1977, and a seven-year-old me, like a multitude of seven-year-old other people, falls under the spell of Sir George of Lucas. Star Wars has arrived and life will never be quite the same again. Suddenly there are spaceships and wookies and lightsabers and Jedi and strange figures called Darth Vader who dress all in black and breathe funny. Suddenly, science fiction is fun.

It’s easy to forget that there was science fiction before Star Wars. Lots of it, in factAt least, it was easy for a seven-year-old to forget. In 1977 the genre was reanimated completely, bathed in a new sense of wonder and imagination. Two men can take the credit for making Star Wars the phenomenal success it was. One is George Lucas, the other is Ralph McQuarrie.

Up until he was approached by George Lucas, McQuarrie had worked as technical illustrator and designer. Star Wars was the first movie that McQuarrie worked on, charged by Lucas to visualise his ideas in an attempt to drum up interest with prospective producers. Lucas himself admits that everything changed for him once he began approaching studios with McQuarrie’s conceptual drawings to hand, so vividly did they present the possibilities. And one has only to compare McQuarrie’s conceptual art with the finished movie to understand how many of his ideas became reality, including several that were replicated almost identically onscreen.

So, there’s the seven-year-old me, happily reading everything he can lay his hands on about the making of his new ‘favourite movie ever’, when he eventually stumbles upon the work of Ralph McQuarrie. What a discovery that was! I had always been a keen artist, always drawing or making something, and at that age inspiration is everything. Few figures inspired the artist in me like Ralph McQuarrie and his wonderful inventions, his strange worlds and his amazing characters. I would spend hours staring at those illustrations, marvelling at the movement, the detail and the beauty he brought to his work. I wanted to be that good, but of course, I couldn’t come close. There’s good and there’s Ralph McQuarrie.

It’s no accident that the three Star Wars prequels are unable to match the originals in imagery and design. McQuarrie was approached but declined, feeling his best work was behind him, and his absence is felt in every frame.

McQuarrie died on 3rd March, 2012, aged 82. He leaves behind a remarkable body of work, a celluloid legacy that few have matched and, back in the year 1977, a young boy who felt inspired to pick up that pencil and keep drawing. Thank you, Ralph McQuarrie.

Below is a selection of my favourite McQuarrie pieces from the Star Wars series. Each will open larger when clicked. Enjoy, and pay a visit to his site here, or his Facebook page here.

The classic. McQuarrie designs Darth Vader. It was McQuarrie who came up with the idea of Vader’s breathing apparatus.

I can’t tell you how many times I copied this one as a kid

This one appears in the movie almost exactly as seen here.

The Millennium Falcon. The greatest spaceship design in movie history.

A beautifully realised painting of Luke on a Tauntaun. I love the colours in this one.

Cloud City. Stunning, and almost impossible to realise to such a degree in the movie itself.

The AT-AT Walkers were a great invention, and McQuarrie uses distance to intimidating effect.

Okay, everybody. Altogether now, ‘I am your father’. Yay!

Ralph McQuarrie
1929 – 2012

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Note: I wanted to post something to celebrate International Star Wars Day, but I’ve been way too busy. So I’m cheating a bit. This is something I wrote a year ago, which some of you may have missed. Enjoy.

A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away…

And so it began, a generation lost in space. Our eyes were wide in wonder, our mouths were fixed in grins of joy, and our parents’ wallets did open up and spew forth dollars and pounds unto the profit margin of Saint George of Lucas. The age of Star Wars was upon us. Love it or loathe it, in 1977 Star Wars changed cinema forever, heralding the return of wonder and spectacle after a decade of dark, introverted American movies.

Here are some of the things that I love about Star Wars. And one thing that I really don’t.

Lightsabers

The weapon of choice for all Jedi knights, and without the doubt the single coolest weapon ever devised. Ever. Forget swords, forget pulse rifles, forget Uzi 9mm’s and forget Adamantium claws. This is cinema’s greatest contribution to iconic arsenal. They’re powerful, graceful, mobile, and they come in a range of colours. Who cares if they’re impossible? Who cares that you’d be more likely to cut your own legs off with it, than uphold galactic justice? They are just so damn cool. Who hasn’t, at one point or another, swung their clasped hands around and made ‘shwum mmmm shwum’ noises? Huh? Come on, admit it. Every little boy from 1977 onwards wanted one (myself included), and most men too (myself included). Christmas ‘77 probably holds the record for the highest number of household breakages, as millions of kids swung their plastic lightsabers around with gleeful abandon.

The lightsaber battles were pretty much the highlight of the three prequels. Having had to settle for the rather clunking battles of the original trilogy, which in contrast sort of resembled the fights you had with your mates when you stumbled upon a couple of long twigs, the prequels offered us fast, frenetic duels which fully utilised the fact that lightsabers were not made of wrought iron and could be swung around quickly. And Darth Maul had a double-ended lightsaber! Double the geekgasm!

Let’s face it, from a Freudian standpoint the lightsaber could be considered the ultimate in phallic symbolism, with the added bonus that this particular throbbing length between your hands lights up, comes in different colours, and makes ‘shwum’ noises. And they’re all the same length, which saves a lot of discomfort. All except Yoda’s, of course, which is smaller. But give the guy a break, he’s three feet tall.

Come on, admit it. They turn you on.

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Star Wars Figures

There was movie merchandising before Star Wars came along, but it was this franchise that really turned it into the multi-million dollar industry it has become. George Lucas was canny enough to have the merchandising rights and profits written into his contract for the first movie, thus generating the huge piles of cash that he probably sleeps on every night, smiling the smile of the smug.

Still, in helping Lucas accumulate his bedding, we were able to spend our childhoods recreating all our favourite scenes, with 3” replicas of the characters, major and minor, from the movies. Well, at least some of the scenes. Obviously this excluded scenes that involved sitting down, since they had no knee joints. I mean, they could sit with their legs straight out, lying down wasn’t a problem, and they could goose-step, but it has to be said that the original figures weren’t exactly ‘fully poseable’. But did we care? Nah. I remember how excited I was to get my very first figure, Ben (Obi-Wan) Kenobi. Old Ben came with a lightsaber which slid out of his arm, and a stiff plastic robe which made sitting him down, with legs straight out, even more difficult to accomplish. I spent hours making a cardboard version of the Cantina on Tatooine, only for most of the characters to repeatedly fall off their chairs. Trust me to recreate the one scene in the movie that involved sitting down and little else. Didn’t really think that one through.

Oh, but the thrill of separating that little plastic container from the card backing, and handling the 3” Han Solo (who looked even less like Harrison Ford than I did) for the first time. Oh, but the agony of realising that, a mere week after getting him, you’d already lost his little gun. Oh, but the sniggering amusement of putting Han Solo and Princess Leia into all manner of amorous positions. Damn those unbending knees!

Pure magic!

My legs are killing me.

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Stormtroopers

In Episode IV, having discovered a group of slaughtered Jawas, Ben Kenobi sagely advises Luke that ‘only Imperial Stormtroopers are so precise’. Luke then rushes home to find his elderly, adoptive parents have also been slaughtered. Truly, we imagine, these soldiers of the Empire are fearsome warriors. Truly, the universe must tremble before them. Except that, for the next six hours of the saga, they can’t seem to hit a damn thing, including a seven foot wookie standing about 10 yards away. Apparently, Imperial Stormtroopers are great if you want kids in hoods or a couple of geriatrics murdered, but once they have to kill moving targets and major characters, the soldiers of the Empire may as well have their helmets on backwards. Witness an entire platoon of these bozos getting their asses kicked by a bunch of teddy bears with rocks. Fail!

But we love them. We love them because, despite being utterly rubbish, they look so cool. From a design point of view, the Stormtroopers are classic. Like much of the design elements in Star Wars, they’ve endured so well without looking dated. They have kind of angry eyes, with a bit of a frown, and a sad little mouth that makes them look a bit lost. You just want to give them a hug, and tell them that it will all be okay, one day they’ll be able to hit a barn door with their eyes open. And there are variations on the theme, too. You have the black Tie Fighter pilots who can’t hit other ships, or the Biker Scouts who like to crash into trees, or the Snow Troopers who let the good guys get away. Again. Bless.

You lookin' at me? I can't tell.

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Yoda

Somewhere there is a parallel universe where logic prevails, and a three-foot, olive-green, big-eared creature with a speech impediment, who is older than your Nan, isn’t the coolest character ever. In this universe, however, Yoda is King. Having seen this cool little Muppet for the first time in The Empire Strikes Back, fans waited twenty-two years for the chance to actually see Yoda opening a can of whup-ass on someone. When he did, we weren’t sure whether to gasp in awe or laugh, as he leapt around like the Tasmanian Devil on acid. Still, he was the only Jedi who could unclip his lightsaber just by holding his hand out. Awesome!

Simply put, Yoda is the best of both worlds; he’s as wise as the ages and he could kick your ass without breaking a sweat. The interesting thing about him, though, is that, unlike Han Solo or Mace Windu, no-one really wants to be Yoda, they just want to know Yoda. People want Yoda to be there when things go wrong. Bad day at work? Talk to Yoda. He’ll say something extremely wise, backwards, and you’ll feel better. That gang of kids on the block giving you trouble? No problem. Introduce them to Yoda. He’ll say something wise, backwards, and then kick all their asses. Twice. The perfect friend, he is.

Okay, so he failed spectacularly to see the Emperor’s machinations until it was too late, then royally screwed up when charged with kicking the one ass that would have made all the difference, before sodding off to a big swamp and hiding for twenty years. Details, mere details. If that was your Nan, you’d forgive her.

Lookin' at me, are you? The only one here, I am.

Used Future and Design Classics

One thing that stood out about Star Wars was the ‘used future’ aesthetic which Lucas wanted to bring to the movies. Up until then, science fiction movies and visions of the future were pretty shiny and spanking. Spaceships were usually pristine, well kept and whiter than white. People wore clean, pressed jumpsuits or walked around half naked, with clean, pressed bodies. Then Star Wars came along and dragged the future (or technically the past) through the dirt. Hi-tech suddenly looked beat up. Here we had a vision of technologically advanced societies that were ‘lived in’. The clothes were crumpled, the droids were a little rusted, and the Millennium Falcon looked like a flying student’s bed-sit. It suddenly made the far-fetched seem everyday.

There were even little references in the script of Star Wars which hinted at technological advances as matters of everyday conversation. Disappointed at the amount of cash he gets for his Landspeeder, Luke turns to Ben and says, ‘Since the XP-38 came out, they’re just not in demand’. Ben clearly couldn’t care less. Probably still uses Windows ’95. Your powers are weak, old man.

The Star Wars movies, or at least the original three, are littered with enduring, influential designs. The Millennium Falcon was singular in that it was the first spaceship (that I’d ever seen) which was not completely symmetrical. It had its cockpit, not in the centre, but sticking out of one side. Unique! You may not find this particularly interesting, but I have distinct memories of studying the design and being totally blown away by that element alone. Yes, I was a strange child.

The taps leak, the TV doesn't work too well, and there's a bit of damp, but we're allowed to have parties!

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But then there was…

The Star Wars Holiday Special

Oh dear Lord, where to even begin with this one. How about a little background? In 1978, the year following the release of Star Wars, CBS aired the two hour long Star Wars Holiday Special. George Lucas had no involvement in its production, but it did feature all the lead characters from the movie. It revolved around Chewbacca’s attempts to return to his home world, Kashyyyk, to celebrate Life Day with his family. Along the way, various guest stars made appearances, there was an animated adventure, and kids were glued to their TVs. Mostly, as it turned out, in abject horror.

The Star Wars Holiday Special is bad. No, it really is bad. It is not even bad in a way that is enjoyable. It’s the worst kind of bad. It is awful. It has never been aired again, never been officially released, and George Lucas won’t even talk about it. It’s that bad. Not funny bad, not bad in any way that could be considered endearing, just really fucking bad.

We open on a clip, from the original movie, of the Millennium Falcon being pursued by two Imperial Cruisers. Cut inside the Falcon to find Han Solo (Harrison Ford, who spends his time in this looking like he’d rather be anywhere but here) and Chewbacca sitting in the cockpit. Or rather, a rubbish TV studio mock-up of the cockpit. In fact, I think Han Solo is sitting on an office chair!

Then we get to meet Chewbacca’s family. Yep, Chewie likes to work abroad, and within five minutes it’s pretty clear why. There’s his wife Mallatobuck (Malla), happily pottering around in the kitchen, his father Attichitcuk (Itchy), sitting in an armchair grouching, and his son Lumpawarrump (Lumpy), running around annoying everyone. After about 10 minutes of watching these characters grunt and growl at each other, with no subtitles and no clue what they are saying, you start to wonder if there isn’t something better you could be doing with your time. Like, say, picking bits of fluff from the carpet and eating them.

Don't worry, Harrison. There really are better things to come.

And it gets worse. So much worse. Wait until you see the rest of the returning cast. Having just recovered from a car accident, and reconstructive surgery to his face, Mark Hamill was forced to wear extensive make-up, and what looks suspiciously like a wig. So, when the shaggy family contact Luke Skywalker on a screen, they find Hamill doing a passable impersonation of Mia Farrow. It’s shocking, to say the least. And Carrie Fisher’s appearances as Princess Leia are even more jaw dropping. Clearly high as a kite at the time, she can barely walk and wears a fixed, hazy smile that must have frightened most of the viewing kids.

Mark auditions for Rosemary's Baby 2 and Carrie is still singing five hours after everyone has gone home.

Slotted into all this fun and games are a series of ‘entertaining’ variety acts. We have Art Carney as a trader, helping out the Chewie clan. Bea Arthur sings a shit song in the cantina which seemingly last for hours. Harvey Korman presents a cookery show, in drag. And, in one of the most unintentionally disturbing scenes, Diahann Carroll turns up as some holographic singer, and apparently gets Grandpa Itchy off.

Then, when you think it can’t get any worse, Carrie Fisher, still floating on the ceiling, sings the Star Wars theme. Yep, someone wrote lyrics; terrible, awful lyrics, and Carrie Fisher sings them. It’s at this point that you have to remind yourself that you’re nearly at the end, and there’s no need to open up your veins and end your suffering.

The Star Wars Holiday Special is like nothing else you’ll ever see. And you have to see it to believe it. That the franchise survived this train wreck is surely a testament to its enduring magic.

George Lucas, having viewed the Holiday Special once too often.

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I got tagged by Peter at Magic Lantern Film Blog for this Meme. The mission? Come up with 15 filmmakers that helped shape the way I look at motion pictures. These are the filmakers whose movies not only inspired (or fanned the flames of) my passion for cinema, but taught me the rich language of the genre. The education never ends, of course, which is why I love it so much.

I’m running late, due to a two week holiday, but here I am and here it is. Enjoy, discuss, mock or admire.

1. Steven Spielberg

If you were to perform some crazy chemistry experiment and dilute cinema down to its purest form you would probably end up with a Steven Spielberg movie in a test tube. You can write him off as a bubblegum filmmaker if you like, but few directors can boast such a distinctive style and absolute grasp of the visual medium as this guy can. Able to inject his work with simple human warmth or terrifying human cruelty with equal ease, Spielberg understands his audience and how to entertain them. His influence is everywhere, in a generation of talent, and his adoration for the moving image is tightly woven into every frame he shoots. Absolutely peerless.

Signature movie: Raiders of the Lost Ark

2. David Fincher

One of the most striking and unique filmmakers to emerge in the last twenty years, Fincher’s lens peers into the darkness and brings it to life. He survived the studio and star nightmare of Alien 3, picked himself up and moved from strength to strength. Unlike many of his imitators, Fincher combines style and content, making intelligent and brooding films. Innovative title sequences, dizzying camera work and stark imagery that burns itself into the mind are the hallmarks of a Fincher movie. That, and his often surprising project choices. Frankly, he’s the only director who could make me interested in seeing a movie about Facebook.

Signature movie: Fight Club

3. John Carpenter

Carpenter has waned considerably over the last twenty years, and yet I still look forward to his upcoming The Ward simply because this could be the movie where he gets his mojo back. And Carpenter with his mojo is a force to be reckoned with. With Halloween, Carpenter demonstrated a mastery of suspense that few have matched. Of all the carbon copies that followed, not one ever measured up. And they’re still trying 32 years later.

Signature movie: Halloween

4. Alfred Hitchcock

Obvious choice, of course, but how can you avoid this one? Hitchcock may or may not have been the greatest filmmaker of all time , but he was certainly one of the most inventive. Without Hitchcock there might never have been the Dolly Zoom, director cameos, the slasher movie or Brian DePalma. Hitchcock constantly came to blows with the censors and pushed the boundaries of what was acceptable, plausible and possible in filmmaking, paving the way for modern cinema.

Signature movie: Vertigo

5. Francis Ford Coppola

If you need a lesson in the pitfalls and insanity of filmmaking, look no further than the CV of Francis Ford Coppola. From the daily battles with studio execs which haunted the production of The Godfather (where Coppola was often shadowed by a replacement director in case he was fired) through the Hurculean task of getting Apocalypse Now made (a production so troubled it got its own documentary), to the single-minded madness of One From the Heart (the cost of which eventually bankrupted him), Coppola is the guy who gets what he wants on film, at any cost.

Signature movie: Apocalypse Now

6. Martin Scorsese

The little guy with the big talent, Scorsese is the director you would want as a mentor. A walking encyclopaedia of cinema, he talks with the same frenetic pace that his movies use to tell their stories. With incredibly long tracking shots, slow motion zooms, fast zooms and quick cuts, Scorsese’s camera is an extension of the man’s boundless energy and is rarely still. He is also one of the industry’s best arrangers of soundtrack music, always choosing the perfect song to complement his scene.

Signature Movie: Goodfellas

7. Ridley Scott

His style has mellowed a little of late, his movies becoming grander in scale, but early on in his career Scott was one of the most visually unique directors around, producing two of cinema’s most influential Science Fiction films. Taking a B-movie script called Star Beast, Scott added his inherent eye for design, a desire to elevate the movie beyond the B, and gave us the outstanding Alien. He followed this with Blade Runner, which set the standard for visions of the future for years to come. Design has always played an important part in Scott’s work, and it is an area in which he excels.

Signature movie: Blade Runner

8. John Hughes

As a kid developing a passion for movies in the 80s, it would have been impossible for me not to include the late John Hughes in this list. Hughes was a capable talent behind the camera, but his true strengths lay in his screenwriting, his ability to coax career-best performances from his teenage casts and the warmth he instilled into his movies. Few filmmakers before or since have possessed Hughes’ skill for representing teenage angst without falling into the more patronising traps of lesser efforts. Hughes was a man of his time, who struggled when that time was over, but he was the best at what he did.

Signature movie: The Breakfast Club

9. The Coen Brothers

From the release of Blood Simple onwards, the Coens have continually marked themselves out as true originals with a remarkable record of hits. Save for only one or two exceptions, every Coen movie has been both singular and excellent. The next Coen project is always worth looking forward to. As accomplished as screenwriters as they are as directors, you are guaranteed cracking dialogue, inspired visuals and characters that are just a little larger than life. You will also most likely get screaming fat people, repetition of a single line for comic effect and at least one speedy tracking zoom. There’s no movie quite like a Coen movie.

Signature movie: The Big Lebowski

10. Sam Raimi

Joel Coen began his career helping out on the editing of a friend’s debut movie. That movie was The Evil Dead, and the director was Sam Raimi. Made on a shoestring budget, The Evil Dead showcased the arrival of an inspired, and rather crazed, talent. Raimi delivered the kind of camerawork usually reserved for those with far more expensive equipment at their disposal, and a few of his techniques can be seen in subsequent Coen movies. However, Raimi’s anarchic style seemed a little lost in mainstream cinema until the arrival of Spider-man.

Signature movie: Evil Dead II

11. Terry Gilliam

The least seen member of the Monty Python team, Gilliam makes movies brimming with the singular and surreal imagination which was present in his Python animations. Usually working with the most meagre of budgets, allowing him to retain creative control over all his work, Gilliam has sometimes struggled to get his projects completed. However, when they are completed they have a magical style and a sensibility all their own. They usually feature characters whose imagination is too large for the world they live in, crushed by the mechanics of a clockwork society. The irony is clearly not lost on Gilliam.

Signature movie: Brazil

12. Sergio Leone

The man who made Clint Eastwood famous with his trilogy of ‘Spaghetti Westerns’, Italian director Leone took the western genre and made it look ugly. Rejecting the good guy/bad guy set-up of classic American westerns, Leone’s contributions were simply filled with varying shades of bad guy. Even Eastwood’s ‘Man with No Name’ is merely the best of a corrupt bunch. The characters are unwashed, morally vacant and greedy, the landscapes unforgiving and barren. Leone’s frontier is a harsh place to be. Often utilising both extreme close-ups and haunting long-shots, Leone has long been held by Eastwood as a major influence on his own directorial style.

Signature movie: Once Upon a Time in the West

13.  John Landis

During the 80s, Landis was responsible for some of the best comedies of the decade, including The Blues Brothers and Trading Places, but it was when he introduced horror into the mix with An American Werewolf in London that he really reached his peak. Landis made comedies that looked as good as any of the more high-brow movies, each littered with his unmistakeable trademarks (static shots of watching statues or paintings, and references to ‘see you next Wednesday’). His career tailed off toward the end of the decade, but perhaps the forthcoming Burke & Hare will be a return to form.

Signature movie: An American Werewolf in London

14. George Lucas

As a director, George Lucas is included in this list on the basis of one film, and one alone. But what a film. Star Wars changed everything. It’s impossible to gauge exactly what impact that movie had on the 7-year-old kid I was, but I know it was profound, as it was with almost every kid around my age. Star Wars was like saying hello to the wonder of cinema for the first time. We’d never seen anything like it. There were a few flashes of that directorial skill in the three prequels, but for the most part those films were engineered rather than directed and Lucas would not have made this list based on those. But for changing the way we viewed cinema, his one contribution cannot be underestimated.

Signature movie: Star Wars

15. John Lasseter and Pixar

Before Toy Story, the feature length animated movie industry was sputtering along at an uninspired pace. Disney’s output had suffered a gradual slump in both quality and popularity, boosted only by the success of The Lion King. Pixar, a computer company which was originally part of Lucasfilm, had been experimenting with computer animation for years and entered into a deal with Disney to produce three computer animated movies. Toy Story was the first, directed by John Lasseter, and the rest is history. Not only did Pixar revolutionise how movies were animated, but they also completely modernised the storytelling. Suddenly, animated movies were not just for kids, but were written with a sophistication which could appeal to all ages. Pixar kick-started animation, with other studios quick to follow suit, and they are yet to produce a bad film.

Signature movie: Toy Story

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Okay, my turn to tag. Apologies in advance if you’ve already done it and I missed it.

Cantankerous Panda at Back in the Day

Rory Dean at Above the Line

John at John of the Dead

Dan at Top 10 Films

The Movie

Raiders of the Lost Ark is my all time favourite celluloid experience, bar none. There’s no other movie like it. Any collaboration between George Lucas and Steven Spielberg had a high chance of providing something special, and although none of the sequels lived up to the magic of this first crack of the whip, Raiders was a shining nugget of movie gold. There are certainly other movies that have connected with me more on an emotional or intellectual level, but no film quite gives me the pure chills, the goosebumps, that I get from Raiders of the Lost Ark. No other movie so effortlessly reminds me why I love cinema quite like this one. And no scene is a better example of why than the opening scene.

The Scene

South America, 1936. Indiana Jones (Harrison Ford) and his companion Satipo (Alfred Molina) have located a remote, hidden temple. We’ve already had a taste of what kind of character this guy in the hat is after he’s seen off an armed traitor in his group, using just a bullwhip. Classy.

The two men enter the temple…

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Why I Love It

The Idea

What an opening scene for a movie. What a way for a character to introduce himself. What a piece of pure, unpretentious, fluid cinema. There are few directors so adept at making the ridiculous seem plausible like Steven Spielberg, which is what made him the perfect choice to make Raiders of the Lost Ark. The idea was to bring back the old Saturday morning adventure serials, with their cliff-hanger endings and preposterous scrapes. In this, they succeeded and then some. The opening scene immediately drops us into Indiana’s life at its most exciting, almost as if we have just caught the end of last week’s episode.

The Icky Factor

Spielberg understands that as well as ‘oohs’ and ‘ahhs’, audiences also enjoy the odd ‘yuk!’ The Indiana Jones movies are crawling (literally) with moments such as these. Having already given us an army of tarantulas, we are then treated to the nasty fate of Dr Jones’ predecessor, Forrestal. He even makes squelchy noises as his decomposing head turns Indiana’s way. Yes!

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Walking the Traps

A bunch of faces which shoot poison darts? No problem. Just don’t tread on the darker, diamond shaped stones. This should seem like a breeze when you think about it, but thanks to Spielberg’s slow tracking shot along the wall of faces, and John William’s steadily building score, it seems more like the worst ever drink driving test.

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The Intimate Zoom

Having reached the Golden Idol, Indy stops for a moment. With Williams’ music reaching a crescendo, Spielberg takes time for a slow zoom onto the Archaeologist and his prize. For Indiana Jones at that moment, there is nothing in the world but he and the Idol. It’s the perfect little moment of character illustration. Then, we pull out again and it’s back to business. Gives me a shiver every time.

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Ford Falls Over

The boulder rolling down toward Jones has long since become an iconic image, but what I love about this part is the fact that, having done 10 takes of Harrison Ford outrunning the huge fibreglass ball, Spielberg kept the one take where Ford fell over. It gives the scene a little sprinkle of authenticity, and I’m sure the panic on Ford’s face is genuine.

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Trivia

There is a continuity error at the beginning of the scene. As Indiana Jones and Satipo enter the temple, they pass through a huge cobweb. When Jones leans downwards to walk through the web, there are spiders clearly visible on his back. Cut to a shot from behind the pair, and we can see that Indy’s back is now clear. Then Satipo notices spiders on Indy’s back! Magic South American disappearing tarantulas or Continuity Editor’s day off?

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It doesn’t matter, of course. One small continuity error can’t stop this being my favourite scene from my favourite movie. Long may it give me goosebumps and bring a cheesy smile to my face!

Note: Click on all the images to see them full size.

If you love movies as much as I do, there’s a good chance that you love movie posters too. You probably have them on your walls, use one as your desktop wallpaper, and perhaps even collect movie posters like some people collect Picassos. I have a few myself, and why not? Some movie posters truly are works of art. Or at least, they used to be. Perhaps I’m wrong, perhaps I’ve got another case of that rose-tinted nostalgia-vision, but it seems that the hand-crafted movie poster has become an endangered species.

Growing up in the eighties, I spent my childhood in awe of the great movie poster illustrators, the artists whose work embellished the films I worshipped. I was a budding artist as well as a movie fanatic, and the eighties may have been the heyday of the movie poster artisan. It was, I see now, the perfect time for me to grow up in. Part of the excitement of any new movie, particularly those by the likes of George Lucas and Steven Spielberg, was that first glimpse of the new artwork by Drew Struzan or Richard Amsel. These were artists who created posters upon which their signature was redundant. You knew who had created it simply by the style of the illustrations. They were in a league of their own, and in my opinion will remain so.

Star Wars reinvigorated the movie poster, accentuating the concept of the one sheet as a collectible piece of artwork. That’s not to say movie posters weren’t collectibles before then but, as it did with so many other things, Star Wars set the bar a little higher. The movie poster was suddenly romantic and energetic again, and the best designs for Star Wars ably captured the film’s wonder, sweep and spectacle. The posters were not just promotional tools, but important artistic creations in their own right. Perhaps, the most famous is the image of heroic Luke Skywalker, complete with accentuated physique, holding his lightsaber aloft, with the giant head of Darth Vader in the stars behind him. Known as Style A, this was a poster design interpreted first by Tom Jung (who would create posters for all three of the original Star Wars trilogy) and then by The Brothers Hildebrandt, with dramatically differing styles.

Drew Struzan’s poster for the film, in collaboration with airbrush artist Charles White III, was a nostalgic piece harkening back to the Saturday morning serials upon which the movie was based. It has a torn poster on plywood effect that only came about because the original design had no room for the movie credits. The romantic design ethic continued with The Empire Strikes Back. Roger Kastel illustrated the classic poster for the Star Wars sequel (see below), having previously created the iconic image for Jaws. Again, it is an evocative illustration encompassing a montage of scenes and characters. The fantasy and romance pours from the poster and the colours beautifully reflect those of the movie. Tom Jung also created his own poster for the movie, featuring a striding Darth Vader holding out his hand, a pose reflecting the movie’s famous and oft-quoted line, ‘I am your father’.

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Richard Amstel produced two wonderful illustrations for Raiders of the Lost Ark, having earlier worked on the poster for Flash Gordon (above). The Indiana Jones series, a natural successor to the romantic nostalgia of Star Wars, followed suit in utilising great artists to render promotional materials. Amsel’s work on Raiders still ranks among my favourites of all time (see his alternative version at the top of this page). The beautifully realised image of Harrison Ford lifting out of the sandstone (a mix of watercolour, acrylic, airbrush and coloured pencils) is not only iconic, but sets the tone and setting of the film perfectly. Again, Drew Struzan was given the chance to create his own design for the film, for its 10th anniversary re-release. Sadly, Richard Amsel died in 1985, only thirty-eight years old. Struzan then became the go-to guy for the Indiana Jones movies, as well as many others connected with the Spielberg/Lucas machine, such as the Back to the Future trilogy and the Star Wars prequels.

It would be remiss of me not to mention that there were many great artists working during this period. John Alvin created the famous poster for E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial which portrays the fingers of the alien and Elliot touching. The idea paid homage to Michelangelo’s The Creation of Adam (suggested by Spielberg). Alvin was also responsible for the paws emerging from a box for Gremlins and the original poster for Blade Runner. Bob Peak created the art for each Star Trek movie poster, throughout the eighties. They, and many more like them, are the reason why movie memorabilia from that period is among the most sought after.

These days things are different. The ease and speed at which a poster can be knocked together using Photoshop means beautifully hand-rendered movie posters are a far rarer beast. To the men signing the cheques, it’s far cheaper to hire someone to sew together a couple of head shots or do a photo montage on the computer. I understand it, this is a business after all, but there was something about those old posters that fired the imagination and stoked the sense of wonder as you awaited your first screening of the next celluloid dream. They produced the kind of artwork that cannot be achieved with a mouse and keyboard, any more than an Impressionist masterpiece can be. The industry no longer seems to need the artists the way it once did, and it is always sad when an art form becomes surplus to requirements.

Struzan is still working, however rarely, and still producing immaculately hand-drawn posters. Hellboy was graced with his work along with, naturally, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. However, the golden age of he and his peers is long gone. At forty, I may grumble about my age, but I will always be grateful to have spent my formative years during the heyday of these unsung artistic giants. And I will always remember how I was just as influenced and inspired by the artistry they used to promote the movies as I was by the movies themselves. Thank you, guys.

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Drew Struzan’s website

A wonderful site dedicated to the work of Richard Amsel

Tom Jung’s page at IMP Awards

John Alvin’s website



A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away…

And so it began, a generation lost in space. Our eyes were wide in wonder, our mouths were fixed in grins of joy, and our parents’ wallets did open up and spew forth dollars and pounds unto the profit margin of Saint George of Lucas. The age of Star Wars was upon us. Love it or loathe it, in 1977 Star Wars changed cinema forever, heralding the return of wonder and spectacle after a decade of dark, introverted American movies.

Here are some of the things that I love about Star Wars. And one thing that I really don’t.

Lightsabers

The weapon of choice for all Jedi knights, and without the doubt the single coolest weapon ever devised. Ever. Forget swords, forget pulse rifles, forget Uzi 9mm’s and forget Adamantium claws. This is cinema’s greatest contribution to iconic arsenal. They’re powerful, graceful, mobile, and they come in a range of colours. Who cares if they’re impossible? Who cares that you’d be more likely to cut your own legs off with it, than uphold galactic justice? They are just so damn cool. Who hasn’t, at one point or another, swung their clasped hands around and made ‘shwum mmmm shwum’ noises? Huh? Come on, admit it. Every little boy from 1977 onwards wanted one (myself included), and most men too (myself included). Christmas ‘77 probably holds the record for the highest number of household breakages, as millions of kids swung their plastic lightsabers around with gleeful abandon.

The lightsaber battles were pretty much the highlight of the three prequels. Having had to settle for the rather clunking battles of the original trilogy, which in contrast sort of resembled the fights you had with your mates when you stumbled upon a couple of long twigs, the prequels offered us fast, frenetic duels which fully utilised the fact that lightsabers were not made of wrought iron and could be swung around quickly. And Darth Maul had a double-ended lightsaber! Double the geekgasm!

Let’s face it, from a Freudian standpoint the lightsaber could be considered the ultimate in phallic symbolism, with the added bonus that this particular throbbing length between your hands lights up, comes in different colours, and makes ‘shwum’ noises. And they’re all the same length, which saves a lot of discomfort. All except Yoda’s, of course, which is smaller. But give the guy a break, he’s three feet tall.

Come on, admit it. They turn you on.

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Star Wars Figures

There was movie merchandising before Star Wars came along, but it was this franchise that really turned it into the multi-million dollar industry it has become. George Lucas was canny enough to have the merchandising rights and profits written into his contract for the first movie, thus generating the huge piles of cash that he probably sleeps on every night, smiling the smile of the smug.

Still, in helping Lucas accumulate his bedding, we were able to spend our childhoods recreating all our favourite scenes, with 3” replicas of the characters, major and minor, from the movies. Well, at least some of the scenes. Obviously this excluded scenes that involved sitting down, since they had no knee joints. I mean, they could sit with their legs straight out, lying down wasn’t a problem, and they could goose-step, but it has to be said that the original figures weren’t exactly ‘fully poseable’. But did we care? Nah. I remember how excited I was to get my very first figure, Ben (Obi-Wan) Kenobi. Old Ben came with a lightsaber which slid out of his arm, and a stiff plastic robe which made sitting him down, with legs straight out, even more difficult to accomplish. I spent hours making a cardboard version of the Cantina on Tatooine, only for most of the characters to repeatedly fall off their chairs. Trust me to recreate the one scene in the movie that involved sitting down and little else. Didn’t really think that one through.

Oh, but the thrill of separating that little plastic container from the card backing, and handling the 3” Han Solo (who looked even less like Harrison Ford than I did) for the first time. Oh, but the agony of realising that, a mere week after getting him, you’d already lost his little gun. Oh, but the sniggering amusement of putting Han Solo and Princess Leia into all manner of amorous positions. Damn those unbending knees!

Pure magic!

My legs are killing me.

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Stormtroopers

In Episode IV, having discovered a group of slaughtered Jawas, Ben Kenobi sagely advises Luke that ‘only Imperial Stormtroopers are so precise’. Luke then rushes home to find his elderly, adoptive parents have also been slaughtered. Truly, we imagine, these soldiers of the Empire are fearsome warriors. Truly, the universe must tremble before them. Except that, for the next six hours of the saga, they can’t seem to hit a damn thing, including a seven foot wookie standing about 10 yards away. Apparently, Imperial Stormtroopers are great if you want kids in hoods or a couple of geriatrics murdered, but once they have to kill moving targets and major characters, the soldiers of the Empire may as well have their helmets on backwards. Witness an entire platoon of these bozos getting their asses kicked by a bunch of teddy bears with rocks. Fail!

But we love them. We love them because, despite being utterly rubbish, they look so cool. From a design point of view, the Stormtroopers are classic. Like much of the design elements in Star Wars, they’ve endured so well without looking dated. They have kind of angry eyes, with a bit of a frown, and a sad little mouth that makes them look a bit lost. You just want to give them a hug, and tell them that it will all be okay, one day they’ll be able to hit a barn door with their eyes open. And there are variations on the theme, too. You have the black Tie Fighter pilots who can’t hit other ships, or the Biker Scouts who like to crash into trees, or the Snow Troopers who let the good guys get away. Again. Bless.

You lookin' at me? I can't tell.

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Yoda

Somewhere there is a parallel universe where logic prevails, and a three-foot, olive-green, big-eared creature with a speech impediment, who is older than your Nan, isn’t the coolest character ever. In this universe, however, Yoda is King. Having seen this cool little Muppet for the first time in The Empire Strikes Back, fans waited twenty-two years for the chance to actually see Yoda opening a can of whup-ass on someone. When he did, we weren’t sure whether to gasp in awe or laugh, as he leapt around like the Tasmanian Devil on acid. Still, he was the only Jedi who could unclip his lightsaber just by holding his hand out. Awesome!

Simply put, Yoda is the best of both worlds; he’s as wise as the ages and he could kick your ass without breaking a sweat. The interesting thing about him, though, is that, unlike Han Solo or Mace Windu, no-one really wants to be Yoda, they just want to know Yoda. People want Yoda to be there when things go wrong. Bad day at work? Talk to Yoda. He’ll say something extremely wise, backwards, and you’ll feel better. That gang of kids on the block giving you trouble? No problem. Introduce them to Yoda. He’ll say something wise, backwards, and then kick all their asses. Twice. The perfect friend, he is.

Okay, so he failed spectacularly to see the Emperor’s machinations until it was too late, then royally screwed up when charged with kicking the one ass that would have made all the difference, before sodding off to a big swamp and hiding for twenty years. Details, mere details. If that was your Nan, you’d forgive her.

Lookin' at me, are you? The only one here, I am.

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Used Future and Design Classics

One thing that stood out about Star Wars was the ‘used future’ aesthetic which Lucas wanted to bring to the movies. Up until then, science fiction movies and visions of the future were pretty shiny and spanking. Spaceships were usually pristine, well kept and whiter than white. People wore clean, pressed jumpsuits or walked around half naked, with clean, pressed bodies. Then Star Wars came along and dragged the future (or technically the past) through the dirt. Hi-tech suddenly looked beat up. Here we had a vision of technologically advanced societies that were ‘lived in’. The clothes were crumpled, the droids were a little rusted, and the Millennium Falcon looked like a flying student’s bed-sit. It suddenly made the far-fetched seem everyday.

There were even little references in the script of Star Wars which hinted at technological advances as matters of everyday conversation. Disappointed at the amount of cash he gets for his Landspeeder, Luke turns to Ben and says, ‘Since the XP-38 came out, they’re just not in demand’. Ben clearly couldn’t care less. Probably still uses Windows ’95. Your powers are weak, old man.

The Star Wars movies, or at least the original three, are littered with enduring, influential designs. The Millennium Falcon was singular in that it was the first spaceship (that I’d ever seen) which was not completely symmetrical. It had its cockpit, not in the centre, but sticking out of one side. Unique! You may not find this particularly interesting, but I have distinct memories of studying the design and being totally blown away by that element alone. Yes, I was a strange child.

The taps leak, the TV doesn't work too well, and there's a bit of damp, but we're allowed to have parties!

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But then there was…

The Star Wars Holiday Special

Oh dear Lord, where to even begin with this one. How about a little background? In 1978, the year following the release of Star Wars, CBS aired the two hour long Star Wars Holiday Special. George Lucas had no involvement in its production, but it did feature all the lead characters from the movie. It revolved around Chewbacca’s attempts to return to his home world, Kashyyyk, to celebrate Life Day with his family. Along the way, various guest stars made appearances, there was an animated adventure, and kids were glued to their TVs. Mostly, as it turned out, in abject horror.

The Star Wars Holiday Special is bad. No, it really is bad. It is not even bad in a way that is enjoyable. It’s the worst kind of bad. It is awful. It has never been aired again, never been officially released, and George Lucas won’t even talk about it. It’s that bad. Not funny bad, not bad in any way that could be considered endearing, just really fucking bad.

We open on a clip, from the original movie, of the Millennium Falcon being pursued by two Imperial Cruisers. Cut inside the Falcon to find Han Solo (Harrison Ford, who spends his time in this looking like he’d rather be anywhere but here) and Chewbacca sitting in the cockpit. Or rather, a rubbish TV studio mock-up of the cockpit. In fact, I think Han Solo is sitting on an office chair!

Then we get to meet Chewbacca’s family. Yep, Chewie likes to work abroad, and within five minutes it’s pretty clear why. There’s his wife Mallatobuck (Malla), happily pottering around in the kitchen, his father Attichitcuk (Itchy), sitting in an armchair grouching, and his son Lumpawarrump (Lumpy), running around annoying everyone. After about 10 minutes of watching these characters grunt and growl at each other, with no subtitles and no clue what they are saying, you start to wonder if there isn’t something better you could be doing with your time. Like, say, picking bits of fluff from the carpet and eating them.

Don't worry, Harrison. There really are better things to come.

And it gets worse. So much worse. Wait until you see the rest of the returning cast. Having just recovered from a car accident, and reconstructive surgery to his face, Mark Hamill was forced to wear extensive make-up, and what looks suspiciously like a wig. So, when the shaggy family contact Luke Skywalker on a screen, they find Hamill doing a passable impersonation of Mia Farrow. It’s shocking, to say the least. And Carrie Fisher’s appearances as Princess Leia are even more jaw dropping. Clearly high as a kite at the time, she can barely walk and wears a fixed, hazy smile that must have frightened most of the viewing kids.

Mark auditions for Rosemary's Baby 2 and Carrie is still singing five hours after everyone has gone home.

Slotted into all this fun and games are a series of ‘entertaining’ variety acts. We have Art Carney as a trader, helping out the Chewie clan. Bea Arthur sings a shit song in the cantina which seemingly last for hours. Harvey Korman presents a cookery show, in drag. And, in one of the most unintentionally disturbing scenes, Diahann Carroll turns up as some holographic singer, and apparently gets Grandpa Itchy off.

Then, when you think it can’t get any worse, Carrie Fisher, still floating on the ceiling, sings the Star Wars theme. Yep, someone wrote lyrics; terrible, awful lyrics, and Carrie Fisher sings them. It’s at this point that you have to remind yourself that you’re nearly at the end, and there’s no need to open up your veins and end your suffering.

The Star Wars Holiday Special is like nothing else you’ll ever see. And you have to see it to believe it. That the franchise survived this train wreck is surely a testament to its enduring magic.

George Lucas, having viewed the Holiday Special once too often.