The man who fought the empire and won
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