boyhood star wars

Boyhood, the new film from Richard Linklater, is a great movie, with touching, funny, and committed performances from all involved. Linklater’s comedy isn’t based in outrageous provocation, but from the observation of moments that are recognizable by almost anyone. And Boyhood works in that mode, provoking the sort of knowing laughter that comes from the exploration of everyday moments.   

But one of the biggest laughs in the film comes from something a little different. The film references pop-culture moments frequently, to ground the story in time and let us know who the characters are. One scene, a conversation about Star Wars, works because of the film’s own backstory (Boyhood was filmed incrementally over a period of 12 years) and a bit of gently perfect timing from Ethan Hawke and editor Sandra Adair.

We talked to Hawke about the film, and he explained how that particular moment came to be. 

First, an explanation of the scene in question. Highlight to read the following text:

Midway through the movie, Mason (Hawke) and his son (Ellar Coltrane) are camping. While sitting around the campfire, Mason asks his son, “do you think they’ll ever make another Star Wars?” A bit of discussion follows. The real comedy comes from the fact that the scene was shot years before the new Star Wars films were announced. Clearly, Linklater knew that line would get a reaction from audiences, given what has happened with Star Wars in the years since. 

As it turns out, that bit of Star Wars dialogue came straight from Ethan Hawke, though it was Linklater’s decision to use it in the film. I spoke to Hawke not long ago, and at the end of our interview, he explained the Star Wars reference.

You know, that may be the only moment of pure improv in the film. That was just me and Ellar sitting at the campfire, bullshitting about stuff. I remember saying to Rick, “please let me talk to him about Star Wars.” And Rick doesn’t give a shit about Star Wars. He doesn’t care about any of that stuff, but I do. So I said to him, “hey let me talk to Ellar about Star Wars,” because it had come up in conversation between us already.

It’s worth noting here that, while Boyhood can seem like it is largely improvised, most of the picture was actually scripted out pretty specifically. Linklater had general scene ideas in mind, which would be refined with the participation of the cast, and lines of dialogue often came as a result of conversations with everyone involved in the film. In that way, Boyhood isn’t just the story of one family, but the amalgamation of experiences from everyone who made it.

Hawke’s own past came to bear on the Star Wars moment.

And it was a thing from my own life. There were only a few places my father could meet me on my own ground. Sports, Star Wars, Lord of the Rings, those were things we could talk about. We could have that connection, and it was important.

Rick’s got probably an hour and a half of material there that he could choose from, but he picked that I think because he’s very smart about that stuff. I think he knew, even at the time, that it would be completely naive to think no one would ever try to make more money off Star Wars. So it was a savvy choice even then, before new movies were happening.

Boyhood opens limited on July 11, then will expand on the 18th.

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