Empire of Dreams: The Story of the Star Wars Trilogy — a documentary review

StarWarsEmpire

It’s more than possible that I’ve watched this before.

I’ve seen versions of at least parts of the documentary about the making of the “Trilogy” on several occasions. Plus, I’ve listened to DVD commentary tracks, so some of the voices are familiar to me even when the faces may not be.

My Star Wars game is pretty strong. So, I knew a lot of this stuff before watching the documentary that Amazon Prime bills as “Star Wars Empire of Dreams.” I may have even watched the original documentary, which was made for the 2004 release of the DVD box set of The Star Wars Trilogy, which is probably the one I own. Of course, that was nearly 16 years ago now.

I also owned the VHS versions of the movies, I probably should add. Plus, I saw each of the movies in the theaters when they were originally released. And then the special edition releases in 1997, just before I changed jobs and moved to Arkansas. My bona fides as a contributing member of Star Wars fandom can no longer be in doubt. Even a presently-uncounted percentage of my wordcount here on WordPress has been devoted to the cause. Feel free to read what I’ve posted here.

That being said, I enjoyed watching this documentary. Again, perhaps.

It’s not exactly a rags-to-riches tale, but it is a riches-to-unfathomably-richer tale. And the protagonist of this story is George Lucas.

These days, after the second trilogy and, now, the third one, Lucas is no longer the near-deified public figure he once was. His image was brought down, at least in part, by Jar-Jar Binks, the interminable podrace sequence, and midichlorian counts. I’m sure he cried all the way to the bank when Disney purchased Lucasfilm, LucasArts, ILM and Skywalker Sound for $4.05 billion (yes, that’s right: billion) in 2012. By the way, Disney has already more than recouped this purchase price.

I can’t begrudge George his tremendous wealth. He earned it. This documentary shows us how.

This documentary, quite long at two-and-a-half hours, covers a lot of ground. We certainly touch on George Lucas’s early work as a film student and his first major hit with American Graffiti, and get a bit of in-depth examination of the genesis of what was known for a time as “The Star Wars.” Lucas wanted to make a Flash Gordon movie, it seems. If you go back and watch those early Flash Gordon serials that a young George obviously watched in the theater or on television, you’ll see that, in effect, this is what he did. Even down to some of the screen wipes that we now associate with Lucas himself.

In the beginning, this is a David-vs-Goliath story, with Lucas in the role of David, trying to maintain his independence from the all-powerful Hollywood studios. We get a glimpse into the early struggles in making these space-fantasy movies. Production problems, budget overruns and shooting delays. There seems to be a consensus—perhaps over-exaggerated for dramatic effect—that the movie will be a flop. When the first movie, which will one day be known as A New Hope, is a certified blockbuster hit, Lucas comes out on top for good. Sure, there were problems with the next two movies in the trilogy, but they proved to be surmountable. Meanwhile, in the end, as effects and sound design used in the trilogy became the industry standard, George Lucas actually becomes the Goliath, the corporate giant, of the story.

The worst things you’ll hear about Lucas in this documentary are that his written dialogue is a bit awkward and his introverted nature makes him a relatively taciturn director whose most frequent direction is “faster, with more intensity.” The disintegration of his marriage is glossed over, and little is said about Star Wars: The Phantom Menace, for which this documentary was a prelude.

The criticisms of George Lucas would grow over the next few years. But, this documentary was a love letter to the movie series and its fandom. The behind-the-scenes look at the special effects and interviews with actors and crew are invaluable to those of us take our fandom seriously. More than anything else, it leaves the viewer with the knowledge that making a movie genuinely requires a group effort. Lucas was the creative force behind everything, but his isn’t the only vision represented in the final product.

Keep in mind that my views on this are extremely slanted, as a diehard Star Wars fan. If you don’t like the movies, you’ll probably not feel the same way I did about this documentary.

Firewater’s A-Galaxy-Far-Far-Away Report Card: A

A

Watching this doc made me finally get around to watching Solo. The Force is strong with this one.

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