Fleetwood Mac seemed uncannily absent from the charts when George Lucas painted early 1997 in the glowing hues of the sweet summer of 1977: You must learn the ways of the Force if you are to come with me to the multiplex…
Even a sprightly winter breeze was powerless to keep distant memories forever chained to the inhospitable draught of times past: History would diligently record the incessant ringing at North American box office counters as A New Hope grossed $138,257,865, its sequel achieved a muscular $67,597,694 and the Force-wielders slashed an inspired $45,470,437 from a crumbling Sith Empire. The total for the entire trilogy in North America alone was an unbelievable $251,325,996. While impressive…most impressive, the stellar success of the Star Wars Trilogy Special Edition warrants scrutiny not because of what it troubled the record books with. The unprecedented box office victory – made complete by the films’ astounding resilience in competition with brand-new releases – signalled that ‘after 14 years without a new Star Wars movie, the pent up audience demand was not to be denied’ (Variety, March 1997).
Said consumer interest in the Star Wars brand was the envy of the industry and deservedly so: Consumer potential needs to be nurtured with great care, for the crucial sense of (re-)discovery must not fall prey to greedy manipulation, which ultimately lurks in every commercial interaction. Since TESB’s 10th anniversary celebration in 1990, when Lucasfilm cleverly married the sequel’s tagline ‘The Star Wars Saga Continues…” with George Lucas’s announcement of the tentative Prequel saga at the Star Tours Florida inaugural ceremonies, there had been a steady supply of official indications and hints pertaining to the Prequels. Awareness – that life-giving substance of any brand – was growing immensely, but audience interest needed to evolve naturally.
So it was in 1995, after years of vague allusions bouncing off basically technical discussions on how Young Indiana Jones and Radioland Murders could boast lavish effects on a shoestring budget – a prerequisite for the Prequel endeavour – Lucasfilm strikingly went on the offensive: having proven himself a reliable proponent of cinematic innovation, George Lucas turned squarely towards his intrepid space heroes. What began as an emphatic celebration of the films’ classic status would be gradually juxtaposed with hypothetical assumptions of what digital technology would add to the series’ narrative scope (“I can have Yoda walk”). Talk of “new elements” being added to the ageing films germinated on the masterfully planted notion of conclusion to OT domination (“For the last time”), thus serving as both a teaser for the re-release and an inspiration. By 1997, the Special Edition ultimately acted as perfect leverage at a crucial stage of Star Wars resuscitation.
‘The studios […] focus on what they do best – tyrannizing young audiences into seeing their sequels and tentpoles’, notes Peter Bart (Variety, ‘Can Hollywood have its pix both ways?’, March 8 – 14, 2010, p2), painting a scene in perfect alignment with 1997’s front loaded teaser barrage of dinosaurs, men in black suits, ER veterans exchanging their stethoscope for a bat cape and cruise vessels speeding in search of sequel millions. Such a typically heavy-handed approach would seem the most natural choice for franchise resuscitation.
On the other hand, as indicated by Bart’s spot-on definition, gung-ho publicity aims for a sensational start out of the gate to weather the inevitably quick burn-out as other would-be blockbusters press on. The success of marketing brutality rests entirely on a delicate balance between pre-release buzz and the eventual release date, with the former ever so close to approaching nauseating proportions. For when an intellectual property overstays people’s welcome, any rights holder potentially faces sudden death. The circumstances of the Star Wars property’s resurgence even doubly threatened the long-gestating Prequel plans.
The OT had been re-released on video in a much ballyhooed campaign less than two years earlier, and the new films were not scheduled to come out for another two years. And thirdly, the Achilles’ heel of franchises: recognition value. The promised Prequel Trilogy (PT) naturally found itself ominously encroached by this very crippling dilemma of requiring props, vehicles, locations, and actors never before seen in a [i]Star Wars[/i] film. With treasures so precious, Lucasfilm let contemporary box office bonanzas freely go at each other’s throats while carving out a superb niche for itself.
Lucasfilm’s first decision en route to an insatiable Prequel audience was not to impress upon the public a pre-configured image of the Saga tailored to the Nineties by a maverick middle management far removed from the genuine article. The Special Edition advance sheet humbly reminded prospective audiences of the natural qualities of cinemas as abodes perfect for storytelling. Three reasons why they build theatres slyly referenced the very origin of tales, the caves where people would gather and share a day’s worth of experiences and record them as wall paintings (compare the elaborate Amazing Stories titles).
Inference gently worked its way into the public consciousness. People projected their personal memories of their Star Wars years onto the Special Edition endeavour. Those enthused by sweet memories invariably turned their families and friends into Force initiates.
The Star Wars re-release had much more in common with a cordial invitation. For the production company’s second move engineered a global celebration on the basis of the beloved films’ reputation. The OT had been fine-tuned by the campaign from broad entertainment into a cornerstone of a living, open-minded franchise not restricted to an elite but very much welcoming new faces to the world chronicled by the Whills. The public at large should readily and comfortably develop a relationship with the updated versions of these classic films. Their narrative canvas would speak for itself: the legendary artist of some of the most beautiful poster artwork to ever embellish theatre lobbies and creator of the Star Wars 10th anniversary poster, the now retired Drew Struzan was commissioned to produce three type “A” sheets for the Special Edition launch.
Struzan essayed an approach as subtle as it was revolutionary: neither was Harrison Ford’s exceptional popularity particularly exploited (Ford was about to launch The Devil’s Own opposite rising star Brad Pitt in March and then set to wow audiences as a two-fisted American president in Wolfgang Petersen’s Air Force One in July), nor were key events of each episode especially focused upon. George Lucas wanted the public to reacquaint themselves with the overall story arc blossoming around the characters inside the universe he had created.
It is therefore that Leia sports her Hoth apparel on the ANH-poster, where Luke’s face was adapted from a deleted scene (the treadmill robot repair), while rogue Han Solo charms with a winning, boyish smile. A hooded Obi-Wan and a flight of graceful X-Wings against the tantalisingly beautiful twin suns of Tatooine complete a painting suggesting heroics, daring and hope.
The TESB poster is contrastively cast in deep blues, with cold, merciless Imperial hardware flanking the towering mask of Darth Vader’s true identity. Emperor Palpatine lurks menacingly off-center in the cavity of the helmet’s dome, delighted over this spectacle of wanton destruction and evil. Both Vader and Palpatine were taken from ROTJ, which is particularly striking in the case of the heinous despot, who had heretofore never appeared on an OT poster and, most crucially, is depicted as portrayed by actor Ian McDiarmid, who gave the mysterious figure a decidedly devilish spin in Episode VI and but would not appear in TESB himself until late 2004.
For the final OT episode, Drew Struzan surrounded the climactic duel for the fate of the galaxy and Anakin Skywalker’s soul (in fact a silhouetted Bespin duel) with mentor Yoda, the reliable sidekicks Lando and Chewie, the galaxy’s inseparable automaton duo, C3-PO and R2D2, the dastardly Jabba and the epitome of cool, bounty hunter Boba Fett, master of efficiency as terminal as it was lucrative. Cuddly Ewok Wicket added the final touch to the eclectic assortment of OT characters.
Each poster is a significant addition to any collection in its own right. Yet their true quality was to serve jointly as a map to the PT: when the three posters are placed side by side, they seamlessly connect to create a uniform tableau appraising the various character types and story tropes of the classic tale of Good versus Evil. Whereas the heroes were placed on the left and right side of the rich canvas, the hideously shrivelled Emperor Palpatine received subtle but markedly unsettling emphasis at the very heart of the Skywalker family history, the greatest evil most fittingly embodied by a human. If there was ever doubt as to the existence of a universally understood language, the Star Wars Trilogy Special Edition tableau had mastered it. Audiences took note and, as Qui-Gon would observe a couple of years later: ‘Nothing happens by accident…’
There still remained the real-life time gap between the classic films and the announced PT. As the latter was expected to make full use of digital technology, there was some concern that the vintage episodes might be left in the dust of some computer generated particles. The visuals of the new films might thus have stood out as jarring, owing to computer generated imagery unavailable at the time, as well as the new worlds setting the stage for the Old Republic. Lucasfilm had of course never made a mystery out of the fact that Star Wars Trilogy Special Edition would not only involve the restoration of badly deteriorating negatives but also brandish new and enhanced visual effects. This was arguably as much a selling point as a perfect opportunity to introduce styles and elements that would eventually be seen in the new films. So at the same time that people were looking in amazement at refurbished classic shots, the relaunch conveniently afforded curious cats complementary hints off of which one could supposedly gauge the degree to which the Lucasian galaxy would look different, a point that should be investigated in greater detail.
It was only three years earlier that Lucasfilm’s weavers of digital worlds were forced to turn down Ron Howard’s Apollo 13 because of Caspar’s then gargantuan strain on all available resources. By comparison, ILM seemed supremely at ease by 1997, creating Tatooine’s fully animated beasts of burden, a beaked and more ravenous Sarlacc, super-dynamic dog fights above the Death Star and of course impressive digital cityscapes, in particular a rather shy glimpse of Corsucant. There was also Jabba’s finally fully ambulant and lip-synched singer Sy Snootles. Thus drawing life from heaps of foam rubber and populating previously static matte paintings, what was once in some or other way boxed in suddenly sprang to life in the Special Edition. The entire Saga was finally primed to become the completely animated feast of the senses that George Lucas had been so desperately clawing for since principal photography of ANH in 1976. The days of go-motion propelled creatures and spaceship-on-a-stick ballets were all but over.
Sentiments aside, the Special Edition firmly set in stone that Star Wars would from now on be a current and timeless sensation, in every way capable of keeping up with contemporary blockbusters. To grasp how beautifully intertwined all the seemingly disconnected elements are, it is worth noting here that Lucasfilm would ten years later underline the timelessness of the Saga by attaching a ‘Star Wars is forever’-tag line to the 30th anniversary celebrations in 2007.
Back in 1997, the year’s forthcoming blockbusters acted as a complementary kaleidoscope of digital potential, from Steven Spielberg’s wonderfully lifelike dinosaurs in Lost World to Barry Sonnenfeld’s rich assortment of exotic extraterrestrial beings in Men in Black. The latter was a particularly relevant display of computer generated characters for they acted specifically alongside live action actors in conversations and mano-a-mano combat. Strikingly capable of broad moves as well as subtle motions, these synthetic characters were in splendid form, with limitless possibilities within reach. A similar creation actually featured in one of the Special Editions already.
As mentioned above, Jabba’s band was originally brought to life by expert puppeteering using strings and hand-puppet techniques. As a consequence, it was disadvantageous to expose these puppets in more than only a handful of shots for fear of ruining the much-needed suspense-of-disbelief. Compromise was essential but equally welcome since the result would smartly augment the main drama, enriching the narrative canvas like that single brush stroke added as an afterthought. Yet now digital technology did not only make Snootles dance freely, but also afforded her an additional band member never intended to appear in that particular scene in the first place. The public was hit entirely unawares, since nowhere had a male vocal performer ever been mentioned, neither in drafts nor storyboards. This conspicuous augmentation of a classic [i]Star Wars[/i] moment, the lead-in to dancer Oola’s grim execution, signalled an unheard-of ambiguity among Lucas fandom regarding the viability of the bearded one’s creative judgement that had so far enjoyed a flawless reputation during the build-up to the PT. It is a historic event that would continue to haunt Star Wars to present day.
Joh Yowza is the name of Jabba’s new male vocal lead, who belongs to the Yuzzum species. It had evolved out of early designs for a people living alongside Ewoks and could previously only be glimpsed in the shadows of Jabba’s throne room as the virtually lifeless Wam “Blam” Lufba, a master marksman. As if to make up for twenty years of idly populating Richard Marquand’s composition of intergalactic no-do-goods, the newly added Yuzzum singer upstaged the brilliantly foreboding atmosphere of Jabba’s desert lair with gusto, receiving extra screen time and even particular marketing muscle promoting his surprise appearance in ROTJ Special Edition.
The aftermath tells tales on both ends of the scale of public reception. During a screening of the ROTJ Special Edition trailer, a boy in his pre-teens jumped from his seat and enthusiastically pointed his finger at the synthetic crooner: ‘Daddy, I wanna see that!’ The arguably more seasoned of film goers were harshly, if briefly, jolted from the soothing anticipation of seeing Episode VI back on the big screen; with the legendary T-16 Skyhopper bookending the trailer, however, their enthusiasm was firmly back in place: ‘Man, I gotta see that!’ Hmmm…it is the future you see. – They are in pain. Will they die? – Difficult to see, always in motion the Saga is.
Hindsight renders Joh Yowza’s appearance as opposed to snazzy space hardware zooming past virtual cameras quite easy to grasp. The furry singer stands out from the entire collection of Special Edition additions because he does not inconspicuously populate previously vacuous spaces in background plates as droids, probes or dewback lizards do in the updated versions. These simply “happened” to be in the camera’s line of sight, as is common in Lucas’s documentary-style blocking of scenes. Yowza contrastively grabbed all the attention the mid- and foregrounds could warrant. Audiences could not help taking note and unbridled scrutiny became inevitable. Fandom’s resistance to such a creative stroke was firmly grounded on the technical limitations of the OT, which had been somewhat mistaken for stylistic choices. Forgotten were the well-documented tales of how George Lucas struggled to make the cantina sequence in ANH even more alien, the Wampas a very visible threat in TESB and Jabba’s band quite outlandish. The vintage ROTJ making-of featurette showed Lucas suggesting to Phil Tibbett the compromise of never minding Snootle’s lip-synchronisation and to simply focus on making the lips move to the lyrics at all. States Dennis Muren on the 2004 DVD commentary: ‘[Puppets] just don’t have the performance you’d quite like them to have’. It was in 1997 then, that Sy Snootles received her much-belated close-up of her fully synched cherry lips, from where the ROTJ special edition passes the baton on to Joh Yowza.
George Lucas unfolds the vastly expanded dance number in increments, stacking one sensation upon the other, with each besting its predecessor. Yowza consequently jumps from the mid-ground towards the camera and unleashes his wide-mouthed refrain up-close to the lens, much to the enjoyment of otolaryngologists. Suddenly, Jabba’s mood swings and thrashes the jolly moment, the electrifying atmosphere dropping as quickly as poor Oola to the bottom of the Rancor’s den. The juxtaposition of oppositional emotive triggers works well and can be said to improve upon the original production.
As proud as ILM was with its singing creation, some were sorely missing the perennially popular Lapti Nek, which had not even been included on the ROTJ:SE soundtrack album. Such changes and actual deletions suggested a disrespectful manipulation of the publicly revered Star Wars Saga for the sake of (gratuitous) embezzlements never envisioned at the time of the films’ original production. Some felt disillusioned and their memories harshly decimated by procedural render farms in Northern California. Similar discussions had already cropped up prior to Yowza’s entrance in the course of the Special Edition release cycle.
The killing of Imperials had been toned down in ANH and Han mysteriously fries greedy Greedo in self-defense rather than cold blood. These changes all seemed to make the Star Wars Saga more accessible to families, especially after the 1992 Batman Returns merchandising disaster and the 1984 outrage over Lucasfilm’s very own Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. There were naturally equally notorious changes unrelated to violence (for instance, a classic TESB line replaced: “You’re lucky you don’t taste very good”, and additional Ewoks in ROTJ), but in general, any manipulation unfounded in the original storyboards and scripts added fuel to an occasionally frenetic struggle between honourable fans guarding the Star Wars legacy against the relentless Lucasian Empire. This uneasy peace has clouded the Star Wars franchise since 1997 and would play a significant role in the continuing tale of how a new Star Wars trilogy eventually made its way to cinemas.
All naysayers aside, the Star Wars franchise had arguably reached fever pitch undeterred. Shots such as the amazing the new Death Star approach in ANH, the vastly enlarged Cloud City or the teasing vista of Coruscant gave people every reason to believe that Lucasfilm would keep the promise of rocking millions of theatres with the PT.
In such an arable circumstance, Lucasarts tilled the fields of begging consumers with its greatest product launch slate at the time to bridge the void created when the re-releases were slowly beginning to ebb from multiplexes.
As before with X-Wing and Tie Fighter, each LucasArts product was designed as a platform for original content. With the films still fresh in gamers’ memories, each title furthermore translated a specific aspect of the film going experience into its own narrative to be explored further. Inviting players to take on roles in Lucas’ larger than life scenario, Lucasfilm maximised the sense of (brand) familiarity through the very real sensation of being in a far away galaxy. The list of releases consequently read like a page of job ads torn from the Coruscant Chronicle: X-Wing Versus Tie-Fighter called for ambitious pilots to report to the Empire and/or the Rebellion immediately, the eagerly awaited PC conversion of Shadows of the Empire lured potential space pirates, whereas Rebellion (aka Supremacy) enlisted field officers. And then, as the stand-out Star Wars-computer game release of the decade, the phenomenal Jedi Knight recruited Jedi hopefuls to actually become full-fledged practitioners of the Force.
For better or for worse, Jedi Knight played a seminal role in priming prospective audiences for the forthcoming PT assault. The plot surrounding main character [url= http://www.starwars.com/databank/character/kylekatarn/index.html] Kyle Katarn’s[/url] discovery of his Jedi heritage and subsequent journey towards the Light or the Dark Side of the Force as either a Jedi Master or a Dark Jedi was told through then lavish full motion video clips. Actors performed numerous and fierce lightsaber duels against digitally rendered environments as Katarn battled fully trained Force wielders to protect a mysterious battleground known as [url= http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i3D5XyZCKTE]Valley of the Jedi[/url]. Players were not only required to use a Jedi’s signature weapon but had to acquire so-called “Force Powers” to complete the game alive and well. Some of these ‘powers’ had been seen in the OT (‘Force Jump’, ‘Force Lightning’), while others were presumably in Obi-Wan’s repertoire but left unused, such as ‘Force Speed’. Even more importantly, since the fate of the Valley of the Jedi was the focal point, the game seemingly acquainted players with parts of Jedi mythology that had so far eluded the Star Wars films. Jedi Knight therefore gave answers to key questions regarding the Jedi in 1997 already, which the world had truthfully expected to see introduced with the first Prequel instalment.
It was naturally completely impossible not to connect the Dark Forces II computer game to the upcoming adventures set during the days of the Republic. The mythological aspect was particularly strong: the souls of fallen Jedi numbered hundreds and huge statues lined the walls of the mysterious Jedi valley, suggesting effigies of deceased masters, some of whom might presumably make an appearance in the new films. The valley also posed questions regarding Obi-Wan’s disappearance in ANH and the role of the Sith, for Katarn’s nemesis was the leader of so-called [i]Dark Jedi[/i], one Jerec, not a Sith Lord, as one might have thought. The idea of Dark Jedi scattered throughout the universe then seemed indicative of the origins of the Old Republic’s downfall, with the Jedi overrun by these malcontent torturers of the Force. Apart from their uncertain background, these Dark Jedi made for exciting lightsaber duels throughout the game and in particular the numerous cut scenes: For the first time in 14 years did Lucasfilm release live action footage of lightsabers locked in deadly combat. It would also mark the first time that more than two sabres were used at once, teasing players about how George Lucas would be topping this type of action in the PT.
The visuals of a new Star Wars game launched in the latter half of the 90ies was deemed a particularly strong indicator of where Lucasfilm wanted to go with the Prequels. It is…unavoidable. Hence it was in these exciting times that Jedi Knight’s design was based on the gritty style that the Thrawn trilogy of novels and the Dark Empire and, in particular, Tales of the Jedi comic books had introduced several years earlier. Kevin J. Anderson’s Tales crafted an especially striking template of what the Jedi and the Old Republic may have been like. With the visual clues as to the appearance of the new series of films reaching a new highpoint in mid 1997, the eager public was beginning to make up its mind about the possible direction of the PT. Some were expecting a merry good time of high adventure at the multiplexes, while others fixed their sights on the raw reality of a galaxy falling apart under the death knell sounded by the Sith converging on the Old Republic.
As wild expectations of an earnest, rough look at a galaxy far, far away were flourishing all over the map, George Lucas casually announced in an interview tub-thumping the Special Edition releases that the new films would be ‘more soap operish’ because they would be more about how people came to be where they are at the beginning of ANH. He continued that while they would sport ‘more humour’, there would be less action involved. ‘The cut-to-the-chase thing bores me’, Lucas states bluntly, but adds that there would be ‘some action in it’, since it would be pointless to create such films entirely without it. LucasArts would fittingly round off the < em>Star Wars offerings the same year with Yoda’s Stories, a simple, top-down adventure game aimed at the casual market featuring little action and odd, possibly humorous cartoon designs of the famed Saga characters. As much fun as playing this “desktop adventure” game was, it marked a surprising departure from the brawny action of LucasArts’ other offerings. Although the developer officially aimed this title at lunch break gamers looking for much needed diversion from rival perennial classic solitaire, Yoda’s Stories apparently had a younger audience in mind.
Hasbro was likewise trained on children by default but noticeably enjoyed rabid success especially among old-school collectors with several never before released characters from the OT (for instance Garindan, the long-snooted Imperial spy that points shocktroops to docking bay 94) and the Expanded Universe to capitalise on the launch of Jedi Knight and various comic book series such as Dark Empire (Emperor’s Clone, lightsabre wielding Leia and Mara Jade, to name but a few). The effect on the public was sensational, as the sight of characters never seen at the movies oozed with Prequel potential. Patience would however finally begin to pay off as actual Prequel characters were about to grow on eager fans as 1997 wore on.
When the official Star Wars website was relaunched in mid-1997, users were dazzled by the hues of Episode I’s major location, the city of Mos Espa on Tatooine. Lucasfilm broke news on the newly refurbished site that, contrary to Rick McCallum’s Prequel Update section in Star Wars magazines, principal photography of the first Star Wars film had been well underway by the summer of 1997. The announcement ceremoniously elaborated that Lucasfilm was then officially ‘in full production’ on Episode 1, and continued that ‘after a quick 65-day shooting schedule wrapped Phase I of principal photography’ in September at Leavesden (Official Star Wars website, July / December 1997). The timing for the coordinated website relaunch and motion picture production was impeccable.
By the time the Speedquel had floundered and James Cameron’s titanic epic postponed, awed audiences were eagerly awaiting the video release of the Special Edition. It was at this moment of anticipation that Lucasfilm made consumers into active passengers on George Lucas’ journey to the days before the Empire: of all the thousands of films in production that year, the most secretive invited millions of web users to tag along for its production. After the Special Edition had purposefully been the grain to the rumour mills during the Prequel trilogy’s critical formative years, it was finally the PT’s turn to taste the limelight for itself.
Every good fire requires ample command of the poker to keep it alive. With the release of new films another two years away, actual character stills, let alone plot details were forbidden. Lucasfilm’s core web strategy therefore focused on how a production of such size came together. It is quite a workable platform since reports of production issues invite deliberate hints at characters and the plot points they are connected to without spoiling the finished product. For example, a shot of the then ‘new’ R2-D2 being assembled backstage accompanied an article on how far more advanced the droid had to become for the astromech’s tasks in the new feature. A still of R2 rattling through a desert street concluded the article, its spine-tingling caption reading that R2 was on his way to an ‘important meeting’.
The ‘Episode I’ – costume department was also a fertile ground, with sly paragraphs dryly referring to lightsaber armouries, royal robes and blasters. The state-of-the-art motors driving the ‘new’ Yoda’s expressive character sent tremors through the Force. Overall, fans started connecting dots, effectively familiarizing themselves with whatever sparse details Lucasfilm let casually slip out. Production diaries used to be complete non-news but precisely because they were Star Wars-related and released into the refreshed understanding of the Saga narrative made them an endless source of official information on the Prequel era.
With continuous fandom saturation assured, Lucasfilm added content that would allow future audiences to familiarize with the Prequel environments: Mos Espa, where a third of TPM’s narrative would eventually unravel, was the overall theme of the new website. Embedded, users discovered a section elaborating on the development of Coruscant, which had made its premiere appearance at the end of ROTJ:SE. The series featured Doug Chiang’s lavish designs and ultimately culminated in the introduction of the ‘Jedi Council’.
There was a piece that achieved a collection of critical goals. One, it established how the Jedi governed themselves. The web articles painted the Jedi role in the Old Republic and placed Master Yoda specifically at the head of the organization. At the same time that it pleased people despite its status as virtual non-news, it successfully shrouded the fact that official information remained naturally sparse. Nevertheless, the designs were awe-inspiring, perfectly whetting everyone’s appetite for the real deal.
Another major section revolved around casting. It was there that the world learned of the full main complement of characters to lead the new Star Wars film, ‘a venerable Jedi knight’, a ‘young queen’, Obi-Wan Kenobi and, as expected, Anakin Skywalker. This roster of characters tickled people’s imagination aplenty, for the shots of performers portraying the new leads Natalie Portman, Ewan McGrgegor and Liam Neeson) already suggested a high level of drama. As production progressed, information on individual characters received subtle updates such as a small selection of on-set photography related to but not featuring the characters themselves. There were two notable and highly deliberate exceptions however.
The official Star Wars website treated users in the winter of 1997 to a photo of a man who seemed complacent, composed, well-mannered and, indeed, vaguely familiar. That man was none other than Senator Palpatine, whom millions had looked at in lobbies all over the world as Emperor Palpatine on the TESB:SE poster at the beginning of the same year. Without ever exposing priceless Episode I footage, Lucasfilm had very much succeeded in making a new Prequel character a well-known face through his OT role. George Lucas had truly begun to come full circle with his Star Wars Saga albeit not without some additional controversy.
A 2007 interview with Rick McCallum casts an exciting glance at how very much aware George Lucas was throughout his progress towards and through Episode I principal photography of the central creative risks he was willing to take: ‘I remember the day when George spoke to me for the first time about the new episodes in 1992. He said: “People will tear us apart. I want you to know this. It’ll be about a little 8-year old boy.” We´d thrown us in there knowing that the hardcore Star Wars fans, who´d been young when they discovered the films, had grown up. Most of the people who had been in their twenties wanted the new episodes to begin with Episode III and that the other two would deal with Vader. But that had never been George´s idea. He wanted to reach a new generation. The Special Edition had really shown us that. We understood that there had been young children who had gone to see the films three, four, five times, and George knew then that he had been right’ (French Star Wars Magazine September / November 2007, p12-3).
The other character that was officially revealed in 1997 was indeed the little 8-year old boy named Anakin Skywalker, future scourge of the Jedi and father of Luke and Leia. The announcement was in fact made as early as January 1997, a gift to theater goers looking for juicy news to chew on while standing in line to get tickets to the Special Edition. When Lucasfilm introduced users to the young boy portraying Anakin in the summer of 1997, audiences instantly recognized Jake Lloyd, a veteran of commercials and Arnold Schwarzenegger’s 1996 Christmas release …. Jake was a familiar face which the world helped to realize that Anakin used to be a boy seemingly like any other. On the website, a still showed his room brimful with handmade gizmos and gadgets, its caption fittingly identifying Skywalker as a passionate mechanic. Again, Lucasfilm let familiarity germinate, having images linger for months without much ado. The information provided worked wonders together with people’s imagination to create a strange sense of being intimately acquainted with the narrative nested in all the tangential information the Star Wars website afforded its visitors. George Lucas gradually peeled off the coils of secrecy as if nurturing a frail but sweet fruit teasing perceptive customers outside of a shopping window.
Lucasfilm did right to announce the pivotal detail of Anakin’s age as early as it did. It was an important safety measure to let the fact that the most mysterious of Star Wars heroes would only be a boy settle gently over the next 1 ½ years. After all, the 1990ies had seen a vast assortment of brooding, troubled adolescent heroes on TV in particular and temporary disappointment could not be denied. In spite of once again having operated the correct marketing triggers, Lucas’ original fears eventually proved unfounded anyway.
An unofficial and now legendary photo by a lucky production spy showed Liam Neeson and a cloaked figure engaged in a fierce lightsaber duel in the middle of the Tunesian desert, also known as Tatooine. Here was proof that George Lucas kept his promise of showing the Jedi at the height of their powers, wielding sabers and Force spells to oust evil from the galaxy. The price paid in exchange would be hauntingly tall nonetheless.
The end of year release of the Star Wars Trilogy: Special Edition on video marked the final leg of a long farewell to the OT and its classic heroes, who had been dear to people’s hearts for two decades. A final salute on VHS, VCD and laserdisc…
TO BE CONTINUED…