George Lucas always said that Joseph Campbell and his idea of “the monomyth” — of the hero’s journey that exists in all the myths and legends of the world — greatly influenced Star Wars. In that sense, long, long ago in a galaxy far, far away doesn’t merely evoke the sentiment of “once upon a time,” but both of these opening sentences draw on something older and archetypal in human storytelling. However, Star Wars is only one of the many stories that draw from this pool of myth and, in turn, many of these short stories, novels, comics, television series and films have informed George Lucas’ creative mind as well as those of his artistic team and his mythos.
Long, longer ago, there were other galaxies that existed far and farther away and Michael Heilemann has taken it upon himself to trace them to before Lucas’ opening crawl recedes into the distance: to those places that came before they even roll onto screen. Heilemann, an interface director of the content management system Squarespace, is in the process of tracing The Ancestry Of Star Wars through an ongoing work that will become the e-book Kitbashed. The latter is a title taken from the concept of kitbashing of taking pieces of different models and making something new from one’s own unique engineering and creativity. These new pieces can be added to a model that already exists or can be made to create something entirely new.
It is a nice analogy for Star Wars and myth-making in general: especially in that Heilemann himself goes into explain in the About section of his site that “using existing model-kits to detail spaceship models for films” is a “technique” that was perfected during the production of Star Wars. But Heilemann takes the point further. Armed with a “Despecialized Edition” of Star Wars: A New Hope (for we all know how difficult it is to find an original version of the Trilogy of any decent graphic quality), Heilemann has managed to illustrate his points in video form: juxtaposing and sometimes transitioning scenes, images and sounds from different films and media so that we can see how they might be related side-by-side.
The AV Club’s title of their own article about Heilemann’s work says it all: This annotated Star Wars video is the best special feature the DVDs don’t have. And, unfortunately, the writer of the article John Teti also makes a valid point in that “It’s the kind of thing that ought to be on a special-edition Blu-Ray release but never will be because of copyright issues.”
These copyright issues are not merely the result of LucasFilm when you consider that Heilemann includes elements from films, television serials and comics such as Lucas’ THX 1138, Star Trek, Flash Gordon, Forbidden Planet, The Hidden Fortress, The Searchers and many other works. As such, if you are interested in viewing the video links in this article please do so soon before they are removed. While the sample that Heilemann provides is, by his own admission, not as complete as it could be it certainly illustrates what he is trying to do.
Because Heilemann’s work isn’t kitbashing. Lucas and his artists were the kitbashers here. No, what Heilemann is attempting to do is go beyond even Lucas’ prototypical The Star Wars rough scripts and give us something of a blue print: not for Star Wars, but for the creative and historical process that went into making this mythology. As someone who is fascinated with the origins of myths and geekery, who explores as much as possible, I have to admit that this understanding and the work he has done so far makes me feel somewhat jealous.
But ultimately and if nothing else, what Michael Heilemann demonstrates is that no one ever truly shoots first.