For better or worse, Star Wars: A New Hope hit theaters in 1977, bringing millions in at the box office and changing the face of movie showbiz forever. From that point forward, it was no longer good enough to just have a good story. If you wanted to make a movie, you needed a killer idea and it had to be marketable.
In a way, showbiz has been trying to mimic the success of Star Wars since it came out and hasn’t managed to do as well yet. The idea of how can we take a high concept idea and turn it into a series reigns supreme thanks to it. And the man behind it all: George Lucas.
A New Hope was obviously a very decisive moment in Lucas’ life. It was also the most stressful. For one thing, the studios almost fired him off his own project. They understood nothing of what it would take to make a film like A New Hope great, and demanded its production be rushed through like any other sci-fi B movie. Lucas also had to fire the original editor and took on the task upon himself while directing.
He was completely out of time and money. He just had to bite the bullets knowing that shots where stormtroopers banged their heads into doors were going to make it into his final picture. When asked about the production, stars Mark Hamill and Carrie Fisher both commented on how stressed out George looked; by the end of the production they were just trying to make him smile.
Lucas finished A New Hope and checked himself into a hospital. He had almost suffered a heart attack at the age of 32. The rest is history. Lucas refused a slice of the pie on the backend profits for A New Hope, exchanging them instead with the studios for exclusive rights on merchandise and franchise image. The studio execs quickly agreed and in subsequent years were all fired. This was the most important decision Lucas ever made in his life. It is why he became a billionaire.
Already sick of the hell the studios put him through on his earlier films THX1138 and American Graffiti, Lucas took his exclusive rights on Star Wars along with his newfound riches and left mainstream Hollywood forever. From this point on, he would be fiercely independent and have the final say on everything that he did.
Did Lucas sell soul out somewhere along the way? Good question. To answer it one must take a deeper look at what became of the merchandise he traded box office profits for to tell the rest of the story…
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