The Secret History of Star Wars and Marcia Lucas
May the fourth be with you on this joyous occasion. Nerds of all denomination and degree are celebrating the legacy that is one of the most successful franchises in history. And who could blame them, for it was the original Star Wars film the revolutionized how films are made and foreverchangblahblahblahblah we all know the story. We all know about brilliant, brooding George Lucas who locked himself away in his apartment with nothing more than a yellow legal pad, a pencil, and a Wagnerian vision of adventures beyond the stars.
We also have heard all the cookey curious iterations that the story and the characters underwent as George penned his ode to Buck Rogers, but there is more to this story than a few rough edges that a gifted filmmaker smoothed out before committing to film. The truth is the original Star Wars trilogy would have a been an absolute train wreck (think Attack of the Clones only...worse?) if not for one person who has since been utterly erased from history of the franchise.
You see, it was the visionary's wife at the time, Marcia Lucas (maiden name Marcia Lou Griffin), who was largely responsible for refining everything from the characters, the plot, and even the post-production of the original Star Wars films.
Marcia's impact on all of George's earliest projects was integral to what finally emerged from the creative process. It was not only Star Wars that benefited from her involvement but every aspect of what Lucasfilm would become, even in the earliest days of American Graffiti that laid the groundwork, at least financially for Skywalker Ranch, home of George's personal production empire. Married in 1969, Marcia had already garnered a reputation for her editing skills, apprenticing under Verna Fields (known in her day as "Mother Cutter" she collaborated often with Spielberg, finally on Jaws in 1975). The pair worked together on George's American Grafitti which at the time was a last ditch effort to save his career after the cerebral flop THX1138. Marcia herself would, for several years, serve as Martin Scorsese's go-to film editor on films like Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore, and Taxi Driver.
"She was really the warmth and heart of those films..."
- Mark Hamill on Marcia Lucas.
As George tried to codify the swirling mess of Jungian archetypes he had in mind for his space adventure, Marcia was his sounding board, his greatest critic, and most constructive writing partner. She was the person in George's life who, for so many years now, appears to have been missing from his projects. Hence the prequels were the end result of a trend begun with Return of the Jedi after her absence and that of producer Gary Kurtz: a large, loud, convoluted spectacle with stilted campy dialogue, wooden performances, and no emotional gravitas.
In this excerpt from The Secret History of Star Wars Marcia explains: "I don't think George is real close and intimate with anyone but me. I've always felt that when you're married, you have to be wife, mother, confidant, and lover, and that I've been all those things to George. I'm the only person he talks to about certain things." [liv] Walter Murch comments further: "Marcia was very opinionated, and had very good opinions about things, and would not put up if she thought George was going in the wrong direction. There were heated creative arguments between them--for the good."
Some of her contributions included completely re-editing the Death Star trench run sequence from multiple passes to one much more suspenseful climax which she explained to George "If the audience doesn't cheer when Han Solo comes in at the last second in the Millennium Falcon to help Luke when he's being chased by Darth Vader, the picture doesn't work."
Marcia was largely responsible for additions that brought characters to life, or infused scenes with a touch of genuine emotion in otherwise large scale action scenes. Some were small, like Chewbacca growling to scare away a tiny robot vacuum, or Leia's peck on the cheek for luck as she and Luke swing across a chasm. Others were seismic story events like the death of Obi-wan Kenobi before Luke's eyes. George once remarked that Marcia excelled at scenes in which a character "cries or dies" and indeed also edited Darth Vader's death scene with Luke in Return of the Jedi.
Often her suggestions would involve entirely new footage to be shot, as in the case of the ending for Raiders of the Lost Ark which was entirely the result of Marcia's concerns that audience needs to know what happened to Marion after the ark kills all the Nazis.
As George's empire of dreams, as it were, neared completion including Skywalker Ranch and the release of Return of the Jedi, George's obsessive work schedule and alienation from his wife and their adopted daughter exasperated their long-strained relationship and ended in their 1983 divorce. Marcia remarried to Tom Rodriguez, whom she met when designing the ranch for George and has since largely disappeared from the public eye. So too did the 80's and early 90's see Star Wars and George Lucas seem to fade away, for a time.
Looking at any contemporary "making of" or other licensed history of Lucasfilm or the Star Wars franchise, Marcia Lucas and her contributions have been erased. In the rare event that her name has been brought up with Lucas in an interview, there is only the dismissive sentiment of I built this for her and she left me. Wife, former business partner, collaborator and in many ways the co-architect of Lucasfilm, only cinema geeks and film historians are familiar with her story. Like the sweeping epic space saga that has spanned three decades and is now assured under Disney's stewardship to continue well into the future, the underpinning narrative is a heart-breaking story of love and loss -- the oldest archetype of all.