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Not enough people know who was the true emotional anchor of Star Wars. George, for all his many talents, is not an emotional man. He’s a brilliant man, someone who understands the film-making business like few people do, but he doesn’t seem to grasp the underlying principles of behavior and hope that drive people to love something. Good thing he had help when he made Star Wars. Better that it came from someone who was just as brilliant as he, and had just as much love for the process and art of film, but who also understood humanity, and humanity is what makes Star Wars a great franchise.
I give you, Marcia Griffin, formerly Marcia Lucas.
A New Hope
Marcia grew up loving film. She was a film librarian and in short time built enough connections in Hollywood to become a film editor. She was a true erudite of the industry. A child who grew up loving what films were capable of. She knew they could lift you up and give you hope when there was none, that in film, reality was whatever the writer wanted it to be. That’s what she understood more than George ever could. George wanted to make an epic, something grand, a quintessential American fairy tale, but Marcia wanted people to feel something. George had the muscle and connections, and Marcia was the heart of it all.
She and George married, moving in together in an apartment in Hollywood, and during this time she mostly worked on projects that George was also a part of. Sometime later, Scorcese, yes that is THE Martin Scorcese hired her to edit ‘Alice don’t live here anymore’ and she obliged. During the end of her tenure there, George reached out to her as he was drafting the first script of what would later be ‘A New Hope’. He wanted Obi Wan to live, but she convinced him that he should kill Obi Wan off and use him as a spiritual guide for Luke. This strikes me as someone who understood the idea of the hero’s journey and the limbic resonance of having the main character strike out on their own. Making the audience cheer for not only the spectacle of photonic blades and ships in space, but also the human imperative of leaving your childhood behind and growing up.
Marcia worked on projects other than Star Wars for a few years, but when George’s new editor failed spectacularly, she put herself entirely into the editing of the Yavin Space-fight. She tore into 40,000 feet of dialogue and verbal malaise to create what we see today as a masterpiece. She painstakingly set every scene with emotional beats to build up to the crescendo of where Han comes in to save Luke. She told George, if the audience doesn’t cheer here, then the film doesn’t work. I think there is more personal profundity to those words than I care to espouse here. Something deeply hurt inside of her that she never quite recovered from, and yet still she delivered some of the most heart-breaking and magnificent movie moments ever made.
During final production of ‘A New Hope’ Marcia was pregnant and lost the child. I wonder if ‘A New Hope’, even though it was not commonly called that until 1981, was so named not because of the characters, but instead a meta commentary on the life of George and Marcia. That the baby was their new hope, and then the movie became the only hope they had left.
The rest of her contribution
Marcia stayed on and contributed to the editing of the next two films. Fighting for an emotional connection at every scene. When asked about her part in the movies, George said she was in charge of the ‘dying and the crying’. I don’t think he understood how important those emotional beats were. I’ve written before that I think George Lucas is on the spectrum and incapable of processing emotions on a certain level. He needed Marcia to create the Star Wars that we know. It’s not the spaceships or weapons that make us love these movies, it’s the beating heart in the story itself.
And Marcia Griffin is, and forever will be, that heart.