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Exclusive Feature

Thirty years since Star Wars first screened at the Samual Goldwyn Theatre in Beverly Hills, writer/director George Lucas and cast members Mark Hamill and Carrie Fisher reunited there for a special screening event, held as part of The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences "Great To Be Nominated" series - which showcases the nominees for Best Picture that garnered the most Oscar noms but failed to win.

Empire grabbed a front-row seat...

When was the last time you sat and watched this film with an audience in a theatre?
George Lucas: I think it was about the last time this version came out, which is about ten years ago. It's fun to see it on the big screen. We hardly ever get to do that.

Casting your thoughts back 30 years what originally inspired you to make Star Wars to begin with?
George Lucas: Well, it's kind of hard because it sort of developed over a period of two years that I was actually writing it. Also, during those two years American Graffiti came out and was a giant hit. So I had to deal with all of that stuff at the same time, which slowed down the writing process of it.

But I had always had an affinity and a joy when I was young watching "Saturday Matinee" serials, and they were gone by the time we did this. I was very interested in taking psychological themes that had been around for thousands of years and seeing if I could put them into a context and make a new kind of serial, a new kind of action adventure film. And that's really where a lot of this came from.

So I spent a lot of time reading things like "Hero With A Thousand Faces," going through lots of books and creating a world doing 16 million different versions of this in different forms one way or another until I finally got it the way I liked it.

I spent a lot of time going through lots of books and creating a world doing 16 million different versions until I finally got it the way I liked it.
George Lucas
You originally studied anthropology at USC. Is that right?
George Lucas: Well, when I was in junior college that was my major, until I switched over to film.

George Lucas: It was fate. I wanted to go to Art Center and my father said; no way you're going to be an artist. So I sort of said, okay, I'll just go to San Francisco State and continue my anthropology major, and then my best friend was going to USC as a business major and he wanted me to go take the entrance exam with him which was up in Stockton. So I just said, okay, I'll go and take the test with you and everything. So I got in.

Then I didn't know what to do, and he said, well, it's like a photography school there; it's the USC department of cinematography. And I went there and realised that it wasn't cinematography, you actually learned to make movies, which I thought was ridiculous. But one semester there and I said this is fantastic. I know how to do this, and this is fun. Before that I hadn't had much interest or experience with movies.

You seem to take your responsibility as a filmmaker and the way it affects the audience very seriously. A lot of film seems to be seen as just a way of making a quick buck, but there seems to be something more for you there.
George Lucas: Well, there are a lot of better ways to make a quick buck than making movies, I'll tell you. This wasn't much of a quick buck. This was a slow agonising buck which was shared by these people here, plus at least a couple hundred more. And the process is naturally very sloppy. People sort of assume that making a movie is a very precise thing and you lay it all out like a set of plans and then you just execute it that way. It doesn't work that way. You're constantly reworking everything over and over again to try to get it right, and you go down lots of different avenues, lots of different ways of looking at things, and I continue to relook at it. So it's like anything. All people that work in any art form are constantly trying to fix it and make it better and seeing things they hadn't seen in it before and closing up little gaps. But this was a labour of love on lots of different levels. I don't think anybody in here thought that we were going to get rich doing this. Except maybe Laddy. [Producer Alan Ladd].

You talk about the mythology that you studied so you clearly were doing more than just doing an action picture or shoot 'em up. You clearly had some very strong things that you were trying to weave into the film. Where did that desire come from?
George Lucas: Well, all of my films are relevant to somebody or something, and a lot of it has to do just with observations about the way we function as a culture and a society on different levels, so there's always that. A primary thing is to entertain and make people feel good and let them have a couple hours of enjoyment. But then hopefully beyond that there are other little truths that are stuck in there that allow you to see the world in a different way. And I've done that in all my movies. It's just part of what movies are supposed to be, I think.

So Star Wars had a budget of about $10 million...
George Lucas: Thirteen.

When I had to watch a mynock hit the screen of the spacecraft I was supposed to be quite alarmed. And I said, "what is a mynock?" I was really never told.
Carrie Fisher
How did that compare to other movies that were being made around that time?
George Lucas: 2001: A Space Odyssey as $24 million. You know, the studio executive, Alan Ladd, did one of the best things that any studio executive could do. I don't know whether it happens anymore but it did happen then; he said - when I gave him the script, which was incomprehensible - he said, I don't really get this at all, but I believe in you. And I'm making this movie 'cos I want to see what you're going to do, not because this is a great movie or this is something I understand. He just said, I know you're going to do something wonderful and I want to be a part of it. I don't know how many people do that anymore.

You said at the time that you wanted it to have kind of a used look. What were your guidelines as far as that was concerned?
George Lucas: Well it was simply that I figured that no matter where you are, whether it's the future, the past, space or anywhere, things are all beat up just like they are here. And I didn't see any reason why everything would be nice and neat and clean, and I didn't like the look of sets that had never been used. I think it worked in 2001 because that's the nature of that movie, that's part of the story that's being told. But in the real world if you spend a lot of time out there it gets all beat up and junky looking. So I wanted that to be a theme in the movie, and we had to work a bit to convince everybody not to make everything nice and clean. A lot of people on the set - that's their job, to keep everything looking really nice and clean. But it was just a way of looking like a real place.

We've got two of your cast members here. Can you talk about the casting process?
George Lucas: When you're casting relative unknowns you just see thousands of people. You see them for five minutes and then you do readings, then you test them on tape, and then you test them on film, and you just do it over and over again for years - until you finally get to a point where you can throw a dart at a dartboard with three or four eight-by-tens and pick one. And you hope that you get lucky, and I got very lucky, 'cause I got a great cast.

Carrie Fisher: I slept with him

Mark Hamill: Who didn't?

So Carrie and Mark, could you talk about what it was like physically trying to perform in the space that was created and what the challenges were? Green screen and that kind of stuff is more typical now, but what was the experience like for you, and what do you remember about sitting there with Alec Guinness or a walking carpet...?
Carrie Fisher: Well usually just nothing was there. And when I watched my planet blow up, I remember looking at a board with a circle on it, and one of the crew members drinking tea holding up his hand. And I was just expected to look aghast at that. And when I had to watch a mynock hit the screen of the spacecraft I was supposed to be quite alarmed. And I said, "what is a mynock?" I was really never told - I was simply told that it was just really awful and to behave accordingly. I still don't know what the hell that was. But it was quite appalling - it looked a little like, well, vagina-like. Mark?

Mark Hamill: I'm not sure I liked the way she said that No, really, I think we always use our imaginations when we're performing, and I'd done television where you're sitting in a cutout of a car with the lights going by and the crew rocking you. How's that different than sitting in the cockpit in a spaceship? It's all using your imagination. And I had the luxury of being able to go to Tunisia, so that was so otherworldly, it was really like going back to the fifth century. We kept following Jesus Of Nazareth around. Not literally, but you know - the British film that had been made. So it was unusual to say the least because the culture differences, and it sort of eased me into the adventure. I remember thinking when we came back to London it was so difficult to get used to running water and no cockroaches in your bedroom. Tunisia's a really tough location.

I said, "even if this thing bombs in the mainstream, it's got 'midnight cult film' written all over it."
Mark Hamill
When you finished this job, what was your anticipation as far as reception was concerned? Did you think there was going to be something special to it?
Carrie Fisher: It did not behave itself, that movie. I just did it because, contrary to what George said, it was a great script. I read it out loud with a friend of mine who is an actor, Miguel Ferrer, and it was extraordinary. And I wanted to do it - I wanted to play Han Solo, but since that part wasn't available - I wanted to do it to see how he would do that, how he would be able. I'd never seen anything like what the script was talking about. So I didn't envy any of these men their job of having to realise this. And also I wanted to be there for the lunches, when they would say, "Cut," and you'd have lunch with hairy creatures and robots. That was really good because at lunch they would just say, "Off with their heads," and sometimes I imagined they would come and get mine. But I thought it would be a film that I would really like to see and it'll be like this groovy cult film.

Mark Hamill: That's what I thought. I had a friend working at the LA Art Museum, and I said, "look up every film from King Kong on and see the grosses". And my big prediction was, "it'll do better than Planet Of The Apes". And the reason I thought that is because we had, in our contract, that we do two more if we did this first one. I said, "even if this thing bombs in the mainstream, it's got 'midnight cult film' written all over it."

Carrie Fisher: It was a fantastic script, and I've read a lot of scripts, and I was sort of a movie buff by that age. I mean my mother had made movies, and I knew about movies. I didn't read a lot of scripts, but I just thought this will be great. I really didn't even want to be an actress, I just wanted to be in that. And then I was stuck.

What about the aspect of the character having a real strong sense of rebelliousness? Did that appeal to you?
Carrie Fisher: I did like that she was feisty, but I think when we were shooting this we were much more focused on how difficult the dialogue was to say. We would say to George, "you can type this shit, but you can't say it". I just remember how difficult it was for me to run and say, "I knew you weren't in it for the money." I'm not a brilliant actress, but that stuff was hard to say. "It will take a couple of minutes for the navicomputer to calculate the coordinates."

Mark Hamill: We never got that right...

Where did you come up with some of the technical ideas?
George Lucas: Because science fiction is basically a literary medium it's very hard to make it real. It's almost impossible. So I very carefully designed the movie within the range that I thought could be done in terms of the technology and the things that we thought we could pull off. Rather navely, because there were a lot of things that I thought we would be able to do relatively easy that turned out to be much more complicated. But you have to design the movie around what you have available to work with. That's why it's hard to get books to translate, or at least it used to be. Now you can pretty much do whatever you want. But it used to be very hard to take a literary work of science fiction and turn it into a movie 'cause they're just two completely different mediums. And that really drove everything in terms of how we made the movie. The last big movie that had been done was 2001, and obviously 2001 had a big influence on us.

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