'Icons Unearthed: Star Wars' takes a deep dive into George Lucas' franchise
The new docu-series "Icons Unearthed: Star Wars" reminds viewers of the hurdles and challenges George Lucas overcame to get his franchise off the ground.
"Icons Unearthed: Star Wars" arrives on the heels of Paramount's "The Offer" (a drama series about the making of Francis Ford Coppola's "The Godfather") and before Disney's "Light and Magic" (a docu-series about Lucas' Industrial Light and Magic effects house). It's a perfect trilogy in many ways.
Coppola and Lucas were friends and were part of the American New Wave of the 1970s. Coppola served as producer on Lucas' "THX1138" and "American Graffiti." Coppola was the first of that generation of filmmakers to get a shot at a big Hollywood studio film with "The Godfather." The limited series "The Offer" reveals how difficult it was to get the film made and how the studio wanted to fire Coppola as well as his chosen actors of Marlon Brando and Al Pacino.
If you watch that leading into "Icons Unearthed" then it will place you in the right historical context for what these young filmmakers were facing as they tried to work in the Hollywood film industry that they were also rebelling against. Movies were changing in the 1970s and filmmakers like Coppola, Lucas, Steven Spielberg, Martin Scorsese and Brian DePalma were catalysts for those changes. Both "The Offer" and "Icons Unearthed" remind us that the filmmakers we see as established masters now were concerned that they might be fired off the films they were creating, and they were working under enormous pressure to stay on budget and on schedule even when everything was in chaos.
And then coming out of "Icons Unearthed," audiences will be able to check out the Disney show "Light and Magic" (debuting July 27 on Disney+) that focuses exclusively on Lucas' Industrial Light and Magic (ILM), the company he created to do the special effects on the first "Star Wars" film. I saw a panel on show at Star Wars Celebration in May and it looked amazing.
And we get a glimpse of how ILM started in "Icons Unearthed." But since "Light and Magic" is produced by Disney and Lucasfilm, the film obviously has access to more materials and to Lucas himself.
"Icons Unearthed" is produced and directed by Brian Volk-Weiss, who also created the shows "The Toys That Made Us" and "The Movies That Made Us." All three delightfully tap into our geeky obsession with pop culture.
"Icons Unearthed" will spend six hours exploring the Star Wars films from Episode I to VI. The first hour of the series, which was what I previewed, looks to the origins of the franchise, the film that is now known as "A New Hope."
Although the film turned out to be a financial blockbuster, Lucas was rejected by two studios before 20th Century Fox finally greenlit it. And even though Fox's Alan Ladd, Jr. approved it, he had no idea what Lucas' "space opera" was really about.
The docu-series "Icons Unearthed: Star Wars" takes a deep dive into the franchise Lucas created. It boasts the first on-camera interview with Lucas’ ex-wife and film editor Marcia Lucas.
"There's a lot of stuff she told us about 'Star Wars,' the movie that was mind blowing, and there was a lot of stuff about George Lucas as a human being that was mind blowing," Volk-Weiss recalled. "Two of my favorite examples: One, they were so behind schedule and pretty over budget. Fox was putting a lot of pressure on George to not film the ending attack on the Death Star. So, Fox actually wanted the movie to end with them leaving the Death Star having rescued Princess Leia and no final battle. So that was mind blowing because can you imagine 'Star Wars' ending with them rescuing Princess Leia and shooting down four TIE fighters?"
The second example was on a more personal note about Lucas.
"George Lucas's father's mantra of 'own your own company, own your own company.' His father owned a couple of stationery stores in Modesto, California. And he just drilled that into George from an early age. They had a complicated relationship the way a lot of fathers and sons do. And for all the complicatedness, George took that to heart."
Marcia Lucas, who won an Oscar for editing "Star Wars" and also cut "The Empire Strikes Back" and "Return of the Jedi," had some harsh words last year in an interview for J.W. Rinzler’s book “Howard Kazanjian: A Producer’s Life," where she said Lucasfilm's Kathleen Kennedy and director J.J. Abrams "don't get" the "Star Wars" films. But so far in "Icons Unearthed," she has had no harsh words about the franchise but does have some pointed insights.
The first episode of the show does celebrate how smart and innovative Lucas was in both a business sense and creative one. Lucas created his own effects company (ILM) and fought to keep the rights to what he had created. Lucas secured the right to make the sequels to "Star Wars" and to own all merchandising rights. Both of which proved incredibly smart financial decisions.
The series has a number of fabulous interviews in addition to Marcia Lucas. Hearing from effects people like John Dykstra, Phil Tippett, Rick Baker and Tom Spina is always great because they deserve so much more attention than they have received.
But there are a couple of people, namely Victoria Bennett ("Den of Geek" correspondent) and John Tenuto (professor of sociology), who don't seem to add anything and just take away time from the people who have first-hand experiences on the films and that I would have loved to hear more from. Bennett in particular keeps prefacing her comments with "what George was thinking" and I am not sure why she would have all this access to what Lucas was thinking while in his hospital bed recovering from a car crash as a youth.
And visually, the show sometimes keeps returning to the same images of Lucas because it has a limited supply of materials regarding certain aspects of his life and career.
These are just minor complaints though. In all, the show, based on its first episode, is a must-see for anyone who considers themselves a fan of "Star Wars." And if you are not a fan, then it is a show that provides a fascinating and insightful look into how films get made.
If this series is a success, Volk-Weiss has a list of other films he loves that he wants to take deep dives into.
"Icons Unearthed: Star Wars" debuts July 12 on Vice TV.