The Wizard of 'Star Wars'

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Well, the Star Wars audience has no trouble suspending disbelief.
Right. If a film does not work, then you can do an impeccable job with making the movie. People still see the mistakes, and they get bored and it just doesn't work. And so what can you say? THX was about 70% of what I wanted it to be. I don't think you ever get to the point where it is 100%. Graffiti was about 50% of what I wanted it to be but I realized that the other 50% would have been there, if I just had a little more time and a little more money. Star Wars is about 25% of what I wanted it to be. It's really down there quite a bit. It's still a good movie, but it fell so short of what I wanted it to be. And everyone said, "Well, Jesus, George, you wanted the moon for Chrissake, or you wanted to land on Pluto and you landed on Mars". I think the sequels will be much, much better. What I want to do is direct the last sequel. I could do the first one and the last one and let everyone else do the ones in between.

It wouldn't bother you to have someone else do the ones in between?
No, it would be interesting. I would want to try and get some good directors, and see what their interpretation of the theme is. I think it will be interesting, it is like taking a theme in film school, say, okay, everybody do their interpretation of this theme. It's an interesting idea to see how people interpret the genre. It is a fun genre to play with. All the prototype stuff is done now. Nobody has to worry about what a Wookie is and what it does and how it reacts. Wookies are there, the people are there, the environment is there, the empire is there... everything is there. And now people will start building on it. I've put up the concrete slab of the walls and now everybody can have fun drawing the pictures and putting on the little gargoyles and doing all the really fun stuff. And it's a competition. I'm hoping if I get friends of mine they will want to do a much better film, like, "I'll show George that I can do a film twice that good," and I think they can, but then I want to do the last one, so I can do one twice as good as everybody else. [Laughs]

Talking to you as a screenwriter for a moment, rather than a director, you've said Star Wars comes out of bits and pieces of your childhood: 'Buck Rogers,' 'Flash Gordon,' Alex Raymond...
True, true.

Now nobody who sees the film questions what a Wookie is, nobody questions what a Jawa is, they accept it right away because the film has a foundation of imagination, an elaborate underpinning of detail that makes these things plausible. So let's take it one step further. Say, for instance, that you were an anthropologist and just came back from the Wookie planet. What would you report?
That's in the earlier scripts. I had actually written four different plots and different stories with different characters, and they involved different environments. In one of the scripts there is a Wookie planet. It's a jungle planet and there was a whole sequence where the Empire had a little outpost on the Wookie planet and Luke [Sky-walker] gets involved with the Wookies and he fights the head Wookie. He wins the fight but he doesn't kill the Wookie and the Wookie says, okay, you are going to be the son of the chief and all that kind of stuff. He rallies the Wookies and the Wookies all attack this imperial base. The imperial base has tanks and all kinds of stuff and the Wookies beat them off, and then Luke and Ben [Kenobi] and Han [Solo] and a bunch of people train the Wookies to fly the fighters, and it is the Wookies that go after the Death Star, not the rebels that were on the planet. It was a much different thing, there was a very involved thing with the Wookies. The Wookies are... slightly primitive, they live in the jungle, and there is a great sequence which may end up in one of the movies where there is a giant fire and they are all dancing around the fire, all the drums are going and all that kind of stuff. The Wookies are more like the Indians, more like noble savages.

The Jawas are more like aborigines.
Well, the Jawas are more like scavengers, junk dealers. We had a Jawa village scene in the film but we didn't shoot it because the location was too far away, we just cut that out to keep on budget. We found these great things in Tunisia, little grain houses that were four stories high but with little tiny doors, little tiny windows, it was a hobbit village. So we had a whole sequence with these little hobbit-world slum dwellers but we had to cut it out.

Did you create Jawas and Wookies out of your readings in anthropology?
They didn't really have any basis. The Jawas really came from THX. They were the shell dwellers, the little people that lived underground in the shells. And in a way, part of Star Wars came out of me wanting to do a sequel to THX. Wookies came out of THX too. One of the actors who was doing some voice-over for radio talk, Terry McGovern, came up with the word Wookie.

Didn't I hear his voice in Star Wars?
They're the San Francisco San Anselmo/George Lucas players, a bunch of disc jockeys, Scott Beach. Terry McGovern. Terry was the teacher in American Graffiti – they've been in all my movies – we were riding along in the car one day and he said: "I think I ran over a Wookie back there," and this really cracked me up and I said, "What is a Wookie?" and he said, "I don't know, I just made it up". And I said, "That is great, I love that word." I just wrote it down and said I'm going to use that.

There are lots of great pseudolanguages in the film – the Wookie, the Jawas, Artoo and Greedo, the hit creature in the Cantina sequence, to name a few. Were these elaborately constructed?
Yes. Right when the film started, we hired two people – one was an artist, Ralph McQuarrie, and the other was the soundman, Ben Burtt. I just went to one of my old instructors at USC and I asked, who is the best guy you've got, in terms of working on sound? And so Ben spent two years developing sound effects – he did all the ray guns, spaceships exploding, and toward the end he worked for like three or four months to come in with Artoo. I said I wanted to have beeps and boops and that. Well, it is easy to say that, it's another to take those beeps, boops and sounds and actually make a personality. He spent a long time coming up with sounds. And I would listen to it and I would say, no, no, we need something with a little more sensitivity, he needs to be sadder here, he needs to be happier there. We need to know he's angry here. And he would go back and he would work on the Arp and the Moog, he would talk into the mike and he would run it fast and he would run it slow and he would combine all these things, and he finally came up with it. It didn't sound all the same, like a touch-tone telephone. To some people I guess he still sounds like a touch-tone telephone.

Artoo has a very distinct personality.
Yeah. Ben had to write out the dialogue I never wrote. I just wrote, Threepio says, "Did you hear that," and the little robot goes "beep-a-da-boop," and Ben had to sit there and say, "Hmm, well, of course I heard that, you idiot". So then he had to take that and he had to translate it. He did the same thing with the Wookie, a combination of a walrus and bear and about five or six other animal sound effects that are all put together in a very sophisticated manner electronically to create one voice.

What about the Jawa language?
Ben started using a lot of African dialects and then he took certain ones, learned the dialogue himself and then sped up the tape. He would get a couple of people in the office and they would go out and yell and talk and do this dialogue and they would speed it up. He did the same with Greedo, who he worked on for months.

Greedo was one of the most imaginative.
We had various ways for him to talk. Some were purely electronic – we had one word, which was just a person going oink-oink, and if you did it fast enough with the right rhythm and everything it sounds like a very bizarre language. We used harmonizers, we used a lot of electronic equipment; and that didn't work, so finally Ben got together with a graduate student at Berkeley who is a real expert in languages, and he and Ben taped. They went through languages and languages and then they finally made up a language. Ben took it and edited it down, and we had the dialogue written out. In the script it was an actor who actually said the dialogue to begin with. Then we processed that electronically to give it a sort of phasing sound and, well, it was a lot of work.

Who thought up putting subtitles in that sequence?
That was my idea. Somebody thought we should do subtitles on Han's part too, but it would be too confusing, it is hard enough to understand now. The pace of the film is so fast that you have hardly time to read the subtitles because the cuts and everything are so short.

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