We take for granted that George Lucas was synthesizing years of his own movie watching experiences with Star Wars, but it’s hard to imagine a more comprehensive look at those same influences than in filmmaker Michael Heilemann’s Star Wars: Kitbashed. The two hour-plus project lines up classic movie and serial footage with the scenes they inspired in the 1977 film.
In an essay on his site, Heilemann prefers to call Kitbashed “a work print” rather than a finished project (and he says there’s still more scenes to be added), functioning as a resource for his own upcoming ebook covering the same subject. He’s quick to note that this isn’t some attempt to accuse Lucas of stealing – rather, it’s a celebration of one filmmaker’s attempt to draw together disparate pieces of pop culture into something wholly original.
“Before ILM made X-Wings fly, the Brits filmed giant Lancaster bombers flying low over the water for real! It’s about taking a longer look at how model shots have evolved over the years and how the same kinds of shots have been used for decades to great effect. How pacing differed. It’s about how John Wayne almost poked a horse’s eye out with a spear, he was so busy acting disgruntled! It’s about that awe-inspiring final shot in THX 1138, which quite frankly should be in an art gallery. It’s not just about what’s in Star Wars, it’s about showing love and appreciation for all these other sources. I could have made a super-fast cut of the Battle of Yavin, but above all it wouldn’t show you where I don’t believe it used inspiration, only where it did, and secondly I couldn’t bring myself to cut down that sequence because it remains to this day one of the greatest pieces of filmmaking ever.”
What’s striking (beyond Heilemann’s thoroughness) is the depth and breadth of Lucas’ film vocabulary, drawing on movies from at home and abroad to complete the picture of his space epic. Again, it’s a celebration of one of the watershed moments in pop culture, and kind of a call to arms to broaden our own horizons when it comes to pop cultural literacy.