filming star wars was a disaster -- 8/08/17

Today's selection -- from George Lucas A Life by Brian Jay Jones. Two weeks into the filming of the original Star Wars, the production was plagued by failures, and young director George Lucas was convinced the movie would be terrible:

"R2-D2 refused to work.

"It wasn't stubbornness on the part of the droid -- a trait that would endear the character to millions of Star Wars fans around the world. Rather, as the first day of filming began on Star Wars in the Tunisian desert on the morning of March 22, 1976, R2-D2 wouldn't work. His batteries were already dead.

Peter Mayhew and George Lucas on the set of
Star Wars: Episode IV

"The little droid wasn't the only one with a problem. Several other robots, operated via remote control by crew members standing just out of sight of the movie camera, were also malfunctioning. Some fell over, others never moved at all, while still others had their signals scrambled by Arabic radio broadcasts bouncing off the desert floor, sending them careening wildly out of control across the sand or crashing into one another. 'The robots would go bananas, bumping into each other, fall­ing down, breaking,' said Mark Hamill, the sun-washed twenty-four­-year-old actor playing hero Luke Skywalker. 'It took hours to get them set up again.'

"The movie's director, a brooding, bearded thirty-one-year-old Californian named George Lucas, simply waited. If a robot worked properly, even for a moment, Lucas would shoot as much footage of it as he possibly could until the droid sputtered to a stop. Other times, he'd have a malfunctioning unit pulled along by invisible wire, until the wire broke or the droid fell over. It didn't matter anyhow; Lucas planned to fix everything in the editing room. It was where he pre­ferred to be anyway, as opposed to squinting through a film camera in the middle of the desert.

"It was the first of what would be eighty-four long, excruciating days filming Star Wars -- twenty days severely over-schedule. And the shoot was a disaster almost from the beginning. 'I was very depressed about the whole thing,' Lucas said. ...

"It wasn't just the remote-control robots that were giving him trou­ble. Anthony Daniels, a classically trained, very British actor who'd been cast in the role of the protocol droid C-3PO, was miserable inside his ill-fitting, gleaming gold plastic costume, and unable to see or hear much of anything. With every movement he was poked or cut -- 'cov­ered in scars and scratches,' he sighed -- and when he fell over, as he often did, he could only wait for someone on the crew to notice and help him to his feet. Within the first week of filming, Daniels despaired that he would ever complete the movie in one piece. 'It was very, very difficult getting things to work,' Lucas said later. 'The truth is that the robots didn't work at all. Threepio works very painfully. ... I couldn't get Artoo to go more than a few feet without running into something. ... Everything was a prototype ... like, 'Gee, we're going to build this -- we have no money, but have to try to make this work. But nothing really worked.' Lucas vowed he'd never cede control over his films to [the parsimonious] executives at the studios again. What did they know about filmmaking? 'They tell people what to do without reason,' Lucas complained. 'Sooner or later, they decided they know more about making movies than directors. Studio heads. You can't fight them because they've got the money.'

Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford and George Lucas

"If Star Wars worked out, one thing would have to change for sure: he'd control the money.

"Still, there were some things he'd never control, no matter how much he might wish otherwise. The wildly unpredictable weather in Tunisia, for example, wasn't making production any easier. During the first week of filming, it began raining in Tunisia's Nefta Valley for the first time in seven years and didn't stop for four days. Equipment and vehicles bogged down in the mud, requiring assistance from the Tuni­sian army to pull everything out of the muck. ...

"And sand, it seemed, got into everything, stinging eyes, abrading skin, and getting into nearly every crack and crevice. Though Lucas kept his Panavision cameras wrapped in plastic sheeting to prevent any damage from wind and sand, a lens from one camera was still nearly ruined. He was plagued by equipment problems as well as just plain bad luck. A truck caught fire, damaging several robots. When trucks failed, Lucas would move equipment on the backs of donkeys.

"By the end of the first two weeks of filming, Lucas was exhausted. With the constant setbacks caused by bad weather, malfunctioning droids, and ill-fitting costumes, he felt he'd gotten only about two-thirds of what he'd wanted on film -- and what he had, he wasn't happy with. 'It kept getting cut down because of all the drama,' said Lucas, 'and I didn't think it'd turned out very well.' He was so upset he even skipped a party he hosted himself to mark the end of the Tunisian shoot, shut­ting himself into his hotel room to wallow in his own misery. 'I was seriously, seriously depressed at that point, because nothing had gone right,' he sighed. 'Everything was screwed up. I was desperately unhappy.'

"A little more than a year before it was scheduled to hit theaters, if it ever did, the Star Wars project was a mess, and the movie was going to be terrible.

"Lucas was certain of it."



Brian Jay Jones


George Lucas: A Life


Little, Brown and Company


Copyright 2016 by Brian Jay Jones


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