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Head boy adrift: Cameron, Farage and the crisis of conservatism

The Conservative Party is in a state of deep uncertainty. Since the defection of Douglas Carswell to Ukip it has been accused of being on the verge of a split, but that, in fact, has already happened.

Out on a limb: Cameron has cut himself off from core Conservative voters and is increasingly isolated. Photo: Dan Kitwood/Getty Images

It always used to be the case that the party conference before a general election was a time of uplift, real or imagined, for the Conservative Party. Even in the depths of misery – in 2000, say, or in 2004 – the party has shown an alarming capacity for self-delusion, deploying all that outdated tripe from the age of deference about the secret weapon of loyalty. There is little reason to suspect that this year’s events will be any different, given the level of delusion that appears to be afflicting the Conservative leader himself, and despite his embarrassments about Scotland, in failing to understand the realities of the issue, panicking when he did and almost certainly offering more than his backbenchers will allow him to deliver.

“Birmingham will partly be about celeb­rating what we have achieved with the economy,” a Tory MP tells me. “Our strongest suit is that Miliband and Balls don’t have a policy on it that makes sense.

“We inherited an economy in ruins and it’s no longer like that. Our unemployment is two-thirds of France’s, where they run a Miliband policy. But we have trouble on other fronts.”

Those fronts are, after the Scottish episode, what to do about England; what to do about Europe, especially its open-borders immigration policy; and what to do about the internal health of the party. “Some colleagues have lost a quarter of their members since the last election,” another MP tells me. “They mostly left over gay marriage and they aren’t coming back.

“Cameron said the issue would be forgotten by the election, but it bloody well isn’t. He had no mandate to do it and people won’t forgive him.”

The Conservative Party is in a state of deep uncertainty. Since the defection of Douglas Carswell to Ukip it has been accused of being on the verge of a split, but that, in fact, has already happened. Even if Tory MPs more conventional than Cameron have not formally turned against him, many have turned in their hearts. They have watched the haemorrhage, over the past four years, of activists from their constituency associations, people who have abandoned the party over disillusion with its policies and its failure to be more robustly and unapologetically conservative. They have become annoyed by what a former activist calls the “cringe” the party now routinely makes every time it is accused of being out of step with the centre-left consensus. Nowhere was this better seen than in the last-minute panic over Scottish independence, which culminated in Cameron’s much-derided “vow”, but that was not the only example. They have become frustrated by their leader’s fundamental disengagement from the real issues that affect their constituents – immigration, the lack of social mobility and the torturously slow economic recovery. When even tribal Tories become fed up with their leader – and many of them are even more disillusioned with him than their parents were with Ted Heath – the party ought to be getting worried.

Ministers still talk of how their party can win the election next May. There is the odd pessimist, but they mostly keep their own counsel. An older MP, no admirer of Cameron but tribally loyal to the party, regards many members of the 2010 intake as “flaky”. Outside the payroll vote, both in the Commons and in the Lords, gloom is more widespread. “We all underestimated Ukip,” a former minister and Cameron loyalist tells me. “It’s not just his fault.” Those fed up with Cameron – and there is quite a contingent now in the parliamentary party – point out that he didn’t help matters by piling insults on Ukip voters, many of whom often still voted Tory when it mattered. Some would like him to get on and conclude a pact with Ukip, but one of his friends asks: “How can you do deals with people you have called fruitcakes, loonies and closet racists?” Some people would begin by saying sorry, but Cameron doesn’t do sorry.

Part of the unhappiness is prompted by a doubt about how far he understands the mood of the party and the difficulty of its prospects, and how far he is thinking of the lecture circuit, or the merchant bank, or wherever he will consolidate his fortune when politics is over for him. His friends insist that, even if he manages to remain Prime Minister after next May, he’ll be out at midterm in the next parliament. Cynics regard this as his insurance policy against having to explain to Angela Merkel that Britain has voted to leave the European Union in a referendum that took place solely because his party forced him into it.

The criticism of his team in Downing Street, strident a year ago, has been muted a little by the effect of Lynton Crosby. The Australian pollster was welcomed by many backbenchers who knew about his grasp of populism. It is felt he has succeeded a little in getting Cameron and ministers to concentrate more on the issues that they believe voters really care about; but many MPs were shocked at the extent to which this unelected import influenced the July reshuffle, and particularly his role in Michael Gove’s defenestration. “Gove’s sacking was crass,” a backbencher tells me. “To be the enemy of the National Union of Teachers is a badge of honour. What we did to Gove was just appeasement.” However, a former minister says: “I don’t care what Crosby does so long as he wins us the next election.” MPs still feel that Cameron’s communications director, Craig Oliver, is second-rate and that the effective chief of staff, Ed Llewellyn, tells the Prime Minister too much of what he wants to hear. The party chairman, Grant Shapps, is felt to be more invisible than any chairman in living memory has been this close to an election. “He’s a complete lightweight,” a senior MP tells me. “He’s out of the loop and the big decisions are taken without him.”

Two factors are operating in Tory hearts and minds to prevent complete meltdown, but both are precarious. The first is the conviction that Ed Miliband is held in such contempt by the British people that, come what may, they will not vote for him to be their prime minister next year. His performance in the Scottish referendum campaign, in Labour’s heartland, reinforced that. Some Tories make a comparison with Neil Kinnock, and it is not intended to flatter. The second is the notion that all those former Tories who voted for Ukip in last year’s local government elections and this year’s European elections have “made their point”, and will be back en masse to do what is expected of them next May.

Miliband is certainly getting bad read-outs on his economic ideas, and if the pound in your pocket is to be the main factor at the election – which it could be – then he may struggle with that large, middle-class contingent that Tony Blair persuaded to come over to the Labour Party, and that is needed again. Whether, after recent events, he is a more comical, less credible figure than Cameron is a matter that will be keenly debated. Like her or loathe her, Mrs Thatcher was a politician on another planet compared to Neil Kinnock; Messrs Miliband and Cameron are altogether better matched, and neither is beyond being identified with disaster and failure.

The Ukip question is the thornier one. I know too many lifelong Tory voters (and even Tory activists) who say they will vote for the party come what may next year, to buy the line that they have all “made their point”. The point they wish to make – that the Conservative Party is insufficiently conservative – will for many of them not be made until Cameron has been punished for his apostasy, much as the Powellites punished Heath in February 1974, even to the point of bringing in a Labour government. One particular line of Tory delusion is that Ukip wants an in/out referendum on Europe, and yet it seeks to remove from office the only person who has promised to provide one and who stands a reasonable chance of being in a position to do so. As far as many Ukippers are concerned, the remedy for that is in Cameron’s hands: he can offer an electoral pact to them and everybody will be happy. But as lead delusionist, Cameron does not believe that such a pact is necessary, because he is sure the Ukip vote will shortly evaporate.

Much has been made, since he became leader nearly nine years ago, of David Cameron’s privileged background. Perhaps too little has been made of the extent to which he shares the characteristics of the last public-school-educated generation to run the party – the Edens, Homes and Macmillans. Then, the watchword (popularised by Macmillan) was “unflappability”: a good Tory leader, or even a bad one, never let it be thought he had made the slightest mistake, never apologised, never explained. A man who was never leader of the party – Rear Admiral Morgan Morgan-Giles MP – famously said, at a sticky moment for the party: “Pro bono publico, no bloody panico.”

Until the flap over the Scottish referendum, it seemed Cameron was cut from exactly that cloth; but then the panico in the last days of the campaign was precisely because of the suave, insouciant reluctance to be bothered by the prospect of the break-up of the United Kingdom until it seemed about to happen. If the Tory party were a band, it would have been playing “Nearer, my God, to thee” at that precise moment.

Douglas Carswell (left) unsettled the Tories by jumping ship on 29 August. Now he intends to becomes Ukip's first MP. Photo: Olli Scarff/Getty

The iceberg has been averted – just. Had it been hit, the party conference would have become a desperate showcase for a leader urgently having to prove to his party, and to those in the country who could be bothered to take notice, that he was still fit to hold his job. Instead, there will doubtless be an attempt to pretend that nothing is amiss, that it is business as usual, and that the party will sail ahead united and untroubled into an election campaign for which this conference season has been the first launch.

The problem for Cameron and his party is that it is already too late for that. The old toff unflappability cons no one any more, because the deference required to be taken in has long gone. The political sixth form at Westminster, former research assistants and apparatchiks to a man, is widely despised by the voters. It is all the worse for Cameron than for the others because of his abundant lack of humility, and the Bullingdon Boy picture that lurks in the back of too many people’s consciousnesses.

Ed Miliband may seem weird and Nick Clegg thick and duplicitous, but David Cameron has something far worse than that against him, namely his innate born-to-rule arrogance.

Now the Scottish diversion is over, the Tories must concentrate on fighting an election in just over seven months’ time. That a split in the party has already happened was evident not just in Douglas Carswell’s departing his safe Tory seat in Clacton for Ukip, possibly turning it into a safe Ukip seat in the process. It has been evident, too, in the scores of Tory MPs who have hinted they will be happy to state in their election addresses that they will campaign for a No to Europe vote in an in/out referendum, in the hope that they will not face a Ukip challenge. As things stand, they may just have to grin and bear it, because there is no sign of any sort of pact – yet. That may, of course, change after the Clacton by-election result on 9 October, especially if any other MPs are tempted to do a Carswell. However, had David Cameron read any history – and given that he thinks America fought with us in the Battle of Britain, he probably hasn’t – he would remember the outcome of the pact between Ramsay MacDonald, then secretary of the Labour Representation Committee, and Herbert Gladstone, the Liberal chief whip, in 1903 to allow some Labour candidates a clear run at the 1906 election, in return for Labour not fighting seats where the Liberals could beat the Tories. Within 20 years the Liberal Party was all but dead, and MacDonald was sitting in Downing Street.

The most serious allegation Carswell had to level against his former party leader when he defected in late August was that Cameron was “not serious” about change in Europe. He could have gone much further, without hyperbole, and said it was hard to detect any subject at all about which Cameron is particularly serious, except continuing to fulfil his student politician fantasy of being prime minister. The state of permanent chillax – as Harold Macmillan would not have called his distant successor’s pose of unflappability – also betrays a detachment from the serious issues that Cameron ought to be confronting on behalf of the country. Macmillan, too, had that detachment, which led to him having rings run round him in the Profumo affair, driving him out of office a few months later. Some Tory MPs – especially those who have worked in the private sector – comment on what short hours Cameron puts in. His recent bout of holidays, just as the Middle East went critical and Russia seemed about to invade eastern Europe, was Cameron to a tee, and his Scotland humiliation was but the first and most obvious consequence of it. If we didn’t know he loves power so much for its own sake, we’d think he’d given up.

Because of his arrogance, Cameron believes what he wants to believe and not what it is rational for him to believe. When he was leader of the opposition he thought he could repudiate the Treaty of Lisbon once he became prime minister, and repeatedly said so. Then, one day, enough senior diplomats told him that he couldn’t, because it was locked in to all the other European treaties Britain had signed since it concluded the Treaty of Brussels in 1972; that he had no choice but to believe them. In his bizarre reshuffle in July he dispensed with the services of Dominic Grieve, a serious and accomplished lawyer, as attorney general – apparently because Grieve persisted in telling him that he could not dispense with EU human rights laws without leaving the EU. Now that Cameron is Prime Minister he doesn’t have to change his mind, he just sacks the person who disagrees with him.

What used to be the Conservative-voting public – millions of them now appear to be the Ukip-voting public – is obsessed with Europe for one reason alone, and that is not (as is often represented) whether human rights laws allow Britain to deport people to countries where they might be tortured or face execution. It is because the EU allows the unlimited immigration of people from economically deprived countries in Europe. The voters believe these people take jobs that the indigenous working class would be happy to do (though the evidence for that is scarce), that they make an immediate claim on public services for which they have not made a contribution through their taxes (easier to prove) and that, in some cases, they behave in a way the indigenous population finds culturally offensive. “There has to be a firm policy on immigration before the election or we haven’t got a prayer,” says a senior Tory MP. “You should come on to the doorsteps and hear what people say about it. It can’t be fudged any longer.”

This is the key issue upon which Cameron has failed to make common cause with his party, which now widely finds his occasional bursts of rhetoric on the subject downright dishonest. But there are others. For reasons rooted in cynicism, Cameron pushed through same-sex marriage. The grass roots of his party overwhelmingly opposed it. For doing so, they were accused of homophobia. Doubtless in some cases that was true. In many others it wasn’t. Anyone who knows the Conservative Party knows that for decades it has included a proportion of homosexual members that probably exceeds the proportion of homosexuals in the population. They are not just in parliament, but in the salaried organisation and the constituency parties, and they have been for as long as most can remember. For most Tories their sexuality is an irrelevance. The opposition was grounded in four things: first, many thought the term simply shouldn’t be applied to same-sex couples for logical reasons, as it had only ever been applied to heterosexual couples; second, it was viewed as cynical pandering to the agenda of the militant left; third, there were many worse things wrong with the country that required not just the time, but the goodwill of Tory MPs, to get through; and fourth, Cameron had no mandate to do it. That goodwill is in short supply in the Commons now, and even shorter in the emaciated constituency associations. As usual, Cameron didn’t consider the consequences.

Yet, for all that, it is far from a delusion to suppose the Tories could, if not win the election next year, end up as the largest party in a hung parliament. Some of the uncertainties that afflict the Tories also afflict Labour. In areas heavily populated by the white working class, notably along the Thames Estuary and in other parts of the south-east, Ukip is making more inroads into the Labour vote than into the Tories’. Ed Miliband is not popular with the general public, nor is he viewed as especially effective. He has no entrée with the middle classes of the sort Tony Blair had. He has no compelling narrative about the economy – the Tories can at least point to a record of growth, lower unemployment and some attempt to get the deficit under control compared to the mess they inherited in 2010.

“I’ve got white working-class constituents who’ve always voted Labour, but they won’t be voting for Miliband but for Ukip, because they feel he couldn’t care less about them,” a backbencher said. “So the results could be pretty random.”

“If we engage in fratricide at Birmingham we’re writing our own death warrant,” another MP told me. “But when it’s over we’re going to have to deal with a constitutional crisis. There’s going to be a lot of trouble over Scotland, and it will go back to Cameron’s poor judgement in allowing such a long campaign and then panicking at the end of it.” With numerous MPs now intimating they will never vote for the fulfilment of Cameron’s “vow”, more will follow, and the battle over that must not be underestimated. If there is a sense of calm at Birmingham it will be entirely artificial, and it will come before the storm. 

Simon Heffer writes for the Daily Mail. His latest book is “High Minds: the Victorians and the Birth of Modern Britain” (Random House, £30)

Simon Heffer is a journalist, author and political commentator, who has worked for long stretches at the Daily Telegraph and the Daily Mail. He has written biographies of Thomas Carlyle, Ralph Vaughan Williams and Enoch Powell, and reviews and writes on politics for the New Statesman

This article first appeared in the 24 September 2014 issue of the New Statesman, The cult of Boris

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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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