You mean you expected to get trounced on everything? I thought we were just talking about the score.
I expected to get trounced on everything. Especially in the end when it came down to the score, which was romantic and dramatic. Not only a slightly corny dialogue here and a very simplistic, sort of corny plot. . .
Some of Mark Hamill's lines are pretty corny.
There is some very strong stuff in there. In the end, when you know better, it sort of takes a lot of guts to do it because it's the same thing with the whole movie – doing a children's film. I didn't want to play it down and make it a camp movie, I wanted to make it a very good movie. And it wasn't camp, it was not making fun of itself. I wanted it to be real.
Even though Harrison Ford's character, Han Solo, is right up to the edge of camp, very John Wayne-ish.
He goes as far as I let anybody go.
"I been from one end of this galaxy to the other, kid . . . " But he did pull it off.
[Laughs] It fits in his character. Harrison is an extremely intelligent actor and we balanced on a lot of thin threads when we went through this movie. And when you're doing it you never know when you are going to jump off the other side, which is one of the things like with the score. There were a lot of little discussions about if this or that would make it go too far, would it be too much. I decided just to do it all the way down the line, one end to the other, complete. Everything is on that same level, which is sort of old-fashioned and fun but going for the most dramatic and emotional elements that I can get.
The Peter Cushing character, Grand Moff Tarkin, certainly applies to that formula. He got off some great lines. Especially right near the end, "Abandon the station, now at the hour of my greatest triumph?"
The stuff in that is very strong. Peter Cushing, like Alec Guinness, is a very good actor. He got an image that is in a way quite beneath him, but he's also idolized and adored by young people and people who go to see a certain kind of movie. I think he will be remembered fondly for the next 350 years at least. And so you say, is that worth anything? Maybe it's not Shakespeare but certainly equally as important in the world. Good actors really bring you something, and that is especially true with Alec Guinness, who I thought was a good actor like everyone else, but after working with him I was staggered that he was such a creative and disciplined person. In the original script Ben Kenobi doesn't get killed in the fight with Vader. About halfway through production, I took Alec aside and said I was going to kill him off halfway through the picture. It is quite a shock to an actor when you say, "I know you have a big part and you are going to the end and be a hero and everything and all of a sudden I have decided to kill you," but he took it very well and he began to build on it and helped and developed the character accordingly.
Was the studio upset when you told them Kenobi would die?
Everybody was upset. I was struggling with the problem that I had this sort of climactic scene that had no climax about two-thirds of the way through the film. I had another problem in the fact that there was no real threat in the Death Star. The villains were like tenpins; you get into a gunfight with them and they just get knocked over. As I originally wrote it, Ben Kenobi and Vader had a sword fight and Ben hits a door and the door slams closed and they all run away and Vader is left standing there with egg on his face. This was dumb; they run into the Death Star and they sort of take over everything and they run back. It totally diminished any impact the Death Star had.
It was like the old Bob Steele westerns where they all had about 50 shots in their six-shooters.
Right, but those kind of things dissipate without having a lot of real cruel torture scenes and real unpleasant scenes with the bad guys in order to create them as being bad or make them a threat. I was walking that thin line between making something that I thought was vaguely a nonviolent kind of movie but at the same time I was having all the fun of people getting shot. And I was very careful that most of the people that are shot in the film were the monsters or those storm-troopers in armored suits. Anyway, I was rewriting, I was struggling with that plot problem when my wife suggested that I kill off Ben, which she thought was a pretty outrageous idea, and I said, "Well, that is an interesting idea, and I had been thinking about it". Her first idea was to have Threepio get shot, and I said impossible because I wanted to start and end the film with the robots, I wanted the film to really be about the robots and have them be the framework for the rest of the movie. But then the more I thought about Ben getting killed the more I liked the idea because, one, it made the threat of Vader greater and that tied in with The Force and the fact that he could use the dark side. Both Alec Guinness and I came up with the thing of having Ben go on afterward as part of The Force. There was a thematic idea that was even stronger about. The Force in one of the earliest scripts. It was really all about The Force, a Castaneda Tales of Power thing.
Well, then, theoretically there could be a sequel about The Force, there could be a sequel about the Wookies, about Han, about Luke. . .
Yes, it was one of the original ideas of doing a sequel that if I put enough people in it and it was designed carefully enough I could make a sequel about anything. Or if any of the actors gave me a lot of trouble or didn't want to do it, or didn't want to be in the sequel, I could always make a sequel without one.
Do you have agreements with the principal characters?
Yes. All the actors except Alec Guinness. We may use his voice as The Force – I don't know. One of the sequels we are thinking of is the young days of Ben Kenobi. It would probably be all different actors.
Let's talk about the Cantina sequence. As I remember, there were problems in London.
Stuart Freeborn, the special-effects and makeup man, spent a lot of time and energy on the Wookie and did a fantastic job, and he was rushed to try to create the Cantina creatures while we were shooting in Tunisia. We moved the Cantina sequence up a week in the shooting schedule and I kept adding monsters all the time. So a few weeks before we were going to shoot that sequence Stuart got sick and had to go to the hospital, and so we didn't get all the monsters finished that we wanted to have. The ones we had were the background monsters and they weren't meant to be key monsters. I always knew eventually either Stuart or somebody would come back and shoot more monsters.
So when did you actually finish it?
When we got back to California we cut the film, looked at it and I still didn't think the Cantina scene' worked as well as it should have. So I wanted to shoot a second unit. That can get pretty expensive, and the studio said no way you're gonna spend any more money on this picture, because we were already like a million dollars over the budget. And I said it is one of the key scenes in the movie and we have to have more monsters. And so we did a budget and talked to Alan Ladd Jr. It was really his project, and by now he was the president of the company. Ladd said do it, but the only way we would get away with it was we could do it for $20,000, and so I said, okay, I'll do it for $20,000. So we ended up having to cut out half of what we wanted but it was sufficient. You know, I really wanted to have horrible, crazy, really staggering monsters. I guess we got some but we didn't come off as well as I had hoped.
The band in their black zoot suits is absolutely marvelous. Why were they playing Forties music?
I planned to use Glenn Miller for that sequence originally, but we couldn't use it and Johnny had to come up with something familiar and I think he did a fairly good job. He came up with a really bizarre sound that was very Forties, yet very odd. The whole thing was originally designed as a big-band number, but it worked out.
The sequence where Han Solo's ship hits light speed – hyperspace – gets a cheer every single time. People just love it.
Technically it was very simple. The actual jump to hyperspace is sort of a pull-back on stars and then a shot of the ship disappearing real quick. I think more than anything else it is fun because the editing and the design of the sequence before it are very good. It's from the point where the troops start shooting at them to the point where the ship takes off and there are about two very good music cues in there.
It's a chase scene.
You're rooting for them to get away. It's a real flashy escape, you know. There's nothing like popping the old ship into hyperspace to give you a real thrill.
I felt one scene didn't quite work: the one where they almost get crushed by the moving walls in the trash bin. That octopus creature was unsatisfying. I believe it was called a Dia-noga in the script.
The Dia-noga was originally supposed to be a giant, sort of filmy, clear, transparent jellyfish kind of thing that came shooting out of the water, with all these jellylike tentacles with little veins running through them. So first the special-effects people came up with this giant 8-foot-high, 12-foot-wide brown turd that was bigger than the set, and that just didn't work. We finally got it down to where it was just one tentacle. That was all they could really accomplish.
And an eyeball.
Well, the eyeball we did later, we did that in California with the second unit; we did that in the backyard. I never really got a monster. They spent an enormous amount of money building these giant things with hydraulics and all kinds of stuff and they looked terrible. And I said, I only want something sort of ethereal. But they kept wanting to build these giant things and I said, you don't need that, let's just put a bunch of cellophane on a string and pull it up out of the water or something. It got so ridiculous, I finally just said look, give me one long tentacle. What I really would have liked to have had was a bunch of tentacles. I have always had a problem with that scene. There was one like it in THX which I cut out. He fell into a trash masher, and there was a giant ratlike creature in there with him. I have never been able to accomplish it, and I don't know why.
The creature is in there to eat the garbage?
Yes, he eats the garbage. The idea was the Dia-noga knows that the doors are going to close and the walls are going to close in and mash the garbage, and he sort of pushes himself against the floor and does whatever he does to survive, and he can't eat the kid right then. It is a slightly esoteric idea. I still want the sequence and someday I will get something on the screen.
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