Book review of Star Wars: From Concept to Screen to Collectible

In recent years, especially in the wake of such huge mega-films as The Last Action Hero, it has become all too popular among the film and scholastic community to bash George Lucas and his Star Wars Trilogy for spawning the horrible, multi-million dollar, heavily promoted and heavily merchandised film type that seems to dominate Hollywood today. Admittedly, this pattern of pouring millions of dollars into an often shallow film that depends on elaborate special effects and popular stars to supplement a weak script does seem to be the trend. Numerous films, such as Independence Day, which cost over $100 million and had promotional tie-ins everywhere, attest to this trend that Hollywood favors huge, possible blockbuster films with potentially enormous profits in licensing and merchandising. George Lucas clearly poses an easy target as Star Wars did shatter box office records and did forever alter movie merchandising; however, he did not produce the film with purely materialistic goals in mind. In Star Wars: From Concept to Screen to Collectible, Stephen Sansweet provides the reader with a complete, well-rounded account that traces the evolution of Lucas' Star Wars from an almost non-existent film to a worldwide phenomenon. Sansweet's narration reveals how Lucas strove to make a film of high, artistic quality; Lucas thought Star Wars would have a mediocre box office showing and had no intention of producing a blockbuster film that would completely change the movie industry.

Sansweet's first few sections completely dispel the notion of George Lucas as a millionaire director and Hollywood mogul. He describes the struggles endured by Lucas and makes the reader realize how close Star Wars came to never reaching the big screen. While modern viewers immediately think of the trilogy as an important component of popular culture, studio executives in the seventies were reluctant to take a risk with such a radical script. It took repeated attempts and various presentations before Lucas could even convince Fox to fund his space adventure. Yet, as Sansweet points out, risk was at the very heart of Star Wars in all aspects. Lucas had to create an entire, believable universe with very limited resources. Frequently, he and his ragtag team of college students had to design entirely new techniques, pioneering in then unknown areas such as computer graphics, in order to achieve Lucas's vision for the film. .

Like Lucas, many other people involved with the film took a gamble, especially Bernie Loomis, then president of Kenner Products. The entire act of creating a toy line based on a movie was a complete risk as television products were considered to be much more viable and profitable; however, Loomis followed his gut reaction and avidly pursued the contract to produce Star Wars toys. Sansweet then shows how Loomis' revolutionary figure design ensured the success of the toy line. While the toys soon became an immediate hit, the demand for other Star Wars merchandise also soared. Sansweet thoroughly covers the merchandising phenomenon of the film and describes Lucas' supreme role in the licensing of related products. In discussing Lucas' motivation for control of the licensing rights, he reveals how Lucas wanted to ensure that his artistic vision would not be cheapened by inferior products bearing the Star Wars name. Lucas' forgoing of a higher salary in exchange for merchandising control clearly was a sacrifice. Given the record of previous films, merchandising was not a very profitable venue, and the astounding success of Star Wars merchandise baffled both Lucas and Twentieth-Century Fox. Clearly, Lucas acted not for his personal wealth, but for the integrity of his film.

While he conveys the innovative, artistic vision of Lucas and the resulting fruits of his labor, Sansweet largely ignores the controversy surrounding the Star Wars legacy. While he absolves Lucas, he does not examine who is to blame (directors, studios, producers?, etc.) for the current mega-movie trend. Likewise, he approaches Lucas with an entirely optimistic tone and fails to cover any negative aspect of Lucas, such as his development of the Ewok with marketable rather than artistic reasons in mind. Nonetheless, Sansweet's book contains an amazing collection of production photos and represents countless hours of interviews with George Lucas, Kenner Products, and others who played a role in the development of Star Wars. In covering the development and evolution of Star Wars from the concept in one man's mind to the film that appealed to the world to the merchandising bonanza the film caused, Sansweet provides an account that makes the reader see the trilogy in various aspects away from its nineties stereotype as solely a popular and profitable film property.

Sansweet, Stephen J. Star Wars: From Concept to Screen to Collectible. San Francisco: Chronicle Books, 1992. Patrick Pontius