Turbulent times in 1995: As Springfield was frenetically hunting the person who shot Mr. Burns, George Lucas was still wondering who should direct the next instalment in the Star Wars Saga…
Every mass-marketed product creates demand in other areas worth mining, especially with a franchise as mythically permeated as Star Wars, whose religious shadings form a most complex alliance with boldly designed technology. Countless questions as to the people, places, workings and underpinnings of the Saga would doubtlessly arise in the wake of the 1995 THX video release and Lucasfilm was well prepared to answer them all in most elaborate fashion.
DelRey’s The STAR WARS Technical Journey by Shane Johnson – featuring blueprints by the author, the indispensable Essential Guide to Characters by Andy Mangels and, naturally, The Essential Guide to Vehicles and Vessels, with illustrations from Episode I designer Doug Chiang, elucidated every known and unknown corner of George Lucas’ universe.
If people wanted to be all the Obi-Wan they could be, Decipher made their dreams come true with the STAR WARS Customizable Card Game, an out of this world experience for role-playing experts.
Sales were also driven by Prequel anticipation of course. Georg Lucas held an important press conference a few weeks before the THX video release to treat the press to further details of the new films. The Master Jedi himself declared that whereas before he had had little more than a ‘black and white palette’ to work with, he now could have ‘a lot more robots, […] varied vehicles’ and would therefore be in a position to ‘actually make the movie that [he] want[s] to make.’
While uncertain about his return as a director, George Lucas straightforwardly set the age of Obi-Wan at around thirty for Episode I, and Anakin’s at twenty for Episodes II and III. Beloved characters would definitely be back – including a new, fully ambulatory Yoda – and although digital technology had greatly advanced since Jurassic Park, Lucas would ‘still have a lot of human actors in the film[.] […] It’s still infinitely cheaper to use an actor than it is to create one, […] and it’ll probably always be that way.’ About the much-rumoured Sequel trilogy, Lucas remarked with a laugh: ‘That I can’t think about. […] I have to get through I, II, II.’ (Star Wars Insider #26, p17).
Rick McCallum, producer of the acclaimed Young Indy TV series complemented George Lucas’ already mouth watering conference in Star Wars Insider’s regular Prequel Update interview. There he said about the state of production that they were ‘designing vehicles and a few props and costumes, and mostly imaginary worlds’. Location scouting had not started then in summer of 1995, although McCallum’s plan was to ‘start shooting major second unit action sequences summer of next year, do some blue screen work in the fall, and then principal photography in 1997’, depending on when the scripts arrived: as Robert Zemeckis had done on the Back to the Future sequels to save money and time, Lucasfilm still planned to shoot all three Prequel episodes back-to-back.
One rather insightful detail in McCallum’s presentation was that Prequel principal production would not start until 1997, the year that many had believed to be reserved for Episode I. More crucially, this meant that the original idea of 1990 to have all episodes finished by 2000 was already then entirely off the map. To ensure that Memorial Day 1997 would still be a stellar one, George Lucas and his gang were hard at work on the much-vaunted Star Wars re-release, producing new footage that, according to McCallum, was ‘coming along fine’, although ‘integrating these shots into the negative seamlessly [had] been an enormous challenge.’ While Jabba would be back in the film ‘the way [Lucas] [had] wanted’, Biggs’ farewell from Luke on Tatooine would not be inserted: ‘That would be like a director’s cut – this is a special edition’, asserted Rick McCallum (Star Wars Insider #26, p8-9).
Very clearly, there was sizable reshuffling taking place at the Ranch as the various companies had to arrange themselves structurally and technologically for the new Star Wars trilogy. Although remarkably progressed from Jurassic Park, visual effects obviously had not yet attained the quality required for the prequels, or at the very least the pipelines did not exist to shoulder the staggering workload to be expected from George Lucas’ next epic. Several high-profile projects had to be turned down by ILM before, such as Ron Howard’s Apollo 13 (which went to James Cameron’s Digital Domain outfit instead), and ILM naturally could not survive on one major motion picture alone but needed to be available to the entire industry by all means. Rumours spread against this background that George Lucas was intending to sell LucasArts for 150 Million Dollars to raise the funds required to produce all three prequels on his own…
…let the rumour mills grind such grist, people with foresight did recognise the inherent wisdom on George Lucas’ part not to force Lucasfilm companies into the slightly overly optimistic outlook presented at the 1990 opening of Star Tours in Florida (see LIFM#5). Yet what about the fans brimming with eager excitement?
The new films disappointingly seemed once again unthinkably distant, so LucasArts rose to the occasion to mollify the frustration instantly: the sequel to the then best-selling CD-ROM game ever was in the works: Rebel Assault II, directed by established screenplay writer and life-long friend of George Lucas, Hal Barwood, the project marked the first time since 1984 that cameras rolled on a Star Wars-related project.
Hal Barwood had written films as Dragonslayer, that perennial Mark Hamill classic Corvette Summer and had contributed to Steven Spielberg’s Close Encounters of the Third Kind. He gained considerable respect in the gaming community due to the astounding Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis, an original SCUMM-adventure featuring a rich storyline in every imaginable way worthy of a full-fledged motion picture. Now Barwood turned his attention to the sequel to Rebel Assault.
Penned by Rebel Assault-designer Vince Lee and Michael Stemmle of Monkey Island-fame, Ru Murleen, the exciting flying ace, and Rookie One, players’ alter ego from Tatooine, returned to save the Rebellion from deadly new TIE Fighters equipped with mean cloaking devices. In Rebel Assault II: The Hidden Empire, Ru was no longer a mesh of multi-colored pixels, nor was Rookie One doomed to anonymity by Rebel Assault’s infamously stubborn backside view of the player’s character. The characters were indeed portrayed by actors Julie Eccles and Jamison Jones respectively. Most amazingly, the actual Darth Vader costume from the films was worn by towering ILM effects specialist C. Andrew Nelson, who holds the distinction of being the only person in this universe to have portrayed both Vader (Dark Forces, Rebel Assault II) as well as his son Luke (Super Empire Strikes Back and X-Wing: B-Wing).
Rebel Assault II also provided ample testing ground for compositing actors into fully computer generated environments, which ranged from Star Destroyers, sand planets and forest moons to the expansive, cloaked phantom TIE-Fighter shipyard. Since the game was rendered in then exclusive S-VGA resolution (an amazing 640×480 pixels and more), this LucasArts release arguably had the trappings of a new Star Wars film adventure. Enjoy this exciting movie-sized experience here.
Close observers may have been equally astounded as anyone else at that point that Lucasfilm’s marketing efforts had created an impenetrable range of Star Wars products by 1995. They were, however, poised to unleash their thundering baritone: “You are not a Star Wars franchise – yet.”
Nonetheless, always in motion, the future is….
TO BE CONTINUED…