When Luke Skywalker stared out at the twin Tatooine suns at the beginning of Star Wars, he had no idea the adventure he was about to embark on, where it would take him, and what legacy he would leave behind. Little did he know he was exactly where he was supposed to be and his “first step into a larger world” was about to be taken. My name is Steve Sabellico and I work in the Business Affairs department at Lucasfilm Ltd. on productions including Star Wars: The Clone Wars, Star Wars Rebels, and a little film called Star Wars: Episode VII. Like Luke, my quest was triggered by an event — not the dropping off of droids for sale, but a delivery of a different sort.
Cue fanfare and “Main Title” theme…
My opening crawl would probably go something like this: The year is 1980. A *cough*-year-old me receives a subscription to National Geographic World magazine (now known as National Geographic Kids) for my birthday. Though populated with the usual pictures and articles on insects, creatures and far away lands, one particular article titled simply “Movie Magic” catches my eye…
You see, I had been bitten by the Star Wars bug like just about every kid in America. I saw the film at my local Upstate New York drive-in on its re-release run and that Christmas my first Star Wars toy was a Kenner Landspeeder complete with spring-loaded wheels which the box told me was to “simulate floating ride.” I enacted many an adventure with a vinyl case full of 3 ¾” action figures and took turns play-acting the adventures of Han Solo with my friends (I say “take turns” because, hey, EVERYONE wanted to be Han Solo).
By about May/June of 1980 my child brain was at a fever-pitch of anticipation for the second installment of the Star Wars saga: The Empire Strikes Back. Questions zipped through my young mind: What sort of striking back was the Empire going to DO to our Rebel heroes? What new worlds would they explore? Who is this Yoda dude?
So when the latest issue of World arrived in my mailbox, and I turned to find a full-page photo of a lit up Star Destroyer floating in space, I was riveted. Except… something was off in the photo. Upon closer inspection, there were no stars surrounding the ship. In fact, there were visible cables hanging underneath and a control box in the foreground. I quickly flipped the page and read all about a company called Industrial Light & Magic and how a whole team of people was responsible for bringing the robots, spaceships, and strange creatures of Star Wars to life.
The article introduced me to new terminology like “storyboards” and the captions described how they were used in planning out complex special effects. There were all sorts of photos: men airbrushing galaxies on glass, model makers building differently sized versions of the Millennium Falcon and editors physically cutting the film into a taut battle sequence. Worrying that my mother would toss the magazine in the trash before I was through with it, I tore the pages of the article out and Scotch-taped them to the headboard of my bed. Every night I would pore over the photos and captions before falling asleep.
Slowly the behind-the-scenes world became more interesting to me than the fictional world. Instead of listening to my Empire Strikes Back Read-Along Book and Tape, I was scrutinizing the image of a man named Ralph McQuarrie painting part of Cloud City. Inspired by the photo of an ILM model maker “kit bashing” to build spaceships, my plastic Ertl Corvette model soon sprouted wings and deck guns thanks to some model glue and a couple Revell WWII bomber and aircraft carrier sets I had on my shelf.
The pages eventually migrated from the headboard to the bulletin board above my desk, always inspiring. As I got older one of the pages went missing. Who knows where or when, but I would guess it was the “Great Spencer Gifts Rock and Roll Poster Purge of ’86.” Over time, I retained those six out seven pages which were stored safely in my vinyl Star Wars action figure case — now empty from a sale to a collector that helped pay my way to film school.
Graduation from film school led to moving to Los Angeles, the movie-making capital of the world, and a continuous string of behind-the-scenes jobs on various television shows and motion pictures. In 2012 I got my dream job working for Lucasfilm and you’d better believe I dug those pages out. But I was still missing one page. Over the years I’d come to accept the loss, but now I was curious as to how the article ended.
Where oh where would I find that missing page? (For those of you saying “eBay!” right now, quiet down…you’re ruining the story.)
In the first few months of working at Lucasfilm I took in all the company had to offer. While reading the “History of Skywalker Ranch” page on the company’s intranet I was struck by this sentence:
“The Lucasfilm Research Library provides production research and general reference services to all departments of Lucasfilm, LucasDigital, and LucasArts.”
Of course! THAT’s where I’ll find the missing page!
I immediately contacted the Skywalker Ranch Research Library and asked if they might have the article in their collection. The next day, I received a reply from the librarian that they did, in fact, have a copy and she would set it aside for me.
Up to one of the most beautiful locations and research libraries in the country, I drove to Skywalker Ranch. I plopped down in one of the plush leather chairs in front of the fireplace, and flipped through the black and white photocopy. It had taken me 30 years to get to the bottom of this mystery. The weight of the symbolic moment — sitting in the library, beneath the beautiful stained glass dome, in the house that Star Wars built, reading pages that inspired me to get to this very place – was not lost on me.
Epilogue: I had completed my quest. The Death Star had been destroyed. The unscratchable itch had been itched. I handed back the black and white photocopy to the librarian and thanked her for tracking the article down and digging it out of storage. She apologized for the old photocopies saying that was all she had.
Then it dawned on me.
I handed over my magazine pages, complete with dried, yellowed Scotch-tape marks and well-worn corners. I asked that she swap out the faded black and white copies with my color pages and walked out proudly, knowing that I had contributed to the history of the making of these films.
In the words of Darth Vader, “The circle is now complete.”