George Lucas,  Original Trilogy

The Star Wars Archives author Paul Duncan: “George Lucas undersells himself. He’s actually a fantastic writer and a fantastic plotter.”



“Imagine a 600-page book that could not only show you the history of the classic Star Wars trilogy like never before, but could also transport you to Tunisia, or Elstree Studios, as a young filmmaker named George Lucas forged his legacy. Picture yourself at Skywalker Ranch, or in the halls of Lucasfilm in San Francisco, with unrestricted access to more than four decades’ worth of Star Wars archives. What might it be like to know and see all that’s gone into the making of these beloved movies, with Lucas himself as your personal guide? This, it seems, was not too much to ask for film historian Paul Duncan, author of the new XXL-sized chronicle from Taschen Books: The Star Wars Archives. This weighty tome is a film enthusiast’s dream. After getting our hands on a copy, rang up the author to find out just how much work goes into a project like this — and what it’s like to spend three days in conversation with George Lucas. […] [The book is] sort of like a 600-page director’s commentary.

Paul Duncan: Sure, sure. I mean, I was very lucky in that [Lucas] agreed to [be interviewed], because I am using both published and unpublished interviews that have come before. And I didn’t want to be in a position where I was talking to him and he was just repeating the same stuff that he’s repeated to everybody else a million times. So what I wanted to do was to focus on certain moments, or certain ideas, or his reasoning behind things, and to really examine that a bit more. And also his philosophy behind the series. Because I was reading interviews when he was doing promotion for American Graffiti — this is years before Star Wars came out. And he said, “Yeah, I’m working on a new project called The Star Wars, and it’s a mix between Lawrence of Arabia2001, and James Bond.”

But there was another thread that was going through it, which was that he had been very pleasantly surprised by the connection that he’d made with young people on American Graffiti. Part of the reason why I cover THX 1138 and American Graffiti in the book is that I wanted to show George’s development as a filmmaker, but also as a thinker, and to show how his experiences on those movies influenced his philosophy on Star Wars. For example, on American Graffiti, he was really, really touched by the way that people had responded. They understood that whole cruising scene, and the whole idea of rites of passage and changes in teenagers’ lives. It felt real to people. And THX 1138, even though it’d been very well critically received, didn’t make hardly any money whatsoever. He was trying to work out, Why was this? And THX is critical and sarcastic; it’s black humor; it’s from his mind. It’s an intellectual idea.

Whereas American Graffiti was something from his heart and his life. And he realized that there was this idea of him connecting to people that he wanted to continue for his next project, on Star Wars.

There was a certain point in the development of Star Wars where he had the opportunity of choosing between Apocalypse Now, which he’d developed with John Milius, and Star Wars. And Apocalypse Now was, as he envisaged it, more of a dark comedy. More of an indie sort of found-footage-type movie — closer to, say, the original MASH by [Robert] Altman or Catch-22. Something in that vein. Whereas Star Wars was much more positive; it was aimed at 12 year olds, and it also connected far more closely to his outside interests.

When he went to college, he discovered that you could actually study anthropology. George had collected — as well as having shelves full of comics in his shed when he was a kid — tons and tons of National Geographics, which he enjoyed and absorbed and devoured. And in college, he discovered anthropology, and the idea that all these different aspects of religion and mythology all coalesce into one universal myth, as per Joseph Campbell, as with [James George] Frazer’s Golden Bough, which he also read. And the Star Wars project really came out of that interest in anthropology, and the idea of this connection to young people, and him trying to make something that showed the rules of life — which young people could absorb through this new mythology he was making into Star Wars. The book explores Lucas’s obsession with documentary-style filmmaking. At one point, he says he has a preference for editing. He says he doesn’t really enjoy writing or directing, but he loves to edit. Do those things go hand in hand a little bit?

Paul Duncan: I think that he really undersells himself, because he is very understated. And because he repeats it, people tend to believe it’s true. But it’s not. You know, he is actually a fantastic writer. He’s a fantastic plotter. And one of the things I was most surprised about, when I was going through the original treatments and the screenplays, et cetera, is that virtually everything is George. I don’t want to underplay or dismiss other people who have written on the movies, but I was really, really surprised at how much of it was George. Great lines in there. […]”


    • joe

      some a**wipe said lucas is a liar who took too much credit from others like his ex-wife what has she done since star wars? NOTHING!

      • Cryogenic

        LOL! Positivity, Joe! Postivity! Try some Nat King Cole. It’ll put you in a good mood.

        That said…

        If you read “How Star Wars Conquered The Universe” by Chris Taylor, you’ll come across a tidy summation concerning Lucas’ ex-wife, and finish that passage with the distinct impression that dear ol’ Marcia has few artistic leanings, preferring money and living the high life to anything tough or intellectual. While once a good editor and confidante, she basically gave up the film scene cold turkey after divorcing Lucas, taking a considerable chunk of his fortune. She then bugged her next partner — much as she pressed Lucas in their marriage — to put his creative commitments on hold so they could live a life of leisure, and when he didn’t budge, history repeated and she took a serious slice of his wealth, too.

        And yeah…

        That’s a very tired drum people have been pounding. Even now, if you Google “marcia lucas”, the fourth result is an article headed “3 ways in which Marcia Lucas helped save Star Wars”, followed by a Reddit page as the seventh result headed “The sad story of Star Wars’ unsung hero, Marcia Lucas”. These defences of Lucas’ ex-wife are two a penny and quite tiring. Of course, the primary aim isn’t really to champion Marcia, but to bash Lucas and bring his imprimatur into question — one more branch on the bashing tree and geek shibboleth for signalling how “in the know” and “hip” you are for questioning the basic narrative (and, as it turns out, the actual facts).

        I think it largely comes down to sour grapes. You didn’t hear any of this before the prequels. Fans had a mixed reaction to the PT and the most discontented began looking for ways to justify their subjective responses. And given that Marcia was married to Lucas before “THX” and “American Graffiti” and until the end of the Original Trilogy, it gives people scope to reason that a) maybe Lucas was more hungry and “in touch” in his earlier years, along with b) Marcia had something to do with the “quality” of those films vis-a-vis the prequels. And for added spice, there’s always c) after Lucas separated from Marcia, he became bitter and resentful and simply couldn’t get his old drive back.

        Of course, none of this is to say that Marcia had zero to do with how Lucas’ earlier and formative films turned out — or that the separation process along with her subsequent absence might not have been deleterious to the prequels. But it’s not an open-and-shut thing. The main artist behind all of Lucas’ movies (discounting esoteric/metaphysical forces) is Lucas himself. It says something, I think, when your ex-wife retains your name, even after remarrying. That name suggests a certain prestige, authority, and uniqueness — qualities which those with an axe to grind seem to have difficulties dealing with.

      • Star Wars Hexalogy

        I´d say that anyone who has actually seen them and isn´t a complete imbe.ile can tell that Lucas´s divorce with his ex-wife had no deleterious effect on Episodes I, II and III whatsoever.

      • Cryogenic

        @ Star Wars Hexalogy:

        That’s a subjective matter. I wouldn’t call someone an imbecile for having a different response.

        The prequels are more personal films and more complex and involving — in my opinion. If anything, I would argue that Lucas’ divorce feeds into the narrative.

        To quote the man himself:

        I said that the innocence was what many people found so compelling about the first Star Wars movie, and I asked whether it was harder for him, now that he is twenty years less innocent, to go back to work on the material.

        “Of course your perspective changes when you get older and as you get battered by life,” [Lucas] said.

        “Have you been battered by life?”

        “Anyone who lives is going to get battered. Nothing comes easy.”

        Then, in the ROTS DVD commentary, Lucas muses that his own trajectory is somewhat like Anakin’s — i.e., he was always autocratic, but once less tethered and rebellious, and may have lost a part of himself as he became consumed by the private film empire and commercial behemoth he wrought by his own hand.

        Moreover, in chasing his dream of total authorial control, a measure of balance was sacrificed in his personal life, and he and Marcia became more estranged. In interviews closer to the time, Lucas admitted that he had turned into a full-blown workaholic and wanted a clean break from Star Wars (after ROTJ), recognising that it wasn’t healthy to maintain the same non-stop commitment and be fully sucked into his own creation. The divorce was, in some senses, the price of Star Wars and success — the Force giveth and the Force taketh away…

        Note that the concept of “letting go” is a major theme in the Prequel Trilogy. ROTS could even be construed as Lucas both apologizing for and coming to terms with the stresses and strains that his pursuit of Star Wars and building up his film companies placed on his earlier marriage. It is fascinating to observe (and this is a straight steal from posts made by xezene on TheForce.Net) that Padme is essentially erased from galactic history at the end of the PT. And the twins, who could have been raised by the loving unit of Anakin and Padme, are instead scattered to different parts of the galaxy, and brought to maturity under different circumstances.

        “All I want is your love” is what Padme says to Anakin when pleading with him (almost Beatles’ esque: “All you need is love”) — and it’s not hard to see Lucas similarly looking back at his first marriage with a degree of regret; allegorically documenting how the marriage crumbled as a consequence of disparate desires and unmet needs. Anakin and Padme began their entanglement with a similar outlook on life, but they parted after Anakin’s ideals radically altered. There has to be a tinge of recognition there. As Lucas also once said: “There’s more of me in Star Wars than I care to admit.” Almost an echo of Padme’s security chief in Episode II: “The situation is a lot more dangerous than the senator will admit.” Everything is conserved and reprised.

        None of this is meant as a bash of the prequels or Lucas. Just calling for some restraint and reconsideration.

      • Star Wars Hexalogy

        I´m fine believing that his divorce may have had an influence on the stories told in his later films, a work of any artist is of course influenced by their personal experiences all the time.

        What I meant was the widespread belief among the haters that as an editor, she was some sort of undisputed creative genius solely responsible for the original film coming out as well as it did in it´s final cut and that her absence was the reason why Episodes I, II and III were so „badly edited“.

        Of course no one who´s not lacking in at least some basic comprehension skills would possibly call editing in I, II and III bad and a basic research would tell them that she was one of three editors working on the original film and that the editing decisions they all made were either approved or vetoed by George himself.

        Anyway I should have made that clear, and I know that you´re not one of the people who actually believe that nonsense so I apologize for the misunderstanding.

      • Cryogenic

        @ SWH:

        That’s fine. And at least you understand — contra prequel bashers — that art is a personal thing and artists are highly influenced by their personal life experiences.

        As Fellini once put it: “All art is autobiographical; the pearl is the oyster’s autobiography.”

        And as Oscar Wilde said: “Art is the most intense mode of individualism that the world has known.”

        These things have to be reaffirmed not infrequently because few people seem to understand this fundamental aspect of the artistic process.

        We’re also dealing with people, or a groupthink (groupfink) fish-tank, that has written off the prequels as mere fallacy — an imagined expression of hubris and arrogance on Lucas’s part at best, a desire to move merchandise and make money at worst.

        While Marcia did take home an Academy Award for Best Editing on the original film (in contrast with George himself; the slaving artist who received nothing), she was, as you have intimated, one in a small battery of editors, arguably having more of an ancillary role on the editing process overall. That said, some of her work is nicely done — such as her input on the Death Star attack sequence in ANH (arguably the piece d’resistance of the entire film) and the touching and surprisingly intimate and confessional scene between Luke and Yoda in ROTJ.

        On the latter, it is quite interesting that Lucas still leaned on Marcia to bring her editing skills to bear on the final film of the Original Trilogy, given that things had become acrimonious and they were in the midst of separating at the time. It was around then that Lucas declared — with a passive-aggressive mix of admiration and disdain (in my opinion) — that Marcia was good at the “dying and crying” scenes. There may have been a tinge of envy in the remark, too, as he seemed to implicitly understand she had talents and sensibilities that were more latent in his own skill set (and perhaps a little of the reverse).

        Mark Hamill perhaps gave the whole Marcia-George thing its strongest articulation when he said in an interview in 2005 (re-posted in 2013):

        He’s in his own world. He’s like William Randolph Hearst or Howard Hughes, he’s created his own world and he can live in it all the time. You really see that in his films, he’s completely cut off from the rest of world. You can see a huge difference in the films that he does now and the films that he did when he was married. I know for a fact that Marcia Lucas was responsible for convincing him to keep that little “kiss for luck” before Carrie [Fisher] and I swing across the chasm in the first film: “Oh, I don’t like it, people laugh in the previews,” and she said, “George, they’re laughing because it’s so sweet and unexpected”–and her influence was such that if she wanted to keep it, it was in. When the little mouse robot comes up when Harrison and I are delivering Chewbacca to the prison and he roars at it and it screams, sort of, and runs away, George wanted to cut that and Marcia insisted that he keep it. She was really the warmth and the heart of those films, a good person he could talk to, bounce ideas off of, who would tell him when he was wrong. Now he’s so exalted that no one tells him anything.

        Unfortunately, Hamill’s remarks there are red meat for those seeking to bash the prequels, and who are trying to find essentialized explanations for why the originals are one way and the prequels another. I think he oversimplifies and tends to tell people what they want to hear. He’s a good storyteller, and like a lot of actors, appears to have some need to be liked and to always have an audience’s ear — as if he’s “one of them”. Note how Hamill turned into a Sequel Trilogy basher and defended Lucas more overtly during the PR campaign for “The Last Jedi”. Quite a different tune to “now he’s so exalted that no one tells him anything” — a remark that played directly into the hands of bashers back when the franchise was still under Lucas’ control.

        So — per Hamill’s remarks (if we assume his more basic observations concerning Marcia are more on the ball) — it can be maintained that Marcia was more than merely an editor on the earlier films, but someone who Lucas could confide in. Perhaps an unofficial creative consultant as any life partner should be. Obviously, Lucas turned also to filmmaking friends for input and advice, and to bounce ideas off of, but given that Marcia was actually his wife, I don’t think we can overlook their bond that easily and the potential boons Marcia brought to the precise shape and texture of the Original Trilogy.

        All that said, it seemed that Lucas really straightened himself out after the Original Trilogy, becoming both a parent to adopted children and someone who was free to relax and unwind a degree, reading and learning a great deal more about the topics that interested him, and perhaps becoming even more concerned at the state of American politics (Reaganism) and the world at large — knowledge, interests, and concerns which he would eventually pour back into the prequels and express with renewed clarity and vigour.

        In other words, the prequels, and the saga as a whole, became the beneficiary of a more wizened, matured, and integrated Lucas — somewhat echoing the path Luke Skywalker (“Luke S”) himself takes in the OT, as he goes from innocent farmhand with an amorphous dislike of the Empire, to a tactical and focused redeemer mystic who brings a monadic entity within the carapace of Star Wars back to a suppressed richness and wholeness (or, in visual short-form, black transitions to spectral blue). Similarly, Luke’s powers of perception improve exponentially across the OT, unlocking deeper layers of reality; just as much more is drawn from the block by a perception-enhanced Lucas assembling the PT.

        This is not failure. It is not diminution. It is actualization and self-transcendence. And, to me, it is one of the most fascinating aspects of the complete saga. A saga which Disney are certainly expanding, but I’m not yet sure if they’re actually deepening. So, as I said earlier, the Marcia issue isn’t an open-and-shut thing, but I’m not one that easily buys into that narrative to the same degree that others seem willing to. It’s much too narrow for my tastes. But then, I like the wider canvas of the PT and Lucas’ broader “twelve-hour movie” saga, so I naturally dissent from perspectives that need these simplistic explanations. To understand Star Wars and get the most from it, you have to zoom in AND zoom out.

    • joe

      on an unrelated note watchmojo continues their prequel bashing with top 10 film moments that made fans rage quit jar jar binks made the list also the fridge scene from indy 4 made the list F**K THEM!!

      • Cryogenic

        Joe… You’re only going to raise your blood pressure by dwelling on negativity all the time. We can’t change what people think or say; we can only work on ourselves. And I don’t think there’s a need for acrimony and ranting here. On the contrary: I think the book that is the basis of this blog post is cause for celebration.

  • Alexrd

    Something worth checking out from current Lucasfilm? Impossible… If a PT equivalent is released, I might cave in.

    *checks price*

    Forget it. Not for my wallet.

    • Cryogenic

      @ Alex:

      I feel your pain. Currently sitting on Amazon for £19.99 used or £24.99 new (sorry, I’m British), J.W. Rinzler’s “Making Of” book for the original film is an absolute steal, while this new publication, though exciting, is a near-insane £97.50!!!

      Shame it’s not a bit closer to the cost of the “Star Wars Frames” book (which Rinzler also worked on), which was around £70 on release (the mass-market version), and is available currently at £64.32.

      Though, no doubt, the new book has fantastic binding and page quality and wonderful content. And it is also roughly twice the page count of the aforementioned Rinzler “Making Of” book for the 1977 film.

      However, if you add the page count of all the Original Trilogy Rinzler books up, they exceed the page count of this new one. All combined, Rinzler’s “Making Of” books for the OT films add up to an impressive 1,105 pages, while this “Archives” release — ostensibly packing a lot of new material — caps out at 620 pages.

      Ignoring the TESB book, which is currently sitting at a crazy price (at least in British pound sterling), you would have been able to grab ALL the Rinzler books a few years ago for LESS money, and you’d be getting almost TWICE the page count!

      Note: I have drawn all this information from their respective Amazon listings.

      I don’t want to accuse this of being a cash-grab, but honestly…

      It looks a tad image-heavy in places. Star Wars is an incredibly visual series, but I’m generally more of a “text” guy when it comes to books — especially books that are meant to be documenting a complicated artistic or historic process. Rinzler’s books would therefore seem to fit the bill a bit better and should be any collector’s first port of call.

      But if Santa is kind, maybe I can think of acquiring this deep into next year, when other financial issues are licked. However: I would still like to learn a bit more first about the differences between this and Rinzler’s books; which are already extremely comprehensive and close to the “last word” on the making of the original films. Nonetheless: Good luck and **enjoy** to all purchasers!!!

      And yes… A PT book of this sort!!! Oh, boy…

      • Alexrd


        I have Star Wars Frames. It was expensive (probably the most expensive Star Wars item I ever bought), but I don’t regret it one bit.

        Honestly, if I was willing to invest this much money, I’d rather buy ‘Star Wars Chronicles: The Prequels’ (£142, new), which has been on my wishlist for years…

        Regarding Rinzler’s Making Of books, my only criticism is that the don’t cover the Special Edition phase of the respective movies. Other than that, they are worth having.

      • Cryogenic

        @ Alex:

        “Frames” is a great book — yes, it’s all visual, but the concept is so pure, and overseen by Lucas himself.

        I think the “Chronicles” books are nice, but I don’t have them, and I don’t know if they’re really essential purchases.

        Rinzler is really the go-to guy for solid, in-depth, authoritative documentation of the making of ROTS and the OT. It’s a shame he didn’t come on-board at the start of the prequels. Then every making-of book would have the same author and the same basic quality to it.

        Of course, there are more exciting authors, but Rinzler’s great because he puts his ego to one side and really just documents. He displays a wonderful acumen: a firm, clear, unpretentious writing style, a knack for capturing small details, a good flow, and an enjoyable balance between the big and the small.

        It’s also interesting to note that Rinzler’s journey in documenting the films is sort of an inversion and re-enactment of Lucas’. He came in through the door quite late with the last movie: ROTS. So Lucas’ last was also his first. And then he went “backwards” and went through all the OT films one at a time (just as Lucas went backwards in SW history when telling the story of the fall of the Republic). And another project that monumental undertaking saw Rinzler going even further back in time to the rough draft of the first film.

        Just as Lucas more or less ended his journey, or his directorial journey, “full circle”, so Rinzler’s journey took him from the end of the PT, the last piece of the saga, to the first workable draft of the original film, the first real piece. And then they both got shafted, in different ways, by Darth Disney. Lucas appears to be correct: There is a symmetry and a rhythmic logic to pretty much everything involving human beings on larger scales.

        I understand your desire to have Rinzler’s books document the “Special Edition” phase and attendant madness. But they are also a piece of kabuki theatre that are pretending those latter revisions don’t exist at publication date. In other words: They are a contemporaneous account of the making of the films and aren’t meant to stretch outside of that narrow (but extremely fertile) chronological perimeter. You are meant to be transported back “a long time ago”; giving little to no thought of what lies ahead. “Be mindful of the Living Force, my young padawan.”

      • Alexrd

        Oh, I understand why he didn’t cover the development of special editions. I got a chance to ask him about it, back when his blog was still up and running. Before the dark times. Before Disney.

        I simply think their development is so underdocumented (both from an artistic and technical perspective)… Other than a small featurette that was only available in the VHS and LaserDisc releases and a few bits here and there, there’s virtually nothing else that much in-depth…

        Maybe one day, in a PT-related book? After all, they are almost a prologue to it (in more ways than one).

      • Cryogenic

        @ Alex:

        Glad you got a chance to converse with him. In my experience, while limited, Rinzler is friendly and approachable.

        There was actually a CD-ROM that came out to mark the Special Editions: “Making Magic”. Not to be confused with a slightly later CD-ROM title: “Behind The Magic”. Also very good! I had both.

        It looks like there’s a video archive version of “Making Magic” on YouTube:

        (Think I’m going to have to watch after this completing this post!)

        There’s a brief passage in the “Making Of” book for TPM by Laurent Bouzereau and Jody Duncan where Lucas remarks that the Special Editions were really a testbed for the PT.

        They’re an important milestone, but I don’t know if they need a whole book written about them — they are, after all, merely tweaked versions of existing films (albeit iconic ones), and more like connective tissue between the originals and the prequels. And, of course, Lucas would go on to revise them again for the DVD and Blu-ray releases, as well as slightly altering the prequels between their theatrical, DVD, and Blu-ray releases.

        A PT-related book would be a good place to get into them a bit more, though, agreed. One of the most important aspects of the Special Edition/revision process, in my opinion, is how the newer versions not only buff Star Wars up to a slightly more polished and expanded work, but raise a viewer’s consciousness to the idea of subtle changes and transformations — i.e., they are a primer for better understanding and unlocking similar kinds of visual and thematic artefacts within the entire saga. An initiation rite into the charmed surfaces and interstices of Star Wars itself.

        – “There’s a big race tomorrow.”
        – “Watto doesn’t know I’ve built it.”


        Special Editions = Lucas’ podracer
        Prequel Trilogy/Complete Saga = Boonta Eve

      • Alexrd

        I had Behind the Magic and Episode I Insider’s Guide. Only managed to get Making Magic much later.

        I guess I would love to know more about the process and artistic intent behind the changes. They could even cover revisions done after 1997.

        Does it warrant a full book? No. A chapter? Definitely. There’s more than enough content for it. That’s why I would love to have it in an OT related book or a PT one.

  • Von

    Sigh…It seems my recommendations on YouTube showed me a video called “The Lucas Problem” and it said that Lucas needed a editor for his films…

    What utter clickbait.

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