Michael Heilemann

How Douglas Trumbull's 1972 bleeding heart, science fiction classic yielded the humanity of R2-D2 and robots everywhere.

Michael Heilemann
Silent Running
Michael Heilemann

The New Cinema (1968)

A half-hour long unaired TV special about the upcoming student film scene from the late 1960s, which includes a notable early interview with Coppola and Lucas, seemingly from location on The Rain People.

Michael Heilemann
The New Cinema (1968)
Michael Heilemann

The Mead-llenium Falcon

One of the long-standing unanswered questions on my todo list for Kitbashed is a thorough history of the Millenium Falcon. There are several reasons I haven't written it yet, one of them is my being unable to bridge the disconnect between the various versions of the Falcon, including the 'Mead-llenium' version.

Michael Heilemann
The Mead-llenium Falcon
Michael Heilemann

Cantwell's Concept Art

Thanks to an insightful interview with Colin Cantwell by Jason DeBord of the Original Prop Blog, we now not only have some long-wanted insights into Colin Cantwell's role on Star Wars, but to everyone's astonishment, even some never before seen concept art. In fact, not just never before seen, but never before talked about! Cantwell's pieces were auctioned off this weekend in California; hopefully these were documented and will end up in a second edition of The Making of Star Wars some time in the future.

Michael Heilemann
Cantwell's Concept Art
Michael Heilemann

Edward Summer

Edward Summer passed away in late 2014. He is perhaps best known for his comic book store, the first of its kind in New York, through which he went into business with George Lucas. He became my friend over the past few years. He will be missed.

Michael Heilemann
Edward Summer
Michael Heilemann

Context vs. Brevity

A few choice words on the purpose of this project, and on the general consumption habits of modern media. In short: Kitbashed takes the time Kitbashed takes.

Michael Heilemann
Context vs. Brevity
Michael Heilemann

Kitbashed: The Film

Presented in its entirety is here my 'workprint' of Star Wars with a wide variety of its inspirational ancestry intercut and annotated.

Michael Heilemann
Kitbashed: The Film
Michael Heilemann

To this day, the most financially successful film score of all time, and arguably one of the most influential, John Williams' throwback to romantic adventure films of yore became a defining part of Star Wars, as much as if not more than any other part of the phenomenon. It too borrowed from the past.

Michael Heilemann
The Score
Michael Heilemann

Openings

Short, but sweet mashup video that looks at the opening of Star Wars and its bevy of influences.

Michael Heilemann
Openings
Michael Heilemann

When it was first released in 1956, John Ford's latest western The Searchers didn't set the world on fire. But it wasn't long before it started its long crawl back into the limelight. And by the late 60s a new generation of film makers, including George Lucas, found renewed inspiration in it.

Michael Heilemann
The Searchers
Michael Heilemann

Following the adventures of spatio-temporal agents Valérian and Laureline as they hurdle through time and space, righting wrongs and getting out of tight jams, Mézières and Christin's trend-setting comic series was lightyears ahead of its time.

Michael Heilemann
Valérian and Laureline
Michael Heilemann

With a career stretching almost 60 years, Akira Kurosawa remains one of the most influential directors in the history of the medium. The pinnacle of his popularity however was perfectly timed with a batch of impressionable USC students ready to take on the world, and his impact on George Lucas in particular is the stuff of legends.

Michael Heilemann
Kurosawa
Michael Heilemann

Scum and Villainy

The Mos Eisley cantina isn't just a hive of scum and villainy, it's also where a hole number of very specific Western of Samurai influences converge in rapid succession. Here's a video intercutting the various sources with Star Wars itself.

Michael Heilemann
Scum and Villainy
Michael Heilemann

Casablanca

Inarguably one of the greatest stories of tragic love ever cast onto the silver screen, Casablanca was something of an unexpected classic. Endlessly imitated and parodied, it even found its way into significant portions of Star Wars.

Michael Heilemann
Casablanca
Michael Heilemann

Dark Star

In the slipstream of Lucas's student version of THX 1138, John Carpenter and Dan O'Bannon managed a similar trick, when they stole their short film from the vaults of USC and padded it out for a feature film release. Though little known as much more than a distant cult classic, Dark Star would become the predecessor to Alien, and fling off visual ideas to both Star Wars as well as Star Trek.

Michael Heilemann
Dark Star
Michael Heilemann

B is for Berkey

We know that one of John Berkey's paintings became the foundation for The Deathstar, but it turns out his influence went beyond that, into the aptly named B-Wing.

Michael Heilemann
B is for Berkey
Michael Heilemann

Kaluta's Landspeeder

Luke's speeder is another distinct design in a world filled with them. As it turns out, Flash Gordon flew, and 'died' in one very similar to it half a decade before Luke. Perhaps they both shop at Wioslea?

Michael Heilemann
Kaluta's Landspeeder

Fair-haired, square jawed and irresistible to women, Flash Gordon is the great American hero personified. Alex Raymond managed to upstage Buck Rogers in the comic strips with his sense of adventure, and ever-changing perils.

Flash Gordon

Edgar Rice Burroughs might have stood on the shoulders of earlier 'officer adventures on Mars' tales, but his distinct style and sense of storytelling has cemented his place in the history of adventure stories. Here we meet John Carter and his martian bride to be, Dejah Thoris, and their planet-spanning escapades.

John Carter of Mars
Michael Heilemann

Syd Mead's Walkers

Syd Mead didn't work on The Empire Strikes Back, but he made a significant contribution nonetheless, when his designs for US Steel ended up informing the imperial walkers deployed on Hoth.

Michael Heilemann
Syd Mead's Walkers

Lieutenant Gullivar Jones: His Vacation

Swept by magic carpet to the glorious planet of Mars, no sooner has Lt. Gullivar Jones fallen for the beautiful Princess Heru of the Hither people before she is kidnapped by the hideous Tither people. Gullivar pursues in bumbling fashion, in an adventure across the jungles and rivers of Mars. John Carter takes notes.

Lieutenant Gullivar Jones: His Vacation

Across the Zodiac

Mars captured the imagination of a world which was in the throes of massive sociopolitical changes and coming to terms with equally massive technological progress. From it  sprang the grand space adventure genre, sword and sandal.

Across the Zodiac
Michael Heilemann

Like Father, Like Son

The reveal of Darth Vader as Luke's father remains one of the greatest twists in cinema history, and one that sits at the heart of why the Star Wars saga is popular even to this day. But this wasn't always the way the story was meant to play out. In fact, it wasn't until the second draft of Star Wars II that the idea manifested itself. So where did it come from?

Michael Heilemann
Like Father, Like Son
Michael Heilemann

Fairytales & The Hero's Journey

Despite being substantially older than Star Wars, the Hero's Journey, also known as the mono myth, will forever be a part of Star Wars lore. But did Lucas actually employ it to 'design' Star Wars, or did he stumble upon it, and only later use it as a structuring tool?

Michael Heilemann
Fairytales & The Hero's Journey
Michael Heilemann

The first American fairytale, in its greatest silver screen presentation; a marvel of color and staging when it was first released in 1939. Perhaps not surprisingly, the first true American fairytale fueled another great American fairytale; here's how.

Michael Heilemann
Somewhere Over The Rainbow

Torn out of his days cruising the streets of Modesto, American Graffiti is Lucas's love letter to a long since dead mating ritual. Seeming perhaps a sidestep in relation to Star Wars, when compared to the science fiction worlds of THX 1138, it was crucial in shaping the populist approach with which Star Wars conquered the world.

American Graffiti (1974)
Michael Heilemann

Studies of Semi-Nomadism in North Africa

A four-page essay on nomadic tribes in Africa, written by a teenage Lucas at Thomas Downey High School in Modesto, California.

Michael Heilemann
Studies of Semi-Nomadism in North Africa

Not long out of USC, Coppola's production company American Zoetrope, started its life with Lucas's first feature film, THX 1138. An alienating film about social politics, consumerism and other hot button topics of the 60s, it is a remarkable first picture, and one that in many ways can be thought of as the art house version of Star Wars.

THX 1138 (1971)
Michael Heilemann

"Star Wars Killed the Serious Film"

It's a common refrain amongst critics and even certain groupings of film fans, that the films of Spielberg and Lucas effectively killed the important and much more serious films that were finally gaining ground in the 70s. One critic, Philip Kerr certainly thought so, and I couldn't help but rebut his poorly researched and thought-through claims, even if I'm late to the party on this one.

Michael Heilemann
"Star Wars Killed the Serious Film"
Michael Heilemann

WWII was an enormous influence on all kids of the 50s and 60s, and Lucas was no exception. From the general good vs evil nature of the conflict to the specifics of war epics like The Guns of Navarone and air-heroics of The Dam Busters and 633 Squadron, it seems entirely possible that Star Wars would never have existed if not for the war.

Michael Heilemann
War!

Before Star Wars, before American Graffiti even, a young film maker is interviewed for a PBS special. Remarkable for its foresight in interviewing Lucas this early in his career, and for Lucas's persistent vision, much of which he lays out for Gene Youngblood.

Maker of Films (1971)
Michael Heilemann

Triumph des Willens (1935)

​Easily the most famous piece of propaganda in the world, Leni Riefenstahl's film glorifying the Nazi party was a watershed moment for Hitler's third reich, and remains today a chilling reminder for the horrors that ensued.

Michael Heilemann
Triumph des Willens (1935)
Michael Heilemann

Howard Chaykin & The Swashbuckling Space Pirates

Drawn by Howard Chaykin who would work on the very first Star Wars poster as well as the Marvel comic book series, Cody Starbuck, cutlass in one hand and a six-shooter in the other, is often thought of as an x-rated precursor to Han Solo. 

Michael Heilemann
Howard Chaykin & The Swashbuckling Space Pirates
Michael Heilemann

The Ignition / Reception Correlation

A look at whether the myth that the number of a times a lightsaber is ignited in a Star Wars movie correlates inversely to its critical reception.

Michael Heilemann
The Ignition / Reception Correlation

Electronic Labyrinth: THX 1138 4EB (1967)

​Lucas's breakout student effort, a dazzling display of guts and vision which took the student film festival scene by storm. A young Steven Spielberg saw this and felt horribly inadequate.

Electronic Labyrinth: THX 1138 4EB (1967)

Anyone Lived in a Pretty How Town (1967)

​A photographer walks around a small town, and as he takes pictures of its inhabitants, they disappear. Shot in widescreen and color, a technically impressive short, albeit somewhat uninteresting.

Anyone Lived in a Pretty How Town (1967)

The Emperor (1967)

A 24-minute documentary on the radio DJ Bob Hudson, AKA The Emperor, who would late become the template for Wolfman Jack in American Graffiti. Features a young John Milius in his signature Zoetrope-days sombrero.

The Emperor (1967)

Freiheit (1966)

A young man runs through the wilderness, when suddenly he's gunned down by an unseen border guard. An early precursor of sorts to THX 1138, and Lucas's first (kind of) narrative effort.

Freiheit (1966)
Michael Heilemann

The Undiscovered Planet of Quazoom

Could it be? The genesis of Star Wars, in an old copy of Vogue magazine? It does indeed seem so.

Michael Heilemann
The Undiscovered Planet of Quazoom
Michael Heilemann

A discussion of how George Lucas came to be an editor not simply of celluloid, but also a kind of post-modern editor of films, books and comics.

Michael Heilemann
The Editor
Michael Heilemann

The Immunity Syndrome

Before Obi-Wan sensed the destruction of Alderaan across the gulf of space, Spock sensed the deaths of his fellow Vulcans.

 

Michael Heilemann
The Immunity Syndrome

One of the earliest and greatest influences on the young film maker, Arthur Lipsett was an avant-garde Canadian working at the National Film Board. His style had a tremendous impact on Lucas's early films, and his films indirectly named The Force.

The Spiritual Disenchantment of the Super Machine Age
Michael Heilemann

The in-depth look at the creation of everyone's favorite walking carpet. From the earliest idea, and the word 'wookie' in THX 1138, up through his visual development, through an unexpected twist.

Michael Heilemann
Chewbacca
Michael Heilemann

Lucas went to see Forbidden Planet for his 12th birthday, and never looked back. The equivalent to what Star Wars would become for later generations, it was indeed an Amazing! Never Before Seen! science fiction extravaganza, and it left its DNA all over Star Wars.

Michael Heilemann
Amazing! Nothing Like It Ever!
Michael Heilemann

In his biography, Christopher Frayling called him 'the first post-modern film maker', and as such Sergio Leone has had an arguably underrated and largely overlooked influence on Star Wars . A lengthy discussion of Leone's approach to film making, and how a samurai became a cowboy who became a bounty hunter in a galaxy far, far away.

Michael Heilemann
There Was Once a Certain Kind of Cinema
Michael Heilemann

A Tale of Two Pods

Kubrick's long shadow looms large over especially the opening of Lucas's space epic.

Michael Heilemann
A Tale of Two Pods
Michael Heilemann

The Son of Suns

A returning motif in Lucas's films, found throughout his student films as well as in THX 1138 and Star Wars, is that of the sun. 

Michael Heilemann
The Son of Suns
Michael Heilemann

​The influence of one particular story about a ring on Star Wars​ often receives more attention than it is worth. Though that isn't to say that there isn't smoke.

Michael Heilemann
Grumpy Old Wizards
Michael Heilemann

Crucifixion

The Imperial Attack / Blockade Runner track from the Star Wars score has a certain resemblance to the Crucifixion track from Franz Waxman's 1935 Bride of Frankenstein score. A track which was reused, as it happens, as the intro music for the Flash Gordon serial (and more on that later).

Michael Heilemann
Crucifixion
Michael Heilemann

​What possessed the production of Star Wars​ to equip Leia with her now icon haircut? Did it stem from mexican freedom fighters? Indians? Or was it something closer to the pulp and WWII-based sources that Star Wars​ generally draws from?

Michael Heilemann
Princess Hair
Michael Heilemann

Chris Foss & The Triangular Totalitarianism

Uniquely identifiable from his use of color and patterns, Chris Foss has been a tremendous influence in science fiction for decades. In the 70s he created a book cover which had on it a strangely familiar, yet quite alien design. A triangular star ship.

Michael Heilemann
Chris Foss & The Triangular Totalitarianism
Michael Heilemann

Khyber Rifles

Luke's long rifle, never used and glimpsed only for a short segment on-screen, might very well have been inspired by, of all things, a John Ford adventure film.

Michael Heilemann
Khyber Rifles
Michael Heilemann

Ron Cobb & The Giant Lizards

Riders astride giant lizards might not have been an entirely novel concept by the mid 70s, but Ron Cobb's take on it had an air of the fantastic, while being grounded in reality. Cobb would go on to work on creatures for Star Wars , and this early design probably inspired the Dewback.

Michael Heilemann
Ron Cobb & The Giant Lizards
Michael Heilemann

He provided the empire with the ultimate weapon, though he couldn't have known it at the time. His style is uniquely elegant, yet mechanical, and though he would do some work for Star Wars , he never actually saw the films themselves.

Michael Heilemann
John Berkey & The Mechanical Planet
Michael Heilemann

​An outlandish design even in a film filled with otherwise outlandish designs, the Jawa Sandscrawler has an interesting story to it, owing its features to both NASA, as well as another science fiction film.

Michael Heilemann
The Jawa Sandcrawler
Michael Heilemann

Psycho & Sanjuro

Who would've thought that a cue from Psycho, of all films, would end up in Star Wars ? Well, it did, here's the how and where of it.

Michael Heilemann
Psycho & Sanjuro
Michael Heilemann

Escape From the Deathstar

Howard Hawks's 1943 story of a bomber that arrives at Hawaii after it's suffered a surprise attack at the hands Japanese forces, became the template for the scenes involving the Millennium Falcon, and the bomber, the star ship itself.

Michael Heilemann
Escape From the Deathstar