And how it let George Lucas make the best business deal in Hollywood history.

After a $4 billion Disney deal, 87 different trailers, and over a year of hype, Star Wars: The Force Awakens premieres worldwide this week after a red-carpet frenzy. That’s 40 years and 4,000 miles away from where all of this began, with a writer/director struggling with technical problems in a far-off desert country on the ballooning budget of a passion project starring mostly unknown actors. Now a billion-dollar industry unto itself, Star Wars began life as an indie film that tricked a studio into financing it.

The quick and dirty version of the film’s history is that George Lucas tried to buy the rights to Flash Gordon in the early 70s in order to fulfill a dream of treating his B-movie childhood hero like serious art, but he was unable to strike a deal. So Lucas decided to craft a serial adventure of his own, set in space against the backdrop of civil war. He borrowed from Edgar Rice Burroughs (John Carter of Mars), he borrowed from Akira Kurosawa (The Hidden Fortress) and he borrowed from W. W. II dog fights to cobble together a far-away galaxy filled with colorful characters that evoked the romantic thrills of antique adventures. United Artists passed. Universal passed. Disney, ironically, passed. But then Fox agreed to finance the film as a means to craft a relationship with the rising star, who was fresh off a best-picture-Oscar nomination for American Graffiti—a movie that has nothing to do with sci-fi, but still.


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