“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, StarWars.com 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. […]
StarWars.com: [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 I mean, I was very lucky in that [Lucas] agreed to [be interviewed], because I am using both published and unpublished interviews that have come before.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 Arabia, 2001, 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.
StarWars.com: 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. […]”