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Who rules Iran?

Our guide to power in the Islamic Republic

It is a question that has been asked repeatedly since the 1979 revolution, and one for which there are few ready answers. Commentators gloss over the tensions between the supreme leader, the president and the parliament -- let alone the power invested in the clerical establishment, the Revolutionary Guard and the bonyads (or foundations) that make up the Iranian state.

Yet it is exactly these relationships that determine the course of Iranian politics, from its nuclear ambitions to the chances of democratic reform. In step with this week's Iran issue, we introduce you to the power relationships that lie beneath the political picture, and the events that put them in place.

The supreme leader

Khamenei (left) gives a speech next to the newly appointed judiciary chief, Sadegh Ardeshir Larijani, during a meeting in Tehran in August 2009. Photograph: STR/AFP/Getty Images

The highest authority in the Iranian constitution, this dual political and religious role was made to fit Ayatollah Ali Khamenei's predecessor, Ruhollah Khomeini, in the aftermath of the revolution. It is based on Khomeini's doctrine of the velayat-e faqih, or the "guardianship of the jurisconsult"; the idea that the community should be guided by a religious jurist, in expectation of the coming of the Hidden Imam.

The supreme leader should be the highest spiritual authority within Shia Islam, a marja-e taqlid ("a source of emulation") or a grand ayatollah. The 1989 succession of Ali Khamenei to the role marked a shift in the Islamic Republic from religious attitudes to authority to political expediency, as Khamenei was only a hojatoleslam, or "proof of Islam" -- a lower clerical rank.

The supreme leader has power over the army, the revolutionary guard, the Basij militia and the judiciary, primarily through appointing the leaders of each group. It was this "mini-state" that his predecessor created in the aftermath of the 1979 revolution that allowed Khamenei to establish clerical supremacy. The supreme leader's power is almost without limit: Khamenei had the final word on last year's disputed presidential election.

The president

The current Iranian president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, gestures while waiting for the arrival of Oman's leader, Qaboos Bin Said, at the presidential offices in Tehran on August 4, 2009. The sultan of Oman became the first foreign leader to visit Iran since Iran's controversial presidential vote last year. Photograph: BEHROUZ MEHRI/AFP/Getty Images

The most powerful political post in Iran that can be called democratic, the president of the Islamic Republic is elected from a list that is vetted by the Guardian Council. The president serves a four-year term for a maximum of two terms.

The power of the president is limited in the constitution, and is dwarfed by the influence of the supreme leader, the Guardian Council and other groups that make up the political centre. The presidency of Mohammad Khatami in 1997-2005 exposed these limitations; a reformer who offered a détente with the west, his foreign policy positions could never be anything more than symbolic, and his domestic reforms were obstructed by unelected loyalists to the regime.

Notionally, the president is the functional head of the executive. The president appoints the cabinet, subject to parliamentary approval, and is an international figurehead. In practice, however, power over defence and major foreign policy decisions falls under the authority of the supreme leader.

The Majlis: the Iranian parliament

Iranian students attend a parliament session in Tehran in November 2009. Photograph: ATTA KENARE/AFP/Getty Images

The Majlis represents the second democratic arm of the Iranian constitution, alongside the presidency. Its 290 members serve four-year terms. The Majlis has the constitutional power to vet and impeach cabinet ministers (and even the president), and introduces and passes legislation.

The major barrier to the power of the Majlis is the Guardian Council, which regularly bars candidates from standing, and vetoes parliamentary legislation. This constitutional deadlock has long been a feature of the politics of the Islamic Republic, and led to the creation of the Expediency Council in 1988.

The speaker of the Majlis, currently Ali Larijani, is an important spokesperson on domestic and international affairs. Even before the 1979 revolution, the Majlis was an important home of Iranian nationalism. Its roots are grounded in the constitutional revolution that took place between 1905 and 1911. Its importance should not be overlooked.

The councils

The head of the Iranian Guardian Council, Ahmad Janati, delivers the Friday prayers sermon at Tehran University in October 2009. Janati warned against an anti-government demonstration to counter an official commemoration of the storming of the US embassy. Photograph: BEHROUZ MEHRI/AFP/Getty Images

Iran's executive is made up of councils with varying, low levels of accountability. The most important is the Guardian Council. This body is made up of six clerics appointed by the supreme leader and six jurists nominated by the parliament from a list prepared by the judiciary -- whose head, of course, is appointed by the supreme leader.

This body has the power to veto parliamentary legislation, shut newspapers and bar presidential and parliamentary candidates. Depending on your perspective, it is either the protector of revolutionary values or the scourge of political reform in Iran.

The two other important bodies are the Expediency Council and the Assembly of Experts, both headed by Ayatollah Rafsanjani, a key power broker in the Islamic Republic.

The supreme leader appoints the Expediency Council, a body created to resolve constitutional deadlock between the Majlis and the Guardian Council. In practice, its membership ensures a heavy bias towards the establishment. The Assembly of Experts is made up of clerics elected from a list vetted by the Guardian Council, and its nominal role is to appoint and monitor the supreme leader.

Qom

Iranians hold portraits of Iranian cleric Grand Ayatollah Hossein Ali Montazeri during his funeral procession in the holy city of Qom on 21 December 2009. Photograph: AFP/Getty Images

A short drive south-west from Tehran, Qom centres on the shrine of Fatima, the sister of Imam Reza, on the bank of the Qom river. The clerical centre of Shia Islam, it is also an immensely important political base, due to its proximity to the capital and the overlap between the spiritual and political authorities.

Housing tens of thousands of seminarians, the city has expanded since the revolution. Large sums of money -- in the form of Islamic taxes and alms sent by followers -- come to the marja-e taqlid ("sources of emulation") who reside there. Normally seen as a conservative body, the marja are among the few with any authority to criticise the supreme leader. Some have questioned Khamenei's right to be considered a marja.

The recently deceased Ayatollah Montazeri was a prime example of the power of Qom, and his death was seen as a rallying point for reformists. Once nominated as a successor to Khomeini, he was cast out of the political centre for criticising the supreme leader, and remained a vocal critic of the government until his death.

The Revolutionary Guard

Iranians carry the coffin of General Nur-Ali Shushtari, the deputy commander of the Revolutionary Guard's ground forces, killed near the Pakistani border, during a funeral in Tehran outside the Revolutionary Guard garrison on 20 October 2009. Photograph: BEHROUZ MEHRI/AFP/Getty Images

A military force and corporation estimated to be worth billions of dollars, the Revolutionary Guard is the latest pressure point for those wishing to exert pressure on the Iranian state.

The Revolutionary Guard stands in command of the Basij, a paramilitary organisation that was established by the dictat of Ayatollah Khomeini. Its foot soldiers are known as "Basijis", a morality police that monitors the public for correct Islamic dress, makes sure that young, unrelated and unmarried Iranians are not walking or driving together in the streets, and so on.

After the hostage crisis of 1979-1981, the Revolutionary Guard moved into the US Embassy in the centre of Tehran, which was renamed "Den of Spies", and used it as a training base. It expanded to a full fighting force in the Iran-Iraq war. It was the Revolutionary Guard that captured the British sailors in the Persian Gulf in 2007.

The Revolutionary Guard is intimately associated with Iran's foundations, and is suspected of links to Hezbollah in Lebanon. The US Secretary of State Hilary Clinton has said that the force is "supplanting the government" and creating a "military dictatorship".

The foundations

Hossein Shariatmadari, the director of the hardline Kayhan newspaper group, owned by Iran's largest foundation, sits next issues of the newspaper at his office in Tehran, 16 September 2007. Photograph: BEHROUZ MEHRI/AFP/Getty Images

When Muhammad Reza Shah Pahlavi was driven from Iran by the 1979 revolution, he left behind a huge swathe of assets. The Pahlavi foundation was renamed the Foundation for the Oppressed, a charity entrusted to helping veterans of the Iran-Iraq war. Thought to be worth as much as $12bn, this foundation controls large amounts of Iran's economy. Along with numerous companies, factories and mines, the foundation owns the Kayhan and Ettela'at newspapers.

The Foundation for the Oppressed is just one of several bonyads intimately related to the Revolutionary Guard and the political centre around the supreme leader. In the context of Iranian politics, the foundations represent the vested interests of the unaccountable and the spoils of the 1979 revolution. They have thus far proved beyond the reach of the democratic arms of the state. Any attempt to pull the Iranian state away from clerical hegemony comes up against the bonyads.

This piece accompanies Henry Smith's article, "Iran: the people"

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Starting Star Wars: How George Lucas came to create a galaxy

On the 40th anniversary of the release of the original Star Wars, George Lucas biographer James Cooray Smith shares the unlikely story of how the first film got made.

While making THX 1138 in 1970, writer/director George Lucas told composer Lalo Schifrin that he wanted to make a Flash Gordon picture, an updating of the 40s sci-fi serials that he’d enjoyed as a child. It would, however, be those serials not as they were, but how he remembered them as having been. When the rights to these proved unavailable, he began to work on original idea, hoping to create something similar, but which he would own himself.

In January 1973, after completing his 50s nostalgia picture American Graffiti but before its release, Lucas began his outline for this space adventure. The first line of this near-incomprehensible document was The Story of Mace Windu. Mace Windu, a revered Jedi-Bendu of Opuchi who was related to Usby CJ Thape, Padewaan learner to the famed Jedi.’

"Jedi" was a word Lucas had coined to describe a clan of warrior mystics who were essential to his story. A man whose fascination for Japanese cinema had become a general interest in Japanese cultural history, he’d named them after the branch of Japanese drama that drew moral and instructive lessons from stories set in the past – Jidai geki.

This version is set in the thirty-third century and features a teenage Princess, droids, an Evil Empire and a grizzled Jedi warrior, General Skywalker, whose plot role resembles Luke’s from the finished film, although his character is Obi-Wan Kenobi’s. It climaxes with a space dogfight and ends with a medal ceremony. Among the planets named are Alderaan (here the Imperial capital) and Yavin, at this point the Wookiee homeworld. Some characters from this draft (Valorum, Mace Windu) would eventually find a home in The Phantom Menace more than twenty years later.

By May Lucas had a 132 page script, The Adventure of Anikin Starkiller. Skywalker had acquired the forename Luke but was no longer the protagonist. This was Anikin (sic) Starkiller, one of the sons of General Skywalker’s old comrade, the partially mechanical renegade Kane Starkiller. Anikin had to protect a Princess, aided by two robots R2-D2 and C-3PO.

Lucas had worked backwards from Flash Gordon, looking to uncover the source of his appeal, hoping to transfer it to his own story. Once he’d worked his way through the comic strips of Gordon’s creator Alex Raymond, he tackled Edgar Rice Burroughs, Jules Verne and Edwin Arnold’s Gulliver on Mars. Conversations with his New Hollywood peers about the archetypes thrown up by his reading – and which he increasingly saw everywhere – brought him into contact with Joseph Campbell’s then newly published Myths to Live By (1972) an anthology of lectures and essays from a man who devoted his career to identifying the basic archetypal characters and situations which he felt underpinned all human mythologies.

"The book began to focus what I had already been doing intuitively" Lucas later said, an idea which seemed to him to itself reinforce Campbell’s contention that such archetypes and situations dwelled in a collective unconsciousness. Lucas expanded his reading to epics of all kinds, and began planning a visual style that would combine the vistas of Japanese master director Akira Kurosawa with the kind of static-camera realism which he’d used on American Graffiti.

Lucas wanted over-exposed colours and lots of shadows, but shot in a way that made them seem unremarkable. Seeing the Apollo missions return from the moon "littered with weightless candy bar wrappers and old Tang jars, no more exotic than the family station wagon" had illustrated to him the problem with every fantasy movie ever made. Their worlds never looked like people lived in them. His film would depict a "used future". Describing the aesthetic he’d sought to American Cinematographer he explained: "I wanted the seeming contradiction of…fantasy combined with the feel of a documentary."  To Lucas Star Wars wasn’t science fiction, it was "documentary fantasy".

There was only one studio executive Lucas thought had any hope of understanding what he was trying to do, Fox’s Alan Ladd Jr, son of the late actor. Like Lucas and his contemporaries in New Hollywood, Ladd was a man driven by a love of cinema. Lucas could communicate with him through a shared vocabulary, describe a planned scene as being like something from The Searchers (John Ford, 1956) or Fahrenheit 451 (Francois Truffaut, 1966) and be understood. Ten days after his presentation to Ladd, they signed a development deal. Fox agreed to pay Lucas $15,000 to develop a script, plus $50,000 to write the movie and another $100,000 to direct it, should it actually be made. American Graffiti associate producer Gary Kurtz was named as Producer for Star Wars, and received $50,000.

The script development money gave Lucas enough to live on whilst he continued work on the screenplay. As he did so it changed again; a ‘Kiber Crystal’ was written in and then written out. Skywalker became Deak Starkiller’s overweight younger brother before becoming the farm boy familiar from the finished film. Characters swapped names and roles. A new character named Darth Vader – sometimes a rogue Jedi, sometimes a member of the rival ‘Knights of Sith’ – had his role expanded. Some drafts killed him during the explosion of the Death Star, others allowed him to survive; across subsequent drafts his role grew. Some previously major characters disappeared altogether, pushed into a "backstory", Lucas choosing to develop the practically realisable aspects of his story.

This is an important clarification to the idea that Star Wars was "always" a part of a larger saga, one later incarnated in its sequels and prequels. That’s true, but not in an absolutely literal way. Star Wars itself isn’t an excerpted chunk of a vast plotline, the rest of which was then made over the next few decades. It’s a distillation of as much of a vast, abstract, unfinished epic as could be pitched as a fairly cheap film to be shot using the technology of the mid 1970s. And even then much of the equipment used to make the film would be literally invented by Lucas and his crew during production.

In August 1973 Graffiti was released and became a box office sensation, not only did the profits make Lucas rich (he became, at 29, a millionaire literally overnight) its success meant that Lucas was able to renegotiate the terms of his Fox deal. Rather than making demands in the traditional arenas of salary and percentages Lucas wanted control of the music, sequel and merchandising rights to his creations. Fox conceded him 60 per cent of the merchandising, aware of its potential value to them, but eventually agreed that Lucas’s share would rise by 20 per cent a year for two years after the film’s release. Few films made money from spin-off products for a whole 24 months, and Star Wars would surely be no different. Lucas got the sequel rights as well, albeit with the proviso that any sequel had to be in production within two years of the film’s release or all rights would revert to Fox.

Most important amongst Lucas’ demands was that, if it went ahead, he wanted the film to be made by his own company, not by Fox. That way he could control the budget and ensure all charges and costs made to the production were legitimately spent on the film. The experience of watching Mackenna’s Gold being made while a student on placement a decade earlier had taught him just how much money a studio could waste, and on a film like Star Wars – which was both ambitious and would inevitably be under-budgeted – it was crucial that this did not happen. Control of the music rights also had a sound reason behind it. Universal were making a fortune out of an American Graffiti soundtrack that was simply a repackaging of old hits featured in the movie. Of the profits of this Lucas saw nothing despite having selected the tracks featured and fought long and hard for their inclusion in his film.

In March 1975, Ladd took Lucas’ draft to the Fox board. They passed it and budgeted the film at $8.5m. Characters bounced in and out of that script right up to the preparation of the shooting draft, dated 15 January 1976. This was tailored to be as close to the film’s proposed budget as possible, and contain as many of the ideas, characters and situations Lucas had spent the past few years developing as he considered feasible.

This draft is the first version of the script in which Kenobi dies fighting Vader. Previously he had been injured, but escaped with Luke’s party. Alec Guinness, who had already been cast, was initially unhappy with this change, but was persuaded by Lucas that a heroic death followed by appearances as a spectral voice would prove more memorable to audiences than his spending the last third of the film sitting on Yavin whilst the X-Wings went into battle.

Filming began on location in Tozeur, Tunisia on 22 March 1976. Before shooting Lucas sat his crew down and made them watch four films which he felt between them defined what he was after in Star Wars. Stanley Kubrick’s 2001 (1969), Douglas Trumbull’s 1975 Silent Running, Sergio Leone’s Once Upon a Time In the West and Fellini’s Satyricon (Both 1969). The Leone picture was full of the sun-blasted vistas Lucas wanted to evoke for Tatooine, and the Fellini film, with its aspects of travelogue and attempts to portray an entire society in a fly-on-the-wall manner gave an idea of the "documentary fantasy" approach the director was so keen on. All four films shared one vital element: they’re windows onto lived-in worlds remarkable to audiences but regarded as ordinary by the film’s characters.

The first scenes shot for Star Wars were those of Luke buying Artoo and Threepio from the Jawas outside his foster parents’ home. Producer Kurtz had allowed 11 days for the shoot, after that a borrowed army C130 Hercules was scheduled to pick up the cast and crew.

A few days into shooting, creature make-up man Stuart Freeborn was taken ill and had to be flown back to Britain where he was diagnosed with pneumonia. Other crew members contracted dysentery. On 26 March Tunisia experienced its first winter rainstorm for half a century, damaging equipment and exterior sets delaying filming of key scenes.

Lucas wanted the stormtroopers to ride ‘dewbacks’, dinosaur-like domesticated beasts that allowed the troops to move across the desert. One dewback was built, out of foam rubber stretched over a wire frame. It could only be used in the background and no one was ever seen riding one. The other live animal Lucas wanted to portray was a Bantha, a huge horned, shaggy beast reminiscent of a prehistoric mammoth. It was to be the mode of transport for the Tusken Raiders, faintly Bedouin, vaguely mechanically-enhanced humanoids who attacked Luke in the Jundland wastes. In the end, creating the beasts proved impossible, and while they were referred to in dialogue in scenes that were shot (‘bantha tracks…’) none of their sequences were lensed.

As hard as the shoot was on Lucas, he at least had an idea of what he was trying to do and how it would all fit together. The actors, suffering stomach troubles, sunburn and long days, were less clear. Anthony Daniels trapped inside an almost immovable fibreglass body suit suffered the worst. Twenty five years later he would give credit for helping him to get through the Tunisia filming to Alec Guinness. "He was incredibly kind to me…I firmly believe that I wouldn’t have completed that arduous task of shooting without him."

Once the Tunisian shoot was over, the cast moved to EMI Elstree Studios in Borehamwood, outside of London. Star Wars was being made in the UK because it wasn’t possible to shoot the film in Hollywood at that time, not that Lucas – with his lifelong disdain of LA itself – wanted to anyway. Star Wars required nine stages simultaneously, something that no Hollywood studio complex could guarantee at anything like sufficient notice. In March 1975 producer Kurtz had flown to Italy to look at studio space, but found nothing suitable. He then caught a plane to London, where Lucas joined him.

Together they scouted UK film studios. Pinewood was a possibility, but management insisted Lucasfilm hire their technicians, a condition which became a deal-breaker. Neither Shepperton nor Twickenham had enough sound stages (although the giant Stage H at Shepperton  - bigger than any stage at Elstree – would ultimately house one scene of the film) which left only EMI Elstree. Then losing £1 million a year, Elstree was being kept open more or less on the insistence of Harold Wilson’s government, whose allies in the Trades Union movement considered the closing of the facility unconscionable. Elstree had no staff, and anyone who wished to rent it had to supply their own technicians and much of their own equipment. Off-putting to many, it sealed the deal for Lucas and Kurtz, who wanted to move their own people in. They hired the facility for seventeen weeks starting at the beginning of March 1976.

To design and build the sets needed to turn to Elstree into a realisation of Lucas’s screenplay they hired John Barry, a British designer who had worked under Ken Adam on Barry Lyndon (Stanley Kubrick, 1975) a film Lucas admired enough to hire its costumier John Rollo as well.

Elstree’s two largest stages were given over to Mos Eisley Spaceport and the interior of the Death Star. Both the Mos Eisley hangar bay and the one inside the Death Star which replaced it on the same stage were constructed around the full size Millennium Falcon set created by John Barry’s protege Norman Reynolds. Built by Naval engineers at Pembroke Dock, Wales it was 65 feet in diameter, 16 feet high and 80 feet long. It weighed 23 tonnes.

The absence of Stuart Freeborn, still recovering from Tunisia, meant that most of the aliens seen in the Mos Eisley cantina sequence were completed by assistants and lacked any articulation at all. Unhappy with the scenes as shot, Lucas resolved to do to re-shoots back in the USA.

The last scenes to be shot were for the opening battle, as Vader and his stormtroopers boarded the blockade runner. With little time Lucas used six cameras, manning one himself (Kurtz manned another) and shot the sequence in two takes. The six cameras produced so many different perspectives on the action that even the duplicated events that are in the film are unnoticeable. The finished sequence, chaotic though the creation of it was, is amongst the best put together moments in the movie, a superb evocation of Lucas’ documentary fantasy approach, and the cameras dart in and out of the action like reporters shooting newsreel footage. Virtually the first live action seen in the picture, its style later went a long way towards convincing audiences that what they were seeing was somehow real.

Principal photography completed on 16 July 1976, although some re-shoots and pick up shots for the Tatooine sequences were undertaken in Yuma, Arizona in early 1977. Amongst those scenes shot were those featuring the Banthas. Lucas borrowed a trained elephant from Marine World, and had it dressed to resemble a more hirsute, fearsome pachyderm. Mark Hamill was unavailable to participate. He’d crashed his car of the Antelope Freeway in LA shortly before and was undergoing painful facial reconstructive surgery. Although Hamill should have been involved in the re-shoot, in scenes of Luke’s landspeeder moving across the desert, Lucas had no choice but to film them without him; he took a double to the shoot, dressed him in Luke’s costume and put Threepio in the foreground. Also re-shot, over two days in La Brea, California, were portions of the cantina sequence. New cutaways and background shots were filmed to be inserted into the Elstree footage in order to eliminate as of the unsatisfactory masks as possible.

While supervising editing of the film Lucas experienced chest pains, and was rushed to hospital where he was treated for a suspected heart attack. He was later diagnosed with hypertension and exhaustion, both exacerbated by his diabetes.

Fox were by now trying to book Star Wars into cinemas, and had picked a release date in May, long before the 4th July public holiday, long regarded as the opening weekend of summer. Fox wanted $10m in advance bookings for Star Wars, desperate to recoup an investment that internal studio sources had now decided was foolish. They secured less than $2m, and achieved that only by implying to theatres that they wouldn’t be offered Charles Jarrot’s much-anticipated The Other Side of Midnight if they didn’t sign up for Star Wars too. Before its release several exhibitors complained at this "block booking" and filed suits; Fox was later fined $25,000 for the practice, punished for forcing cinemas to agree to show something which was, by the time they paid the fine, the most financially successful movie ever made.

In early 1977 Lucas screened Star Wars for a group of friends, it was nearly finished – although the opening crawl was longer and many of the special effects shots were absent, represented instead by sequences from World War II films and real combat footage shot by the USAF. Among those present were Brian De Palma, Alan Ladd Jnr, Steven Spielberg and Jay Cocks. Martin Scorsese had been invited but troubles editing his own New York, New York meant he didn’t turn up.

De Palma hated Star Wars, and spent the post-screening dinner rubbishing it to anyone who would listen. Others present were unsurprised, De Palma had behaved in the same way during the group screening of Scorsese’s’ Taxi Driver; laughing loudly through Cybill Shepherd’s conversations with Robert de Niro, and at one point shouting "Shit!" halfway through a tense scene. Only Spielberg seemed impressed, and told Lucas that he thought Star Wars would take $100m. Lucas pointed out that nothing took $100m, and countered that Spielberg’s Close Encounters of the Third Kind would do better at the box office. The two directors wrote what they considered realistic estimations of what each other’s film would make in its first six months of release on the inside of matchbooks, which they then traded. By the time Lucas got round to opening Spielberg’s matchbook and saw the figure $33m in his friend’s scrawling hand Star Wars had already made ten times that.

Odd as it seems now, when every blockbuster is prefaced by months of breathless, unrelenting media "enthusiasm", Star Wars wasn’t released on a wave of hype or accompanied by an extensive marketing campaign. It was released (on 25 May 1977) to thirty-two screens, after a barely publicised premiere at Mann’s Chinese Theatre in Hollywood. It made $2.8m in its opening week, but didn’t receive a nationwide release for two months. Despite almost unprecedented success in preview screenings, Fox were still unsure of what to do with Lucas’ bizarre children’s film. Indeed it, only got a Hollywood opening at all because William Friedkin’s Sorcerer – which had been intended for this slot at Mann’s – wasn’t finished.

So negative had advance feeling about Star Wars been that Lucas left the country; he was still in LA on opening day, finishing the sound edit (he was unhappy with the copy playing downtown, and unknowingly embarking on a lifetime of revising his movie) but the next day he and his wife (and Star Wars film editor) Marcia flew to Hawaii, where they were joined by friends, including Spielberg and Amy Irving. It was an attempt to escape what Lucas felt would be the inevitable terrible reviews and wrath of the studio. Even when Ladd called him to share his excitement over the movie’s colossal opening weekend, Lucas was unmoved; all movies labelled science fiction did well in their first few days due to the business attracted by the neglected fanbase for such things. It was only when the film continued to do outstanding business and was expanded to more and more theatres that Lucas considered returning early from his holiday, and began to realise that the film he’d just delivered had changed his life.

As "Star Wars" expanded into more cinemas, and people began to queue round the block to see it, shares in Fox climbed from well under $10.00 to $11.50 each; over the next three months the value rose to $24.62, nearly trebling in price, such was the film’s value to the embattled studio. It was a magnificent vindication for Alan Ladd Jr, who had more than once had to intervene to stop colleagues closing down the film’s production completely. He had never lost faith in Lucas and his bizarre idea, but he was virtually the only person employed by Fox itself who hadn’t.

Just a few weeks before, as the end of the financial year approached, Fox had tried, and failed, to sell its investment in Star Wars to a German merchant bank as an emergency pre-tax write off.

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