The Force has awakened. So have Disney. And so have we, relentless film geeks, since it’s been announced that Star Wars was actually not over yet, over three years ago. Over the decades, Star Wars has become synonym with gigantic business, shameless promotional outbursts and -let’s be honest- has been reduced to a money-making machine from time to time.
However, let us not forget that the inventor of Star Wars is a major film geek, just like the rest of us. Before he was one of the richest people in this galaxy, he was writing and watching films with his pals (Steven Spielberg, Brian De Palma, Francis Ford Coppola, you know, the usual).
Here are 5 reasons why Star Wars is actually an indie film at heart.
1 ) It had a long gestation
As with every film, it all started with the writing, or as Elliot often quotes: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was God”. George Lucas had the idea very early on, as it was included in a two-picture deal with Universal, the first feature of which was the classic American Graffiti. However, it took a lot of time for him to figure out the ins and outs of the story, and he went through many outlines and several drafts before ending up with what became the shooting script.
To help him structure his story, one of his main non-film inspiration was Joseph Campbell’s Hero With A Thousand Faces, on mythic structure. The entire saga is built around this frame from the main beats all the way to the finer details: for instance, Campbell points out that a staple of the hero’s journey is retreating into a dark place (usually a forest) before being able to return to the world as a changed man. How do you think it was decided then that the Dagobah system would be swamp? Like any independent filmmaker, he took what worked and made it indelibly his own. Just sayin’.
2 ) It’s a total ripoff of classics
George Lucas had many inspirations for his epic space opera. As a member of the movie brats generation, all he does is breathe and live for cinema. It was inevitable that his work would
shamelessly copy steal from the best.
- Kurosawa’s Hidden Fortress famously was one of the main inspirations, story-wise. The point of view of the story was from two peasants, and so they became two droids working as a comic duo in George Lucas’s universe.
- Metropolis: Fritz Lang’s expressionist landmark gave us the striking image of the robot being built. Doesn’t that look a bit like our favourite protocol droid C3PO?
- Ben-Hur: the pod race in Phantom Menace -need I say more?
- If you have some time on your hands, take a look at this cut of Star Wars which features bits of the films Lucas
stolefound his inspiration from:
Starting off as independent filmmakers, don’t we just want to do the same thing? Repeat that wow moment that got us on the edge of our seat within our own story? Being inspired and find that natural high of creation?
3 ) It follows an uncompromising vision
The main perk of being an independent filmmaker -and it makes up for the many sacrifices we have to make- is that you are, well, independent. Film is a collaborative form of art, there is no denying, but the compromises that you make are the one you consent to and not the ones that are shoved on you. George Lucas was very adamant about following what he thought was best for his baby. He’s always made sure that he owned the rights to his story. (The same went for J.K. Rowling when she sold the rights of Harry Potter to Warner Bros: she made sure that they had to follow her work and not make “Harry Potter goes to Vegas”.)
His vision was and is singular: he’s created world most of us can’t imagine and populated them with the most wondrous and awe-inspiring characters. It paid off. So maybe you, indie filmmaker, don’t have a space opera in you, but you do want to get that story on the screen your way, don’t you?
4 ) The director put everything on the line for his film
This is directly correlated to the previous point: Star Wars (the first one, which later turned out to be the fourth one), was an unprecedented success. Lucas didn’t think it would so he went off on holiday to a remote place in Hawaii so as not to hear anything from his certain failure and doom. (The irony strikes deep now.) He made a ton of money from the success of his film (which has unfailingly put him on the list of richest Americans, the only filmmaker there along with BFF Steven Spielberg) and decided to follow through with his saga.
The price of independence was: finance his movie himself. Seldom is it done, and it obviously paid off. Few of us will ever be in a position to self-finance a movie with a budget of hundreds of millions (nor would we want to), yet we can imagine what it’s like to put everything we have in a film.
5 ) Hollywood can’t get enough of it
That’s the best sign of all, isn’t it? Lucas always wanted to remain as independent as possible throughout the creation of his awesome saga. 20th Century Fox made a great deal of money from it, so did Lucas, and now so will Disney. Princess Leia has now joined the canon of Disney princesses. A trilogy and standalone films are being released like clockwork.
That’s what most of us dream of, isn’t it? Creating something that’s indelibly our own, and get the ultimate recognition, be given a worldwide audience just like that?
Independent cinema is where new voices come to thrive. If you doubt it, remember that Lucas once made super 8 films, JJ Abrams made a film called Super 8, writer-director Rian Johnson made incredible indies before breaking into the mainstream business and being hired to be a part of film history.
So get cracking!