Tribal paranoia

Ethnic polarisation is taking hold in Kenya reports Michela Wrong Photos by Peter Chappell

Samuel jabs his finger at the television screen, which is broadcasting images of opposition supporters lobbing tear-gas canisters back at the riot police who fired them. "They say these are ODM supporters. But look, he's a Luo, she's a Luo; that's another one. That one, he could be anything. But these are all Luos, not just 'opposition supporters'."

I stare at the screen, comparing the faces to those of Samuel and his brothers, all of whom are Kikuyus. After 15 years reporting Africa, I can usually distinguish a Dinka from a Maasai, a Tutsi from a Hutu, an Eritrean from a Djiboutian, but I'm struggling here. "How can you tell?" "Luos are stocky, very well-built. They have big jaws. It's just obvious."

It was a conversation that would have been inconceivable a fortnight ago, clunkily tasteless five years ago. Samuel, a talented painter, comes from a section of Kenyan society I have come to know and admire, and on which rests this country's future. Born in a multi-ethnic slum, he has rubbed up against members of the Luo, Kamba, Luhya and Kisii communities all his life. He belongs to a cosmopolitan urban generation that always used to bristle when asked the question "Which tribe are you?", responding defiantly: "Actually, I'm a Kenyan."

Like many of that generation, he voted across tribal lines during the recent elections, choosing the Luo opposition leader Raila Odinga - whose Orange Democratic Movement (ODM) he regarded as a force for change - instead of the Kiku yu incumbent, Mwai Kibaki. Today Samuel, who abandoned his shack when Luos set the neighbourhood aflame, is reassessing some fundamental beliefs. He would never vote that way again. And he will be very, very careful in future to live among his own. "I'm becoming more tribalistic with every passing day."

Those who know Kenya have winced at the international media's portrayal of the crisis as some sort of Rwandan Genocide Mk II, with Luos and Kikuyus pitched against one another in the wake of "tribal voting" that reflected ata vistic hostilities. Kenya's violent explosion was rooted, rather, in cynical governance, the ruthless ambitions of its politicians, the yawning divide between prospectless poor and the smug elite, and the generational exasperation of millions of youngsters chafing at the indifference of a geriatric leadership.

But if the factors are complex, their expression has been horribly crude. And the lynchings, church-torchings and manhunts have triggered an accelerated process of ethnic polarisation - mental and physical - in a country that believed it had reached a level-headed accommodation with its tribal differences. As the atrocities mount up, Kenyans are starting to think of themselves in radically different ways.

Nowhere more so than in the slums. "In my area, the kiosk owners are now asking for people's IDs before they sell you anything," says Joseph, a taxi driver who lives in a largely Kikuyu slum and is himself a Kikuyu. "If you're a Luo, they won't serve you. And everyone is saying no Kikuyu will ever rent premises to a Luo again. The Luos in Kawangware will have to leave and no new ones will be allowed to come in."

But the middle classes also feel they are being forced to choose their camp, having brushed off ethnic sensitivities along with the mud of the upcountry samba (farm). "I went to dinner with colleagues recently and there was silence round the table," says Ruth, a young journalist. "We were so aware of the landmines in the conversation - because it was a mix of ethnic groups - that no one dared say anything."

A kind of reckoning

Even mzungus (westerners) are having to recalibrate, sprouting ethnic antennae they possessed when it came to hot spots like Rwanda, but never seemed necessary in Kenya. "Somehow, we've managed to send a Kikuyu camera crew to Kisumu," one television producer confessed with embarrassment. Stuck in a Luo stronghold, his Kikuyu reporters didn't dare venture out, let alone film. Western employers are chartering planes to scoop up employees whose ethnicity was regarded as irrelevant on appointment, but who are now regarded as being at risk.

"There's been a kind of reckoning with the idea of Kenyan-ness," says Parselelo Kantai, a Kenyan writer. "It was something we'd all been talking about but hadn't got round to. Now people have to make a hard decision about whether it's a viable concept or not."

In Kenya, as in most African states, self-image cannot be disentangled from colonial story. The British imperialists who settled the country did not invent its tribal configuration. Speak to any elderly Kenyan and they will tell you that their gran dparents were keenly aware of differences between Kamba and Kikuyu, Kikuyu and Maasai, with cattle raids and small wars against rivals across the lines peppering village existence.

But historians say that ethnic identity was a surprisingly malleable concept, becoming set in stone only with the colonial state. As white settlers rushed into Kenya in search of land, indigenous people were allocated "tribal reserves" and issued with the kipande, a pass defining their ethnicity. Some of Kenya's ethnic labels today did not exist before the colonial experience - the term "Kalenjin", for example, started being used only in the late 1940s, as a convenient way of grouping the Nandi-speaking peoples.

Acting on the well-established principle of divide and rule, British administrators allotted certain tribes certain functions: Maasais made good soldiers, the farming Kikuyus - deemed money-hungry and too clever by half - were meant to feed the nation, Kambas made for excellent houseboys. Those stereotypes are still in common use today, bandied about among Kenyans as though they capture eternal truths.

Under Kenya's first president, Jomo Kenyatta, a cynical system of presidential patronage reinforced these distinctions. In the top-heavy post-colonial state, prosperity depended on access to State House. Encouraging his fellow Kikuyus to settle outside their usual confines, Kenyatta made clear that those groups which supported the opposition would not be invited to "eat" from the national table, paying for their disloyalty by blocking their way to civil service jobs, private sector contracts and infrastructure. It is no coincidence that Kisumu, Odinga's home town in western Kenya, is today a decaying urban centre, its fish, rice, sugar and cotton industries either stagnating or dead in the water.

As poverty levels soared under Daniel arap Moi, ethnic hostility simmered. Moi, a Kalenjin, capitalised on the suspicions of the smaller tribes, presenting himself as the only leader who could keep the Kikuyus' vaunting ambition in check. You could detect the antagonism in the coded language: politicians railed against "a certain community" (the Kikuyus) or "the people of the lake" (the Luos). But the lid stayed on, thanks to Moi's iron grip. Kenyans of all stripes came to see themselves as brothers in suffering, victims of a sleazy and brutal leader.

When Mwai Kibaki won the 2002 elections at the head of a multi-ethnic coalition, many expected such tensions would dissipate. But the new president threw out the draft of a new constitution trimming his executive powers, sacked his coalition partners and withdrew into an ethnic citadel. While western governments expressed delight at the new administration's economic performance, Kenyans complained that the Kikuyus were at it again. The "Mount Kenya Mafia" - cronies from Kibaki's Kikuyu tribe and its neighbouring Embu and Meru groups - was playing the old patronage game.

Important ministries, critics noted, rested in the hands of "a certain community", with only inconsequential portfolios going outside the ethnic circle. With them went dodgy procurement contracts, local investment and jobs for the boys. "Go to any government department and you will be able to tell the minister's eth nicity by looking at the faces of the staff," one Nairobi-based journalist told me.

The conviction that only Kikuyus and their cousins were "eating" meant Odinga's campaign promise of majimboism - federalism - found a ready audience. The notion sounds uncontroversial to outsiders, but ordinary Kenyans interpreted it very differently. To their ears, maj im boism meant that, in future, only Luos would be allowed to own land in Luo areas, only Kambas would be allowed to run shops in Kambaland.

Raila Odinga was officially declared the loser of the rigged elections, but majimboism is in effect already being practised on the ground. The old kipande, with its ethnic labels, may have gone, but Kenyans can usually pinpoint tribal affiliation on the basis of name alone, spelled out on national identity cards. These are now being demanded at makeshift barricades by young, angry men wielding machetes and clubs. Already, a quarter of a million Kenyans - most of them Kikuyus fleeing Rift Valley homes - have been displaced and made homeless.

"Majimboism is already here in our country," says one Kikuyu kiosk owner, who, like many Kenyans in an increasingly paranoid nation, does not want his name used. "People have learned never to move to an area where you don't belong. Or go there to work but never move your family there. Then, if there is trouble, you can pick up and go. It's good to stay where you belong."

It is too early to say how far this de facto ethnic partition will go, how deeply the scars of the past weeks reach. Working against the trend is urbanisation, which forces tribes to live cheek by jowl, socialising and working with each other, dating and marrying one another. What is undeniable is that ruthless politicians, seeking the most effective issue around which to rally support, in the age of multiparty democracy, have pushed the concept of the nation state to breaking point.

"This crisis is a direct result of Kibaki politics," says Kantai. "Five years ago, no one was talking about Kikuyus or Luos. It just wasn't an issue."

Kenya's ethnic groups

The population is roughly 34 million, made up of more than 40 groups, the largest of which are the Kikuyus, Luhyas, Luos, Kalenjins and Kambas.

Ethnicity has seldom been an issue in Kenyan politics and some group labels such as Kalenjin became common only in the 1940s under British rule.

The largest group, the Kikuyus, makes up 22 per cent of the population. Their traditional home is central Kenya, to the north and west of Nairobi. Mwai Kibaki, the incumbent president, is a Kikuyu.

The opposition leader Raila Odinga is a Luo. Luos and Luhyas together make up 27 per cent of the population; they traditionally come from western Kenya.

Kalenjins, from the Rift Valley district, are the next-largest group. Kibaki's predecessor Daniel arap Moi is a Kalenjin; he was elected with support and opposition from both Luo and Kikuyu politicians.

This article first appeared in the 14 January 2008 issue of the New Statesman, Obama unmasked

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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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