How One Man Saved the Famous Trench Escape Scene from “Star Wars”


Running through the trenches of “Star Wars” is one of the most iconic episodes in all of cinema, but it took serious editorial intervention to turn it into an exciting finale that is so loved and admired. The process of making the original Star Wars: A New Hope movie was notoriously difficult and lengthy. George Lucas wrote several plot treatments and script sketches, filming in the Tunisian desert was far from simple, and when he put together a draft version of the film, the reaction was far from positive everywhere.

After the screening of the version, Steven Spielberg stated that he sees the potential of the film, while Carrie director Brian De Palma apparently criticized it. Perhaps unsurprisingly, De Palma has disputed the idea ever since, although he admitted that when he saw the film version, he disagreed with the famous opening crawl, which he and Jay Cox subsequently edited and rewrote. However, this wasn’t the only thing that required editing in Star Wars. Much of the first third of the film has been reworked, reordered and altered to make it more consistent for viewers exploring a galaxy far, far away.

Related: “Star Wars” Hints at Fixing One of George Lucas’ Annoying Special Edition Changes

These changes, although extensive, were less significant than those required to traverse the Death Star trench. As originally intended, this sequence was radically different and much longer: Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) made two attempts to destroy the Death Star before eventually succeeding. More importantly, the Death Star did not attempt to destroy the rebel base on Yavin IV in the original scenario. However, it was radically redesigned with sensible cuts, visual and dialog inserts to make it the disturbing, climactic and thrilling ending that Star Wars needed. A lot of credit for how this turned out should be given to one of George Lucas’ most important and underrated employees, his ex-wife Marcia Lucas.

How Marcia Lucas Saved the Foxhole Escape Scene from Star Wars

While two other editors made huge contributions to the making of the Star Wars movie, Paul Hirsch and Richard Chu were not assigned to handle the finale in the first place. Instead, Marcia Lucas’s unenviable task was to fit an impressive amount of plot details into Luke Skywalker’s solo run. As J. V. Rinzler notes in the book “The Making of Star Wars”:

“As part of one visit to the trench, the following had to be conveyed visually or verbally: Luke’s initial intention to use the computer, Ben’s dialogue, Vader’s actions, R2-D2 drama, Khan’s arrival, the fate of the other pilots, Leia’s feelings— everything. within the plausible length of the physical space along the trench”

For her part, Marcia Lucas simply described the episode as “fabricated by the editors.” Nevertheless, it is obvious that her influence on the finished film was enormous, and in this context, it is probably not surprising that she, along with Hirsch and Chu, won the Academy Award for Best Film Editing in 1978. Nevertheless, it should be noted that it was a joint work, and even in the process of editing “Star Wars” George Lucas took an active part. Indeed, he claimed that editing is the part of filmmaking that he loves the most, especially compared to screenwriting.

This may help explain his apparent inability to stop editing the original Star Wars trilogy. The power of editing for Lucas seems to be the ability to refine his vision and change the meaning for the audience, as seen in the debate about Han Solo being the first to shoot Greedo. Nevertheless, regardless of whether George Lucas’s changes are perceived as positive or negative, few doubt that they did little to weaken the power that the original Star Wars film, especially its finale, exerts on viewers to this day.


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