What It Is
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.
Kitbashed is an ebook of sorts by Michael Heilemann; an exhaustive analysis of the 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.
* Yes, changed the world. It altered cinema forever, provided Lucas with the means to create ILM, which begat the Computer Graphics group, which begat non-linear sound and film editing, and a giant heap of computer graphics inventions, all of which power the device you're reading this on today, as told in Droid Maker.
Why It Is
Sometime in the early- to mid-1980s when I was starting second grade, my family moved to a new town 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 (for some reason, I was always 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 a nerd, where mastery 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, 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; but 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 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.
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 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. 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, free for all the peruse 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, the slickness of which continually belies its underlying complexity and seemingly infinite depth.
Everything was researched, written, edited, directed and produced by Michael Heilemann, a Dane who lives with his lovely wife in New York, where he works as the Director of Product Design at Squarespace Inc.
May the force be with you. Always.