Kitbashing—using existing model-kits to detail spaceship models for films—was a technique perfected during the production of Star Wars. It's also the title I chose for my book about how George Lucas and his artists perfected the process of transforming existing books, comics, movies and ideas into the fantasy spectacular that is Star Wars.
What It Is
Kitbashed is an ebook written and published by Michael Heilemann. It's an exhaustive analysis of the sources of inspiration that led to the creation of Star Wars, covering everything from Lucas's earliest student films, european cinema of the time, westerns (American and Italian), samurai films, war films, comic books, artists, composers, and so on and so forth, up to and including the release of the film that changed the world.
While also meant as a map of the influences that were drawn on to create the worlds of Star Wars, it's at the same time a deep dive into the creative process and a unique look at how the boy who grew up with Flash Gordon, became the man who created one of the most popular entertainment franchises of all time.
It's done when it's done.
What It Is Not
An exposé. The creative process that brought forth Star Wars is nothing short of amazing, and despite that fact that some people always seem to misunderstand the intent behind projects like Kitbashed, it is not my intent to 'reveal how Star Wars is in reality completely unoriginal'. If you believe that's what it does, you do not understand creativity .
Why It Is
Sometime in the early- to mid-80s when I was about to start the second grade, my family and I moved to a new town and I started in a new class at a new school, knowing not a single kid in school. By lunch time we had turned the swing set into the Millennium Falcon and—not a stretch of the imagination—the hallways of the school into the Death Star. My new best friend, whom I'd met a couple of hours earlier took on the mantle of Han and I Luke.
It was far from the last time that Star Wars would influence my life in a very real way, and with every passing year, just when I thought I'd finally let go of it, it'd find a new way to lure me back into its web. Having grown up as a nerd, where knowledge of nerdy things like Star Wars is the currency of respect, my speciality soon became esoteric film knowledge, with Star Wars at its core.
In 2010 I watched The Searchers for the first time. I'd known about its influence on the burning homestead sequence for a long time of course, but found the points of comparison to stretch far beyond what was usually brought up in passing, and for my own amusement I put together a video to try and illustrate how the two sequences mapped quite closely to each other.
Later that year I happened across a sci-fi magazine cover which featured what were almost wookies; the thing was, it had been published in 1974, three whole years before Star Wars was unleashed upon the world. I wrote a lengthy blog post about it, which garnered some attention.
Every Star Wars fan worth their salt knows about The Searchers and Star Wars, but virtually no one knew about the wookie ancestors. And if after thirty years of close scrutinization we didn't know something this significant, what else didn't we know?
I started to collate all things I knew about the inspiration behind Star Wars. Flash Gordon, Akira Kurosawa, The Dam Busters etc. I had written the Chewbacca piece in a couple of days. I figured it would take me a couple months to finish a complete survey of the first movie.
Over the course of the next two and a half years, I did to the rest of the movie what I'd done with the The Searchers sequences, and cut together a good chunk of the movie with scenes and sequences from the movies it drew inspiration from. I read biographies, science fiction books, movie history books and researched stills and paintings to draw comparisons with. I met several times with, and interviewed Edward Summer, who had been in business with Lucas in the 70s. I wrote somewhere in the neighborhood of 55.000 words worth of analysis and essays.
Needless to say, it took much longer than I had anticipated, and grew beyond the scope of a few blog posts. In fact, I had created Kitbashed without knowing exactly what it was and what I wanted to do with it, and eventually realized that there was no way around the copyright issues I faced if I wanted to publish all of the image- and video-based parts of the project. And for a long time it lingered in limbo, as I kept chipping away at the edges of it.
I finally realized that while the video and images are fundamental to fully understanding certain comparisons, the majority of the project, and the part that has the most meat on it and are closest to my heart, is the written part.
And so I decided to publish that as a separate ebook, and to simply create a blog with the purpose of getting the rest of the material out of my life and into yours. Besides, my personal blog has at times turned into a Star Wars blog with much the same purpose, so it was about time that I created a proper home for my obsession.
The book is in the final stages of writing and editing, and covers everything from the earliest parts of Lucas's career up to and including the release of Star Wars. It charts the development of themes, motifs and aesthetics through the people, films, comics and books Lucas was exposed to during these years and contrary to most sources on this subject, makes extensive use of sources to back up its claims.
This has been a labor of love, and a tremendous journey into a film, the slickness of which continually belies its underlying complexity and seemingly infinite depth.
How It Is
The video portions of the project were edited using Final Cut Pro X. The video source for Star Wars itself is Harmy's Despecialized Edition. The video sources for the other movies, when available, has been blu-ray, through PavTube Blu-Ray Ripper.
Everything was written, directed and produced by Michael Heilemann, a 1978-born Dane who works as the interface director at Squarespace. He resides in New York with his lovely wife Lucila.
This site is on Squarespace.
May the force be with you. Always.