Brian De Palma Sets the Record Straight on That First ‘Star Wars’ Screening: “I Did Make a Joke About The Force”
Star Wars is quite possibly the most iconic film franchise of all time, spanning four decades, multiple generations, and various media. But we take for granted now how much of this made-up sci-fi universe makes sense to us, when A New Hope introduced audiences to Luke Skywalker and Jedi an “The Force” for the very first time. Before the film was finished, Lucas showed an early cut of Star Wars to his director friends, including Steven Spielberg and Brian De Palma, and legend has it that at that screening the reaction was muted to say the least. Lucas had cut in footage of airplanes where special effects shots weren’t complete, and Spielberg has maintained that he was the only one present who actually enjoyed the film and understood what Lucas was going for.
But the thing about legend is it’s not necessarily fact, and while appearing on the terrific Mission: Impossible podcast Light the Fuse, De Palma decided to give his version of the story and offer his recollection of what went down:
“Everybody who was involved in that meeting, everyone has a different version of what happened… I was just watching the biography they did of Steven and he related how he saw it. They always portray me as the guy that says the worst thing that drives everybody crazy, but if you’re gonna show me something I’m gonna tell you what I think about it. Why am I there unless I’m gonna give an honest appraisal of what I’ve seen? And in this case, the fact that Steven says that only he saw the possibilities of Star Wars, that’s not really true.”
De Palma says they all understood that the film had unfinished effects in its present form and those present were aware that he had done something special, but the Carrie director did admit that he ribbed Lucas about “The Force”:
“We all saw it as a terrific thing that George had done and we were well aware of where the special effects weren’t there, and how they had cut in all these planes from other movies that were supposed to be the ships and stuff like that. But I did make a joke about The Force, that’s true… I just thought the idea of The Force, you know – ‘The Force’, I would say, and I kept repeating it. ‘It doesn’t seem like a great name for this kind of spiritual guidance, ‘The Force’. So needless to say I had a lot to say about The Force, which obviously I was terribly wrong about.”
But De Palma also talked about his contribution to the film, which has been documented previously – he and screenwriter Jay Cocks ended up rewriting the opening crawl so the introduction of the story made more sense to audiences:
“But the other thing was the movie starts in chapter [four], we’re in a world nobody knows anything about, he’s got all these funny names for people, I said, ‘George you’ve gotta set this up somehow like those crawls in the Flash Gordon movies.’ George had that idea, but it was all gobbledygook basically, so I and Jay Cocks went over the crawl and basically rewrote it so it made some sense. And that was our contribution.”
De Palma went on to say that he doesn’t hold back when giving feedback on his director friends’ films, and over the years he’s been both right and wrong:
“But I said some things very direct to my director friends about their movies that went on to be extremely successful. Sometimes I was right, sometimes I was wrong. They did the same for my movies.”
Indeed, also revealed on that podcast is the fact that Lucas watched an early cut of De Palma’s Mission: Impossible movie and gave a note that changed the entire opening of that film.
So yes, Brian De Palma was at that first screening of Star Wars, but according to him, Spielberg wasn’t the only person in attendance who understood what Lucas was going for. Who’s right? With stories like this, it’s possible that everyone is right in their own minds. But it’s entertaining to hear De Palma recount such an iconic piece of film history from his own recollection.
I highly recommend checking out the full Light the Fuse podcast episode for much more candid insight from De Palma.
KEEP READING: ‘Mission: Impossible’s Opening Scene Was Changed After a Note From George Lucas, Reveals Brian De Palma
De Palma screened an early cut of the film for Lucas, after which De Palma ordered reshoots to add a new opening scene.
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