Star Wars Begins (2011)
Star Wars Begins is a detailed documentary by film maker Jamie Benning that explores the creation of what is now considered to be the most iconic movie of the seventies; namely Star Wars. It features a wealth of deleted scenes, alternate takes, behind-the-scenes footage, bloopers, original on set audio recordings and a great deal of commentary by the original cast and crew. As far as I’m concerned, it is the most thorough and in-depth analysis of Star Wars I have yet to see. Frankly it beats hands down, any of the officially sanctioned documentaries that have appeared over the year on the various DVD and Blu-ray releases of the trilogy.
It is Benning’s feature-length approach of his documentary that follows the flow of the original movie, that makes it so compelling. As the Star Wars itself plays, all aspects of the production are crossed referenced and annotated as they appear on screen. The documentary is also a very illuminating insight into the US and British movie industry of the times. Despite having a prodigious wealth of information to convey, the documentary handles the pace of material well and the viewer has time to digest what is shown and discussed without getting overwhelmed. This is a considerable achievement for a documentary, which can be a difficult format to master. Star Wars Begins is most certainly a painstaking labour of love, but the hard work pays off with an even-handed film that finds the right balance between interesting facts and pacing.
The documentary also succeeds in catering to both hardcore fans and the more casual viewer. If you have not seen some of the famous deleted scenes, such as Han's original meeting with Jabba the Hutt or Luke's dialogue with his friend Biggs Darklighter then you are in for a treat. Some of the original on-set audio is extremely amusing such as actor Dave Prowse speaking Darth Vader's lines in a West Country accent. Overall what the documentary does is offer a totally fresh perspective on Star Wars which helps re-invigorate one’s enjoyment of the classic trilogy. Until Disney’s renewal of the franchise in recent years, the second trilogy of prequels did cast a shadow over the original three movies.
Another thing I've learned from Star Wars Begins is that some aspects of the original movie were intended to be more violent. This is something that has always been present in Lucas's work but certainly it didn't come to the forefront until the second trilogy. For example, stills from the Cantina set show that Ponda Baba's initial fate was meant to be far more unpleasant than just losing his arm. Then there is the matter of Han Solo shooting Greedo from under the table. The entire "Han shot first" debacle shows that the character was initially intended to be perceived in a very different way. Yet movies are often by nature evolutionary things, especially on big productions. Often scenes will be reshot if they don’t work out, or if a better idea is mooted. Plus, as Star Wars Begins points out, a production of this nature had never been done before and many of those involved were flying by the seat of their pants.
Director Benning has also made similar documentaries for both The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi. It should be noted that these ‘filmumentaries’ are unofficial and fall within a somewhat grey area with regard to their “status”. They are completely non-profit making and made with full acknowledgement to the appropriate copyright holders. So far, the new copyright holders Disney seem content to let sleeping dogs lie, however there is no guarantee that things will remain that way. Therefore, I would urge all fans of Star Wars to seek them out and watch them while they're still available on Jamie Benning's Vimeo channel because they are quite unique.