Star Wars A New Hope

Spielberg Was the First to Realize Star Wars Was Going to be Big

Just as George Lucas was one of the first of the Movie Brat crowd to see Spielberg’s potential, Spielberg was the first Movie Brat realize Star Wars was going to be huge. Lucas showed an early rough cut of the film to his friends, and almost all of them thought it was going to be a disaster. Lucas recalls “I showed it to all of my friends early on, but it was mostly stock footage of old war movies, and all kinds of stuff,” Lucas said once. “They saw it and [said] ‘Poor George.’ ‘What were you thinking? [‘…] Steven jumped up, and said, ‘This is going to be the biggest movie of all time!’ Everybody in the room looked up at Steven and [said], ‘Poor Steven.'” “Poor Steven” was right – when Star Wars was released, it became the highest-grossing film in North America just six months into release, replacing Spielberg’s own Jaws.

Brian De Palma

Brian De Palma Came Up With the Idea of the Star Wars Opening Crawl

Speaking of Star Wars, if you’re a fan of those now-famous opening crawl that begins every Star Wars film (except Rogue One), you can thank filmmaker Brian De Palma. According to Spielberg, after George Lucas screened Star Wars for his friends and everyone (except Spielberg) was unimpressed, De Palma, the filmmaker behind films like Carrie and Blow Out, went on a rant about how he didn’t understand a damn thing in the film and couldn’t figure out the mythology Lucas was trying to build. De Palma’s half-joking suggestion was for Lucas to insert some title cards at the beginning of the film in the style of old Flash Gordon serials to set things up. Lucas took him up on the idea, and the rest is history. So there you have it – the now-iconic Star Wars opening crawls exist because of Brian De Palma’s confusion.

spielberg 1941

The Failure of 1941 Made Spielberg a Better Filmmaker

After the one-two blockbuster punch of Jaws and Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Spielberg began to believe his own hype, so to speak. He also was continuously going over-budget and over-schedule on his films, seemingly unconcerned about being more frugal when it came to approaching his work. Then came 1941, Spielberg’s attempt at a big, rowdy Animal House-style comedy set in the aftermath of Pearl Harbor. The film was Spielberg’s first critical and financial flop, and it tarnished his career a bit and brought him back down to earth. Even though Spielberg’s previous films had been huge box offices successes, his tendency to go over budget studios and producers wary of working with him, and 1941 only made things worse.

Spielberg got back on track with his friend George Lucas came to him with Raiders of the Lost Ark, the first Indiana Jones movie. Spielberg wanted to direct, but no one wanted to put up the money for him in the director’s chair after the fiasco of 1941. Spielberg eventually made a deal that he would deliver Raiders on-budget and on-time, which he did. The film was another smash-hit for the filmmaker, and put him back on top.

Spielberg Schindler's List

Schindler’s List Was a Turning Point in Spielberg’s Career in More Ways Than One

Schindler’s List was a turning point for Spielberg. While the filmmaker had dabbled in serious films before, like The Color Purple and Empire of the Sun, he was still primarily known as a director who specialized in entertaining fluff. Schindler’s List changed that. Not only was the film one of the most serious of Spielberg’s career, the making of it drastically changed him. The disturbing nature of the film and the unflinching way it portrayed the Holocaust emotionally affected Spielberg, to the point where he’d come home from the set and break down in tears. The film also found the filmmaker fully embracing his Jewish heritage, something he hadn’t done before.

Schindler’s List also changed Spielberg’s filmmaking style – for the first time in his career, he used hand-held shots, much of the time handling the camera himself. “I tried to be as close to a journalist in recording this re-creation, more than being a filmmaker trying to heighten the suspense or action or the pathos,” Spielberg said in the production notes for the film. “The black and white and hand-held camera gives the film sort of a cinema verite, documentary feel. It embodied the truth we were trying to explore and communicate what happened. It made it seem more real, somehow.”

Arnold Spielberg

Spielberg Pushed His Father Away

If there’s one recurring theme in all of Steven Spielberg’s work, it’s that of the absentee father. A large portion of Spielberg’s movies feature something involving lackluster fathers: Elliot’s missing dad in E.T.; Richard Dreyfuss abandoning his family to go be with aliens in Close Encounters of the Third Kind; workaholic Peter Banning ignoring his kids in Hook. Even Sam Neill’s character from Jurassic Park resents the mere presence of children, and has no interest in ever having any of his own. This theme is drawn from Spielberg’s own life, but it was based on a misconception.

When Spielberg’s parents divorced, Spielberg immediately assumed it was entirely his father’s idea, and he blamed his father for this and pushed him away. It was only years later that Spielberg learned the truth: that his mother had fallen in love with Spielberg’s father’s best friend, and had pushed for the divorce as a result. Spielberg’s father, Arnold, never set the record straight with young Steven because he still felt protective of his ex-wife. “I think one of the worst things that happened to me was my voluntary fallout with my father,” Spielberg said once in a 60 Minutes interview. “And then the greatest thing that happened to me was when I saw the light, and realized I needed to love him in a way that he could love me back.” All’s well that ends well, though: as the documentary draws to a close, Spielberg reveals that his divorced parents are now very close friends – perhaps closer than they ever were in marriage.


Spielberg airs on HBO on October 7, 2017.

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