Well, it’s a day of the week, which means that some new Star Wars stuff has surfaced online for all of us to pounce on like a bunch of crackheads let loose in Oakland. Surely proving that Disney has “ruined the franchise” and “franchise fatigue” is setting in, people are freaking out over a snippet of unverified footage from a TV show that does not even exist.
The clip is supposedly test-footage for Star Wars: Underworld, George Lucas’ original proposed TV show set in a galaxy far, far away. The clip is roughly five minutes of a Jedi-looking lady securing Star Destroyer blueprints, and then getting into a gunfight that looks like it was choreographed by a high school theater kid. Being a former high school theater kid, I don’t mean this to be insulting. As my mom would say, “it looks like y’all had lots of fun.” The rest of the video is essentially behind-the-scenes footage of the same thing we just watched, like an unproduced DVD extra. Ah, DVDs. Hey, remember the past?
Anyway, check out the clip below, and then let’s break down what we’re looking at.
Okay, so my first guess was that this was actually discarded footage from some unfinished video game in the vein of Dark Forces II. The live-action cut scene genre of action-adventure games was a relatively short-lived staple for many of us, and this scene looks like the kind of adventure Kyle Katarn would be all over in heartbeat.
After a little digging though, it looks like this is actually legit test footage for the unmade Underworld project…but that doesn’t mean it was made by LucasFilm.
About ten years ago, George Lucas wanted to make a show that focused on the seedy underbelly of the Star Wars galaxy. Not the gleaming jewel of the Old Republic seen in the prequel movies, but the gritty, lived-in world that we’ve seen more recently in Rogue One and The Mandalorian. (And, you know, the original Star Wars movies.) Ole’ G.L. said the Underworld project would have a “noir” vibe, and there’s a real cyberpunk Blade Runner energy happening in the footage here. But rather than looking for clues about the story, the clip is better viewed as a trial for the filming technique.
See, the show Lucas had in mind would have spanned 100 hour-long episodes, each one costing an insane amount of money to produce. To bring down costs, LucasFilm needed alternatives to standard TV production, and the footage in this video was a possible solution.
As you can see in the latter half of the video, the set is a combination of practical scenery and CGI effects. Back in 2005, this was common for an epic space movie, but a little unheard of on a TV show scale. This footage was created by Stargate Studios, which didn’t work on any of the Stargate movies or shows, but is a well-regarded FX company that has created special effects for shows like The Orville, Nightflyers and more. This whole shebang has actually been available on their website for ten years, now – it’s not even a new thing. They were testing how financially viable creating full sets in CGI would be, as that would allow production costs south of eleventy bazillion dollars.
While there’s certainly some promise here – this may look a little bit like an Activision joint, but for test-footage, it’s honestly amazing. But it wasn’t good enough for George Lucas at the time, and the show was scrapped when he began working on treatments for a sequel trilogy of movies before selling the franchise to Disney. Still, this is Star Wars, and so no one -or in this case, nothing- is ever really gone. The first live-action Star Wars show to actually make it to air fulfills the promise of Underworld‘s premise. And, not only that, the filming technique is a more technologically advanced version of what the Stargate Studios footage was going for.
The funny thing is that the first real SW series, The Mandalorian, was created using the culmination of this technology: Stagecraft. No need for green screens, virtual sets are created in real time on LED display while taking into account the angle and movement of the camera. pic.twitter.com/VDV9hIBXhU
— Spaceshipsporn (@spaceshipsporn) January 31, 2020
So Underworld may have been a bust, but the thing about George Lucas is that he’s always ahead of his time. We all gave the dude a lot of flack for the prequels at the time, and I still say the scripts were…rough, but the man is truly a DaVinci of movies. He may be remembered as the guy who created Star Wars, but make no mistake, George Lucas is a pioneer of modern filmmaking.