Story by Jack Foley
HARD to believe now, but the origins of Star Wars lie in a 1930s-style Saturday
matinee serial genre which George Lucas sought to use as a vehicle for a new
re-working of an old mythology. It then grew from one little movie, which
was Episode Four, to a six hour movie, which remained Episode Four.
The rest, as they say, is history. Star Wars has gone on to become one of the biggest movie franchises in motion picture history, spawning two hugely successful sequels - The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi - and paving the way for a series of three prequels; starting with 1999's The Phantom Menace and continuing in cinemas right now with Attack of the Clones.
For Lucas, however, the Star Wars story, once written, was always one that he intended to tell whole - even if it meant not starting at the beginning.
Speaking at a press conference held to mark the release of Episode Two at London's Dorchester on Wednesday (May 15, 2002), Lucas revealed that he doesn't particularly like starting at the beginning, 'because it is not particularly entertaining' - a point which critics and some fans, no doubt, would probably agree with in light of the lacklustre response to Episode One.
Yet Lucas, his producer Rick McCallum and several of his stars will probably be among the first to agree that The Phantom Menace suffered from being the first in the series; given that it had to establish the story and lay the foundations for what was to come in the next five episodes.
Lucas refers to Attack of the Clones, which has already received a favourable response from critics, as a 'much richer' movie experience which not only entertains as a film in its own right, but which makes use of the considerable advances in technology since the original trilogy.
"Star Wars was written, as a film, within the technology that I had existing and I pushed that as far as I could in the world of special effects and puppetry and every other trick you could use to tell the story; but I was determined to finish the story, no matter how big a failure the first film may have been," he said. "And after the first three were finished, I was sort of burned out and wanted to go off, raise my family and do a bunch of other things.
"When I came back to deciding that I wanted to direct again, we had moved the technology forward to a point where I could conceivably go to Coruscant, the capital of the galaxy, and it wouldn't cost me $15 million in miniature sets; I could actually do it reasonably, and get Yoda to fight. So even though it's a 10 year commitment, I felt that, technically, I could actually tell the story, whereas before, I couldn't and there would have been no point."
Lucas is justifiably proud of the results and feels the latest films benefit from an older wisdom that he now possesses, combined with some of the youthful enthusiasm he first brought to the project - although he is all too aware of the criticisms that he has received in certain quarters for his over-reliance on special effects.
"The one thing that most people forget is that all art forms are bounded by technology, whether it's painting or music, no matter what it is, technology plays a huge role in what you can do," he continued. "But in terms of the actual process of what we do every day, it hasn't changed that much at all because the process of making a movie is a very close collaboration of a lot of extremely talented people under rather stringent time constraints. So what you're basically doing is trying to create something in a pressure cooker, on all levels. The only difference with film, is that it's recorded and it's forever."
And if advances in technology are often cited by critics as getting in the way of a good performance, to the detriment of many recent movies, no one within the Lucas camp feels that the Star Wars saga has suffered as a result.
Christopher Lee, in particular, who plays rebel Jedi Count Dooku in Attack of the Clones, feels that if a story is strong enough and told in the right way, then technology can be a help, rather than a hindrence.
"There is a danger, I think, that there are two extemes of making films these days - one is make-up and the other is special effects. Basically, a film is a moving image; it's about faces and people. If you have an excess of make-up, which is now getting so out of control it's barely believable, in certain films, and you have an excess of special effects which aren't right for the film at all, you can find the poor actor with an avalanche on his left and a typhoon on his right trying to keep his head above water and give a performance, so obviously it's a question of overdoing it.
"Now in a film like Star Wars, that doesn't arise, it's a help; it's a terrific help to give a performance, but I have been in films where it's literally swamped."
In Lee's case, he may have a point, for it is technology that has enabled him to battle it out with the likes of wily wizard Gandalf in The Lord of the Rings and - perhaps even more amazingly - engage in a ligh-sabre duel with Yoda in scenes which look set to have movie-goers cheering wildly. Certainly, for the Yoda fight in particular, Lee confessed that he had to possess a 'fairly vivid imagination', even though the idea of it didn't phase him.
And the same could be said for actor Ian McDiarmid - Supreme Chancellor Palpatine in Attack of the Clones and The Emporer in the latter episodes - who describes his role as 'a complicated psychological journey' both on and off-screen. "I was 120-years-old when I first got the part in the movie and now, in the prequels, I am younger, even though I'm 20 years older," he joked.
Yet he is equally as impressed with the advances in technology which, he believes, have helped to turn Attack of the Clones into 'a more liquid, more sensual and more aesthetically pleasing and beautiful experience'.
Whether all critics agree remains to be seen, although early word looks to be encouraging. And whether they like it or not, one thing is for certain, the chance to be a part of the Star Wars experience is something which every actor takes on with great honour.
Samuel L Jackson, especially, feels 'very proud' to have been given the responsibility of playing Jedi Mace Windu (even if he had difficulty answering what such a warrior does in his 'downtime'), while Hayden Christensen, who assumes the pivotal role of Anakin Skywalker in Episode Two, refers to the day he discovered he had won the role (via mobile phone, while half asleep) as 'the greatest news' he has received.
But, curiously, it was Christopher Lee who put it best - 'to me, there are two things that are most important about this film; one is that I'm now a part of cinema history, which is enormously important, and the second one is that I've survived it, which is a fairly rare experience for me, but encouraging'!
Attack of the Clones is released in cinemas across London from midnight on Thursday (May 16, 2002) and you can read our verdict by clicking here...
RELATED STORIES: Read our verdict on The Phantom Menace. Click here...