Sunday, May 22, 2005

Two Ties Between Star Wars And TV

Every blogger in the world seems to be writing about Star Wars III - Revenge of the Sith, which is of course Star Wars VI in terms of being the sixth movie made in the series but really, that's neither here nor there. I haven't seen the movie, and I won't. I loved the original Star Wars. I loved The Empire Strikes Back. I liked about half of Return of the Jedi (including Carrie Fisher in the brass bikini) but Lucas lost me forever with those feral Teddy Bears known as Ewoks. I've only seen Phantom Menace on TV and only watched it once, and I have no desire to see Attack of the Clones.

Still thinking about Star Wars takes me back to a couple of TV related things. Did you know that Star Trek: The Motion Picture was delayed by about two years and had the script that it did because of Star Wars? Paramount had decided to go ahead with a Star Trek movie in 1976 and had selected a script which was being rewritten by Philip Kaufman (at the time best known for the script for The Outlaw Josie Wales). At that point Star Wars came out and with all the merchandise, the studio apparently decided that the Sci-Fi fans had spent all their money and wouldn't go to see a Star Trek movie. This in turn led the executives at Paramount to think about starting a TV network built initially around Paramount movies and a new Star Trek series. A pilot script for the series was actually written and when it became apparent that the network idea was a dud, that script became Star Trek: The Motion Picture. Almost 20 years later Paramount started a TV network initially built around a new Star Trek series. Some might say that the idea was still a dud.

The other major connection was the Star Wars vs. Battlestar Galactica lawsuit. Universal Pictures noted the success of Star Wars and thought that they could do something for TV. ABC was interested in a weekly series. Glen Larson, the journeyman writer and producer, envisaged the project as a series of TV movies that might develop into a series, but both Universal and ABC wanted a series. Larson hired visual effects master John Dykstra away from Lucas for the series. They came up with a three hour pilot - which in Canada at least was also released theatrically - which then provided a lot of stock shots for the eventual series. However the whole thing caught the eyes of Lucas and 20th Century Fox, which had released Star Wars. They sued for plagiarism, claiming 34 different ideas that Battlestar Galactica had taken from Star Wars. These included such elements as "Muffet" the robot Dagit being similar to the Star Wars droids, the relationship between the roguish Starbuck and the clean-cut Apollo being similar to the roguish Han Solo and the clean-cut Luke Skywalker, and the similarity appearance of the Cylons and the Imperial Storm Troopers. I don't have a complete list of the similarities cited by Fox, but they probably even objected to the use of the term "Battlestar" as being similar to "Deathstar". I do know that Sharon McCrumb was told to alter the name of her novel Bimbos Of The Death Star to Bimbos Of The Death Sun because of fear of a law suit from Lucas. On learning of the suit, Universal threatened to counter-sue, claiming that Lucas had stolen liberally from Universal serials such as Buck Rogers and the three Flash Gordon series. They also claimed that Lucas stole the idea of droids - specifically R2D2 - were stolen from the three small robots in the Universal movie Silent Running: Huey, Dewey, and Louie. In the end the 20th Century Fox suit was dismissed as being "without merit". Unfortunately by that time ABC had cancelled Battlestar Galactica and were working on the dismal Galactica 1980.

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