EMPIRE OF DREAMS: THE STORY OF THE STAR WARS TRILOGY | DOCUMENTARY REVIEW

RELEASED: September 21st 2004
DISTRIBUTED BY: 20th Century Fox
DIRECTED BY: Kevin Burns & Edith Becker
WRITTEN BY: Ed Singer
PRODUCED BY: Edith Becker
MUSIC BY: John Williams
STARRING: Robert Clotworthy, George Lucas, Walter Cronkite, Steven Spielberg, Irvin Kershner, Howard Kazanjian, Gary Kurtz, Leo Braudy, Bill Moyers, Carrie Fisher, Gareth Wigan, Alan Ladd Jr., Ralph McQuarrie, Richard Edlund, Steve Gawley, John Dykstra, Paul Huston, Joe Johnston, Lorne Peterson, Dennis Muren, Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford, Peter Mayhew, Kenny Baker, Anthony Daniels, Norman Reynolds, Robert Watts, Peter Diamond, Richard Chew, Paul Hirsch, Ken Ralston, Ben Burtt, James Earl Jones, Phil Tippett, John Williams, Sid Ganis, Lawrence Kasdan, Billy Dee Williams, Stuart Freeborn, Frank Oz, Charles Weber, Jim Bloom, Warwick Davis, William Katt, Kurt Russell, Perry King, Terri Nunn, Cindy Williams, Alec Guinness, David Prowse, Peter Cushing & Richard Marquand

REVIEW: With coronavirus sweeping the world, and film studios piling their content online to keep people busy, Disney recently released Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker a few days early, allowing pundits to peruse the movie’s special features.

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Among these features was the documentary The Skywalker Legacy, a behind-the-scenes look at the making of Episode IX, in the context of the making of the Star Wars saga as a whole. Unfortunately, that release date only applied to America, and I don’t particularly want to buy a digital copy of a movie I’ll probably buy a physical copy of, as well as eventually having access to on the newly released Disney+.

Fortunately, Disney+ has it’s own Star Wars-centric documentary available to sate my thirst for further Star Wars knowledge: Empire of Dreams, a look back at the creation of the groundbreaking original Star Wars trilogy.

Truth be told, this documentary didn’t hold a lot of new information for me. Between exploring online forums, reading books by Carrie Fisher and Anthony Daniels, watching The Toys That Made Us and researching an article I wrote on ‘How Star Wars changed cinema’, I had become familiar with a lot of the ups and downs of the making of the Original Trilogy.

Still, seeing all that information threaded into a two and a half-hour documentary made for an enjoyable watch. While Star Wars is obviously entertaining and beloved by fans the world over, the story of what went on behind the scenes is equally so. As if by fate, it mirrors some of the key facets of storytelling incredibly closely. It starts off with a call to adventure, sees the heroes (or cast and crew, in this instance) struggle and fall, before rising triumphantly at the end.

But it’s the way the documentary presents all of this; the myriad of issues that came with changing the cinematic landscape, and gives screen time to some of the true heroes of Star Wars like the modellers and puppeteers and technicians and editors and visual effects workers, highlighting how their hard work and determination contributed to the success of the film against all odds just as much as the stars of the film.

It highlights, as my girlfriend kept taunting as she walked past, how those really working all of this out, were just a ‘bunch of nerds’. But while she was saying it teasingly about me and those on screen, with their retro seventies looks and wild array of hair cuts, I mean it as a positive (though ‘geeks’ may be a better substitute word). As the documentary rolls on, it becomes clearer and clearer that this is just a bunch of people, who are good at making things, or painting things, or working with machinery, coming together and using their passion to unknowingly change the industry that they’ve dreamt of working in. They take a concept that is, quite frankly, ridiculous, and transform it into one of the most beloved franchises on the face of the Earth.

Of course, when it comes to passion, the person with the greatest amount is George Lucas. Throughout the documentary, it always cycles back to George’s ‘genius’, highlighting that his greatest strength may not be his directing or writing skills, as you might assume, but his imagination and his savvy business-focused mind. The documentary shows how Lucas continually got into the nitty-gritty of getting the film made, struggling to fund the films himself, or betting against the corporations and the studios to make sure his vision remained true.

As a whole, it really makes you appreciate the films that little bit more, so whenever it comes to the end of a chapter and begins showing the end results of A New Hope, The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi respectively, you feel that emotional swell as if seeing the films for the first time again, because, in a way, you have – just from a behind-the-scenes point of view.

While a lot of the information contained within is out there now, and thus it may not be wholly enlightening to the die-hard Star Wars fan, being able to go on that journey with the people behind Star Wars is definitely worthwhile.

It’s just a shame that after two and a half hours of watching George Lucas ‘stick it to the man’, he ended up selling Lucasfilm to Disney, which makes the whole documentary sadder in retrospect.

Still, Empire of Dreams is very well put together, and the perfect bit of Star Wars viewing for when you want something new and you’re out of movies. All-in-all, I give it:

Also, as I was looking for a video to stick up the top, I saw that the entire documentary is actually on YouTube, if you can’t be bothered to track down a disk copy or get Disney+, just FYI.

* The Original Trilogy – The Star Wars Saga Art by Brian Rood

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