May the Fourth be with you. That’s ‘Fourth’ as in the day after ‘Third’, just in case you thought I had developed a lithp. Tomorrow is Star Wars Day, so-called because the first Star Wars film was released on 4 May 1977.
Well no, actually! The first Star Wars film, now known as Star Wars: A New Hope, and which is, chronologically the fourth Star Wars film, was actually released on 25 May 1977. But, let’s face it, ‘May the twenty-fifth be with you’ doesn’t sound as catchy. So when and why was tomorrow singled out for such a thoroughly overwhelming honour? Is it the birthday of the genius behind the franchise, George Lucas? Is it the anniversary of the destruction of the Death Star? Is it the day Jar Jar Binks was given his P45? Is it Armistice Day in the Clone War? When do you want me to stop with the spurious suggestions? Because, naturally, it’s none of the above.
The date was chosen, organically, by Star Wars fans themselves, as their annual holy day of obligation and the Lucasfilm empire did not strike back. Instead, the makers of the franchise embraced and encouraged it. It’s actually a pun, ‘May the fourth … be with you’. Geddit? Now, with the Disney organisation in charge of the Millennium Falcon, May the Fourth will probably become to the Star Wars franchise what the equally spurious ‘Black Friday’ is to online retailers.
Back in the mid-70s, it didn’t look as if Star Wars would become the first film ever to make over $300m at the Box Office. It almost didn’t get made. Despite the commercial success of Lucas with American Graffiti, the script was turned down by every major studio except Twentieth Century Fox. When he showed a rough cut to some of his movie-making buddies it didn’t go down well. Brian de Palma described it as the worst movie he’d ever seen – he hadn’t made Mission to Mars at that point in his own career. The only one of Lucas’s mates who predicted a bright future was Steven Spielberg.
As a director, Lucas does not appear to have been very communicative with his actors. His instruction on re-takes was either ‘faster’ or ‘more intense’. Rumour has it that when he lost his voice on the shoot his assistant printed those words on two boards which Lucas used in lieu of vocal commands. He also second-guessed himself on the name of one of his central characters. When shooting began [spoiler alert] Princess Leia’s younger bro and Darth Vader’s little boy was called Luke Starkiller.
There is an assumption, which probably began on the planet Tatooine, that when George Lucas got the idea for writing a film about ‘a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away’ that he did a J.K.Rowling and sketched out in advance the basic plots for all nine movies. Rowling, you will recall, had a grand plan for the future of the inhabitants of Hogwarts when she set out to write Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone.
Now, when George Lucas conceived the notion of the Star Wars series he was not an impecunious and unknown British writer dependent on an Edinburgh café for light and heat. He was already a successful Hollywood director with one cult, and one mainstream movie hit to his credit. Neither do the dissimilarities end there. Unlike Rowling, he did not sketch out the plots of the movies in detail. While he DID envisage that Star Wars would be part of a series he did not outline in detail the fate of the characters, or even basic plot lines before he wrote the first film in the franchise. Initially, he appears to have been unsure whether that would run to nine or twelve films. On a scrap of paper on which he scribbled down a tentative plot for the first movie, it appears as number six in the putative series, not number four.
So, did George Lucas have it all figured out before he even began shooting the first Star Wars? That he did not. That’s fake history.
PETER ‘CHEWBACCA’ MAYHEW 1944-2019 (RIP)