What We Knew 18 Months Before Episode One Compared To Episode VII

We are roughly 18 months away before we get to see the first of the new Star Wars trilogy hit the big screen.  With the lack of official news on Star Wars VII coming our way I thought it would be interesting to compare what we knew at around the same time in October 1997 on Episode One, roughly 18 months before its release.

My source comes from the official Star Wars magazine from February 1997 to November 1997.

As with 2013 the rumours in 1997 on the upcoming Star Wars movie were ridiculous and mostly made up.  Some of the rumours that were doing the rounds at the time were

  • Episode One was to be completely CGI.
  • The name of the movie will be called "Fall of the Republic."
  • The movie will only consist of four actors, the rest will be computer generated.
  • Alec Guiness performance as a young Obi-Wan will comprise edited out-takes from 1950's Ealing comedies.
  • Kenneth Branagh had signed, Macauley Culkin was in talks.
  • There will be no sets.
  • Charlton Heston will play Yoda.
Lets take a look at what we did and didn't know about Episode One 18 months before the release of Episode One.

January - July 1997

  • Leavesdon Studios in Watford prepare for the filming of Episode One.  Set construction gets under way.  A projected expansion of the studio is talked about with the owners of the studios declaring they will provide the additional £150 million needed.
  • EON productions have to find alternative studios as Episode One takes over the studios.
  • Storyboards at Skywalker Ranch and vehicle/character designs are well under way.
  • It is reported that over 3000 actors have been interviewed for the two lead roles.
  • Lucasfilm dismissed rumours that there will be a young Luke Skywalker.
  • The story will take place 40 years before A New Hope.
  • George Lucas will direct the first film and write all three scripts.
  • May 6th, Lucafilm release a statement saying that they are in discussion with Liam Neeson, Natalie Portman and Ewan McGregor.
  • June 9th, Lucasfilm confirm Jake Lloyd will star and play Anakin Skywalker.  At the same time they confirm Natalie Portman will play a "young queen."
  • Mcgregor in an interview with Entertainment Weekly more or less confirms he will be in Episode One by saying "What I've been told to say is that we're in negotiations.  But the truth is I want to do it, they want me to do it so I'm doing it."
  • Shooting started on June 26th

August - November 1997

  • Rick McCallum fears they will need more than a year for post production due to the technology being used.
  • No title for Episode One had been released.  (Episode one was the working title.)
  • It was known at this stage that Obi-Wan and Yoda would be in the movie.
  • The first draft was in place and as Rick McCallum put it "we are in 'go' mode."  Sets were being built and shooting was scheduled to start in August 97.
  • The main cast had been confirmed and announced.  Liam Neeson will play a Jedi master and a mentor to Obi-Wan.  Ewan Mcgregor will play Obi-Wan Kenobi.  Jake Lloyd will play Anakin Skywalker.  Natalie Portman will be playing the Queen and Pernilla August playing Anakin's Mother, Shmi Skywalker.
  • Rick McCallum boasts the studio at Leavesden is 850,000 square feet and the biggest studio in the world.  He also mentions they are building close to 50 sets in the studio alone.
  • Everybody on the shooting crew and the heads of departments also worked on Young Indiana Jones.
  • Frank Oz will be playing Yoda and the character will not be fully CGI as first thought.
  • R2-D2 and C3PO are confirmed to be in the movie along with a small appearance from Jabba the Hutt.
  • George Lucas was asked if Spielberg would direct Episode II.  Answer - "NO!"
  • First phase of principal photography wraps at the end of September at Leavesden Studios.
  • A low flying helicopter flies over the studios to try and discover secrets on the latest movie.
  • The title of Episode One is still being speculated and the much favoured "Balance of the Force" is apparently dismissed by Lucasfilm.
  • Most of the cast is confirmed by the end of the year including Samuel L Jackson, Kenny Baker and Ian McDiarmid.
So there we have it.  18 months before Episode One was out in the cinemas we already knew the cast, the name of some of the characters and filming was well under way.  Shoot forward to 2013 and we don't know any of the cast members, characters and shooting has yet to begin.  Disney, Lucasfilm and J.J. Abrams have a busy year ahead.  It does highlight the lack of official news we know on Episode VII compared to Episode One and J.J. Abrams track record of keeping secrets on the movies he works on seems to be maintained.

Rob Wainfur