Kitbashed is a kind of ebook in which I attempt to map the origins of Star Wars. It covers everthing from Lucas's earliest student films, European cinema of the time, westerns, samurai films, war films, comic books, artists, composers, and so on and so forth, up to and including the release of Star Wars in 1977. It's pretty nerdy.
Kitbashing is the technique of using bits from off-the-shelf model kits to detail custom-built models, perfected during the production of Star Wars. It's also the title I chose for my project 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.
It's part map of the influences that were drawn on to create the world of Star Wars, as well as 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.
Kitbashed is written by Michael Heilemann.
Why It Is
Sometime in the early- to mid-1980s when I was starting second grade, my family moved to the small town of Hobro in Denmark, and I started at a new 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 (I was always Luke).
In 2010 I watched The Searchers for the first time; I'd read about its influence on the burning homestead sequence in Star Wars, but found the points of comparison to stretch far beyond what I was expecting, and for my own amusement I put together a video to try to illustrate how the two sequences mapped very closely to each other.
Later that year I happened across a sci-fi magazine cover which featured what were almost wookies, only it had been published in 1974, three 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 had at least heard about The Searchers and Star Wars, but virtually no one knew about these wookie ancestors. And if after thirty years of close scrutinization we didn't know something this significant, what else didn't we know?
A lot, it turns out.
I started to collate all the 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.
Since then I've been doing to the rest of the movie what I did with the The Searchers, cutting together a good chunk of the movie with scenes and sequences from the movies it drew inspiration from. I've read biographies, science fiction books, movie history books and researched stills and paintings to draw comparisons with. I interviewed Edward Summer, who was in business with Lucas in the 70s and wrote somewhere in the neighborhood of 80.000 words.
Needless to say, it took much longer than I had anticipated, and grew beyond the scope of a few blog posts. I had created Kitbashed without knowing exactly what it was and what I wanted to do with it. For a long time it lingered in limbo, as I kept chipping away at the edges of it, until I finally decided to begin publishing it as an on-going ebook of sorts and as a sometime pastime for me to engage with as it fits into my otherwise busy life.
This has been a labor of love, and a tremendous journey into a film which continually belies its underlying complexity and depth.
Everything was researched, written, edited, directed and produced by Michael Heilemann, a Dane who lives with his lovely wife and young boy in New York, where he’s the VP, Product Design at Squarespace.
May the force be with you. Always.