For fans of the property, especially those who follow material outside of the core movies, Resistance Reborn is close to invaluable. Beyond the fun of introducing — or, in many cases, re-introducing — characters with connections to multiple eras of the property, from the original trilogy through Star Wars: Rebels, the Aftermath series of novels and far more, it serves a number of very specific narrative purposes that, in many ways, feel necessary for the larger Star Wars story as a whole. Poe Dameron's survivor's guilt, and culpability in the slaughter of the Resistance in The Last Jedi is a recurring theme, as is Leia's increasingly exhausted response to being one of the few remaining leaders the movement has left, offering a focus on the character that the movies are practically unable to in the wake of Carrie Fisher's death in 2017.
The book also traces the growth of the First Order across the galaxy, and places that growth in a political context generally absent from the movies — how does the galaxy feel about the Order's presence? Why doesn't it push back? Both questions are answered in the book — which underscores not only the feeling that Resistance Reborn is an integral chapter to the Skywalker Saga, but also that, at heart, Star Wars as it currently exists isn't a franchise in the same way that Disney sibling Marvel is, but instead one singular story that occasionally branches off in different directions before returning to its primary focus.
Similarly, the animated series The Clone Wars, and to a far lesser degree Star Wars Resistance, do the same thing: Fill in narrative gaps in the core movies, and exist to support the central storyline. Even Star Wars: Rebels, which is more independent overall, still leans into connections with the core series that go far beyond Easter egg territory. The same can be said of the comic books and novels that have been released since Disney purchased Lucasfilm; everything comes back to the Skywalker Saga, and exists to support that storyline.
This was not always the case; before the Disney purchase, the Star Wars franchise had expanded thousands of years in both directions from what appeared on film, with comic books and books pushing far beyond the storyline of one family line fighting the Emperor and his acolytes. Upon Disney purchase, however, such material was excised from the official canon in favor of Disney created and approved material.
This isn't, necessarily, a criticism; one of the things that Star Wars does well is maintain a level of consistency across projects which is doubtless easier when everything is working towards the same narrative goal. Additionally, a complaint of the pre-Disney Star Wars was that, the further projects moved from the movie source material, the less “Star Wars-y” it felt. Tying everything into the one central narrative is a fairly definitive solution for that problem.
However, the fact that Star Wars is a story, rather than a franchise, at this point, might explain some of the problems Disney has had with the property, and managing it to meet early expectations. Star Wars can't be another Marvel if it, formally, isn't another Marvel; the latter may use the tagline “It's All Connected,” but that's not actually true; while characters can and will crossover between projects, it's easy to watch Ant-Man without also watching Guardians of the Galaxy, or even Iron Man.
A basic working knowledge of the Marvel Cinematic Universe doesn't require seeing every movie released by the studio, and the ability to tell unrelated stories means that so much more content can be generated — and so much more can be accepted by casual viewers — because there's no expectation of a need to buy in to everything with each movie ticket purchased. So far, seven years after Disney bought Star Wars, that's not true of the stories from a galaxy far, far away. Yet.
Things might be about to change. Marvel Studios' Kevin Feige is plotting his own Star Wars movie. Next week sees the debut of The Mandalorian on Disney+ — a project that, notably enough, doesn't even feature the words “Star Wars” in its title. Judging by promotional materials, the series doesn't feature any narrative connection to anything else in Star Wars mythology outside of its setting, giving it an independence unknown in the Disney era, and a standalone appeal for casual viewers akin to a Marvel Studios project. Time will tell whether the series lives up to that promise, but if it does — if The Mandalorian turns out to be simply another story from the same galaxy as the Skywalkers, and not another chapter of the same story fans have been following for the last four decades — then it could be a sign that Star Wars will have a bright, long future past the Dec. 20 release of The Rise of Skywalker.
A few months back, we adventured to Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge in Disneyland to build an R2-unit droid at Droid Depot. That video has since been watched almost a half a million times, and the biggest question we get is: What about the BB-unit droids? So this past weekend, we took a trip back to the edge of the galaxy, and visited Mubo’s Droid Depot in Black Spire Outpost on the planet of Batuu so that Kitra could build a BB-Unit droid. Come along with us on this adventure.
How does the BB-unit building experience compare to the R2-unit experience? How has the process changed now that we are months after land has opened? We also take a look at some new changes to the land, including retimed food names and a new merchandise stand. And it wouldn’t be a trip to Galaxy’s Edge without Peter attempting the Black Kyber Challenge, his sixth attempt to find the rare black cyber crystal.
And before anyone asks, the droid building experience is exactly the same as the one offered in Walt Disney World’s Hollywood Studios, so if you want to scout it out before your trip this video is also relevant.
The video comes from our new YouTube channel Ordinary Adventures, so please subscribe if you haven’t done so already! We have a lot of coverage of theme parks, Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge, and movie events. Subscribe to our YouTube channel and follow our weekly adventures to theme parks, movie events, magic, tabletop, and more. Get Ordinary Adventures t-shirts & merch!
Welcome to The Emperor Reborn, a three-part series examining the role of Sheev Palpatine and the long shadow he casts over the Skywalker Saga, including the upcoming Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker .
In chapter two of The Emperor Reborn, we take a look at the Emperor’s role in the prequel trilogy and how he’s been expanded in the new, Disney-approved canon.
The Phantom Menace: The Prequel Trilogy
“Everybody believes it’s Darth Vader who’s the really ultimate bad guy, but the guy who’s truly evil is Palpatine. He has manipulated this whole saga.” – Rick McCallum
While it appears in Alan Dean Foster’s 1976 novelization, the name Palpatine would not be used in a Star Wars film until 1999’s Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace. In the movie, which is set 32 years before A New Hope, Palpatine – played again by McDiarmid – is a Galactic Senator from the planet Naboo and Darth Sidious, Dark Lord of the Sith and master to apprentice Darth Maul. By manipulating Queen Padmé Amidala and the Trade Federation’s Nute Gunray, Sidious orchestrates the invasion of Naboo and uses the conflict to become Supreme Chancellor of the Republic.
In 2002’s Episode II: Attack of the Clones, set 10 years later, Palpatine manufactures a galactic civil war. His new apprentice, Darth Tyrannus aka Count Dooku, rallies thousands of star systems into declaring independence from the Republic, forming the Confederacy of Independent Systems, with Dooku as its leader.
Meanwhile, Palpatine plants the seeds of attachment and possession in Anakin Skywalker by arranging for the young Jedi to serve as bodyguard to Padmé Amidala on Naboo. Away from the Jedi and the Senate, they fall in love and marry, something that is forbidden by the Jedi Order.
When it’s revealed that the Separatists are amassing forces, Palpatine uses the crisis to seize more power from the Galactic Senate. He is granted emergency wartime powers by Representative Jar Jar Binks and vows to create a Grand Army of the Republic to counter the increasing threats of the Separatists. Begun the Clone War has.
“The dark side of the Force is a pathway to many abilities some consider to be… unnatural.” – Supreme Chancellor Palpatine
In 2005’s Episode III: Revenge of the Sith, set three years later, Palpatine continues his campaign of corruption by ordering Anakin Skywalker to kill Count Dooku in cold blood. Suspicious of the Jedi, Palpatine appoints Anakin as his representative on the Jedi Council, who deny Anakin the rank of Jedi Master and order him to spy on the Chancellor.
Palpatine tells a conflicted Anakin “The Tragedy of Darth Plagueis the Wise,” a legend about a Dark Lord of the Sith, so powerful and so wise he could use the Force to influence the midi-chlorians to create life. “He had such a knowledge of the dark side he could even keep the ones he cared about from dying.” According to Palpatine, Plagueis taught his apprentice Sidious everything, only to be betrayed and murdered by him. Eventually, Palpatine reveals his true identity to Anakin; he knows that Anakin has been having visions of Padmé’s death, and offers to teach him dark side secrets to save her life.
Anakin pledges himself to the dark side as Palpatine’s Sith apprentice, Darth Vader. Palpatine issues Order 66, commanding the Republic’s clone army to turn on their Jedi generals while dispatching Vader to kill everyone inside the Jedi Temple and then deal with the Separatist leaders on the planet Mustafar. At last, Palpatine’s long con has paid off; the war is over, the Separatists are dead, and the treacherous Jedi are all but extinct.
In an address to the Galactic Senate, Palpatine announces that the Republic will be reorganized into a Galactic Empire, to ensure security and continuing stability with himself as Emperor.
Master of the Dark Arts: The New Canon
On April 25, 2014, after a year of ownership by the Walt Disney Company, Lucasfilm confirmed that the Sequel Trilogy would not adhere to the post–Return of the Jedi Expanded Universe continuity. LucasBooks Senior Editor Jennifer Heddle stated that the EU as a whole would no longer be considered canon and that it would be rebranded as “Legends,” with related publications remaining in print under that banner.
Now, the Star Wars canon is comprised of the films and television series – Star Wars: The Clone Wars, Star Wars Rebels, Star Wars Resistance – as well as comics, books, and games published after April 25, 2014, as the Lucasfilm Story Group oversees continuity as a whole for the brand.
While Dark Empire is no longer canon, there are plenty of new stories that are Palpatine-centric. If you haven’t kept up with Star Wars: The Clone Wars or Star Wars Rebels, you might have been a little confused when Darth Maul popped up in Solo: A Star Wars Story. That’s because the character survived his encounter with Obi-Wan Kenobi in The Phantom Menace and went on to appear in the animated series. Like his former apprentice, Palpatine has continued to develop as a character throughout the new canon.
In Star Wars: The Clone Wars set between Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith, Palpatine voiced by Ian Abercrombie from 2008-2012 and Tim Curry from 2012-2014 continues to serve as Supreme Chancellor of the Republic while his Sith identity manipulates both sides of the Clone Wars.
Sidious hires bounty hunter Cad Bane to infiltrate the Jedi Temple and steal a holocron containing a list of the galaxy’s Force-sensitive children – the very future of the Jedi Order. Sidious wants to bring the younglings to his secret facility on Mustafar and turn them into Sith spies, but his plan is foiled by Anakin Skywalker and his padawan, Ahsoka Tano.
Later, Sidious orders Dooku to eliminate Asajj Ventress, as he suspects that his apprentice is planning to have the dark side disciple assassinate him. Ventress survives, and her vendetta against Dooku sets off a chain of events including the return of Sidious’ former apprentice, Darth Maul, and his brother, Savage Opress.
In addition to learning more about Palpatine, The Clone Wars further explored the Force itself, as well as the prophecy of the Chosen One. Obi-Wan Kenobi, Anakin Skywalker, and Ahsoka Tano visit Mortis, an ethereal realm within the Force that’s home to three Force wielders locked in an eternal struggle: the Son, who represents the dark side; the Daughter, who represents the light; and the Father, who maintains the balance of the Force between them.
In season six, Yoda enters the Valley of the Dark Lords on Moraband – the ancient homeworld of the Sith Order – where he encounters the spirit of Darth Bane, the founder of the Rule of Two. Sensing the Jedi Master’s presence, Sidious exploits the Force-bond between Dooku and Yoda and uses Sith sorcery to cast an illusion to deceive and corrupt the Jedi, but his plan ultimately fails.
The Emperor also appears in the comic book series Darth Vader: Dark Lord of the Sith by Kieron Gillen and Charles Soule, which suggests that Palpatine manipulated the Force to impregnate Vader’s mother, Shmi Skywalker, making him, in essence, Vader’s father. While left somewhat ambiguous, Palpatine does say in Revenge of the Sith that his master taught him everything he knew, so it’s entirely possible that he could use the Force to influence the midi-chlorians to create life.
One of the first four novels published in the franchise after Lucasfilm reset Star Wars continuity, James Luceno’s Tarkin features Palpatine prominently. The book, which chronicles Wilhuff Tarkin’s rise through the ranks of the Empire and his relationships with the Emperor and Darth Vader, reveals Palpatine’s first name — Sheev. Prior to 2014, Palpatine was not given a first name in any canonical or “Star Wars Legends” sources.
In Paul S. Kemp‘s Lords of the Sith, set 14 years before A New Hope, Emperor Palpatine and Vader find themselves stranded on the planet Ryloth. There, they are hunted by an army Twi’lek freedom fighters led by Cham Syndulla, with only their lightsabers, the dark side, and each other to depend on.
The animated series Star Wars Rebels, set five years before A New Hope, shows the Emperor’s obsession with “unlocking” the Jedi Temple on Lothal which features a painting of the Mortis gods and entering “The World Between Worlds,” a mystical plane that exists between time and space, linking all moments in time together. Using Sith sorcery, the Emperor voiced by McDiarmid attempts to seize control of the plane and control the universe, but Ezra Bridger and Ahsoka Tano thwart his plans.
In the new canon, there is a precedent for the spirits of Sith to remain bound to the living world through an object or location, corrupting and even possessing those who come into contact with them. In Star Wars: Lando, the Marvel comic miniseries set before The Empire Strikes Back, Lando Calrissian and Lobot steal The Imperialis, the Emperor’s luxury pleasure yacht, in hopes of selling off the ship’s treasures.
Inside the vessel’s central chamber, the scoundrel discovers several Sith artifacts, including the Mask of Lord Momlin, a helmet created by the Sith Lord and sculptor, Lord Momin. Momlin, like Palpatine’s former master, believed in achieving power through creation, rather than destruction. His helmet could not only corrupt and control individuals but communicate with them as well. In the miniseries, Momlin’s mask possesses members of Calrissian’s crew, forcing the smuggler to abandon the ship and set it for self-destruct.
Set immediately after the events of Return of the Jedi, both the Star Wars: Aftermath series of books and the video game, Star Wars: Battlefront II, explore the Emperor’s contingency plan. Before his untimely demise, Palpatine creates the Contingency to dismantle the Galactic Empire in the event of his death. The Empire, he believes, does not deserve to survive without its Emperor.
Thirty years before the Battle of Yavin, while Supreme Chancellor of the Galactic Republic, Palpatine initiates the construction of an Observatory on the remote desert planet of Jakku. Built over a borehole that leads directly to the planet’s core, the facility houses a replica of the Imperialis and many Sith relics and artifacts.
The Jakku Observatory plays a vital role in the Emperor’s contingency plan. After the Battle of Endor, Palpatine’s protégé, Gallius Rax, assumes control of the Empire and concentrates its remaining forces on Jakku. There, the Empire makes its last stand against the New Republic.
During the Battle of Jakku, Rax and Yupe Tashu pour Sith relics down the borehole to detonate Jakku’s core and trigger a cataclysm. Tashu, a Sith historian and one of Palpatine’s closest advisers, is convinced that the Emperor isn’t dead and that they will find him in the Unknown Regions.
“Palpatine lives on. We will find him again out there in the dark. Everything has arranged itself as our master foretold. All things move toward the grand design.” – Yupe Tashu
In Chuck Wendig‘s Aftermath, Tashu mentions that some Sith Lords were able to siphon the Force from other lifeforms to extend their own lives for centuries beyond their natural expiration. Rax kills Tashu as part of the Contingency, pushing him into the borehole. His plan to destroy Jakku and the forces orbiting it is only partially successful, however. Before Rax can escape off-world with Brendol Hux, his young son Armitage, and their child soldiers aboard the Imperialis, he is killed by Grand Admiral Sloane with the help of Norra Wexley and Brentin Lore Wexley.
With Rax dead, Hux and a select number of “worthy” Imperial officers and personnel flee to the Unknown Regions to carry out the final part of the Contingency. There, among the black holes and gravity wells, the Galactic Empire will be reborn as the First Order, with Hux training a new generation of stormtroopers — child conscripts trained from birth and programmed for absolute loyalty.
In Palpatine’s absence, the First Order is led by Supreme Leader Snoke, a force-sensitive humanoid alien from the Unknown Regions. A master of the dark side of the Force, Snoke is not a member of the Sith but shares their disdain for the Jedi Order. Curiously, he wears a gold ring inscribed with glyphs from the Four Sages of Dwartii, encrusted with obsidian from the Sith cave beneath Fortress Vader on Mustafar. Coincidentally, or perhaps not, Supreme Chancellor Palpatine kept bronzium statues of the Four Sages in his office and chambers on Coruscant.
In his pursuit for galactic conquest, Snoke lures Vader’s grandson, Ben Solo, away from the Jedi path. As the newly anointed Kylo Ren, Solo all but destroys the Jedi Order, except for his uncle and mentor, Luke Skywalker, who flees into exile as the last Jedi of his time.
Return tomorrow for the third and final chapter of this series, where we explore Palpatine’s influence on the sequel trilogy and beyond.
The Star Wars franchise has long worn its Japanese influences on its sleeves. From the kimono-like robes of its Jedi, to the pseudo-Japanese names, to the Akira Kurosawa homages, as well as the roots of the Force in Eastern mysticism and philosophies, Lucas owes a lot to the country. For further proof, George Lucas initially wanted to cast longtime Kurosawa collaborator Toshiro Mifune as Obi-Wan Kenobi.
So it’s fitting that Star Wars will come full circle and turn all that Japanese narrative subtext into text. An official Star Wars kabuki adaptation is in the works, with the stage play set to premiere in Tokyo later this month.
Ichikawa Ebizo XI, one of the most famous and popular kabuki performers in Japan, will be adapting Star Wars into a kabuki stage play, according to Mantan Web via Nerdist. Ichikawa will supervise the production of the kabuki adaptation and star as Kylo Ren “in the generational portrayal.” The kabuki production will only cover the new trilogy and will reportedly “feature key scenes” from each of the new movies, including the upcoming Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker.
“ Star Wars Kabuki will depict the love and loss felt by the Skywalker family over the past 40-plus years,” Ichikawa said in a press release about the upcoming performance. “Whether you ’re a Star Wars lover or a kabuki lover, it ’s a great piece to enjoy.”
The full title for the kabuki production is Star Wars Kabuki-Rennosuke Hikarigatana Sanbon, which roughly translates to Star Wars Kabuki-Ren and Three Light Sabers. It’s a title that suggests the kabuki play will shift the focus to Kylo Ren away from than the new trilogy’s protagonist, Rey. Who are the Three Light Sabers? Perhaps Kylo, Rey, and Luke? Or the three sad Skywalker men whose tragic arcs have defined the series, Anakin Skywalker, Luke Skywalker, and Kylo? The latter seems to be more the case considering modern kabuki’s male-heavy casts.
Kabuki is considered one of the most beautiful traditional Japanese theater traditions, characterized by its elaborate make-up and costumes, and ened dance-drama performances. The performances are usually set in the samurai era, though can extend to other eras — in this case, a galaxy far, far away. I wonder if this Star Wars kabuki adaptation will go full sci-fi and feature futuristic costumes of Stormtroopers and droids, but it would also not be difficult for Ichikawa to transplant the story to medieval Japan. The narrative’s Eastern influences are threaded throughout the new films, and the visuals of The Last Jedi especially are not far off from the bold, ened designs of kabuki.
Disney+ will soon make the streaming wars even more complicated when it launches next week, but getting their library of content in place wasn’t as easy as gathering all the titles they’ve distributed over the years. That’s because long before Disney+ was ever an idea, The Walt Disney Company had sold the licensing rights to their movies in deals with the likes of Netflix and Starz, giving them the exclusive opportunity to air and stream some of the studio’s biggest hits. And that came back to bite them in the butt when they needed those movies for Disney+. But in the end, a deal was struck to get the rights to some of those movies back, though it requires Disney+ to do something they never wanted.
The Verge has learned that both Disney+ and ESPN+ will be running ads to promote the premium TV channel Starz in exchange for the streaming rights to movies like Star Wars: The Force Awakens, which was previously licensed to the cable channel. These ads will appear as display banners on the login page for Disney+ and ESPN+, as well as in the Android app for the former and on internet browser pages accessing the streaming services. Thankfully, you won’t see any ads in the services themselves.
This new deal is all in service of ensuring that Disney+ has the most expansive catalog of Disney-owned titles available in their streaming library on launch day next week. And it’s in direct opposition to the original plan for Disney+ to be an ad-free streaming platform. In the end, there aren’t really any ads within the streaming service itself, unlike ad-supported versions of Hulu, for example. But this is still something Disney+ surely would have rather avoided, especially since they’ve been actively avoiding advertising for other streaming services like Netflix on some of the channels they own.
Efforts to gather up the movies with different licensing deals for streaming elsewhere were revealed to The Verge in August when Michael Paull, head of Disney streaming services, told them:
“I think, as you can see from what we’re making available, and from seeing some of the titles that we’re making available at launch, there’s been a lot of effort that went into bringing it all back together so that we could make it available on the service.”
Indeed, the library of titles available is rather impressive, even if it doesn’t include a lot of the biggest hits from the Marvel Cinematic Universe. There’s a good chance that we won’t see all of those movies on Disney+ at the same time in the early days of the service, though it’s not impossible to happen at some point.
Streaming services have made licensing rights even more complicated in recent years, and they were already complicated enough. That’s why you’re constantly seeing movies from different studios leave streaming libraries at Netflix, Hulu and Amazon Prime only to come back a few months later. However, that might change as streaming services become more territorial about licensing rights. Forthcoming streaming services like HBO Max and Peacock have spent hundreds of millions of dollars to secure the streaming rights to shows like Friends, The Big Bang Theory and The Office, and they’re likely not going to let them go in the near future unless they don’t last very long in the streaming wars. Begun, the streaming wars have.
Welcome to The Movies That Made Star Wars, a series where we explore the films and television properties that inspired George Lucas’s iconic universe. In this edition: The documentary film stylings of cinematographer Gilbert Taylor, including Dr. Strangelove, A Hard Day’s Night, and The Omen.
George Lucas is a big fan of documentary filmmaking. It’s really how he’s approached film from the beginning and it’s no surprise. From some of his earliest film credits, Lucas proved adept at documentary work. He filmed and directed the behind-the-scenes short Filmmaker on the set of Francis Ford Coppola’s The Rain People. After that, he was a camera operator on the seminal documentary film by the Maysles Brothers, Gimme Shelter. Lucas was there, rolling film at the Altamont Speedway where a deadly altercation broke out in front of the Rolling Stones as they performed. Lucas brought this documentary style to his next two feature films, THX-1138 and American Graffiti and sought to do the same for Star Wars.
In order to accomplish this, Lucas tried to hire a cinematographer that would be able to capture both the documentary feeling he was hoping for and the scope of visual effects he was planning. His first choice was Geoffrey Unsworth, who had previously filmed Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey. Unsworth dropped out, though, opting instead to lens A Bridge Too Far and then follow that up immediately with Richard Donner’s Superman. This left Lucas to find a last minute replacement in Gilbert Taylor.
Lucas went straight to another classic Kubrick cinematographer to find his replacement for Unsworth in Gilbert Taylor. Taylor provided a loose style for Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb that made it feel like it could be a documentary, but also provided a lot of interesting visuals that would go on to inspire Lucas in Star Wars. In fact, it’s hard to look at the War Room in Strangelove without being reminded of the conference rooms aboard the Death Star.
For those unfamiliar, Dr. Strangelove is a film about a crazed general who launches a nuclear war against Russia in order to commit the United States to a conflict to preserve the…purity of our precious bodily fluids. It’s an absurdist romp through the high stakes game of nuclear brinksmanship, brought to life by Stanley Kubrick and a cast that includes Peter Sellers in three roles!, George C. Scott, Sterling Hayden, and even the voice of Darth Vader himself, James Earl Jones.
The way Gilbert Taylor photographed Dr. Strangelove made you feel like you were a fly on the wall in very tense circumstances and ened the suspense felt by the audience, despite the inherent absurdity of the situations and the comedy of the writing.
It must have seemed another bonus for Lucas that, in Dr. Strangelove, Taylor was able to make sets like the War Room look full of life even though they were giant empty rooms lit impressionistically. This would give him the ability to light the spare sets of the Death Star’s control rooms. Imagine the difficulty in lighting a technical control room for dramatic scenes with nothing but black curtains everywhere.
Taylor wasn’t the biggest fan of John Barry’s production design for the Death Star and the sets caused him plenty of headaches. In numerous interviews, Taylor recounted his distaste for the Death Star sets, commenting frequently how many times he had to knock holes in the walls to put in lights so that the set wouldn’t look so bland and gray.
The magic he provided worked, though. The Death Star scenes in A New Hope were arresting in their visual quality and looked fantastic.
A Hard Day’s Night
The other film in Taylor’s filmography that George Lucas sited in wanting to pick him for the job was A Hard Day’s Night 1964. The Beatles were a world-wide phenomenon by the release of A Hard Day’s Night, which was a film the studio didn’t care if they lost money on because they were more interesting in exploiting a loophole that would allow them to distribute the soundtrack for the film. Printing Beatles records in 1964 was akin to printing money.
Taylor worked under director Richard Lester Superman II, III to create a world for the Beatles that was at once real and a cartoon all at the same time. The film follows a few days in the life of the band and the Beatlemania that follows them. The writer of the film followed the Beatles around for a few days and drafted a version of the script that exaggerated their qualities and provided a framework for the film. With Gilbert Taylor behind the camera, A Hard Day’s Night looked as though it could have been a documentary, despite the absurdity of many of the situations.
It was a quality that Lucas emulated for American Graffiti in some ways and wanted to bring to Star Wars. If the cinematographer could sell the realism in the fantasy, then the film would be much easier for an audience to believe and invest in. There has been much said about the “lived-in” look of the original Star Wars and how that made it such a huge hit, but often it refers to the grime of the backgrounds, but how those visuals were captured in camera sold the illusion as much as the dirt on the ships. That is directly related to this documentary style of Gilbert Taylor.
When Geoffrey Unsworth, the original cinematographer, was forced to drop out of Star Wars and Lucas was looking for a replacement, Gilbert Taylor and his crew were hard at work on The Omen. Released in 1976, The Omen starred Gregory Peck as an American diplomat whose baby is replaced at birth by the anti-Christ. It’s a tense horror film that sometimes descends into cheesy melodrama but has survived as a classic over the years.
Taylor brought some of those same documentary flourishes to that film as well, which could be viewed as one of his signature moves throughout his career. Of the three films we’re discussing from Taylor’s body of work that influenced Star Wars, The Omen is the only one filmed in color. Watching the film, you can see how consistent Taylor’s choice of lens and film stocks influenced Star Wars because the films have the same quality of color throughout.
One of the deciding factors for Taylor to take the job for Star Wars, however, is that he would be able to bring over the vast majority of his camera unit from The Omen right into A New Hope.
By 1976, Gilbert Taylor was as experienced in the film industry as one could get. He got his start in film back in the last of the silent days. His first Alfred Hitchcock film as a clapper loader and second camera assistant was Number 17 1932. His last Alfred Hitchcock film, this time as cinematographer, was Frenzy 1972, Hitchcock’s penultimate feature film. During World War II, he served as an operational cameraman in the Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve, documenting the devastation after bombing raids, including the infamous raid on Dresden. He and a crew of three documented news stories on the ground, including those of the concentration camps. He lensed The Dam Busters, another film that would be hugely influential on Lucas’s construction of Star Wars.
While Taylor established the look of Star Wars moving forward, he and Lucas weren’t always on the same page for the cinematography of A New Hope. In fact, George Lucas wanted very diffuse, soft focus on many shots and Taylor revolted. You can still see some of those soft focus shots in the film, but Taylor worked against them. From a 2013 interview, Taylor and his wife told Slate that he told George Lucas he couldn’t do it. “Gil said, “You can’t do it, George, because you’ve got a lot of special effects to lay in, and you won’t be able to if you diffuse it.” Also, they had terrible bad weather when they got out to Tunisia, and there was no definition between the sand and the sky. Gil said if it was diffused on top of that, “George would have been absolutely fucked when it came time to do the effects.”
The work of Gilbert Taylor, both prior to Star Wars and on Star Wars itself, set a tone and visual vocabulary that lives on today in every new Star Wars film. He helped give George Lucas the look and feel of a space documentary and he might have been the only DP in 1976 capable of doing it. Despite reports of clashes between Lucas and Taylor on set, they created one of the most successful and iconic looking films in the history of cinema. Tracking the work of the cinematographer and the tastes of George Lucas back, you can see why the sensibilities of the two, even when they were at odds, harmonized into something that could create Star Wars.
All three of Taylor’s films we’ve talked about here are worth watching. Dr. Strangelove and A Hard Day’s Night are both bonafide classics that should be watched often anyway. The Omen is a little less essential, but still worth putting your eyes on at least once. Gregory Peck gives a commanding performance and it’s a worthy early effort of Richard Donner who went on to direct Superman afterward.
All three films are available to stream on various services, some with a small rental fee.