Starburst Number 22 declares “The Return of Chewbacca!” alongside a full colour cover featuring him breathing into a hoover appliance. Of course, he was the character, more than any other, that we were looking forward to coming back in EMPIRE STRIKES BACK. Of course he was. Of course…
A couple of issues later, Mark Hamill said that there was an early version of Star Wars (by now it was beginning to be referred to as ‘The New Hope’) that featured the Wookiee family at home. He explains that the original conception was more explicit about the story having its origins in a fairy tale:
“One of my favourite earlier versions of THE STAR WARS screenplay had a clever device to off-set the technology of the whole thing so that audiences wouldn’t think that it was going to be another 2001 when they see the cruiser going overhead. It started with a helicopter shot of and enchanted forest and they push the camera through the window of a tree and you see a mother Wookiee trying to breast feed this squealing baby Wookiee. He keeps gesturing towards the bookshelf and there’s all this Wookiee dialogue going on. She points to one particular book and the baby gets all excited [Mark did a creditable imitation of what an excited baby Wookiee might sound like at this point]. She takes the book off the shelf and we see that it’s titled STAR WARS. She opens the book and that’s when the ship goes overhead and the film we know starts …”
Brilliant. A variation of the scene appears in The Holiday Special, but the interviewer is too tactful to bring it up. Hammill says the idea was abandoned as the Fox executives had difficulty understanding the concept and fired a memo saying, “Why doesn’t the Wookiee have any pants on?”
The interview is long (spread out over two issues) and very entertaining and part of the publicity machine that was laser-guiding EMPIRE towards my pre-teen brain. There’s a picture of Hammill reading the issue 22 in his favourite Christmas jumper. Apparently he has every issue, because he is a real fan and in no way cynically ingratiating himself towards a potential audience of 13 year olds.
Starburst was filled to the brim with EMPIRE material over months of anticipation of the new film’s arrival. They offered pages and pages of Ralph McQuarrie’s concept drawings that were responsible for visualising the Star Wars universe in a 1940s retro-style that seem like slightly off-key versions of the real thing. There’s also endless speculation on the whole series of films that exist in Lucas’ imagination:
“Originally, George had compiled about a dozen galactic tales. He went to Part Four to start with, because he quite obviously dug the characters the most – Luke and Han and the Princess and Old Ben and Grand Moff Tarkin and C-3PO and R2 D2 and Chewbacca. Rather than go back to one of the earlier time-scale stories, which would necessarily cut out many of these characters, he decided it best to move on and make part five second.
The third film, however, could prove to be Part One, Part Two, Part Three or indeed Part Eight, as he decides which character or character he decides he wants to rest or to be written out. Whether or not Sir Alec Guinness or Peter Cushing might return soon to play earlier versions of their roles, is up to them.”
It’s clear from this misplaced conjecture that the feature writer had not even seen EMPIRE otherwise they would have found it perverse to think that Han would be left in carbonite while Lucas wandered off into different episodes: “I think I’ll put in ATTACK OF THE CLONES at this point, that’ll confuse them!”
I have written before about how the enthusiastic preview features were readily contradicted by the head writer John Brosnan. Like all the best critics, he was not afraid to have a forthright opinion. There was a considerable back-lash to his review of EMPIRE. The letter’s page called for him to have “his brain checked” and that “Saturn is a suitable place of exile.”
In his review, he was disappointed that so much money was lavished on such a weak story-line and the construction of the story that had the climax at the beginning; “watching the film again I realised that it was like seeing the last half of one movie followed by the first half of another one.” The main focus of his ire is on The Force and its impact on the story-telling. He makes a valid point that the role of the force is elevated in EMPIRE so that it moves beyond a vague macguffin to provide plot-motivation to something that is pseudo-religious with a great level of pretentiousness.
“The Force has become a substitute for originality, fresh ideas and genuine story-telling skill. It has become a magical grab-bag into which Lucas and his writers can reach everytime they get into trouble.”
Brosnan cites the miraculous rescue of Luke at the end of EMPIRE as evidence of The Force acting as a deus ex machina.
He didn’t have a lot of time for Yoda either.
The reactionon the letters page to his review was hilarious. Charles W. Gunther from Welsh Wales provides an analysis of the force as a version of Tao and an allusion to the films of Akira Kurosawa. The letter goes to great lengths to look for corresponding references in EMPIRE to the teachings of the book of Tao by Alan Watts. I love the correspondent’s justification for the role of Yoda:
“Yoda is also of Oriental origin I believe. In the scene in Yoda’s house the wisened gnome says “I have trained Jedi for 800 years.” This accurately coincides with the age of the legendary P’eng Tzu, the Chinese Methusalah. This ancient, according to tradition, lived about four thousand years ago and had obtained his great age by means of herbs and certain exercises… I have no evidence that Lucas got the character Yoda from his knowledge of China, but it does seem somewhat of a coincidence.”
Does it? In the words of Homer Simpson “you can prove anything with facts”. Could it be that there has always been less to Lucas’ vision than meets the eye? As you contemplate this conundrum please think of J.J. Abrams as he contemplates how to fit in the image of a lactating Wookiee into episode 8 or 10 or 15 or etc
- How to Build an Empire with Star Wars (insurancefiles.com)
- Hilarious, Surreal Photos of Wookiees Doing People Things (flavorwire.com)
- Let the Wookiee win: TSA takes away Chewbacca’s lightsaber cane (Photos) (examiner.com)
- C-3p0 (anderhigh.wordpress.com)
- 12 Images That Reveal the Secret Lives of Star Wars Wookies (techeblog.com)
- T-Shirts & Apparel : W is for Wookiee Creeper (thinkgeek.com)
- Talk Like Yoda, You Do, Hmmmmmm? (disneyfairytalefiles.wordpress.com)
- STAR WARS Retold in the Style of William Shakespeare (geektyrant.com)