Marginalia from the Making of Star Wars: All You Have To Do Is Just Do It

Funny what you pick up from a car boot sale. Last week, I found myself pay­ing pea­nuts for a photo-bio­graphy of Ernest Hemingway and a copy of The Making of Star Wars: The Definitive Story Behind the Original Film. The man selling the Star Wars book was head­ing for a new life in South-East Asia. While I fumbled for a pound–all he was asking–we chat­ted about the book. He didn’t remem­ber much more than George Lucas hav­ing a hard time. In the end, I didn’t have the pound, only a twenty-pound note, and the man gave me the book for free.

Making of Star Wars cover

I’m a suck­er for Star Wars. I was born one year before the film was released, and I was nev­er into the toys over­much, but I did have the com­ics, and loved watch­ing it on tele­vi­sion. I always thought the first film was pretty good, the second bril­liant, and the third com­pet­ent. The pro­gres­sion of visu­al effects is par­tic­u­larly marked. Where Star Wars cut corners, edited around prob­lems, and suffered from shots that were obvi­ously mod­el-based, The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi show the great­er focus of a film­maker relieved from the bur­den of sim­ul­tan­eously estab­lish­ing his world and cre­at­ing a story.

George Lucas didn’t dir­ect a film for twenty years after Star Wars. Reading this book, it’s easy to see why.

The author, J. W. Rinzler, is an excep­tion­al writer with an eye for detail 1. He works in unapo­lo­get­ic­ally chro­no­lo­gic­al order through Lucas’s early exper­i­ences with THX 1138, American Grafitti, and the years of devel­op­ment (par­tic­u­larly of script, but also tech­no­logy) that pre­ceded Star Wars. He is aided by the dis­cov­ery of extens­ive inter­views con­duc­ted with major crew mem­bers and cast sev­er­al months before the release of the pic­ture, and thus long before any­one had an idea that it would become a cul­tur­al phe­nomen­on. In sum, it’s a thor­ough treat­ment and an intel­li­gent, meas­ured story. Rinzler is an admirer of Lucas but he is not afraid to cri­ti­cise.

My focus, though, is on insight into the cre­at­ive pro­cess. What obser­va­tions can be made from this dif­fi­cult but suc­cess­ful film-mak­ing exper­i­ence?

Observation One: All You Have To Do Is Just Do It

Here is a quote from Lucas (p. 340), which comes from an inter­view con­duc­ted for the book by Rinzler:

I made sev­en movies in film school while every­body else was com­plain­ing that they couldn’t make movies because they didn’t have cam­er­as, that they didn’t have film. Well, those people are still stuck. They didn’t real­ise that all you have to do is just do it.

I like this quote a great deal. Partly, I sup­pose, because it jives with my own exper­i­ence of writ­ing, and because it is related to the pos­it­ive, for­ward-march­ing aspect of devel­op­ing any skill. It’s related to the notion real artists ship.

You could view this as simple advice to avoid pro­cras­tin­a­tion, but there is more to it than that. Some beha­viours exhib­ited by cre­at­ive indi­vidu­als have the appear­ance of pro­cras­tin­a­tion but actu­ally dis­guise the effort of solv­ing a com­plic­ated one. A story is, after all, a mul­ti­fa­ceted and ill-defined prob­lem, and requires much more time invest­ment to solve than a well-defined prob­lem. The point is that you get bet­ter at writ­ing a novel–or com­pos­ing a sym­phony, or build­ing a house–by doing it. Time spent writ­ing point­less sen­tences, buy­ing manu­script paper, or learn­ing to lay bricks is not time well spent unless you are par­tic­u­larly poor at those sub-skills. The great­er, more inter­est­ing and dis­crim­in­at­ive prob­lems exist at a high­er level. You might write bet­ter sen­tences than Stephen King, but he is bet­ter where it counts: at solv­ing high-level writ­ing prob­lems.

Observation Two: Everything Comes Into It

Right after the above quote, Lucas is quoted (p. 341) as say­ing:

Making a movie is very much like con­struct­ing a house. …No mat­ter how you plan it, there are adjust­ments that have to made along the way, because nobody can envi­sion the fin­ished struc­ture. But that’s essen­tially what film­mak­ing tries to do, and of course life gets involved in it when you are shoot­ing. Personalities, weath­er, nature–everything comes into it and adjusts it. As you bring it to life, and the film becomes a real thing, you see it in a dif­fer­ent way.

Again, this advice seems bet­ter suited to film­mak­ing. But it applies equally well to writ­ing. For instance: (i) you can­not write a nov­el without work on it for months or years, dur­ing which the work, your skills, and you will change; (ii) you are lim­ited by your exper­i­ence, research and intel­lec­tu­al grasp; (iii) inter­rup­tions and oth­er life events will shape or scup­per the work, and you need to anti­cip­ate this.

Observation Three: Nobody Works Alone

I’ve put in this last point to remind myself that any cre­at­ive endeav­our is col­lab­or­at­ive. That’s point one. The second point is that col­lab­or­a­tion changes a work for the bet­ter and for the worse. As the per­son in charge of the work, it’s up to you to pick the right people for your team. You need to man­age them and help them help you. That goes for your beta read­ers, your edit­or, your pub­lish­er, pub­lic relations—whoever.

That’s about it for my mar­ginalia. They are mainly for me, but you might find them use­ful. You could do worse than read The Making of Star Wars. It’s intense, high-stakes read, even though we know that it was end hap­pily ever after for the stressed-out George Lucas 2.

  1. You could argue that some of these details, like those presen­ted in the budgets and filim­ing sched­ule drafts, verge on the geeky. ↩

  2. Ignoring Howard the Duck, of course. ↩

Author: Ian Hocking

Writer and psychologist.

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