Interview: Hazel Blears

The woman in charge of the Labour Party now says she's a Brownite as well as a Blairite as she makes

On the mantelpiece in Hazel Blears's House of Commons office, alongside the obligatory pictures of constituents visiting parliament, sits the following framed poem:

I am not everybody
I am one
I cannot do everything
I can do some.
That which I can do
God expects me to do
With the help of God and each other.

Blears explains how she came upon it: "When I went to Chicago, I met people there whose hospital had been closed. They'd raised $10m for a 'well-being' centre; it was co-ordinated by a woman who's both a Pentecostal black preacher and a merchant banker, and she's a completely influential character. When I got there, two kids had just been shot on the street, and the people came to a meeting in quite a rough town hall. They put flowers on the table. They wore their best frocks. Before every meeting they say that poem. My credo is that. I believe in ordinary people's power to change their lives."

Hazel Blears does not wear her faith on her sleeve, but she attended Happyland Sunday school as a child and has remained a believer. Although brought up a Methodist, she now attends a Catholic church, St Peter & St Paul's in Salford, to be with her husband, who is a committed Christian. In this as in other matters, it seems, she follows a precedent set by the Prime Minister. Commentators have noted the seemingly unshakeable optimism that has served her well as the chair of the Labour Party during troubled periods. There is something of the born-again Sunday-school teacher about her ebullient personality, which makes her a popular figure with the party faithful.

Blears enjoys talking about the passion for motorbikes that she shares with her husband. As her glossy campaign literature explains, she is a working-class girl from Salford whose father was a fitter and lifelong trade unionist. Her brother Stephen, who is four years older than her, is a bus driver in Manchester. Their career paths diverged at the age of 11 thanks to the grammar-school system. "My brother failed his eleven-plus and now he drives a bus, and he's at least as bright as I am, if not brighter. When I was 18 there were two people in my class who went to university. There were two of us who passed the eleven-plus from my primary school." She was the first person in her family to go on to higher education and she later qualified as a solicitor, working in local government until she was elected as an MP in 1997. She appeared as an extra in A Taste of Honey, that classic of 1960s kitchen-sink cinema, but that is the extent of the glamour. She has always lived in Salford and says she always will.

Are there no stories to compete with those of Blears's rivals for deputy leader? After all, Peter Hain was framed for a bank robbery; Harriet Harman was spied on by MI5; Hilary Benn is part of a political dynasty; and Alan Johnson was orphaned at an early age and brought up by his sister. She thinks for a moment and says: "I had my handbag stolen once, chased the robbers and identified them in a line-up."

The hard way

We ask Blears, as we have asked the five candidates who have preceded her, to make her pitch for the deputy's job. She explains that she has held every post in the party, from branch secretary up, in her 25 years in politics. She can claim with some justification that she has done it the hard way. She was a councillor in Salford and failed as a parliamentary candidate twice before entering parliament (losing by a mere 800 votes in Bury South in 1992). On entering the Commons she became a minister at the Department of Health and then at the Home Office. She claims she is perfectly placed to act as the intermediary between party and leader, one of the key roles of the Labour deputy. She also argues that if she wins the deputy leadership contest she will push for a cabinet post for "manifesto delivery".

Blears believes one of her most important tasks will be to inform the cabinet of the mood of the party, while managing the expectations of party members. "It's important to have someone in there whose specific job it is to say, 'Look, this is how it's playing.' But I actually think it's a two-way street. The person doing the job has to be strong enough and have enough credibility to go back to the party and say: 'Look, these are the constraints of government. This is what we can do, this is what we can't do'." She adds: "I think these days our party understands that they're not in the party of their dreams."

Pressed on where she believes the government has gone wrong, she does not point to the obvious issues of the Iraq adventure or the cash-for-honours scandal. Ever the optimist, she draws a comparison between the Conservatives' current strong showing in the polls and Labour's even bigger lead in the early 1990s, which was suddenly reversed on election night in 1992. She says she does not identify a mood in the country to sweep Labour from power, but does concede a problem with the delivery of public services. "I do think we put an awful lot of money into our public services and people are pleased about that, tripling expenditure and investment in the NHS. I think people acknowledge that, but I still think there is a sense among them of 'are we getting as much value from that investment as we can'?" She suggests - in a more endearing and less dismissive way than Alan Johnson did a few weeks ago - a mismatch between the pol itical priorities of what she might have called middle-class radicals and her voters. "Outside this political world we all inhabit, the difference is amazing. If you took House of Lords reform, I think you would find that the number of people terribly exercised by it in the country would be a lot smaller than it is here in Westminster."

Life in her area before 1997 consisted of male unemployment of 50 per cent, of schools with outside toilets, and of GCSE pass rates of 32 per cent. Now she points to the Salford Quays development as a major employer, to a three-star hospital, to cuts in joblessness and improvements in exam grades. Her peroration: "Wow! Just to say that to you is fantastic!" So what are people's main concerns now? She lists them as health, education, immigration, crime and Blears's own pet subject, antisocial behaviour. She says that a recent "citizens' summit" at Downing Street confirmed her in the view that the public is concerned with these bread-and-butter issues.

Factional vision

As party chair, Blears was informed in advance of the decision by the former cabinet ministers Alan Milburn and Charles Clarke to launch their website 2020 Vision to provoke debate on Labour's future. One person who works with her describes that meeting as an attempt to repeat the Limehouse Declaration, the meeting of four senior Labour figures in the early 1980s that gave rise to the SDP. Though that might seem an exaggeration, there is considerable concern in Gordon Brown's camp that some of the diehards around Tony Blair may have adopted a scorched-earth policy - to undermine the likely next prime minister at every turn.

Blears does not necessarily dispute this theory, and suggests that Milburn and Clarke should clarify their motives. "A political party in the middle of its third term, facing some pretty complex challenges out there in a very different world, should have a responsibility . . . to be exploring new policy solutions," she says, but adds ominously: "If there is any sense of it being about factions and divisions, then that's wrong. We have all learned the lesson that divided parties lose elections. The overwhelming desire in the Labour Party is for unity. Let's get out there; let's fight the elections. We've got elections in the next eight weeks in Scotland, in Wales, in local government. There are 33 million people in this country going to the polls."

We press her to help us interpret Milburn and Clarke's intention: was it debate, or division, or both? "If it's about new ideas, great, but if it's about faction fighting, then we have been down that road before, and it was deeply damaging." Asked what her advice would be to colleagues of the ultra-Blairite tendency who prefer to indulge in attacks on the Chancellor, she says: "They'd better get out there and knock on some doors and use some shoe leather." Does she then have a specific message for Milburn and Clarke? "My message to them is that having a debate around ideas is good for a political party. You need to refresh, you need to renew yourself, and sometimes you have to be a bit challenging on some of that. And I think that is a fine thing to do. But what I don't think is right for anybody to do in the Labour Party - and I think this is shared by 100 per cent of party members - is for us to get into any kind of factions."

Blears smiles one of her broad smiles when we point out that she has never rebelled against her party. Not once. But she did show a degree of independence in backing the campaign at the end of last year to save the specialist maternity unit at Hope Hospital in Salford. The Tories used her support for that campaign to suggest Labour cabinet splits over health service cuts, but she claims she was merely objecting to the local clinical decision to move the unit from her constituency. She has not protested since.

Could it be that Blears is finally distancing herself from Blair after a decade of faithful service? There is no picture of him in her "Hazel for Deputy" leaflet, in which she prefers to show herself consorting with Gordon Brown (big photo) and John Reid (smaller photo). "Loyalty is an underestimated quality," she says. "I've been loyal to the Prime Minister for ten years and I'm proud of what we've done. When we get a new Labour prime minister, then I will be loyal to our new prime minister and then I'll be called a Brownite loyalist."

Late in the day, Blears is seeking, in her effervescent manner, to bustle in on the already crowded list of prospective deputy leaders. She started at the back of the field, but has quickly gathered some influential backers. If the job were confined to jollying along the tribe, she would be a safe bet. Yet such is the fragile state of the party, that the search is still on for a more substantial foil and adjunct to Gordon Brown.

Hazel Blears: the CV

Born 14 May 1956 in Salford, daughter of a maintenance fitter

1961 Appears as a street urchin in A Taste of Honey

1966 Enters Wardley Grammar School, Swinton. Later moves to Eccles Sixth Form College

1977-78 Graduates from Trent Polytechnic and Chester College of Law. Joins Salford City Council as trainee solicitor

1980 Goes into private practice

1984 Elected a Salford councillor

1985 Principal solicitor, Manchester City Council

1989 Marries Michael Halsall, who introduces her to the world of motorcycling

1997 Elected Labour MP for Salford

1998 Becomes parliamentary private secretary to Alan Milburn at the Department of Health and the following year at the Treasury

June 2001 Promoted to junior minister at DoH. Launches the "5 a day" campaign to get people to eat more fruit and vegetables

2003 Appointed minister of state at Home Office, responsible for policing. Elected to Labour's National Executive Committee

May 2006 Appointed party chair

February 2007 Declares her candidacy for deputy leadership, calling for renewal of "big-tent" coalition and declaring: "My socialism is a product . . . of my experience, from the streets and estates of the inner city"

Research by Mosaroff Hussain

This article first appeared in the 12 March 2007 issue of the New Statesman, Iraq: the hidden cost of the war

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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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