Life was like a box of choclates for the people of 1994, you never knew what you were going to get. Except George.
Star Wars had ceased to be a rumour whispered in the dark by 1993. Its name once again became synonymous with great commercial success and technological progress courtesy of Rebel Assault and the resultant mass-introduction of the CD-ROM drive, as well as motion picture magic due to ILM’s groundbreaking work on Jurassic Park under the direction of George Lucas himself.
Star Wars comfortably returned to the media’s hot chair and therefore to the people’s pop culture awareness.
As previously discussed, Lucasfilm relied on a symbiotic relationship between media event and product promotion. Foregoing the obvious full-scale marketing approach, the company first let the event itself generate consumer interest. Then a product would be released that satisfied not only brewing demand, but rewarded it by subtly expanding the previously known Star Wars universe. Whether it was Timothy Zahn’s Thrawn Trilogy exciting continuation of the OT or X-Wing’s elaborate mission structure that filled blank spaces on the narrative map inside the OT, Lucasfilm smartly avoided mind-numbing re-iterations of the original story line.
After George Lucas’ official announcement of the imminent pre-production on a new trilogy, Lucasfilm employed their tried-and-tested formula to fester story elements of the Prequel trilogy. However small and seemingly unimportant, it was understood that for a set of multi-million dollar films featuring characters nobody had ever heard of, (presumably) featuring actors nobody had ever seen, a veritable “educational” effort had to be started, better known as “viral marketing” today.
Once the OT had been successfully lifted from the dungeons of motion picture history, it was necessary to begin tickling the senses with sly prequel references, so that, by the time new films would appear, there would indeed be something familiar about them.
1994 saw the release of the sequel to X-Wing: Tie-Fighter reversed roles and put computer game players in the roles of Imperial pilots serving Emperor Palpatine. Set between TESB and ROTJ, it revealed a plot within the ranks of the Imperial navy to overthrow the Emperor. So whereas before the public had only seen a galaxy from the distance of rebellious uprising, it now had access, for the first time, to the seat of the galactic government and therefore was treated to the first glimpse of Coruscant.
Coruscant graced the screen only moments into the game, its design based on Dough Chiang’s early prequel development sketches. Relive your induction into the Imperial Navy here:
As the Imperial City announced itself ominously on MS-DOS platforms around the world, ILM had already received their next Academy Award for Steven Spielberg’s dino-pic. Yet those gentle folks in San Rafael were far from idle.
Stefan Fangmeier, who would later recreate the landing on Omaha Beach with claustrophobic realism, turned out great work for the Amblin Entertainment production The Flintstones.
Eric Brevig, whose air combat scenes in Michael Bay’s Pearl Harbour would eventually win him the role of (digital) architect of the mythical Clone Wars, contributed to the Michael Douglas / Demi Moore starrer Disclosure, which featured a rather neat iteration of a fictional virtual reality database.
OT alumnus Ken Ralston arranged an audience with President John F. Kennedy for Forrest, Forrest Gump, while Maverick effects wizard John Knoll nonchalantly crashed the NCC-1701 D real good in Jean-Luc Picard’s big screen debut.
As these fantastic visuals engulfed audiences worldwide, ILM were given interesting ingredients for their ever-bubbling cauldron, one involving a vivacious ghost, the other lizards and crime lords scrimmaging happily under twin suns on a rock far away from the brightest center in the universe.
Both projects would be absolutely essential to the future of Star Wars, with the former being so taxing on ILM’s resources, they had to turn down Ron Howard’s next tentpole.
Convinced of the vast potential – and handy economy – of CGI, George Lucas finally put pen to paper on November 1st, 1994: “The Beginning”…