The man who fought the em­pire and won

The Herald - Arts - - BOOKS -

in­de­pen­dence was Star Wars and Jones rightly de­votes a good deal of his book to the mak­ing of the film, cap­tur­ing a po­tent sense of the graft and craft that ul­ti­mately con­vinced an ex­hausted Lu­cas that he never wanted to di­rect a film again. There are enough de­tails on al­ter­na­tive cast­ing pos­si­bil­i­ties to sat­isfy the most ded­i­cated fan. How would di­rec­tor David Lynch have tack­led The Re­turn Of The Jedi? What kind of Han Solo would Al Pa­cino have made? Can we pic­ture Jodie Foster as Princess Leia rather than the late Car­rie Fisher? Jones weaves to­gether all the in­flu­ences great and small that com­bined to cre­ate the world of Star Wars from cliffhang­ing Flash Gor­don se­ri­als of the 1930s to beloved child­hood comic books, the writ­ing of Edgar Rice Bur­roughs and the films of Akira Kuro­sawa. He also makes an as­tute point that in many ways Star Wars has to be seen in the con­text of the 1970s, pro­vid­ing a joy­ous burst of swash­buck­ling es­capism to a na­tion bruised by Viet­nam and Water­gate. In 1976, Amer­i­can au­di­ences flocked to Taxi Driver and All The Pres­i­dent’s Men but when Star Wars was re­leased in 1977 it was an an­ti­dote to a na­tion’s gloomy in­tro­spec­tion.

Lu­cas likened the suc­cess of the first Star Wars tril­ogy to “push­ing a train slowly up a hill, then hold­ing on for dear life as it ca­reened down the other side.” The Star Wars suc­cess al­lowed Lu­cas to build an em­pire, fund­ing pi­o­neer­ing work in dig­i­tal edit­ing tech­nol­ogy, sound de­sign, spe­cial ef­fects and so much more. He oc­cu­pies the same sta­tus as an Edi­son or a Dis­ney.

Jones’ writ­ing is some­times only as in­ter­est­ing as the films them­selves. The later stages of the book be­come a du­ti­ful plod through lesser Lu­cas ven­tures from Howard The Duck to Ra­di­oland Mur­ders. Lengthy sec­tions on some of the tech­no­log­i­cal ad­vances that Lu­cas helped pioneer are de­cid­edly dry.

Jones also tends to treat Lu­cas’s pri­vate life with kid gloves. We have a sketchy sense of a shy, pri­vate man more com­mit­ted to his work than his per­sonal re­la­tion­ships. There is a fleet­ing sense of the pres­sures put on his first mar­riage to ed­i­tor Mar­cia Grif­fin. The fact that his five-year re­la­tion­ship with singer Linda Ron­stadt went vir­tu­ally un­der the radar speaks vol­umes about his need for pri­vacy.

Over the past 20 years or so, Lu­cas has talked wist­fully about a re­turn to di­rect­ing the kind of in­de­pen­dent, avant garde films that he made as a stu­dent. His con­stant dec­la­ra­tions make him sound like a Gatsby in search of his lost Daisy Buchanan. It also makes you won­der whether the suc­cess of Star Wars has been as much of a curse as a bless­ing. That ques­tion re­mains unan­swered by Brian Jay Jones but his book pro­vides plenty of in­sights into the work­ing life and mo­ti­va­tions of the man who made Star Wars and changed Hol­ly­wood moviemak­ing for­ever.

Ten­sions be­tween fa­ther and son are cen­tral to the saga of Star Wars

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