, marathon bad-tongues, had nudged each other.

And Lucas had also noticed it. But without batting an eye. At that point, it was said, not even the most optimistic forecasts would affect him. By now he was used to fighting against everything and everyone. From well before the first line of The Star Wars was written on the first sheet, in February of four years ago.

“I don't have a natural talent for writing - confessed Lucas to Filmmakers Newsletter in 1974 - when I I sit it is as if I spilled blood on the page, and it is really horrible ”. For Star Wars, the blood, Lucas would have almost exhausted it. If only because, at least in the beginning, Star Wars was a fallback for him too.

Repay the debts with American Graffiti - a film that to his friend and financier Haskell Wexler, to the screenwriter Kurtz, to the Huycks ​​and lawyer Tom Pollock would have made a million dollars each in the years to come -, Lucas knew what to dedicate himself to: his new feature film would be Apocalypse Now, an anti-militarist epic set in Vietnam and inspired by Joseph's Heart of Darkness Conrad, the story whose rights belonged to his historical partner and companion. The only one, with Martin Scorsese, whose absence everyone noticed that night at the beginning of 1977. But that not even gossips dared to name: Francis Ford Coppola.

A door closed ... One of the many visual inventions of the film: the leap into hyperspace (image: 20th Century Fox / Lmk / Ipa)

With him, on 12 December 1969 in San Francisco, Lucas had set up the Zoetrope Studios, later known as American Zoetrope, a small independent production that, in the intentions, would have allowed the two founders to realize in full autonomy their own films and produce other young talents. Lucas would have liked to replicate, perhaps in a better version, the famous forge of Roger Corman, an example so atypical as to be almost unique in the industry. It is no coincidence that, to give him a hand, there was Coppola, a former partner of Jim Morrison, a friend from the days of the University of California in Los Angeles and raised by Corman, where as assistant director, dialogue writer, screenwriter and also sound engineer he had took his first steps in the world of the seventh art.

For Lucas, Coppola was the putative mentor. He responded to his confidentiality with the exact opposite: a security so ostentatious as to lead to megalomania. He was like an older brother to him, but one of those who, just older, prefer to be bullies rather than follow the daily squabbles of the younger ones. Beghe that in this case became debts or, trivially, the bills to pay. Small trifles irrelevant to Coppola's grandeur, the one that led him - while the company could no longer afford light and telephone - to rent a limousine just to get to the offices of the film majors with the appropriate style.

In summary , Lucas' father and his wallet had to step in to make ends meet. A further drop in the jar that, since 1973, also contained another small "embezzlement" by Francis against George: when Gary Kurtz was already in the Philippines and Hong Kong to find useful locations for Apocalypse Now, Coppola haggled the percentages with Columbia saying plainly that he would not give up a single point of his. And that if they wanted more, the major could have tapped into George's part. Not a delicate touch, especially after Coppola, two years earlier, in Lucas' editing room, never missed an opportunity to screen the six-figure checks cashed for The Godfather. So, for the sake of teasing his poor little brother.

At that point Lucas preferred to say goodbye to his putative brother, their society and Vietnamese dreams. And to fill a void of commitments he threw himself, obtorto neck, on an old subject of yes and no two pages. He had written it some time before, but he never dreamed of proposing it as the second of the two films under the contract signed with Universal for American Graffiti. Least of all he had imagined what would happen next.

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