Today, the United Arab Emirates is celebrating its 50th National Day, commemorating the founding of the nation on December 2, 1971. But it's not the only entity close to my heart that’s turning 50 this year …
FIFTIETH ANNIVERSARY NUMBER ONE
On December 1, 1971, the protective treaties between Great Britain and the seven “Trucial States” of Abu Dhabi, Ajman, Dubai, Fujairah, Ras Al Khaimah, Sharjah, and Umm Al Quwain expired. The “truce” agreements meant that these seven sheikhdoms were essentially British protectorates, but by 1966, the British government had determined that it could no longer afford to defend the Trucial States. In 1968, the ruler of Abu Dhabi, Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, came to an agreement with the ruler of Dubai, Sheikh Rashid bin Saeed Al Maktoum, to form a federation: the rest of the Trucial States, as well as the Arabian Gulf states of Bahrain and Qatar, were invited to join.
In the end, six of the newly-independent emirates—Abu Dhabi, Ajman, Dubai, Fujairah, Sharjah, and Umm Al Quwain—came together to form the new nation on December 2, with Ras Al Khaimah joining the following February. Bahrain and Qatar decided to remain independent states. It was a tumultuous period here in the Gulf, marked by border disputes with Saudi Arabia and territorial disputes with Iran. Sheikh Zayed became the first President of the UAE and is revered today as the “Father of the Nation.” The final page of a special pullout section of today's issue of The National, Abu Dhabi's English-language newspaper, offers this quote from Sheikh Zayed: “A man would give a lot for something he deems precious. And the union is the most precious of things.”
The National has a fascinating account of what December 2 was like fifty years ago in Abu Dhabi. And the eleven pictures taken by the Sheikh's aide Butti bin Bishr, recently donated to Akkasah, the photography archive at NYU Abu Dhabi, will add to your sense of what the emirate was like half-a-century ago.
Photos: Overlooking the Corniche just after sundown (top); Sheikh Zayed pictured on the side of a building on Abu Dhabi’s Al Maryah Island (below); fireworks above Al Maryah Island (bottom).
FIFTIETH ANNIVERSARY NUMBER TWO
Something else was born in 1971: Lucasfilm. Here’s how I described its genesis in Lucasfilm: Filmmaking, Philosophy, and the Star Wars Universe:
Lucas had attended the University of Southern California’s film school, but he calls Francis Ford Coppola, whom he met on the Warner Brothers lot in 1967, his primary mentor as a filmmaker. At USC Lucas had been drawn to the technical side of film production: “When I was in college, I took a creative writing class, but I really didn’t like it. My real thing was art, drawing, visuals. … I was bored by scripts, and most of the films I did were abstract visual tone poems or documentaries—those were the things I really loved.” It was Coppola who had urged Lucas to work on his writing: “You’re never going to be a good director unless you learn how to write,” Coppola told Lucas. “Go and write, kid.” The two founded the independent studio American Zoetrope in San Francisco in 1969, which would go on to produce not only Coppola’s post-Godfather films (starting with The Godfather II , The Conversation , and Apocalypse Now ), but also Lucas’s pre-Star Wars films, THX 1138 (1971) and American Graffiti (1973).
The commercial failure of THX 1138, however, caused Warner Brothers to withdraw its loan to Zoetrope, which was saved only by Coppola’s triumph in The Godfather. Lucas had begun working on the script for American Graffiti while finishing up THX 1138, in part as a response to Coppola’s challenge to him to “make a happier kind of film.” It was during the pre-production for American Graffiti that Lucasfilm was born. In Empire Building: The Remarkable Real Life Story of Star Wars, Garry Jenkins describes the company’s modest birth at a home-office in Mill Valley, California:
At the advice of his lawyer, Tom Pollock, Lucas created a company to hire out his services for tax purposes. With Gary Kurtz and his secretary, Dorothy “Bunny” Alsup, he kicked around a number of ideas for a corporate name. “We were trying to come up with a generic name. It was going to be Mill Valley Films at one point,” recalled Kurtz.
Another idea had been the English-sounding Lucasfilm Ltd. “He was a bit leery of it. He thought it was kind of an ego thing,” said Kurtz. “But we thought we’d just call it that for the incorporation and worry about it later.”
Later never came, and Lucasfilm would survive as an entity even after its creator was no longer a part of it.
Okay, so in the last newsletter, I posed a “what if” question: “What if the blockbuster space fantasy of the 1970s wasn't Star Wars,but rather the adaptation of Frank Herbert's Dune that the Chilean-French avant-garde director Alejandro Jodorowsky was seeking to make?”
To whet your appetite for a discussion of this subject, I offer this excerpt from the riveting documentary Jodorowsky's Dune (2013), which will give you a sense of the man behind what is now known as “the Jodoverse,” a series of graphic novels born from the failure of the Dune project.
Next Issue: Holly Jolly
For further discussion of Star Wars and my book Lucasfilm: Filmmaking, Philosophy, and the Star Wars Universe (Bloomsbury), check out the following: