Book Review: ‘The Star Wars Archives: Episodes IV-VI, 1977-1983 (40th Anniversary Edition)

(C) 2020 Taschen Books and Lucasfilm Ltd.

In the beginning, I was struggling with the plot, just figuring out what it was going to be. I had a sense of what the Force was, how it worked, and they could do with it, but the story didn’t have room for that – yet. – George Lucas to Paul Duncan, explaining how the concept of the Force evolved, The Star Wars Archives: Episodes IV-VI, 1977-1983

On December 13, 2020, Taschen Books published The Star Wars Archives: Episodes IV-VI, 1977-1983, author Paul Duncan’s history of how George Lucas and his team of collaborators at Lucasfilm Ltd. created the original Star Wars Trilogy (Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope, Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back, and Star Wars Episode VI; Return of the Jedi) and began a multimedia franchise that continues to expand Lucas’s space fantasy saga set “a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away.”

In the early Seventies, George Walton Lucas, Jr. was a young filmmaker who – along with Francis Ford Coppola, Martin Scorsese, Brian De Palma, and Steven Spielberg – were trying to fill the creative void in the film industry caused by the end of the old studio system and the growing influence of big corporations in Hollywood. Like most of his peers, Lucas – a graduate of the University of Southern California’s film program – sought to make movies that had his own personal stamp and didn’t necessarily cater to the whims of the studios’ “suits.”

In 1971, shortly after Warner Bros. released Lucas’s first feature film, THX-1138, the young writer-director began working on a space-fantasy film aimed at young audiences. At first, Lucas wanted to do a straightforward adaptation of Alex Raymond’s sci-fi pulp comic strip Flash Gordon; the copyright owners refused to sell him the rights – they wanted a big name director (Federico Fellini) to bring Flash Gordon, Dale Arden, and Ming the Merciless to the big screen.

Undeterred by this rejection, Lucas – who thought kids longed for a modern monomyth with heroes they could root for and villains they could hiss at – persisted. If he couldn’t adapt Flash Gordon, he reasoned, he would create his own space-fantasy – which in one draft was set in the 33rd Century and was called The Star Wars – with elements borrowed from old 1930s film serials Lucas had watched on TV  as a kid in 1950s Modesto, California, Errol Flynn films such as Captain Blood and The Adventures of Robin Hood, Westerns, Akira Kurosawa “Easterners” – including The Hidden Fortress ­– and World War II movies such as The Dam Busters and 633 Squadron.

A publicity photo taken in London flanks the title page of The Star Wars Archives: Episodes IV-VI, 1977-1983. (C) 2020 Taschen Books and Lucasfilm Ltd.

Star Wars exploded onto our cinema screens in 1977, and the world has not been the same since. After watching depressing and cynical movies throughout the early 1970s, audiences enthusiastically embraced the positive energy of the Star Wars galaxy as they followed moisture farmer Luke Skywalker on his journey through a galaxy far, far away, meeting extraordinary characters like mysterious hermit Obi-Wan Kenobi, space pirates Han Solo and Chewbacca, loyal droids C-3PO and R2-D2, bold Princess Leia Organa and the horrific Darth Vader, servant of the dark, malevolent Emperor.

Writer, director, and producer George Lucas created the modern monomyth of our time, one that resonates with the child in us all. He formed Industrial Light & Magic to develop cutting-edge special effects technology, which he combined with innovative editing techniques and a heightened sense of sound to give audiences a unique sensory cinematic experience.

In this first volume, made with the full cooperation of Lucasfilm, Lucas narrates his own story, taking us through the making of the original trilogy―Episode IV A New Hope, Episode V The Empire Strikes Back, and Episode VI Return of the Jedi―and bringing fresh insights into the creation of a unique universe. Complete with script pages, production documents, concept art, storyboards, on-set photography, stills, and posters, this is the authoritative exploration of the original saga as told by its creator. – Publisher’s blurb, The Star Wars Archives: Episodes IV-VI, 1977-1983

In The Star Wars Archives: Episodes IV-VI, 1977-1983, writer and film historian Paul Duncan follows the 12-year-long saga of how the first three films of the Skywalker Saga were created. Based on extensive one-on-one interviews with Lucas and other key personnel – including sound designer Ben Burtt, special effects creators Richard Edlund and Dennis Muren, editor Richard Chew, producer Gary Kurtz, the late director Irvin Kershner, screenwriter Lawrence Kasdan, and composer John Williams – The Star Wars Archives: Episodes IV-VI, 1977-1983 delves into the challenges Lucas faced to make the first Episode, as well as the growth of Lucasfilm Limited and its special effects company, Industrial Light & Magic (ILM) from a small core of young film industry upstarts to one of the most successful and influential production companies in Hollywood history.

For Greedo, the thug who faces Han Solo in a showdown in the bar and whose speeches were subtitled, we invented a gibberish based on ancient Incan. – Ben Burtt, Academy Award-winning sound designer, The Star Wars Archives: Episodes IV-VI, 1977-1983

Duncan, whose other titles for Taschen Books include The Star Wars Archives: Episodes I-III, 1999-2005, Stanley Kubrick: Eyewitness, and The Godfather Family Album, was granted access to Lucasfilm’s treasure trove of archival interviews. Thus, The Star Wars Archives: Episodes IV-VI, 1977-1983 not only derives its information from Lucas and other personnel who are still available for interviews, but also from recordings and transcripts of interviews with Ralph McQuarrie, John Barry, John Mollo, and Stuart Freeborn, all of whom died before Duncan could interview them.

This is the 40th Anniversary edition, which is more compact (and affordable) than its original $200 edition.

My films have a tendency to promote personal self-esteem, a you-can-do-it attitude. Their message is: “Don’t listen to everyone else. Discover your own feelings and follow them. Then you can overcome anything.”— George Lucas, The Star Wars Archives: Episodes IV-VI, 1977-1983

My Take

Published in early December of 2020 as part of Taschen Books’ 40th Anniversary (and in tandem with the $200-per-copy book about the Star Wars Prequel Trilogy, The Star Wars Archives: Episodes IV-VI, 1977-1983 is a fascinating account of how Episodes IV-VI were made that not only traces the evolution of the story that began life as The Star Wars – with characters named Annikin Starkiller, Kane, Deak, Mace Windy, and the Jedi Bendu – and became the beloved trilogy that gave the world Luke Skywalker, Princess Leia Organa, Han Solo, Chewbacca, Ben (Obi-Wan) Kenobi, Artoo Detoo (R2-D2), See Threepio (C-3PO), Darth Vader, Emperor Palpatine, and Grand Moff Tarkin.

Illustrated with a mix of production sketches, on-set photographs, publicity stills, and poster art, The Star Wars Archives: Episodes IV-VI, 1977-1983 also includes fragments from various documents, including story treatments and early drafts of the scripts. This gives the reader a glimpse at the development of the characters, settings, themes, and plots from rough draft to the finished film version.

Paul Duncan poses with the coffee table edition in the Taschen Books publicity photo.

(Sharp-eyed readers with keen memories and an encyclopedic knowledge of the saga will note that many of the planet and character names Lucas invented in early versions of The Star Wars – such as Mace Windy, Valorum, Starkiller, and Utapau – were later used in the Prequel Trilogy, albeit with alterations; Mace Windy became the imposing Jedi Master Mace Windu, and the Imperial warlord known as General Valorum morphed into The Phantom Menace’s luckless Supreme Chancellor Finis Valorum. Utapau, a planet name Lucas came up with in an early draft of A New Hope, would later be used in Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith.)

Some of the stories in The Star Wars Archives: Episodes IV-VI, 1977-1983 will, of course, be familiar to Star Wars fans who have watched Empire of Dreams: The Making of the Star Wars Trilogy, listened to the various audio commentaries in the DVD and Blu-ray home video releases of the films, or read J.W. Rinzler’s books on the making of each individual film in both the Original and Prequel Trilogies.

Other anecdotes and snippets from the various story treatments, first-draft scripts, and interviews will, of course, be new to even the most knowledgeable Star Wars junkie.

And although Lucas is Duncan’s principal interviewee, we also get, either through present day conversations with still-living participants or via archived recordings, the perspectives of many important creative contributors, including Empire director Irvin Kershner, who died on November 27, 2010 at the age of 87.

Here’s what Kershner had to say about Anthony Daniels’ character, the fussy, always-complaining protocol droid See Threepio, and Peter Mayhew’s Chewbacca:

I wanted to make Chewie show a lot more emotion, and I wanted C-3PO to be a real pain in the rear. With Chewie, I wanted the audience to see him angry and frustrated, to hear him laugh and cry. C-3PO, when you come right down to it, is a real pill. Sure, he’s a cute robot, but I wanted to get across the idea that if you knew a person like C-3PO in real life, you’d turn and run in the opposite direction.

Teschen Books published this book in two versions. The first edition of The Star Wars Archives: Episodes IV-VI, 1977-1983 is a coffee-table type (extra-large) hardcover that costs $200.  The 40th Anniversary Edition, which is the one released in December, is a standard-sized hardcover that measures 6.5 x 1.75 x 9 inches and weighs 3.12 pounds. That’s the edition that I own, and its 512 pages are replete with intriguing facts, fascinating insights, and a plethora of storyboards, production paintings, poster art, and stills from all three films of the Original Star Wars Trilogy.

If you are new to the Star Wars franchise, or if you are a longtime fan who can claim to have seen the first Star Wars film in May of 1977,  The Star Wars Archives: Episodes IV-VI, 1977-1983 is definitely a book worth adding to your personal library.

Published by Alex Diaz-Granados

Alex Diaz-Granados (1963- ) began writing movie reviews as a staff writer and Entertainment Editor for his high school newspaper in the early 1980s and was the Diversions editor for Miami-Dade Community College, South Campus' student newspaper for one semester. Using his experiences in those publications, Alex has been raving and ranting about the movies online since 2003 at various web sites, including Amazon, Ciao and Epinions. In addition to writing reviews, Alex has written or co-written three films ("A Simple Ad," "Clown 345," and "Ronnie and the Pursuit of the Elusive Bliss") for actor-director Juan Carlos Hernandez. You can find his reviews and essays on his blogs, A Certain Point of View and A Certain Point of View, Too.

5 thoughts on “Book Review: ‘The Star Wars Archives: Episodes IV-VI, 1977-1983 (40th Anniversary Edition)

  1. Cool, thanks for sharing this. I never realized that previous films had been cynical, thus the popularity of A New Hope, and Empire (Han remains my favorite character for the line:
    -“That’s right, and my friend’s out in it”
    -but Sir, your tonton’ll freeze…
    “Then I’ll see you in hell!
    (…immediately to his ton-ton: -“hyyaaaaaa!!”)
    loyalty, sacrifice, gone from today’s world?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Science fiction films (and other genres) in the 1970s tended to be dystopian or somewhat cynical. You have to remember that at the time, we were still in the shadow of Vietnam and Watergate and people had stopped looking for heroes, especially in the culture.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Oh: I didn’t know that (I was about 6 yr old at the time of Watergate…), thank you for telling me! 🙂
        This explains some things, but I will meditate upon it further, as the Minbari do, mostly, ok, the religious caste, anyway, of Babylon 5…

        Liked by 1 person

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