Rick McCallum - Producer of the Star Wars Special Edition

© Maikel Das ,Uwe Lippick and TM & © Lucasfilm LTD. 1997
Used with permission by the OSWFC

Question: Star Wars is a 20 years old science fiction cult movie. What was the reason for Lucasfilm to redo/rework the Star Wars Triology?

Rick McCallum: When it first was an idea represented to us by 20th Century Fox, they wanted to find out, if we wanted to do anything for the 20th year celebration. At first we thought putting it out maybe in 100-150 theaters for the hardcore fans. And once that happend, I started to try restore the negative and I also wanted to remaster the soundtrack, because for the first time in the history we really have a technology in 35-50% of the theaters out there, where you can actually hear it. And one of the problems at least for us, is that we spent an enormous amount of effort trying to create a soundtrack you can feel not just listen to. This is 50% of the experiences for us. Nothing is more frustrating when you spent millions of dollars and thousands of hours on a soundtrack that no one can actually hear, because of multiboxes,  where the theater owner doesn't care at all about quality. So, again it was always gonna be a very minimal thing. But once I started the recreation I couldn't find the negative in a lot of sections. Therefore I had to convert the film into data. Once that happend George desperately wanted to go back and fix the film in the way he originally had written it. He made so many compromises making Star Wars. It was frustrating to him and he was so unhappy with so much of the film, that this became a golden oppotunity for us to fix the picture in the way he always wanted them to be. That process became very complicated, very expensive and it became bigger than we were originally sending out to do. The negative was so badly damaged and destroyed that we'd lost in some places up to 35% of the actual color. It was often like a b/w movie. Once that happened we had a mission. It was only 'till last year, when Independece Day came out that we ran a trailer to try and judge what the reaction would be, to see in how many theaters it would be proper to put the film in. But again we were only talking about maybe 200-500 theaters, because we got a little bit more ambitious. But the reaction to it was so huge, so overwhelming. Theater owners wanted to book it, fans were writing, calling begging. In some cases there were people who were going back to see ID 4 and if the trailer wasn't running they asked for their money back. It was huge.  And it wasn't just in the States. At first we ran the trailer in L.A. But everybody is weird there. We thought, well that's just L.A. Then we did in San Francisco, Houston Dallas, New York... the same reaction. London, Paris, Rome... it was the same reaction everywhere. Then we knew something else was going on. It just became bigger than us. I wish I could say it was a marketing campaign and we devised it but it just didn't have anything to do with us anymore.

Question: I guess, you and Lucas talked about this becoming so huge. Star Wars was nearly forgotten but now, first the THX video re-releases, now the special editions and in two years the prequels. How's the feeling for Star Wars today?

Rick McCallum: It's big, it's huge, it's overwhelming in many cases. I mean...  just opened last night and instantly it's the #1 film for weeks. And it's allmost everywhere the same. I think the reasons are two things. Primaly it's a great story and has great characters. The most important thing driving it now, is not just the film itself, but the event of the movie. Star wars is a movie for the big screen and people haven't experienced it for 20 years.  It's more like going to a rock-concert and having a collective experience. Very few movies crossover to do that. Star Wars is one of those films. There's something that happens when the Lucas logo comes on. It's like a license to go insane.  You can talk and yet still follow the story, you can cheer, you can jump up and down. The other day I was leaving Paris to come here. I passed the theater at eleven in the morning and 1500-2000 people outside in front of the theater were trying to break in, 'cause it doesn't open until twelve. But what was amazing, they were all dressed up in characters. There must be 500 Luke Skywalkers. That's just a hard thing to do in a normal movie. Kids like to role play. They like to fantasize. There's a number of characters that you can be. Nothing is more enjoyable for a 6 or 7 years old to close the door of his room and act to pretend he's Luke Skywalker. Those are the things you do as a kid. When I was young it was cars that I all care about. I used to make them, build them, rebuild them. You get obsessions, you have fantasies; you work them out and they stay with you for two or three years. But often for Star Wars it's been lasting for 20 years for some people. I don't understand them but it's fantastic that it actually happens. What's also unique and this is mostly an American thing: Everybody knows where they were, when JFK was shot, when Neil Armstrong landed on the moon and everybody knows where they were, what time it was and which theater they saw Star Wars. These three existing events in popular culture define a collective experience. I visited Berlin on November the 8th in 1989 and spent three days here while the Wall came down. It was the most powerful three days in my life, because I never had to worry about Vietnam or the Wall again and I had never seen 100.000 of people. I felt so overwhelmed by the collective experience of being alive. It was an amazing weekend and I will never forget it. That's part of what the experience Star Wars is. It's not obviously political, nor have it the same meaning overall, but there is someting very moving about it. People share something and want to continue to share that experience.

Question: You work together with someone considered a legend. How would you characterize George Lucas? What kind of person is he?

Rick McCallum: Well, sadly most of the people you work within the film business are legends in their own mind, George is actually a legend. I've been working with him for seven years and there's never just the thing you're doing. There's always an overview, a larger plan. Part of the restoring the special edition was really a process that we've been developing a long time with the Young Indiana Jones Cronicles, which is: How do you make the process of making a film just as non-liniar as the post production process. Even though we had a primary goal in the special edition that was, restore the negative, remaster the soundtrack and get the film closer to what George Lucas wrote as a writer, we also faced technical challenges. Predent Star Wars was just made last year. It was like watching it and then figuring out how you gonna fix it. That's a process many filmmaker never get the oppotunity to do. What's happened with digital technology is, the filmprocess is becoming much more a photographic or paintly one. You are able to paint on a large canvas, then do some detail work, step back and look at it, go in and fix a thing you don't like. This is a much more free flowing and evolutionary way of making movies. In terms of physical production we learnt a lot from Young Indie, because we wanted the short stories shot with a TV budget to look like a feature film. We continued this non-linear way of making films thoughout the whole five year of producing Young Indie. We were very interessted in developing a technology that can create realistic 3-D virtual computer generated characters. But also worlds, vehicles and characters that we wouldn't ever have the opportunity to do traditionally. That's all they are: Tools. Now an author can write something and there's no limit to his imagination. For the first time in film history it's actual economical being able achiving anything you want to do. That has been a large part of this whole process, of the special edition. It was used as just to restore and get the films back. It was also used to push us into a new direction and to try make this technology  work effortlessly without getting hung up about it. It's one of those things that makes movies so bad today now. You take a movie like Twister. The film technology is incredible. So incredible that you root for the tornado. In New York, where I saw the movie people were cheering when the tornado came in and destroyed everything. They couldn't care less about the characters. People are trying to learn what the tools can do and they get so hung up on the tools that they forget about the story and the plot. We're only concerned with the story and the plot. The technology are only deserved to create the world and enviroment.

Question: Jabba is a mean and very powerful crimelord. Now Han Solo steppes on his tail. If someone had done this in ROTJ, he would have been killed right away. Jabba looks like he's little more peaceful.

Rick McCallum: He's still a scum. He's still everything that is repugnant to us. But he's much thinner, 'cause ROTJ is later, years later and he's younger. When we met him in ROTJ, he  controls all of Tantooine. He's got his own powers and we learn a lot about Jabba. It was important for us to put that sequence in, because the Star Wars saga is nothing but one story. It's a story about a family in the galaxy. And Jabba will be a prominent figure in the new prequels. So it was important. When George originally made the first film, he never knew whether if it's gonna be successful. That was a scene he could let go, because at least he had established the idea of Jabba in the cantina. But to continue that threat and make it work when you see all six films in seven years, it was important to re-establish that sequence.

Question: The prequels. Has the production already started and when will they be released?

Rick McCallum: I've been preparing for two years and start building sets in London. I start shooting at the end of the summer and then it will be out in 1999. After that the 2nd and the 3rd one. I don't have the technology yet. We haven't been able to successful develope the proper technology, but we will continue to do so for the next years. Then we will shoot those back to back and in properly 1999. They'll come out in 2001 and 2003.

Question: Any aspiration, who's is playing Obi-Wan?

Rick McCallum: No! We're casting down. We'll doing screen test and we'll have a short list in a couple of month. Then we make the final decision.

Question: The Biggs scenes were originally cut from Star Wars to speed up the action and because George Lucas thought, the scenes weren't too important for the story. Doesn't the one added Biggs sequence at the end confuse more instead of connecting the saga closer, because the first scenes which establish Biggs aren't included?

Rick McCallum: Well, there is only one connection and it's very slight. It's when Luke is having dinner with his aunt and uncle. You don't really get the academy until he's in the dinner sequence and he get all frustrated, because his uncle won't let him go. All we wanted to do is continue that threat and just make sure you understand who Biggs was and that he could vouch for Luke. You really couldn't know Luke was a pilot up to that point. But the issue is: That sequence was shot but it just didn't work and it held the story up. It's like a lot of scenes that you shoot; you cut them, because they don't work for the rythm of the movie.  George wanted thematically increase the knowledge just a little bit that Biggs was to vouch for Luke is a real pilot. But you also can learn that Luke is a pilot when he meets Han Solo for the first time.
Question: The scenes which were not digitally remastered, but only chemically restored are still looking faded or have a color tinge. You see the shift between the the new scenes and the original material.

Rick McCallum: Here is what we were talking about this earlier. One of the most frustrating things is, if you could see the print that stuck of the original negative that we have done - it's perfect. It's not perfect in terms of the colorrestauration, because we still have a long way to go. We will need to scan the movie. In propably five years, when scanning technology drops at a cost that isn't so prohibitive anymore. Now it would cost 10-12 millions Dollars only to scan the whole movie. We just can't do it. Possible we take 2-3 years to be able to restore the color back to its original. We did the best that we could within the technology we have today. This is one of the big challenges for us in the future. The problem is, film is a chemical process and it's like alchemy. It's magic. If you do a print and the developer bath isn't as clean or whatever it is - it's very hard to stain, because it's a photo-chemical process. It lives, it breath, it changes on every print. We are hoping to drive the technology to a level to distribute movies electronically. So we can incode in digital data the color, the contrast and the level that the soundtrack has to do. No theater owner can screw us up again. It's not just the theater owner, it's this bizarre process called filmmaking that is still so fragile. It's hard to believe that we actually had to restore a film that's only 20 years old. Film is an inherently instable medium. It's there and it's changing every day. It feeds on itself,  it destroys itself. But it's not only Star Wars. The whole films of the 70s are at risk. With the success of Star Wars all the studios are rushing back trying to protect their films. They are inherently what gives them value. But I apologize for the shift. It's something that goes beyond us. That is the thing what is most frustrating.

Question: The sound was impressive. You could really hear the shots flying around.

Rick McCallum: This is one of the tools we use. You remember what explosions were like 20 years ago? You couldn't have low frequency bass, like you can now and in a good theater you can feel that explosion and millions of people on Alderaan crying out for help. It goes  straight to your body. It's all low frequency. But you need a theater owner who cares about his audience, who's willing to invest money and time to knock you right off your seat.

Magazine: Thank you for this impressive inside view of the Star Wars: Special Edition!

Rick McCallum: May the force be with you and keep the dark side within - don't forget it.

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