Star Wars: “What’s this Farts of Others?”

From Easy Riders, Raging Bulls: How the Sex-Drugs-and-Rock ‘N’ Roll Generation Saved Hollywood by Peter Biskind

Lucas felt he was ready to screen Star Wars. The special effects weren’t finished, and George had cut in black and white dogfights from old World War II films, but you got the general idea. Alan Ladd flew up to his home in San Anselmo; it was the first time he would be seeing anything. De Palma, Spielberg, Huyck and Katz, Cocks, and Scorsese met at the Burbank airport. It was foggy, and the flight to San Francisco was delayed. When it finally took off, Scorsese wasn’t on board. He was as nervous about Star Wars as Lucas was about New York, New York. He hated flying, but Huyck and Katz thought, Well, he’s very competitive, he really didn’t want to see it, didn’t want to know about the film. As Scorsese puts it, “You’d have the anxiety — if it’s better than yours, or even if it isnt’ better than yours, you think it is. And your friends will tell you it is. And you believe it. For years.”

The screening ended, there was no applause, just an embarrassed silence. Without the effects, the pictures looked ridiculous. Marcia was upset, said, “It’s the At Long Last Love of science fiction. It’s awful!” and started to cry. Katz took her aside and warned her, “Shhh! Laddie’s watching — Marcia, just look cheery.” Lucas felt like he’d failed, that it wouldn’t cross over to adults. He kept repeating, “Only kids — I’ve made a Walt Disney movie, a cross between Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory and The Computer Wore Tennis Shoes. It’s gonna do maybe eight, ten million.” Several people just left, and those that remained went to eat at a Chinese restaurant. George was quiet in the car, a little shell-shocked.

As he picked over his dumplings, George asked, “All right, whaddya guys really think?” Brian [De Palma] started in on him, was merciless, as George took notes. In the cut they had seen, the Force was called the Force of Others. Brian said, “What’s this Farts of Others? And the crawl at the beginning looks like it was written on a driveway. It goes on forever. It’s gibberish.” De Palma paused, looking at George to gauge the effect of his words, before continuing. “The first act, where are we? Who are these fuzzy guys? Who are these guys dressed up like the Tin Man from Oz? What kind of a movie are you making here? You’ve left the audience out — you’ve vaporized the audience. They don’t know what’s going on.” He attacked Lucas for making an obscure movie that only pretended to be accessible. Recalls Katz, “Brian wouldn’t let up, he was out of control. He was like a crazed dog. Marcia was getting angry at Brian, and she never forgot.” George needled Brian in return. “You should talk, none of your films have made a dime. At least I’ve made some profit.” They tried to rewrite the crawl so it made sense. “You gotta drop the Jedi Bendu shit, nobody’s gonna know what you’re talking about,” continued De Palma, relentless. Katz thought, This is hopeless. It’s never going to make any sense. George was ashen, but he was taking it all in, writing it all down.

Spielberg dissented, “George, it’s great. It’s gonna make $100 million.” In those days, almost nothing made $100 million. Katz thought, Steve is a moron. Lucas said, “I promise you, Close Encounters will make four to five times more than Star Wars.” Spielberg replied, “No, no, George, this time I’ve made the esoteric science fiction movie, you’ve made the crossover one.” They made a bet with each other on the relative box office of Star Wars and Close Encounters, wrote the figures down on matchbook covers and traded them.

That night, Ladd called Spielberg. “What do we have here?” he asked. “Is Star Wars going to be any good, is anybody ever going to come see this movie?”

“It’s goinna be a huge hit. You’re gonna be the happiest film studio executive in Hollywood.”

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