Documentary that Surprised Me – How Star Wars Saved In the Edit. This short, eighteen-minute documentary really puts on display the magic of cinema. When the original Star Wars released in 1977, it captured the imagination of all the world. Within weeks, the movie was everywhere, and being talked about by everyone. It was dazzling cinema for the time. The special effects were convincing, and the sound design was inspired. The story was simple but spoke to many people in a big way. The Star Wars universe came into existence that year, and it has ever since resided parallel to our own. I challenge you to name a fictional universe more fleshed out and known by more people than the Star Wars universe. Trekkies are often made fun of for their obsession, but who among us doesn’t know Darth Vader. Even those who haven’t seen the movies can picture him in their minds. But Star Wars was very nearly a great and amazing failure.
As the documentary explains, after George Lucas had finished filming, he put together a rough cut of the movie, and he showed it to his friends, including Steven Spielberg, and the reaction was unanimous. They all hated it! No one understood it, the story made no sense, and it was difficult to follow. We should remember that in this rough cut, the famous John Williams score was not yet present, and the special effects had not yet been worked out. But nevertheless, things were not looking good for Star Wars.
What came next was an overhaul of the movie, and tight on budget, this overhaul would mainly happen in the editing room. Many parts were cut out, and more were moved around. The story was retold, scenes recut, reused, and all made to fit into the final project we know and love today. The breadth of the changes made in the editing room were extremely surprising to me, and the video creator went lovingly into detail about all of them. I recommend this video to anyone who’s interested in cinematography, the making of movies, and of course, to fans of Star Wars.
Lucas gets a lot of flak for his decisions in Star Wars, and it’s easy to leave this video feeling like Star Wars succeeded despite Lucas. I however, do not share this belief: when Lucas heard the criticism, he took the advice, and hired many of his harshest critics to help. He created the vision, he brought together the right people, and made it all happen.
One fun piece of trivia I stumbled upon while looking up dates for this post concerns a bet made between Lucas and Spielberg. Before the release of Star Wars, Lucas was apparently still not feeling very positive about his movie. He visited Spielberg on the set of Close Encounters of the Third Kind to relax, and there, was taken by the film Spielberg was putting together. He lamented that his movie would do much better. When Spielberg tried to cheer him up, Lucas bet him 2.5% of Star Wars’ profits if he was wrong, and 2.5% of Close Encounters to Lucas if he was correct. Spielberg has been making millions off the first Star Wars ever since.