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Star Wars: 5 Ingredients for A New Hope

A long time ago, in a movie theater far, far removed by now … this movie leaped into the minds of just about everyone who saw it. There isn’t a whole lot that can be said that hasn’t already been said or written about Star Wars. It changed movies; it changed the way we think about movies. It changed everything … really.

Here on the Copystratic blog, we mainly talk about innovations in written communication and how those innovations have shaped or affected business. So what does Star Wars have to do with any of that?

I don’t really know. It’s just fun to geek out on nerdy stuff every once in awhile.

What really gets me about this Star Wars thing is that for the longest time I’ve always heard the same two-word reason why the movie and it’s string of sequels were so successful: George Lucas. George Lucas. George Lucas. And that’s fine. No problem. The story, the themes and iconic characters: everything belongs to him.

However, I’m not here to talk about that guy, but rather, the elite team of craftsmen and artists he hired to bring his vision to life. In my opinion, the original movie and all of its installments wouldn’t have been nearly as successful without 5 essential ingredients.

They include:

Ralph McQuarrie (conceptual artist/illustrator). The entire movie has a particular look, which is part fantasy, part auto-body garage, part 16th-century Japanese samurai, as denoted by Darth Vader’s iconic helmet. This guy came up with the look for everything: the robots, the bizarre-looking alien creatures, the space ships, the futuristic art-deco environments, even the light sabers (photo left). Just about everything you see visually came from this guy’s ink pen. McQuarrie was among the first people Lucas consulted with while he was in the early stages of pre-production. Essentially, Lucas dreamt it, but McQuarrie drew it.

Ben Burtt (sound designer). I don’t know much about this guy. I just remember seeing some random, quirky documentary on PBS with this choir-faced looking guy with headphones and a small microphone knocking on a telephone pole cable with a hammer and then a wrench. Burtt was generating the sounds effects for blasters and other Star Wars weapons. He also developed the creature squawks, robot beeps and the cavernous roar of spacecraft. At the time, most sci-fi movies tended to use electronic sounds in attempt to sound futuristic. Burtt instead went for more natural, ambient sounds: the sound a door made after being destroyed by blaster fire, or the steady hum of a light saber. Also, sounds effects design and editing was a foreign concept before Burtt’s work on this movie. Now, there are elite schools and conservatories devoted to furthering achievements for which he laid the groundwork.

John Dykstra (visual effects). This is where modern special effects started. Before then, if you wanted to create a special effects shot of a space ship hurtling through space, it either involved a static image of a spacecraft with a starry background scrawling behind it, which was boring-looking. Or worse, a spaceship attached to a piece of fishing line, which you pushed toward the camera, which looked silly and amateurish. Dykstra came up with a different idea: what if you moved the camera instead of the spacecraft model? If a crane-mounted camera were computer-automated, you could replicate the same movement over and over again, which is essential in the optical process. Not only that, but in moving the camera toward or away from the object, you could manipulate the shutter speed, blurring the image to make a 15-oz. model spaceship take on about 15 tons of extra weight. Dykstra’s ideas were revolutionary, but it cost him. When Lucas wrapped from principal photography and returned home to discover that Dykstra was still getting parts for his camera system, Lucas was beside himself with frustrated rage. The two parted amicably after effect photography was completed, and both maintained a healthy respect for the other. But it was always at a distance.

Paul Hirsch/Richard Chew/Marcia Lucas (editing). If George Lucas delivered the movie’s plot, this editing team delivered its pace. Fast pace. REALLY fast, in some instances. It always brings to mind the movie’s beginning where stormtroopers bust into the rebel cruiser that’s been captured by the Imperial star destroyer. You might recall this opening scene: rebel fighters positioned near the port door with weapons drawn and aimed; suddenly, the port door explodes followed by incoming fire; a rebel fighter returns fire and takes out a stormtrooper; rebel fighters en mass try to hold off them off; then, more stormtroopers spill out of the port door, dozens of them; rebels, outmatched and outgunned, drop like flies. Cut here. Cut there. Cut back. Cut sideways. And that’s not all: what about the Tie fighter attack on the Millennium Falcon after Han Solo and the group escape the Death Star, or the climactic battle sequence in the Death Star trench? So much going on! No wonder it took three editors to stitch it all together. Decades later, the world is still trying to catch its breath.

John Williams (composer). Of all the five, this one is probably my favorite. One blogger put it best: through listening to Williams’ musical scores, the listener was exposed to noteworthy composers of the late-19th and early 20th century: Richard Wagner, Gustav Holst, Igor Stravinsky and even a bit of Sergei Prokofiev. He’s all of them in one. Film historians later classified Star Wars a “space opera,” through Williams major contribution through the use of Wagnerian leitmotifs. Each character has a theme that you hear whenever they’re on screen: Dark Vadar’s sinister Imperial march, Luke’s plodding melody of yearning, the sweet air of Princess Leia, C-3P0 and R2D2s bumbling but cutesy trills and accents. And above all, the glorious Star Wars overture with all its soaring, majestic fanfare introducing us to the amazing visuals we’re about to see. This is embarrassing, but I have to say this: I can remember being 5 years old in 1980 and blasting the soundtrack on one of those 8-track players and pretending like I was conducting the orchestra. Not really conducting, more like waving my arms around like a crazy little monkey. That’s what it did to me. Even then.

Not surprisingly, every one of these 5 ingredients (all except McQuarrie) won Academy Awards for their work on the movie, which has etched an indelible mark on the history of cinema. Once again, in my opinion, if as many as two or more of the above ingredients had not been present, Star Wars regrettably would have attained a status no higher than a fondly-admired cult movie.

If you disagree with any of these ingredients or feel I’ve left someone out, please let me know in the comment section below. Thanks.

May the Fourth be with you!


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This entry was posted on Sunday, May 4th, 2014 at 3:41 pm and is filed under Copywriter News, Online Marketing. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.