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So this writer Chris Taylor has a book coming out soon called How Star Wars Conquered The Universe. To help advertise the book he's published excerpts from an interview he conducted with Gary Kurtz. It's really good, here are some highlights.
As for nerds who insist Star Wars was drawn from one of George Lucas' favorite Akira Kurasawa movies, The Hidden Fortress ...
Not really. There are definite comparisons, there’s no question, if you want to look hard enough: the two peasants, and the idea of transporting a princess across hostile territory. It’s a fairly straightforward action adventure. But I mean, they’re very generic.
If you read all the versions [of Star Wars] you know that the story is progressive. The characters change a lot.
Or that it was based on Joseph Campbell's famous book on mythology, The Hero With a Thousand Faces
The whole idea of Star Wars as a mythological thing, I think came about because of [later Lucas] interviews that tied it to The Hero with a Thousand Faces [which Lucas didn't read until he'd almost finished Star Wars].
Actually, if you look carefully at it, all coming of age stories fit [Campbell's model]. Hollywood has done those kind of stories since the beginning, since the 1920s. So there are many, many examples of stories that fit the model of that hero.
I think it did kind of cloud it a bit, that Star Wars got so closely tied to that. It was even more so when George did a long interview about the book and about the connections. There are definite connections there, but I think that’s a bit too analytical.
The original Star Wars wasn't really supposed to be called "Episode IV" back in 1977.
We were toying with the idea of calling it Episode III, IV, or V — something in the middle. Fox hated that idea. They said it’ll really confuse the audience — and actually they were right. If you go to see a film, and it’s been touted as this new science fiction film, and it says Episode III up there, you’d say, “What the hell?”
We were a bit clouded by the fact that we wanted it to be as much like Flash Gordon as possible. Because if you went to Saturday morning pictures and came in and saw episode eight of Flash Gordon, you’d have the scroll at the beginning, the rollup, which we imitated. So we thought that would be really clever. But it was stupid at the time, because it’d be impossible to explain to anybody what it meant.
On how The Force evolved through different drafts of the script — with the benefit of Kurtz's student textbooks on Comparative Religion.
At one time, the energy [of the Force] was all tied up in crystals, in the "Kaibur Crystal." That was the source of the Force. But we had no time to deal with exposition about esoteric religion. What we were looking for was a simple handle on something that could be explained really quickly.
You know, when you’re out in the real world, religion is identified by handles. You’re either a Christian or a Muslim or a Jew or a Buddhist or Hindu. As soon as you say one of those words, you know what’s behind that, even if you haven’t studied any of those religions. You know kind of what that person might be like.
We wanted something like that with a religion that nobody’s ever heard of. So the idea of the Force is this energy thing. The fact that Ben Kenobi could say in one sentence pretty much what it was all about, and then we move on.
That’s how it got boiled down to practically nothing — and it worked much better that way, much better.
We did have long discussions about various religious philosophies, and how people related to them, and how we could simplify it. "May the Force be with you" came out of medieval Christianity, where "may God go with you" was a symbol that you would be safe. We wanted something as simple as that, an everyday expression that linked to the power of the Force that wasn’t overbearing.
Return of the Jedi became "less serious" — because of Indiana Jones.
In the meantime, George had worked with Stephen [Spielberg] on Raiders of the Lost Ark. He was convinced by the end of Empire that it needed less serious stories and more rollercoaster ride. He changed the story outline for Jedi and we had a kind of mutual parting of the ways, because I just didn’t want to do another attack on the Death Star.
The original story outline that we had for the third film I thought would have been great. It was darker and it ended up with Luke riding off into the sunset, metaphorically, on his own. And that would have been a bittersweet ending but I think it would have been dramatically stronger.
But the official Lucasfilm account of the making of Return of the Jedi says there was no early draft without Death Stars?
It wasn’t ever that way and it never was shot that way. That was just a discussion. This all came up at the time that Empire was being written, because the idea was that they had to tie together.
I had some written materials somewhere. It was about how are we going to resolve the story of these three people; one of the discussions was about Han Solo’s character being killed in one of the raids in the middle of the story. Harrison wanted it to be that way. He wanted his character to end that way. So there was that and there was the princess having to take control of what’s left of her people, and be crowned queen.
But I think what happened was that there were discussions with the marketing people and the toy company. They said, “Oh, no, you can’t do that. You can’t kill off one of your main characters. It’s too salable.” In a way that still happens today with superhero movies. There’s no poignancy anywhere. It’s just a lot of action. But there’s no threat to any main characters. I guess that’s inevitable in this kind of situation where nobody wants to lose anything like that that’s important.
Anyway, I’m not sure that that ever got down to a complete story outline. It was dismissed very early on as being possibly too melancholic and not upbeat enough for big endings.
I'm definitely going to be picking up this book.