I've fallen in love with a miniatures game again. Great game, beautiful models. Check out this strangely exciting, and well done playthrough.
I've finally started publishing bits and pieces of my three-year long project on the influences and inspirations of Star Wars. You'll find it over at its brand new site, where over time I'll publish a stack of videos, posts and essays that until now have lived a sheltered life in the belly of a pretty massive Scrivener file.
What a week. Between being displaced from Manhattan by Frankenstorm Sandy, me having a flight out of JFK thursday, the seemingly non-stop tech industry news, with Forstall leaving Apple topping the roster and the 17th floor bucket brigade it's all a bit overwhelming.
And suddenly a new contender, out of left field, the announcement that Disney has bought LucasFilm for $4 billion dollars. Wow.
Shocking, though perhaps not surprising, if that makes any sense. On the one hand it's nearly impossible to imagine especially Star Wars without George Lucas at the helm, whatever you may think of the course he set. On the other, for what Star Wars is today, and considering the long-standing relationship between the two companies — Star Tours, break dancing Darth Vader, merchandizing cross over and of course Disney's extensive use of ILM on their feature films, like Pirates, The Avengers and John Carter — Disney is without a doubt the most fitting parent for a displaced Lucasfilm.
On second glance, it's a staggering deal. Remember, this isn't 'simply' Star Wars; it's all of Lucasfilm, including the Indiana Jones franchise, and films like Willow and of course Howard the Duck, as well as companies like Lucas Licensing, Lucas Books, ILM and Skywalker Sound and all of the rights associated with them.
I don't know whether that also includes films like American Graffiti and THX 1138 though I don't believe that's the case as they were produced by American Zoetrope. As for Lucas's student films, who knows? And what about the Skywalker Ranch facilities? After all Skywalker Sound lives in the facilities at Skywalker Ranch, whereas ILM and LucasArts reside in their (relatively new) facilities at the Presidio in San Francisco.
Also, consider that this means that Disney now owns not just their own extensive back catalog, but Pixar, The Muppets, Marvel and Lucasfilm, as well as the arguably most advanced production facilities in the world.
It's shocking, but perhaps not surprising, because aside from getting up in years, Lucas has also been lambasted by his so-called fans in recent years, and as he himself said in a recent New York Times interview: “Why would I make any more, when everybody yells at you all the time and says what a terrible person you are?”#. And mind you, this is from the guy who for years never acknowledged the more, shall we say, verbal part of his fan base. Between the critical reception of the new Star Wars and Indy movies and the economic reception of Red Tails, it was beginning to look like a perfect time to cut your losses and finally retire into making those long awaited small personal films.
Although heralded ahead of time, Lucas handing over the Lucasfilm reins to Kathleen Kennedy was in itself a historical shift — she is certainly a fantastic choice for the part, having a hell of a pedigree to her name — but, for him to disengage entirely is so shocking precisely because his entire life has revolved around that very same control of his franchises and companies. The reason all of the Lucas industries exist at all is precisely because Lucas got burned by lack of control on his early films and struck back by constructing his own filmmaking empire in northern California.
My initial reaction to the announcement that Disney was already planning the seventh installment for a 2015 release, was that they had been too rash. But despite earlier beliefs to the contrary, it now seems that "Fox owns distribution rights to the original Star Wars, No. 4 in the series, in perpetuity in all media worldwide. And as for the five subsequent movies, Fox has theatrical, nontheatrical and home video rights worldwide through May 2020."# Which would explain why Disney is eager to get started on their own roster of films as soon as possible.
Also, that article mentions that back when Disney first acquired the rights to use the Star Wars characters in their parks, Lucas sold the rights $1 million a year, in perpetuity. That's almost unbelievably cheap; but maybe he simply saw it as a way to keep up the steam to the Star Wars engine? After all, while the special editions were sold as Lucas finally fulfilling his vision, in reality the continued meddling with the movies probably has a lot more to do with keeping Star Wars alive as franchise. Remember, Lucasfilm Licensing is the company that makes the dough; the films themselves, while certainly profitable, are incidental to the real cash cow.
Either way, the rights for Star Wars as we know it must be a gordian knot of epic proportions. After all, is the theatrical edition the same as the special edition, or the blu-ray edition? And while Fox retains the distribution rights, what does that mean in terms of updated versions? Or indeed un-updated versions? The inevitable discussions around a properly restored theatrical release are already exploding across the internet, and while some take Fox's distribution rights to mean that they control the print, there's nothing that has indicated that to be the case so far. And keep in mind, that Fox has done right by most of the major franchise films otherwise in their catalog, the likes of the Alien franchise, releasing some of the best possible blu-ray sets on the planet. They were not the ones holding back a theatrical release.
Just on the topic of restoring the original films to their original glory, Disney has matured over the last decade as a feature film company with Pirates, John Carter and The Avengers, but it is still largely a kiddy-pool company. It seems content to serve up the stuff kids want, which in turn forces parents to dig up the wallet. Great strategy, obviously, but not one that is conducive to progress on the whole 30-40-year-olds getting their beloved theatrical release out in any kind of modern, restored format.
But in the long term, unless Lucas left behind stipulations about maintaining the movies in their current deplorable state, I think chances are good that we'll see some sort of arrangement over the next few years. Either near the end of the current format cycle, or as an opener for the new one.
Whatever the case, lawyers and decision makers at Disney and Fox are going to become well acquainted with one another over the next few years as they page through the yacht catalogs together.
Disney's a good home, exactly because the pantheon of 70s and 80s movies that Star Wars was surrounded by — the ones that Lucas and Spielberg in particular were making — were themselves heavily indebted to the spirit of the kinds of movies Disney built the mouse house on. The loss of course is that the main canon of the movies, were always 'personal' films, in the sense that they came from Lucas. That was the hallmark of many of those early blockbusters; that they were personal films, conceived and willed into life by sheer will by their creators. But that's a side of Star Wars, and I think of Lucas in general, which with every subsequent release became more and more at odds with the business side of LucasFilm.
It's a precarious situation, which I think receives too little in the way of understanding from the more cynical 'fans'. But consider just how big the LucasFilm empire is, and that the movies themselves are the fuel that keeps the engine going.
Also, just as an aside, it's fun to note how interconnected all of this is. Not only has Disney and Star Wars had a lot of crossover merchandising for years, but Pixar sprung from Lucas's first attempts at digital filmmaking, Marvel jumped into bed with Star Wars for the comic books as early as the late 70s and The Muppets have had several similar Star Wars crossovers (and of course a certain 3' green jedi master).
It's also worth keeping in mind that Disney's treatment of The Muppets seem to have been vindicated by the latest feature film, which was a big success, as was I think it was fair to say, their take on The Avengers. John Carter may have bombed, and while it isn't a great film per se, it wasn't for lack of commitment on Disney's part, which poured all the money in the world into it and gave Andrew Stanton largely free rein over its production and marketing!
Between the recognition of Star Wars having long since moved from being the magic trilogy of movies many of us grew up with, into a broader all-media entertainment brand, and the A for effort and pretty good execution Disney has shown over the past decade, I don't see any reason to not be optimistic about their future endeavors with it.
Will it be my Star Wars? Probably not, but then again, what would?
In a January, 1997 interview, that is, prior to the April/May releases.
CB: These films are classics. Why tinker with them now?
JW: Well, this is a very interesting question. If the Star Wars Trilogy is a kind of classic, why would we want to tamper with it? I'm not particularly in favor of coloring all the old early films in black and white and might come down on the side of saying, leave things alone. That's one side of the argument.
The other side of it is true for music also. For example, every time Brahms went to hear one of his symphonies played, he would go in the audience and listen to the symphony, and the next day he would go to the Bibliotheque in Vienna, get the original score out and make changes—he never could leave it alone. Some sage said that a work of art is never finished, it's only abandoned. That's really true of all of us; it's like one of our children. You never finish trying to groom it; the child could be 60 years old, and you're still saying, "Well you look better if you dress this way."
So I think George is well within the predictable and understandable and probably correct area of an artist's prerogative to continue to try to want to improve what he's done. He complained that he didn't have the animatics 20 years ago and he wants to do it now. So I think on the one hand don't tamper with it, and on the other an artist can, should and, I think, must be excused for wanting to continue to improve his or her work. That's the two answers.
The third answer could be for those traditionalists who want the original the way it is—it's there. They don't have to go; they can listen to the Brahms without his latest edition. So they can see the original version and they can also see the new, updated George Lucas wish-list for his work.
I think it's a wonderful question and the answer has to admit all of these possibilities for us to be fair.
So, there's that.
I was watching the Amazon Kindle event as I was eating my breakfast, and aside from it being a great event, one thing in particular jumped out at me as pretty sound business advice, especially in today's world, where starting businesses without knowing how to make money from them seems to be the order of the day (and the perfect way to spot whether you should trust a service):
When did Amazon last make a move that screwed you over as a customer in the name of profit?
No, I can't think of anything either, because their profit is making you a happy consumer! How novel.
And while I do think Jeff Bezos is overplaying the competitiveness of the Kindle Fire versus the iPad (by a lot), at least I trust the company because I understand our relationship.
Some part of me can't help but admire the purity of the clusterfuck that is Twitter's continued downward trajectory from startup wunderkind to some sort of bland, wannabe ad-driven media company.
It's incomplete, but I can't help but draw comparisons between Twitter's alienation of their original users and ecosystem to, because I am me, Star Wars.
Despite what George Lucas says, the continuing alterations to Star Wars have been driven by business reasoning, not some artistic auteur need to see the vision completed. And in both cases, the original fan base is the one getting run over, while the unwashed masses get to enjoy Jar Jar and Justin Bieber, respectively.
Never mind the irony and complete lack of insight it takes to essentially lock out third-party developers — the very people who practically invented modern-day Twitter (thinking anything else is delusional).
Now Twitter considers its website the canonical Twitter. John Gruber recently asked an Apple representative about why clicking a Twitter notification sent you to the website rather than to the client app, and learned that Twitter had specifically requested that be the (unalterable) behavior. And now it's effectively getting rid of its desktop client.
I understand that Twitter wants to control the stream with regards to showing ads, and I can even understand why they clamp down on their API to safeguard their social graph from hostile takeovers. I get it.
But aside from the development cost of keeping a desktop client alive, something which they haven't given two shits about for years anyway, why not keep the client? They control its stream as much as anywhere else. It's completely in their control. Arguably more so than the website which given a touch of CSS is out of their control.
It may take years, but if it really is Twitter's intent to kill the desktop client, it will definitively mark the end of my use of the service. The API changes hurt me on principle, but killing the desktop clients actually hurts my practical use of Twitter as a service. Most days I'll have the client open on my secondary monitor and occasionally glance at the stream to see what's going on out in the world as I work. Contrast with Facebook, which I open maybe twice a day unless I specifically receive a notification.
Which do you think I interact with more often?
And despite their best engineering efforts, having to wait for the browser to load up Twitter.com will forever be considerably slower than the instant action of switching to the client. Never mind that I don't give a flying intercourse about 'Who to Follow' and 'Trending Topics' nonsense that is continually shoved down my throat. #foiegrasjokehere
I get the attempt to control the stream in an effort to monetize it. I get the need to control the third-party space from the risk of a 'trojan horse'-like hostile takeover.
I don't get how the desktop client can't be a part of that. I don't get how this will help the Justin Bieberification of Twitter. But most paradoxically, I don't understand why Twitter has started sending out "What's going on with your Twitter" emails when the whole fucking service is supposed to be about that!
In closing, Twitter, you have gone insane, and you should seek professional help.
PS: How are mentions and DMs read/unread status still not synced? How are billions of tweets every day without the capacity to to flip a fucking a bit? Man up.
There's a film, it's called 5-25-77 and it's by this guy, Patrick Read Johnson. And it's been gathering dust for years because studios don't believe in it. But I do, and I've wanted to see it since the moment I saw the magnificient trailer, which to this day brings a little tear of nostalgia to my eye. I've talked about it many times, and I even wrote Patrick several times, because that's how obnoxious I am about this film.
You know who helped produce this film? Gary Kurtz. That's right. Gary 'I made Star Wars awesome' Kurtz. If he believes in this film, so can you.
I don't ask you for much, except to get off my lawn. But, just this once, please, get out your wallet, and donate. Make this happen.
8 minutes of previously unseen 8mm behind the scenes footage from Return of the Jedi from Jeff Broz. Blows my mind mostly because there keeps being more stuff out there!
This is one of my favorite McQuarrie paintings, one I recently bought a glorious print of from Dreams and Vision Press. Not the Cloud City since introduced in Empire, it's depicting the floating Imperial Prison on Alderaan from one of the earlier drafts of Star Wars, modelled on the side of an aircraft carrier, with a few exotic buildings topping it off. Worth noticing of course are the five Colin Cantwell prototype tie fighters, and the then Millenium Falcon (known as the Pirate Ship in the scripts) getting ready to dock.
May the fourth be with you.
It frustrates me to no end that whenever I go hunting for Star Wars storyboards on Google Images (I do this more often than you'd think), I usually end up with links to a Flickr set which has long since been taken down. My own Flickr set that is. Long story short, Lucasfilm asked Flickr to take it down, they did so promptly, without asking, or indeed saving any of the images on there (including some images that Lucasfilm had no rights over, though that didn't stop Flickr), and I largely stopped using Flickr that very day.
All bitterness about Flickr aside, I love the old storyboards, and it looks like Lucasfilm is getting ready to put something along the lines of The Complete Star Wars Storyboards into production, which with the quality level of their recent making-of books, would be a fantastic addition to any collection
Listen, you know, and I know, that I don't want to be that guy. But when you have to be that guy, be that guy. Own it
At the time, not knowing what the future would hold in terms of widespread adoption of multi-channel sound not only in movie theatres but in homes as well, some members of the production felt the mono mix represented the definitive soundtrack of the movie (not in terms of a sonic experience but, rather, in terms of audio content), and felt that the stereo version was a novelty that select audiences would be treated to only during a brief theatrical run. "George put a lot of effort in that mono mix," Burtt remembers, "and he even said several times, 'Well, this is the real mix. This is the definitive mix of the film.' He paid more attention to it because he felt it was more important archivally."
John Berkey invented the Death Star, but he never saw Star Wars, and he didn't really like science fiction. This is his 1977 cover for the novelization. He died in 2008. <3
Well into my twenties, there was nothing I wanted more than to somehow work on the kinds of movies I had grown up with, and which I love to this day. And aside from perhaps Apple (which may finally be outgrowing it's underdog appeal somewhat) which other companies have had the same kind of mythic quality as Lucasfilm and its subsidiaries? Pixar for sure, but then that came out of Lucasfilm, and who knows if Jobs would have been able to return to Apple if he hadn't taken Pixar on to great success after he bought it from Lucas?
Lucas is most known as a myth-maker in terms of his role as a creator of Star Wars and Indiana Jones, but it's remarkable how well he managed to position not just his films, or himself, but also his companies in a way that made them seem like places Willy Wonka himself would be envious of. I love the franchises and the 'fantastic cinema' Lucas and his peers brought to the forefront back in the 70s and 80s, but I have an equal love for those companies and the work they did back then. Work which often outshined the films in which it was featured by a mile.
All of this is a long way of saying that the single best book out there on this subject (no, seriously), Michael Rubin's Droidmaker, is finally out for Kindle (and coming for ePub), and if you haven't already picked it up, you should run on over and pick it up now, cancel your evening's appointments, and find your favorite reading spot for a history of the digital age in entertainment.
I hate myself. I try not to hate Lucas, but I sure do hate myself for once again being drawn into his egomaniacal web of not-quite-truths and self-congratulatory crap.
So Lucas exclaimed in an interview a couple of days ago that really, the fan-brouhaha over the ‘Han shot first’ change to the special edition back in 1997 was in fact one big misunderstanding, and that in actual fact…
The controversy over who shot first, Greedo or Han Solo, in Episode IV, what I did was try to clean up the confusion, but obviously it upset people because they wanted Solo [who seemed to be the one who shot first in the original] to be a cold-blooded killer, but he actually isn’t. It had been done in all close-ups and it was confusing about who did what to whom. I put a little wider shot in there that made it clear that Greedo is the one who shot first, but everyone wanted to think that Han shot first, because they wanted to think that he actually just gunned him down.
Which sounds surprising, and for a moment made me question just what I’d been seeing all those times I’ve watched the original Star Wars over the years. Was I that blind? Did Greedo actually shoot first?
No, of course not. Lucas has an unbridled penchant, not for lying, but for not telling the full story (see elsewhere), so just to thwart this notion in its cradle, here’s how that scene looks today on the recently released blu-ray, with both of them shooting at the same time:
Notice how ILM had to not just make Han move his head, but also added smoke to Greedo’s gun. If the original intention was for him to also shoot, you’d think that it would have been done practically on-set; you know… like Han’s gun smoke.
Here’s the original, in which Han is the only one to shoot, and afterwards the special edition, in which Greedo shoots first:
So even if he did have an original intention for Greedo to shoot first, why was it changed twice? Appeasement of the fans perhaps? I’ll call that one a misfire.
So maybe the original was simply cut wrong, leaving what seems like it would be a pretty important shot on the cutting room floor?
Wait, let’s have a look at the workprint, famous for having been rejected because of its slow and meandering editing. Surely if this was simply a kerfluffle over a missing wide shot, it should be in here? Skip to 6m30s.
Alright, alright, I know what to do. Let’s go to the fourth draft screenplay–the shooting draft–that surely will reveal the original intention:
Han: Over my dead body.
Greedo: That’s the idea. I’ve been looking forward to killing you for a long time.
Han: Yes, I’ll bet you have.
Suddenly the slimy alien disappears in a blinding flash of light. Han pulls his smoking gun from beneath the table as the other patrons look on in bemused amazement. Han gets up and starts out of the cantina, flipping the bartender some coins as he leaves.
How about that.
Lucas doesn’t seem to give enough credit to movie goers, believing that they think of Han as a cold-blodded killer, when in reality they clearly understand that this is a now-or-never moment, and that Han is in the line of business where if you have to shoot, shoot! Don’t talk.
In either case, there’s no denying that the Han of the original Star Wars doesn’t quite gel with the character portrayed by Harrison Ford in Return of the Jedi, and perhaps that’s really what Lucas has a problem with; not to get too cynical here, but there’s no denying that Lucas turned Lucasfilm into a merchandising company, and that the difference between the two versions of the same character is remarkable. One is a scoundral, the other is not.
Either way, can we just have the goddamn theatrical release back already?
Were you around [‘Jedi’ director] Richard Marquand?
I met Marquand, but I was one of 9000 people getting the movie made. I did the Chicken Walkers [a.k.a. AT-ST Scout Walkers] — I was working on the Chicken Walkers. They had a lot of shots that were panning and tilting in the Redwood Forest in Crescent City and my job was to figure out a way to match move that stuff, which hadn’t been shot in motion control at all. So I was doing a lot of sitting in the dark and taking a mirror and taking registered interpositives and projecting them out of this vision cameras using … fuck, it was like a — I think we used little tiny leekos. It was crazy. I mean, when you think of ILM, you always think of this thing where it’s like NASA, or something: this is so thrown together and so half-ass. And I would projectile the camera on to these big cards — these big circular cards — and I would put a line on a tree. I would sit there with Jerry Jeffress’ early, early, early field motion control unit and program match move. I’d match move the plates for the pan and tilt, then I’d bring in the blue screen, bring in the go-motion unit, match the lighting, and put the Chicken Walkers into the shot.
That was my job, I was 18 or 19 years old.
Not a bad gig at that age.
No. I was a pig in shit, man. That was as much fun as I could imagine standing up. #
Fincher knows how to throw a great interview, no matter how you cut it, being both wonderfully honest, and dedicated to his films.
[During the production of The Empire Strikes Back] The art department experienced an awful setback, when Stage 3 at Elstreet Studios burned to the ground. “Stanley Kubrick had built a hotel for The Shining, and they kept on covering it with salt, which was melting, so the studio was a real mess,” says [Empire Strikes Back Production Designer, Norman] Reynolds. “And it was cold and it was just dreary, really dreary. And then the hotel set caught fire and the stage burned to the ground. It was a tough time, actually.”
“The still photographer on The Shining, Murray Close, took a wonderful picture of Stanley standing in front of the smoldering remains, and he had a wonderful smile on his face.” says Boone. “I saw a print of that, but Murray was forbidden to have that picture published.”
Norman Reynolds recalls that [legendary production designer, John] Barry was dumbfounded one day while working with Stanley Kubrick on A Clockwork Orange. They were on an apartment set and, although the fridge would remain closed throughout the scene, Kubrick insisted that Barry fill it with food props that the character would’ve stocked. “They had a bit of a falling out as a result of that,” Reynolds says. [p101]
Stanley Kubrick attended the funeral of the John Barry, the the production designer on Star Wars, who had died suddenly:
“That really was a really big shock to see Stanley [Kubrick],” says Tomkins. “The only time Stanley came out of his shell. I mean, you never would get Stanley going to anybody’s memorial service, but he did come to John’s. So I was quite impressed by that, that he must have like the guy very much.” [p95]