About a year ago, Random House came to us with the idea of creating enhanced eBooks out of the three Making of books I’d written on the original trilogy. Odd as it may seem, a year is not a long time. When possible I made busy forays in the film archives on Skywalker Ranch, where archivist Monica Chin-Perez was invaluable in helping to dig up old reels of 16mm behind-the-scenes footage and 35mm dailies (actual scenes filmed on set by one of the main cameras and subsequently chosen to be “printed”/developed). We had the selected film digitized at Spy Post and then went through another selection period, during which I showed what I found to marketing and PR, and to experts Pablo Hidalgo and Leland Chee, for their feedback. We pretty much all agreed on what was the most interesting material.
Nothing like killing two birds with one stone: Joe Johnston drew this concept sketch to go with early drafts of Revenge of the Jedi. But it also illustrates something from the very first draft of Star Wars, which George wrote back in 1974. In the “Revenge” scripts, Princess Leia has various run-ins with some vaguely described “Imperial trackers,” who are also causing problems with the Ewoks and Yussem. Given that Johnston has added forearm guards and a head mask, it’s possible that George Lucas had already envisioned these Imperials seated on rocket bikes (later, speeder bikes). They also had “T-bombs” and a garland of (Ewok? Yussem?) teeth.
How do we get from a scene in George Lucas’ rough draft to a page in The Star Wars comic book? By transcribing its key visual “frames” and its most essential dialogue (feeling, plot, character, not necessarily in that order) to the comic book format. Fortunately, cinema and comic books tell stories visually (usually).
Issue #1, however, was difficult for all: for me, editor Randy Stradley at Dark Horse, and artist Mike Mayhew. Mike had a whole lot to design, from characters and locales, to ships, to props, and so on — before he could even start on his layouts. For my part I sort of naively jumped into my first professional comic book gig (I guess we can’t count the many I did as a teenager and before), but fortunately Randy took the time to explain some of the finer points (and some of the basics).
When Episode I came out a few people were upset by the role midi-chlorians played in the Force — particularly when a drop of Anakin’s blood revealed an unusually high number of them in his system. As Lucas explained in a talk with author Terry Brooks, who was about to start writing the novelization of the film, “In Anakin’s case, there are, instead of one or two or three midi-chlorians in each cell, there’s like a thousand. It’s unbelievable how many midi-chlorians are in there.”
So…what are they? Lucas expounded: “I’m assuming that the midi-chlorians are a race that everybody knows about [in the world of Star Wars]. The way you interact and interface with this larger energy field [the Force] is through the midi-chlorians, which are sensitive to the energy. They are at the core of your life, which is the cell, the living cell. They are in a symbiotic relationship with the cell. And then, because they’re all interconnected as one, they can communicate with the larger Force field. That’s how you deal with the Force.”
By now most fans are aware that George Lucas has given us permission to adapt his rough draft for The Star Wars, which he wrote in 1974. As of today artist Mike Mayhew has finished pages for the first issue and is starting on issue #2, roughing in the action; colorist Rain Beredo is about half way done on issue #1. I’m in the middle of adapting issue #5 in the eight-issue arc. It’s safe to say we’re all enjoying it. Hats off to Randy Stradley at Dark Horse for finding Mike, and to Mike for recommending Rain. What a team!
I think fans are going to enjoy all this — from the most serious fan to the most casual fan, and perhaps the youngest fan — because George told such a cool, accessible story, and because Mike and Rain are doing such fantastic work. I’m pulling my weight, too (or hope I am). It’s fascinating to get into the nuts and bolts of George’s script, to examine closely and interpret, when necessary, fill in a few tiny gaps, and transfer the most visual and exciting aspects to sequential storytelling, panel by panel.
So I’m writing another blog. What have I been up to? Well, I’ve had a series of long conversations with Edward (Ed) Summer, which are being published in interview form in the next three issues of Star Wars Insider. Most fans have never heard of Summer, though he’s in at least one photo in the book The Cinema of George Lucas. I first met Summer at the Barney Greengrass deli on the Upper West Side of New York City while doing research for that book. As a result, he allowed us to publish from his collection a photo of George Lucas and Frank Frazetta, outside the latter’s home, probably the only photo of them together (with Summer in it, too).
What I’d like to write about I can’t. Two of the more interesting projects I’m working on still haven’t been announced. One should be announced in May; the other…who knows, but later than May. Stay tuned…
What I can say is that our video/doc crew is starting work on a sizzle piece for Jeffrey Brown’s heart-warming and funny Vader’s Little Princess; the Prequel Trilogy Storyboard book is nearly done — and set for a May release — and looks great; the next book in the Star Wars Art series is approaching final stage and I’ll show the designed pages to George Lucas in a couple of weeks; and the first designed pass of The Making of Return of the Jedi is also due in a couple of weeks. First pass is my favorite stage: images, captions, and text are all together and designed for the first time — but we can still make changes, correct errors, improve.
Back in 2007, George Lucas sent me a copy via his assistant of Star Wars and Philosophy. He then called and said he wanted to do something in that vein — starting with Star Wars and History. This month, five years later, that book was published by Wiley. We even have an essay written by the editor of that book, Kevin S. Decker.
The long conjectured third Star Wars trilogy has kept fans guessing for decades, and may even have a few numerologists working on their mysteries. George Lucas’ shifting feelings about future Star Wars trilogies have consistently clouded the picture. Given the difficulties associated with the birth of Star Wars in 1977, it’s no wonder that Lucas’s ideas kaleidoscoped. When trying to get such a big undertaking up and running and out the door, visions of the future are understandably hazy. But, as of October 30, 2012, Episodes VII, VIII and IX have been announced as real and soon to be tangible — but they’ve existed as gossamer spirits for nearly 40 years.
On December 29, 1975, in conversation with Alan Dean Foster per the novelization of Star Wars, Lucas mentioned the prequel trilogy along with what would become Episodes V and VI: “I want to have Luke kiss the Princess in the second book. In the third book, I want the story just about the soap opera of the Skywalker family, which ends with the destruction of the Empire. Then someday I want to do the back story of Kenobi as a young man – a story of the Jedi and how the Emperor eventually takes over and turns the whole thing from a Republic into an Empire, and tricks all the Jedi and kills them. The whole battle where Luke’s father gets killed. That would be impossible to do, but it’s great to dream about.”
One department head once remarked to me that there weren’t any storyboards done for the Star Wars prequel trilogy. What he/she meant was that, in the traditional sense, animatics had replaced storyboards by the mid to late 1990s, at least at Lucasfilm, so there weren’t any Joe Johnston-style storyboards created for ILM. Instead CG animatics served as the basis for ILM’s photo-real digital shot production. For the original trilogy, postproduction boards had acted as a guide for the camera crews working with actual models, miniatures, mattes, and so on, listing the elements needed for each shot, which would all be combined on the Optical printer, with a few exceptions. Those sorts of boards were effectively gone by the time Episode I rolled around. But what our newly announced book Star Wars Storyboards—The Prequels makes clear is that a whole lot of storyboards were created for the prequels (it’s scheduled for a spring 2013 publication from Abrams).