Mthe man has no question about it. The person he is talking to, whom he is holding by the throat, has just informed him that his spaceship is on a diplomatic mission when the guy in black with the imposing helmet asks him a factually justified question: “If this is a consular ship, then where is it? the ambassador?”
The other cannot give an answer, which is not necessarily good for him at this moment. But the theme will be repeated throughout the film series. The helmeted man “acknowledges” the apology of a subordinate while using magical powers to kill his bailiff while he is lying on the ground, rattling.
For 46 years, Darth Vader from the “Star Wars” universe has been one of the reigning film villains of this world – and since “Star Wars” came to German cinemas on February 9, 1978, nine months after the start in the USA, nobody has had him forgotten who ever saw him.
The “Black Lord” is actually only number two in the empire that oppresses the entire galaxy: he serves the Emperor. But he didn’t really play a part in this flick, and that’s why the dark silhouette wearing a gas mask and cape that actor David Prowse wore is ingrained in pop culture far more deeply than his boss.
Anyone who was interested in film in West Germany in 1978 knew that something was coming for which moviegoers in America had stood in long queues. So the US was once again ahead of the Germans, even though the nation across the Atlantic was in a pretty pitiful state after the Watergate and Vietnam debacle.
This was also reflected on the silver screen: Never before have so many planes crashed there, never have so many ships drowned there, and never before has Hollywood painted end-time nuclear fantasies in such detail as in the 1970s. Until George Lucas’ “Star Wars” reinvented the science fiction genre and thus replaced Steven Spielberg’s “Jaws” as the most commercially successful film of all time.
The very manageable plot might have helped the director, but that doesn’t speak against the film. If you want to tell a fairy tale, you should beware of too much complexity. Lucas had nothing else in mind. So the story revolved around the axis of good and evil, mixed in a bit of spirituality in the form of supernatural powers that arose from some of the protagonists’ unexplained “the Force” and spiced it up with special effects up until the viewers’ pupils flickered and their ears rang.
Specifically, with the Death Star, the Empire had built a battle station that could wipe out entire planets with a single shot. An alliance of rebels opposed this. Uniforms and chains of command of the Imperials were fatally reminiscent of the appearance and behavior of German soldiers after 1939. Not only Vader’s helmet, but also the white stormtroopers made clear borrowings from the Wehrmacht, while the rebels were much less jagged.
Her heroes were once Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher), who disliked the Empire’s ways, and a young man named Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill), whom the old master Obi-Wan Kenobi (Alec Guinness) introduced to the secret powers that available to the Jedi Order.
But the secret protagonist was the space pirate Captain Han Solo, played by Harrison Ford. Not only did he pilot the “fastest scrap mill in the galaxy” with his spaceship, the “Racing Falcon” – he also had the coolest sayings, no matter which bounty hunters, underworld lords or even galactic super villains he had just messed with again. There were also two lovingly drawn robots, C3PO and R2-D2.
Now one might think that this plot and such characters did not require much effort. But nothing would be more wrong than that. Even those who only deal superficially with the history of the work suffer physical agony when they realize what George Lucas had to go through until he reached his goal, i.e. the film was in the cinemas.
The director had been working on the screenplay since 1973, the ten-page exposé was entitled “The Star Wars”, but initially neither the production companies United Artist nor Universal nor Disney wanted to film the material. The studio bosses had in mind a kind of experimental “2001 – A Space Odyssey” by Stanley Kubrick and considered science fiction to be outdated.
Lucas and his producer Gary Kurtz were finally able to convince 20th Century Fox to realize the project as a low-budget production. Luke Skywalker was still called “Starkiller” back then, and the strip wasn’t allowed to cost more than eight million dollars. Lucas was paid $150,000 for the screenplay but secured the rights for follow-up projects and merchandising – a very wise decision in retrospect.
With this contract, however, the problems really began. $8 million turned out to be too little, and it took weeks for the studio to relent to provide the additional $2 million needed. With the exception of Alec Guinness, Lucas relied on fairly unknown faces for the casting. Harrison Ford was initially only intended to serve as a dialogue partner for the auditioning actors and to explain the respective dialogue passages to them. But he delivered such an arrogant and brash performance that the director was soon convinced: he’ll be my Han Solo.
As filming got closer, the planet Tatooine was supposed to be in the Philippines first, then Lucas didn’t like the tropical climate, so they went to Tunisia to the desert. The ensemble started on March 22, 1976, and immediately a lot of difficulties arose. There were faulty props, equipment destroyed by desert sand – and then there was extremely rare heavy rain.
Lucas and his crew fell behind schedule, which didn’t lessen the director’s friction with cinematographer Gilbert Taylor over the film’s aesthetics. But Lucas didn’t want to step in front of his team and make announcements either, he was too sensitive for that. These are just a few details, the list could go on. In any case, you can probably forgive the fact that many of those involved did not believe in the success of the production.
In retrospect, that only makes the result all the more American – a man who never gives up is rewarded for his afflictions in the end. Because of course the result was of such grandiosity that only guys who have dedicated themselves to Uzbek problem cinema can complain about it.
Of course, Luke Skywalker destroyed the Death Star with his eyes closed, because the “force” that guided him was just stronger than the calculations of any onboard computer; of course, Han Solo helped him by maneuvering his “Furious Falcon” between Luke and Darth Vader’s spaceship, which already had the rebel firmly in his sights. Solo’s comment on the situation: “All right boy, let’s blow this thing up and fly home.”
It is interesting to observe the different reactions of the critics on both sides of the Atlantic. Although WELT found the strip “amusing” in a rather small note, the more left-leaning German intelligentsia newspapers collectively moaned about the allegedly too simple story and kitsch alarm. The “Zeit” soared to a “If the film should be a harbinger of the cinema of the future, one must be afraid for the future of the cinema”.
A newspaper like the “New York Times”, on the other hand, only had praise ready: “The most well thought-out and most beautiful film of all time”, commented the critic. Many colleagues in America saw things the same way. The German journalists couldn’t care less about Lucas, because the film broke all attendance records in Germany too. And also won six Oscars plus a special Oscar for best sound effects.
Purists are slightly melancholic about how much computer technology has meanwhile messed around with the original. Whole new scenes were added, and the hard-to-surpass trilogy “Star Wars”, “The Empire Strikes Back” and “Return of the Jedi” has long since become a cosmos of prequels, sequels and origin stories in which the film that started it all is now just “Episode 4 – A New Hope”.
It’s understandable from a commercial point of view, and there are some early Star Wars fans who are willing to think it’s all pretty good. Blessed are they. Just the force with which Star Wars hit planet Earth will not be able to bring it back. One is not a fossilized nostalgic if one allows oneself to say so.
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