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Brian Volk-Weiss talks Icons Unearthed: Star Wars (The FH Interview)

8 min read

Launching on October 21st on comes the series : , a deep dive into the Star Wars Movie Universe. The six-episode show, directed by Brian Volk-Weiss (The Toys That Made Us, Behind the Attraction, The Center Seat: 55 Years of Star Trek), will feature the first on-camera interview with Oscar-winning film editor and former wife of George Lucas, . We were lucky enough to talk to Brian Volk-Weiss about the show and all things Star Wars.

You've had quite a bit of success exploring the history of pop culture. You've done toys, movies and theme parks. Is there anything you can't make into a documentary? And what is it about pop culture that works so well?

I imagine that the only thing we can't do, and we won't do it, is we won't do dark. I've worked on one dark thing in my career. I wanted to kill myself, rather than going to the editing bay. And when it was over, I'm like, I'm never doing this again, I only want to work on stuff that I enjoy working on and will improve people's moods. I want people to be in a great mood. 

As it relates to your second question. I probably had at least eight or nine shows on the air before Toys That Made Us and it took seven years to sell. Toys That Made Us was the first show that I ever made about a topic that I was extremely passionate about. Also, believe it or not, the first show I ever did that got a second season.

I have a lot of hobbies. And I just kind of do my hobbies now. When I run out of interests, that's when there's nothing else we could do. It's not just pop culture. I'm a huge US history fan (Is that too soon? It's only been 246 years).  You know, we did a six hour, half unscripted show about President Grant for History Channel. 

 

In that case could we ever get a Hamilton documentary? 

I don't know about Hamilton. Because rumour has it… he's been covered pretty well.

We're developing a show now about a president called Chester A Arthur, hopefully you've never heard that name before? But if I told you his story I wouldn't finish before you're in tears. It is the most mind blowing. You find some passion that says “holy shit that's a true story?” and that's how we develop our shows. 

 

Obviously, it's not hard to find the passion for Star Wars or the fan base for Star Wars. But is there anything in particular that keeps you coming back to it? 

Well it all started with Star Wars. I am young enough, or old enough depending on how you look at it, that when the movie came out I was three years old. After I saw the movie, the way I was talking to my mom freaked her out. I basically thought A New Hope was a documentary.

People would ask “What do you want to be when you grow up, Brian?” And I'd be like, “Well, you know, I plan on joining the rebellion, and hopefully flying an X Wing.” My mum bought me this book for five year olds that showed that the Death Star wasn't the size of the moon, it was only eight feet wide. It was Anthony Daniels with his head sticking out of the star, the C3PO costume. So that's why I'm in this business. 

 

I guess we should be glad you decided to go into film instead of being an X-wing pilot. 

There's still time. I went to Tunisia for my bachelor party, and drove a 2000 mile circle in six days, going to all the locations. So when I remote directed our Tunisia unit for this show, I was literally able to say, wait a minute, if you pan left, isn't there ‘this location'. So I've kind of been building to this.

 

So now we have people like yourself, Jon Favreau, Dave Filoni – these long term childhood fans –  who lead the industry. What is it like to have watched Star Wars grow up? And to now be continuing that living cannon for fans?

Well you have to understand it's not like when I was in the eighth grade. It's not even that it wasn't cool to like Star Wars. You got beaten up for liking Star Wars.

Then close to 10 years ago I saw this little girl, I would say between 8 to 10 years old at a bus stop wearing a Bib Fortuna t-shirt. And he's like conservatively like the 480th lead of Star Wars. I'm literally looking at her and thinking about my own childhood. I would have got my teeth kicked for wearing that shirt. This is all surreal. So why do I think it all changed? Two words. Iron Man. Iron Man changed everything. 

 

Right, now you have Marvel, this predominant entertainment force. This really mainstream formula. 

And it's funny you say mainstream. Again, depending on your age, mainstream could mean different things. The first time I ever went to San Diego Comic Con was 2000 and it was 90% dudes. Maybe 93% dudes. And now it's at least 50/50. And that trend is moving in the right direction. Iron Man, then The Force Awakens, and I would also argue Ahsoka Tano, my second favourite Star Wars character after Luke.  All these things happening together is what changed everything.

 

I can certainly see that. My first introduction with Star Wars was The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi. So you have these fans arriving after this significant cultural change who are now catching up on 30 years of Star Wars history. Alongside this idea of female fans and women in Star Wars, we have to mention Marcia Lucas. In Icons Unearthed, you really make an effort to spotlight her creative and editorial impact in almost saving Star Wars. Was that a goal for you going into the show? 

She was our white whale. I knew we wouldn't get George… but I also knew we didn't need George because George has done a trillion billion interviews. What I always try to do with our docs is add value to the information that the fans have.

I read Howard Kazanjian's book which really captured the problem here. Whenever I hear people refer to her as George's ex wife or George's wife… I find that offensive. I mean not only did she edit the film but she won an Oscar for it. 

 

Yes, she's significant in her own right.

You see the ramifications of her not being involved with the prequels, no offence if you're a prequel girl. No one my age likes the prequels… there's a couple of issues. But what we learned from Marcia, Howard and indeed Anthony Daniels, is you see the little bits she did to help The Empire Strikes Back. Even when they're going through the divorce, she came in to save Return to the Jedi

So we interviewed Ken Ralston who asked, “Who are you trying to get that you haven't got?” This was after a month of failure to get Marcia. He was like “na na na, you're talking to the wrong people”. And in less than three weeks she had agreed to do it. 

I'll never forget, I woke up one morning and I was supposed to fly to New York at 3pm. But there's an email saying Marcia is in. So instead of flying to New York I flew to Hawaii at 2pm.

 

And for you as a fan, what was it like to talk to Marcia? 

By the end of the interview, both her collar around her neck and my collar around my neck were soaked with tears. I conservatively cried maybe two dozen times… in a six hour interview. It was gut wrenching. I had this hour commute back to my hotel. Any other time in my life that trip would have been spent returning calls, emails and texts. I spent the entire hour staring out the window. It was like getting hit by a freight train with everything she told me. And as I'm sure you probably know, it's her first on camera interview. Her second interview ever. 

 

Is there anything specific you'd like to say about the production style of your documentaries, how you pick your ideas and you go about researching for it?

I'm a huge old school documentary fan. But I noticed a lot of documentaries about fun topics treat them like the rise and fall of the Third Reich. So when Toys That Made Us got greenlit I was like “it's toys, we've got to have fun”. I hired a lot of editors who had a comedy background, because my background is in comedy. That humour is a big part of what we do. But on top of that, we try to put as much pathos into our shows as possible. 

I'm giving away all our tricks. I call it Robocop. He goes back to his old house. And he's just walking around Frankenstein the monster, in this metal suit, and it keeps cutting back and forth. between reality and his memory of living there with his wife and son. So we have robocops throughout every episode we do. Then we try to end on the biggest and best robocop we can make. 

We kind of try to mix the pathos with the humour in a subtle way so if we've done our job right, it should make people smile, but maybe tear up a little bit. 

 

Now I did wonder since you're such a fountain of pop culture wisdom… would you be willing to answer some quick fire questions for us? 

 

The first one. TV or film?

In 2022, TV. 

 

Favourite movie?

If we're not including Star Wars, There Will Be Blood

 

And favourite Star Wars movie?

Just for emotional reasons, primarily A New Hope.

 

It just starts so optimistic. That's all you need really. 

It started everything. I recognise that Empire Strikes Back is a better movie. But at the same time, there ain't no Empire Strikes Back without A New Hope

 

Favourite Toy?

Again for emotional reasons, and I own over 3500 toys, it's my model of the Constitution class enterprise that I had when I was a little child. When you live in California every now and then you've got to evacuate your house because of the fires. So the first time that happened I just had to grab stuff without thinking. And that's how I was able to figure out what my favourite toys were.

 

Favourite Disneyland ride or attraction?

Indiana Jones. No, wait wait wait. It's Indiana Jones Tokyo! 

 

Is it different?

It's very, very similar. But the little things like the queue line. A couple of different gags. Make it a trillion percent different and somehow more impressive than Anaheim. Yeah, that's my favourite ride without a doubt.

 

Last question. Who shot first? 

Han.

 

Ah good we can stay friends then. Just to finish off. Your production company's motto is “Never Stop Exploring”. Can you give us a hint of what you'd like to explore next? 

If you had asked this question, any other year, I could list a whole bunch of stuff. The problem is we're actually in production on a lot right now. Covering almost everything. There's one show about a movie from the 80s. One of my favourite films but a severely flawed box office disaster. It's easy to sell a show about Jurassic Park or Star Wars, but to be able to sell a show about one of the biggest bombs in history… and we're doing six episodes on it.

We have literally 17 docs or doc series in production right now. So I can't really say. Wait no! Chester A Arthur, that's the doc I want to make next. 

 

Amazon Launches Icons Unearthed: Star Wars with all six episodes premiering on 21st October.