This first issue of Reel Fantasy recounts the story of Star Wars, takes us behind the scenes, provides us with cast information and a look into the Special Effects wizardry - everything a fan was clamoring for in the early days of Star Wars. Despite having read a ton of books on the subject, including Rinzler's brilliant The Making of Star Wars and watched just about all the documentaries in the subject, there are still a number of things in these articles that I didn't know. For example, I didn't know that Obi-Wan was supposed to act a little crazy when he was first introduced, before revealing himself as the wide old Jedi, but that Guiness talked Lucas out of it. Or that the Biggs scene was originally cut only to make the film closer to 2 hours running time.
Despite being written while the original film was still playing in theaters - indeed still opening in new markets around the world - the article is already setting the stage for the Special Editions by explaining about Lucas' unhappiness with some obvious matte lines and how he wanted to pull the film to reshoot segments of it, but 20th Century Fox refused.
Interviews with the stars reveal that they signed for three pictures, so if the movie was successful it was always destined to be a trilogy. The ambiguity of the Force is also discussed, with Hamill saying that was deliberate, allowing the viewer to draw their own conclusions - NO MIDI-CHLORIANS!!
James Bond fans might notice a photo from The Spy Who Loved Me on the cover, and that article can be read at The007Dossier.com.
....dear reader, to the first issue of REEL FANTASY the magazine concerned with Fantasy in Films
This covers a broad range of motion pictures and television series, since not only science-fiction and horror films fall into this category, but a wide variety of action-adventure films as well. REEL FANTASY will have it all....from ",STAR WARS” to James Bond, from Sinbad to Dirty Harry...the entire realm of Fantasy in Films! Each issue will be crammed full of facts and opinions, photos and interviews of a multitude of both old and new films and television series alike!
This issue we have a number of surprises in store for you. Highlighting the list is an in-depth look at “STAR WARS", not just the story, but the 'story behind the story'...a look at how the film was made, and the people who made it happen, with Alan Asherman covering the technical aspects of how the special effects were done, plus pages of mind-blowing photos!
Doug Murray reviews the new Sindbad film, “EYE OF THE TIGER ”, which is followed by interviews with Sindbad actress Jane Seymour, and producer Charles Schneer. Then there's Tom Rogers' preview of “STARSHIP INVASION”, Buddy Weis on the new Bond film, plus “LASER BLAST", "DAMNATION ALLEY” and much more. Were sure you’ll find it both interesting and informative. Drop us a line, we’re, waiting to hear from you.
At this time, I would like to thank the entire staff, and the people who devoted their time and energies to help produce the magazine you are holding in your hands, and most of all, you - the reader —for helping to make REEL FANTASY a reality.
Frank Verzyl Editor R.F
by Frank Verzyl.
Countless eons ago, in a far-flung galaxy millions of light years distant from our own, a political take-over on an enormous scale was taking place.
One thousand planets had existed in harmony under a Republic-type government for centuries, but in recent times, a corruption found its way into the system and began to grow like a cancer. Over a period of several decades, the government slowly shifted to a dictatorial state, and was soon renamed the Galactic Empire, a thousand worlds placed under the yoke-of servitude to a central monarch. The Emperor then appointed an array of governors, each assigned to keep his respective territory in line. One of these governors was Moff Tarkin (Peter Cushing), an overly ambitious man without conscience, a man who would stop at nothing to acquire more power, more authority, more territory.
In the pre-Empire days, there existed no military juggernaut to hold the threat of obliteration over the various member races. Such a balance of terror was unnecessary to maintain order in the Galaxy. A semi-religious cult known as the Jedi Knights, composed of an order of somewhat supernormal beings trained in the worship and use of the Force, took it upon themselves to supervise all interplanetary affairs, and set right whatever wrongs or injustices they came across, something. akin to a Galactic Police force, serving the government, yet answering to a much higher, spiritual authority.
When the corrupt elements in the system began to spread, and gain in power and authority, and the government began to take on the shape of a dictatorship, the Jedi Knights felt morally obligated to fight the growing cancer, rather than succumb to the seemingliy (sic) inevitable trend and pledge themselves to a cause they felt was basicaly (sic) wrong. So the would-be power mongers plotted the extermination of the Jedi, for only when the last Wielder of the Force was dead, would the path for conquest be cleared.
Then an ambitious young Jedi named Darth Vader, a disciple of Obi-Wan Kenobi himself, decided it was time to switch over to the winner’s side, perhaps out of fear for his life, perhaps in expectation of the rich rewards he would reap for performing such a heinous act of treachery. Nevertheless, Vader betrayed the Jedi by supplying the Empire with the information they needed to flush out the Jedi and murder them. The purge was swift, and when it was over, the Jedi Knights were only a memory, a thing of the past, to the young rebels scattered throughout the planetary systems who hated the Empire and all that it stood for. These rebels remained in hiding, outwardly seeming like loyal subjects of the Emperor, while secretly constructing an armada of X-wing fighters in a ruined temple on the fourth moon of Yavin, holding sacred their memories of the once-revered Jedi, patiently awaiting the first opportunity to strike back at the Empire.
When word of the underground reached the Empire’s omnipresent ears, a cold chill of insecurity touched the already cold heart of Moff Tarkin, a and a defense mechanism was constructed in the void of space, designed to insure against any damage the rebels might conceivably be plotting. He called it the DEATH STAR, a spherical space station 200 miles in diameter, with built-in landing strips and hangers for a hundred armadas, with batteries of disintegrator cannons entrenched in the massive grooves that circumscribe the surface of the artificial moon, and a death ray capable of destroying whole planets in seconds. The Death Star...capable of travelling at light speed, traverses the galaxies under Tarkin’s domination, enforcing the will of the Empire through military superiority, a massive metallic sphere, its ten thousand windows spilling myriad tiny pinpoints of light into the cold, dark void in which it floats.
The film opens with a tracking shot of a small transport ship speeding toward the desert world of Tatooine, following it is an Imperial Cruiser of immense proportions. Some rebel spies had been discovered aboard the Death Star, and they had been killed just as they had completed transmitting a radio message to their conspirators outside. The message had been received by a passing transport, the same transport now being pursued and fired upon by Darth Vader’s cruiser. The message contained a complete computer technical read-out of the blueprints for the construction of the Death Star, information which must not be allowed to fall into rebel hands. Darth Vader was sent out in pursuit.
A tractor beam draws the helpless transport up into the bay of the huge Cruiser, and Vader’s Stormtroopers force entry into the ship, lasers blasting everyone on board. In the midst of the carnage, two robots make their way along the ship’s corridors, ducking laser blasts, seeking sanctuary...a golden, humanoid robot, or droid, named C-3P0 (See-Threepio), and a squat, cylindrical robot on treads named R2-D2 (Artoo-Detoo).
The transport had been carrying the Princess Leia Organa (Carrie Fisher) back to her home world Alderaan from a diplomatic mission. Leia’s father is the Viceroy of Alderaan, and the Princess herself holds the title of a Senator. She is secretly a member of the rebel Alliance working to bring about the downfall of the Empire, and her real purpose for crossing that particular section of space at that particular time was soley to intercept the message they knew would be coming, to translate the information to tapes, and then to bring the tapes back to Alderaan where they could be studied in great detail, in the hopes of finding a weak point in the structure of the Death Star.
Realizing her ship is trapped and her own capture is imminent, Leia takes R2-D2 aside, and conceals the information tapes inside the robot’s body, along with an additional taped 3-D holographic message of her own, and instructs the droid to deliver the items to Obi-Wan Kenobi on the planet Tatooine.
As the princess is captured, and dragged into the presence of the evil Darth Vader, through corridors littered with the corpses of her crew, the 2 robots manage to climb into an escape pod and jettison themselves out into space, a spinning ball drifting down into the gravitational pull of Tatooine.
PHOTOS ABOVE: (TOP) C-3PO and R2-D2 evade laser blasts; (MIDDLE) Princess Leia conceals the information tapes in the droid; (BOTTOM) Darth Vader inspects the aftermath of the assault.
Darth Vader questions the Princess, his hideous, black insect-like helmet masking an unseen visage, his armor a cross between a Nazi and a Samurai warrior, escaping air hissing through me breath-screen over his mouth, his seven-foot frame dwarfing the girl. “Don’t play games with me, your highness. Several transmissions were beamed to this ship by spies. I want to know the details of that data.” When the Princess denies any knowledge of a radio transmission, Vader orders her taken to the detention center.
Authorities on Alderaan are informed that the Princess’ ship was destroyed in a meteor shower, to allay suspicions. Then the ship is thoroughly searched, but to no avail. Vader realizes the tapes had to have been concealed in the lifepod that broke loose from the ship during the battle, and a squadron of Storm-troopers are sent down to Tatooine to retrieve them.
Meanwhile, in the desert below, the two droids have been taken prisoner by a strange tribe of desert creatures called Jawas, who roam the dunes in huge Sandcrawlers, little cloaked gnomes picking up scrap metal and discarded robots for resale to the human farmers who live nearby.
The two droids are brought to a nearby moisture farm, and they are delighted to find themselves becoming the property of humans again. They are sold to the owner of the farm, Owen Lars, who turns them over to his nephew, Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) to be cleaned and reprogrammed.
While trying to pry loose a metallic object wedged in a crevice of the squat, little droid, Luke accidentally activates part of the holographic message, and a tiny, ghost-like image of Leia appears in the air, repeating "Help me, Obi-Wan Kenobi, you’re my only hope”, over and over again, like a broken record, until Luke cuts off the tape while trying to make it clearer. Touched by the beauty of the tiny spectre, and intrigued by the message itself, Luke asks his uncle that evening over dinner if “Obi-Wan Kenobi" could possibly be a reference to the hermit, old Ben Kenobi, who allegedly lives in complete isolation from the outside world, in a hideaway somewhere in the Jundland wastes. Luke’s uncle becomes angry, and tells him not to mention the incident again, making him even more interested in learning what it is his uncle is trying to keep from him.
During the night, Artoo-Detoo wanders off into the desert, babbling (in robot talk) about his “mission”. Luke and Threepio scan the surrounding territory with a pair of macrobinoculars, but no trace of the droid can be found. So early the next morning, they set out in a hover-car across the Great Dune Sea to search for the R2 unit in the treacherous Jundland wastes.
PHOTOS ABOVE: (TOP) Two Jawas, scavengers of the desert regions; (MIDDLE) Moff Tarkin interrogates the captive Princess; (BOTTOM) A Tuskan Raider astride his Bantha.
Luke spots the missing droid in a canyon, and lands the hovercraft nearby. Artoo-Detoo claims he is looking for his master, Obi-Wan Kenobi, to whom he must deliver a message. As Luke tries to persuade the droid to return home with him, the robot’s sensors indicate life forms approaching, and Luke and Threepio climb up to a ridge to scan their surroundings from a vantage point.
Luke spots two elephant-like Ban-thas tethered in a canyon, an indication that there are Sandpeople about. Suddenly Luke is taken by surprise by a Tuskan Raider who managed to creep up on him from behind. Bundled in robes, and face swathed in bandages, the Raider renders Luke unconscious with his strange, club-like weapon, and See-Threepio is knocked off balance into the ravine below, a fall which badly damages one of his arms. A group of Sandpeople fall upon Luke’s hover-craft and begin to dismantle it for scrap metal, when a tall, robed figure descends from the ridge, walking slowly, majestically, toward the startled Raiders, who scatter in fear.
The robed figure draws back his hood to reveal the face of an old man, with piercing eyes and a full, white beard...the face of Obi-Wan Kenobi (Alec Guiness), last surviving Jedi Knight, reduced to a hermit, living out his remaining days in exile.
Ben Kenobi kneels over the unconscious boy, and assures the worried R2 unit that Luke is unhurt. The Jedi leads the boy and his droids to his underground home, where See-Threepio’s arm is repaired, and the hologram message is recalled and replayed in full, thanks to Kenobi's knowledge of the correct way to play back the tapes.
The group gathers around the semi-transparent Princess image that reappears on the floor, and listens in awe at the message now replayed in full. Obi-Wan becomes somber at the words she speaks, for it recalls memories he had thought buried forever.
“General Kenobi...years ago you served the old Republic in the Clone Wars. Now my father begs you to aid us again in our most desperate hour. Information vital to the Rebel Alliance has been placed in this droid. Please see that this R2 unit is delivered safely to Alderaan. Help me, Obi Wan Kenobi, you’re my only hope...”
Luke is awed by the presence of Kenobi; everything begins to fall into place. Kenobi tells Luke he was once a Jedi Knight, and that Luke’s father was a Jedi too. Luke had been told that his father had been a navigator on a spice freighter, and finds it hard to believe he is the son of a Jedi. Kenobi then presents Luke with a strange gift; the light sabre his father had used in battle, a flashlight-like tube handle that spills forth a column of white light, capable of slashing or burning its way through any solid object.
When Luke is told of the Jedi’s downfall, he asks, “How did my father die, Ben?”, to which the old man replies, “He was betrayed and murdered by a young Jedi named Darth Vader, a boy I was training... Vader used the power of the Force for evil...to help the Empire hunt down and destroy the last of the Jedi Knights. He was seduced by the dark side of the Force. The Force is an energy field created by all living things. It surrounds, binds the Galaxy together. Knowledge of the Force is what gave the Jedi his power. You must learn the way of the force, Luke...”
On his way home, Luke comes across the Jawas who sold the droids to his uncle. Their Sandcrawler has been demolished, their burnt bodies strewn across the sandscape. Luke rushes home to find the remains of his foster parents on the ground outside their home, smoldering skeletons, dust and ashes. A grim Luke Skywalker returns to the waiting Ben Kenobi, offering to join him on his trek to Alderaan. But to return the data tapes to Alderaan, they need a means of transportation, so the old man leads Luke and the droids to the nearby spaceport of Mos Eisley, “hole-in-the-wall” hideaway for smugglers and fugitives, a wild, lawless town, a hang-out for various unwanted no-goods, humans and aliens alike.
Darth Vader has stationed a number of stormtroopers around Mos Eisley, figuring the spaceport to be the only way on or off of the god-forsaken planet. But Ben Kenobi passes the little band through all the roadblocks by using hypnotism to affect the minds of the stormtroopers they encounter. They enter a run-down cantina seeking a qualified pilot, with a spaceship to rent, and Kenobi has someone in mind...Correllian space pirate, Han Solo (Harrison Ford) and his first mate, Chewbacca (Peter Mayhew) the 100-year old Wookie.
As they scan the darkened cantina for Solo’s table, we are treated to a plethora of weird and wonderful alien beings, engaged in excited conversation with each other, sipping otherworldly beverages, even playing musical instruments. As Luke waits at the bar, a walrus-like creature begins jabbering at him, trying to pick a fight with the boy. When the creature becomes violent, Ben Kenobi whips his light sabre in an upward slash, severing the creature’s arm at the shoulder. They encounter no further dificulty.
PHOTO ABOVE: Luke is attacked by a Tuskan Raider
Chewbacca takes Luke and Ben over to Solo’s table where they can discuss business. Luke is a bit taken aback at the sight of Solo’s first mate whom he refers to as “Chewie”, a seven foot tall mass of hair, ape-like in appearance, speaking only in grunts and snarls, but able to convey his feelings readily through very human facial expressions.
Han Solo offers to take the group aboard his ship, the Millennium Falcon, and smuggle them to Alderaan for a fee equivalent to ten thousand dollars. Luke and Ben leave to round up the money, agreeing to rendezvous with Solo at Docking Bay 94.
Left alone at his table, Solo rises and prepares to leave, when he is confronted by a grinning, lizard-like alien aiming a gun at him, an enforcer sent to collect the money Solo owts his employer, Jabba. Solo stalls for time until he is able to silently slide his laser weapon out of its holster under the table, then he blasts a hole through the alien’s midsection, sheathes his gun, and flips a gold coin to the bartender on the way out, with a “Sorry about the mess.”
When Ben, Luke, Chewie, Solo and the droids meet at the hangar and prepare to blast off, the building is suddenly surrounded by stormtroopers and as the passengers scurry aboard the Falcon, the ship is pelted with laser blasts. The giant Wookie grabs the controls, while Solo’s laser guns take their toll on the white-suited attackers outside the hull. The ship takes off and crashes through the barricade set up around the hangar, to speed off into the heavens.
A group of Galactic Cruisers follow in pursuit, and just when it seems the Falcon may be overtaken, Solo puts the ship into Hyperspace drive, attaining light speed, and leaving Vader’s ships light years behind. Their destination... Alderaan; their objective...deliver Ar-too-Detoo to the rebels.
As the Falcon speeds toward Alderaan with its sought-after cargo, meanwhile aboard the Death Star, Moff Tarkin prepares a demonstration of his planet-destroying death ray. The moon siqed juggernaut has arrived near its first official tarket. It turns its sights on Alderaan, and the Princess is brought from her detention cell, and made to watch as her planet is obliterated, literally disintegrated with one direct hit from Tarkin’s laser cannon. In seconds, her whole past is gone; her home, her family, her friends...her planet!
When the Millenium Falcon emerges from Hyperspace drive, it is pelted by thousands of tiny meteorites; the last remnants of Alderaan. Solo spots a TIE Fighter in the distance, one of Darth Vader’s fighters. They give chase, and follow the TIE back to the Death Star. When they realize the huge sphere before them is not a moon, but a man-made satellite, Solo and (Jhewie try to change direction and escape, but Vader’s gun crew turns a tractor beam on the Falcon, and the helpless ship is drawn up into the bay of the Death Star!
Concealing themselves in the smuggling compartments under the floor of Solo’s ship, Luke, Ben, Chewie and the rest manage to avoid detection when Vader’s men board the ship for a routine search. Vader knows it is the ship that ran the blockade around Tatooine, but he is mystified by its apparent lack of crew or passengers. He assumes the crew abandoned ship somewhere along the line, and he assigns a skeleton crew to post guard on the seemingly empty ship.
Ben Kenobi silently leaves the Falcon, unnoticed by the dozing guards, and heads for the control room for the tractor beam that is holding their ship fast to the landing platform, like a magnet. While he attempts to cut off the energy source of the beam, Luke and Solo learn (through Artoo) that the girl they saw in the hologram is being held captive aboard the Death Star, and with Chewbacca, they set off down a different corridor, headed for the detention cells, in an attempt to rescue the Princess.
After a series of hair-raising adventures on the Death Star, Kenobi manages to cut off the Tractor beam, but he doesn’t make it back to the ship. Blocking his path is Darth Vader, come face to face with his ex-teacher, and determined to prove who is the master now. while Vader and Kenobi engage in a light-sabre duel, Luke and solo rescue the Princess, and the group boards the Falcon (now released from the pull of the tractor beam), and escape into space, pursued by a quartet of TIE Fighters.
Obi-Wan, seeing that Luke and the others have escaped in the Falcon, stops fighting Vader, assumes a semi-meditation stance, and allows Vader to strike him down with his light sabre, after having warned Vader, “If you strike me down, I will only become more powerful.” As the sabre slashes through Kenobi, his garments fall to the floor, empty, and Vader quizically prods the pile of clothes with his boot. Was Kenobi destroyed, or did he move into a higher plane of existence?
After several furious dog-fights in space, the crew of the Falcon make their way to the rebel base on the fourth moon of Yavin, deliver the information tapes, and set to work to find a weak spot in the construction of the Death Star, which would be used as the focal point of the attack. After locating the most vulnerable spot as their target, the rebels ready their armada of X- and Y-wing fighters for the final, all-out assault on the Death Star. The finale of the film features a battle sequence filled with excitement and spectacle, winding up to a breath-taking conclusion.
PHOTO: Chewbacca, the 100-year-old Wookie.
STAR WARS is not to be missed. Although it is the result of a mixture of every cliche-ridden movie theme ever done, (Mos Eisley representing the old West; the Jawas representing the munchkins from WIZARD OF OZ; the Sandpeople are the Indians; the Stormtroopers straight from a World War II film; the dogfights between 'spaceships admittedly choreographed from pirated war movie sequences; the daredevil stunts and sabre duels from ROBIN HOOD; the spectacle of 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY), still the film as a whole retains a freshness and uniqueness all its own. Even though the lead characters are straight out of the “WIZARD OF OZ” (See Three-pio/ the tin man; Chewbacca/ the cowardly lion; Ben Kenobi/ the Wizard; the Princess/ Dorothy, etc.) they are all stunningly original and somewhat fascinating. It’s an updated montage of all the films we’ve loved in the past, mixed and interspliced, jumbled and served up again in a brand new package, and it works.
PHOTOS:(TOP) Ban kenobi attempts to shut down the Death Star's Tractor Beam; (BOTTOM) Chewbacca pilots the Millenium Falcon.
PHOTOS ABOVE: (TOP) Chewbacca suposedly a helpless prisoner; (BOTTOM) Ben Kenobi and Darth Vader engage in a light saber duel, aboard the Death Star.
STAR WARS: BEHIND THE SCENES
by Doug Murray
“I wanted to do a modern fairy tale—a myth. One of the criteria of the mythical fairy-tale situation is an exotic, faraway land, but we’ve lost all the fairy tale lands on this planet. Every one has disappeared. But there is a bigger, mysterious world in space that is more interesting than anything around here. We’ve just begun to take the first step and can say ‘Look! It goes on for a zillion miles out there.’ You can go anywhere, and land on any planet.”
There can be little doubt that young (33), talented filmmaker George Lucas has succeeded in his aim. Star Wars is very much a modern fairy tale, to the viewers of this extremely popular film, to the company that made it, and to the moneymen on Wall Street who have discovered that there are big bucks in Star Wars is the result of four years of work, and one man’s entire lifetime:
“It’s the flotsam and jetsam from the period when I was twelve years old—all the books and films and comics that I liked when I was a kid. The plot is simple—good against evil—and the film is designed to be all the fun and fantasy things I remember. The word for this movie is FUN!”
But fun is not what the big studios are looking to buy—Star Wars almost didn’t get made despite Lucas’ ideas, and his phenomenal success with his second feature film American Graffiti.
Universal, despite being the recipient of Graffiti’s phenomenal grosses, (it now is ranked the eleventh moneymaker in film history,) felt that Lucas’ new idea was too far out, and rejected it. Other rejections followed until Alan Ladd Jr. (right, his son) discovered that he still had enough of the old sense of wonder in him to back the project. His position as president of Twentieth Century Film Co. gave him the power, coupled with the advantage of a previous fantasy track record for the studio (the Planet of the Ape series), to give Lucas the go-ahead.
Two years later, Lucas had a script that he felt he could film and began casting. He knew that relative unknowns in the lead roles would add to the power of the film as they would have no previous personnas for the audience to identify with, so he determined to cast all three leads with unknowns, backing them with a strong, professional supporting cast.
For Han Solo, the Corellian freebooter who becomes hero Luke’s friend and partner, Lucas picked Harrison Ford, a 35-year-old journeyman actor who had for some years found carpentry more profitable than the vagaries of filmmaking. One of Ford’s few jobs in recent years had been a bit for Lucas in American Graffiti where he had played a snot-nosed young drag racer—Lucas felt his look and personality was perfect for the arrogant/foolish part of Han Solo.
Young Mark Hamill had almost no previous experience on the screen—his acting work had been primarily in commercials, a much more common apprenticeship system in today’s economically impoverished film world—regardless, he had the right look, and convinced Lucas of his ability to fill the role.
Carrie Fisher had even less experience, a minor part in a recent hit (Shampoo) and some time as a wandering singer-dancer. But she looked right, and the tests were right, so Lucas decided to go with her despite the fact that his friend, and former leading lady (American Graffiti again) Cindy Williams wanted the part badly (“Too old,” Lucas said).
For the veterans, Lucas picked perennial British horror film star Peter Cushing: “Cushing had the lean, deadly look I wanted. I felt if I could just restrain those mannerisms he had built up in the Hammer films, he would be perfect for the Moff Tarkin role.”
Alec Guiness was a compromise choice forced upon him by the studio—Lucas felt his experience, and eminence would make him difficult to direct and hard on the young actors—but the studio wanted another name actor, and one who would help the foreign sales, so Guiness was retained, and became quite invaluable:
“Alec Guiness was great with the younger people, he also did a lot of fleshing out on his role as Kenobi, he added a lot I didn’t even think about, I wouldn’t mind working with him again.”
Guiness (with Lucas approval) made major changes in the Kenobi role—originally the script called for him to act like an insane old hermit in his initial meeting with Luke, only gradually emerging as the shrewd, kindly old Jedi seen in the film.
Guiness argued that the audience would not have enough time to get used to this change, and there would be no audience identification with Kenobi. He thought it would be better to play him as the strong father-figure throughout. Lucas eventually agreed, and indeed he found the part worked better this way.
With the cast set, the film crew turned to the actual work of shooting the picture. It had been decided that the desert in Tunisia, near the small oasis town of Tozeur, would be ideal for the surface of Tatooine, Luke’s home planet—additionally, it was relatively deserted and thus allowed for easy shooting. Theoretically.
Actually, the shooting in Tunisia turned out to be extremely difficult— the weather was bad, cold, windy, very uninviting, particularly in an area that was nothing but a barren waste to begin with. Film crews on location always have problems with housing and food—the more exotic the location, the greater the problems—Tunisia was exotic enough for everything. Crew members came down with everything from food-poisoning to pneumonia— and greater problems came from these.
Stuart Freeborn, chief make-up designer on 2001, and head of make-up for Star Wars was unable to supervise the makeup in the critical barroom sequence—a sequence designed to climax the Tatooine segment of the film, and introduce the aliens that would make a galaxy-wide society believable. Nonetheless, the schedule had to be met, and the sequence was shot without the direction and expertise of the makeup supervisor.
Lucas was very unhappy with the results, and his feeling of failure with this key scene depressed him throughout the rest of the filming.
PHOTOS ABOVE: (TOP) The filming of the final sequence in STAR WARS; (MIDDLE) Group shot of cast from the finale; (BOTTOM) Kurtz and Lucas behind the camera.
Another problem arose in the desert. Lucas had conceived the idea of shooting the film in documentary style, thus making the fantastic happenings all the more real and believable—but British cinematographer Gil Taylor, considered by many the best black-and-white photographer of the sixties, was awed by the mirages and reflections of the desert, and saw in the film, an opportunity to shoot really innovative color footage. The two clashed, and again a compromise was reached, but Lucas was left with a nagging feeling of things undone, or half-done. After the Tunisian adventure was over, the cast and crew retired to England where still more problems developed. The British filmaking style is very rigid, filming starts on time, and ends on time, and Lucas found it maddening to stop filming precisely at 5:30, regardless of where the crew was in the continuity, but the British unions are very strong and he had to live with it. But he became more morose and moody forcing producer Gary Kurtz into the role of mediator.
“George wasn’t happy there,” Kurtz recalls. “He doesn’t like being so far from home, there are a lot of little things that are different, like light switches going up instead of down.
Everything is just different enough to throw you off balance.
“Also, George is not particularly social to begin with. He doesn’t go out at his way to socialize. It takes him awhile to know somebody to get intimate with and share his problems. It’s hard for him to work with strangers.”
Kurtz’ efforts bore fruit. Although never really comfortable, Lucas managed to work with the British and finish the shooting on time. The live action was in the can. It was time to return to California for the special effects.
But upon his return to the States, Lucas wasn’t ready to begin special effects work—that barroom sequence still nagged at him, and he decided to reshoot it. Since Freeborn had finished his work and was no longer on the picture, Lucas decided young, independent makeup artist Rick Baker (the only good thing in the De Laurentis King Kong and a longtime fantasy fan) would be the perfect choice to do the sequence.
Rick was brought in to create entirely new alien masks and makeups for the Tatooine barroom. This he did and the company journeyed to Utah to I shoot the new footage. Also inserted was an alien band playing a peculiar combination of blues and steel band that was the only music in the film not recorded by the London Symphony.
The finished footage, with the now more than satisfactory aliens, was edited into existing footage of the bar’s exterior and Ben’s fight within—Lucas was now satisfied.
PHOTOS BELOW: The filming of STAR WARS' Tatooine sequences in the deserts of Tunisia.
It was time for the piece de resistance of the film. All through the planning, scripting, and shooting, Lucas and Kurtz had realized that the film would succeed or fail on the strength of its special effects. Even before the storyboards were done, as Gary Kurtz says; “We recorded on videotape any war movie involving aircraft that came up on television, so we had this massive library of parts of old war films—The Dam Busters, Tora, Tora, Tora, 633 Squadron, The Battle of Britain, Jet Pilot, Bridge at Toko-Ri and about forty-five others. We went through them and picked out scenes to transfer to film to use as guidelines in the final battle sequence.”
“We cut them together into a battle sequence to get an idea of the movement. It was a very bizarre looking film, all black-and-white,- a dirty 16mm dupe. There would be a shot of the pilot saying something, then you cut to a long shot of the plane, explosions, crashes. It gave a reasonably accurate idea of what the battle sequence would look like, and more importantly, the feeling of it.”
The finished sequence was shown to the story board artists and converted into sketches showing the continuity of the sequence—now it was time to assemble a special effects team; again Lucas’ single-minded need to maintain total control over every aspect of the film became a problem:
“If you hire Trumbull to do your special effects, he does your special effects. I was very nervous about that. I wanted to be able to say, ‘it should look like this, not that’. I didn’t want to be handed a reel of film after five months and be told: ‘here’s your special effect, sir.’ I wanted to be able to have more say about what was going on. Either you do it yourself, or you don’t get that say.”
Lucas and Kurtz turned to another independent, Jim Danforth, one of the best effects men around:
“Frankly,” says Danforth, “I liked the idea of the film, but I just couldn’t see myself working with Lucas. He was right out front, he told me, ‘I don’t know how we’re going to do all this stuff, maybe we’ll just stand in a dark studio and throw models across it, but whatever we do, I’ll be right there with you.’ Well, that’s nice but it’s not for me.”
With Danforth, Trumbull, and by extension, Harryhausen out of the picture, the team turned to John Dykstra. Dykstra was a perfect choice,—having gained experience working with Trumbull on Andromeda Strain and Silent Running. He had an excellent background in effects—and his time as an assistant also made him malleable enough for Lucas’ needs.
Given the job, Dykstra soon assembled a young, talented, but rather inexperienced effects crew, who immediately went to work with a will.
The heart of Dykstra’s “Industrial light and Magic Co.” is a rather special machine—a high-speed camera, mounted on tracks and directed by a computer system. This allows synchronized movements between the various miniatures in motion and the camera to get realistic, and stylistically sophisticated shots.
Armed with this rather special equipment and Lucas’ “Blueprint” Dykstra and his team soon had the “dogfight” under way. There were still problems;
"It’s hard to explain that a concept won’t work because of some technological thing, and this becomes a bone of contention. When a director shoots an exterior, he can see the lighting and the setup and the action and hear the dialogue, but when he comes in here all he can see is a camera running down a track about three inches a second photographing a model. You have to be able to determine a spatial relationship without seeing it to know what’s going on. It’s more like animation than anything else.”
Lucas achieved a grudging respect for Dykstra, and eventually the film was finished. Lucas and his team of editors, including his wife, Marcia, cut it down to a 123 minute running length and it was previewed to unanimous raves.
But Lucas was still unhappy—he felt the effects footage showed too many matte lines and in places was uneffective. He wanted to pull the film and reshoot segments, but 20th refused. Lucas still had to find a way to cut the film to under two hours to get maximum runoff potential, so Luke’s friend Biggs Starlighter disappeared as a major character in the cut. John Williams added his elegant and structurally perfect score and the film was complete—and an immediate success. Is Lucas happy?
“Young people today don’t have a fantasy life. All they’ve got is Kojak and Dirty Harry. All these kids are running around wanting to be killer cops because the films they see are movies of disasters and insecurity and realistic violence.
“I want to open up the whole realm of space. Science fiction is okay but it got so involved with science that it forgot the sense of adventure. I want Star Wars to make an audience think of things that could happen. I’d like them to say, ‘Gee, wouldn’t it be great if we could go and run around on Mars.’”
From Time Magazine, May 30, 1977—“Star Wars—The Year’s Best Movie—a grand and glorious film that may well be the smash hit of 1977...”
Congratulations, George Lucas.
PHOTO: Lucas chose Harrison Ford to play Han Solo, the Corellian space pirate.
THE REEL STARS OF STAR WARS
by Dennis Murray
Star Wars is a legend in its own time. And deservedly so. It is a film filled with magnificent special effects, beautiful photography, and a simple, yet appropriate, script. But the major reason for its phenomenal success is the performance of the actors.
PHOTOS ABOVE: (LEFT) HAN SOLO (Harrison Ford), Corellian space pirate; (RIGHT) LUKE SKYWALKER (Mark Hamill), farmboy -turned-rebel.
The entire cast, Carrie Fisher, Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford, Alec Guinness, and even the villains, David Prowse-James Earl Jones and Peter Cushing, present their characters in a way in which the audience can readily identify. This proved important in such classics as The Day The Earth Stood Still, a film with minimal special effects but made believable through the acting abilities of Michael Rennie, Patricia Neal, and Sam Jaffe.
On the other hand there are the films with an abundance of effects but little in the way of characterization. 2001:A Space Odyssey, considered by many to be the best science fiction film of all time, has breathtaking visuals but lacks a strong central character with which the audience can identify. This lack of a powerful personality gives the audience a feeling of apathy toward the characters; an indifference to what happens to them and thus an insoucient attitude toward the movie. Another cult favorite with a plethora of dazzling effects, George Pal’s The War Of The Worlds, is hurt greatly by Gene Barry’s almost laughable portrayal of Dr. Clayton Forrester and Ann Robinson’s non-performance as Sylvia Van Buren.
Star Wars has the qualities that, these films are deficient in. “You’ve got you’re wise old man, you’ve got your callow youth, you’ve got your space pirate, you’ve got your princess, you’ve got everything.” So says Carrie Fisher, one of the talented young people of Star Wars. The film has something for everyone. No one leaves the theatre feeling empty or cheated.
Mark Hamill points out that “George has given us this great opportunity. He originally wanted to do Flash Gordon and tried to get the rights from King Features Syndicate. I’m real thankful it didn’t work out. All of a sudden there was a part for sort of a bumbling, not completely in control, naive kid, who has the opportunity to meet the right characters. We were cast as an ensemble.”
Harrison Ford adds, "From the beginning it was either the three of us or three other people because he had put together these two groups of three that worked well together. The real story of this picture is in the relationships between these characters. It’s critical both that we physically represent what we are and work well together.”
Carrie Fisher tells how she was chosen to play the princess: “George saw everyone in California—anyone who could walk into the office was eligible. I tested for it as did a lot of other girls and after about two weeks of not hearing, I didn’t think I had it but then they called me and said ‘You’re the princess."
About her character, Leia Organa, Ms. Fisher says, “She's a Senator in the rebellion. George (Lucas) didn’t want a damsel-in-distress. He didn’t want someone who fainted at the sight of Darth Vader or any of the other bad guys. She shoots guns, but she still wears her gown, even if it does get very dirty.”
Harrison Ford, who plays Han Solo, pilot of the Millennium Falcon, describes his character in this way: “I play this cynical space pirate—a mercenary with a heart of silver, I guess. I’m, more or less, the counterpoint to his (points to Mark Hammill) callow, in-genuous-in-genu-ingen-(shrugs), er... I’m his friend.”
Says Mark Hamill, “My character is ihe farm boy who yearns for adventure and wants to leave home. I mean Tatooine is not a planet that you want to take a vacation on. We filmed all over Tunisia. By the way, there is a city in Tunisia actually called Tat aouine. The courtyard of my house was actually the lobby of a hotel. They’re (the inhabitants) real troglodytes.” Actors can also add a certain something to a film. Whether it’s changing a line or an entire characterization, the actor is an indispensible aid to the movie maker. At first, Lucas was wary of working with Alec Guinness. He felt that such a renowned actor would present difficulties in handling. However, as the filming went on, Lucas discovered that he could not only work with Guinness, but that he could also rely on the actor’s years of experience. Originally, Obi-Wan was supposed to be a doddering old fool and, as the story progressed, he would gradually e-merge as the cunning Jedi-Knight. Guiness felt this was not appropriate for the character or himself. He and Lucas, then rewrote the part together and Ben Kenobi emtered as the wise wizard, posessor of the Force. Lucas’ attitude had changed by the end of shooting. “Guiness was a pleasure to work with, both to me as a director, and to the other players. He was a big help all around and I’d like to work with him again.” Even the newcomers made contributions: Harrison Ford proudly states, “Don’t get cocky, kid.’ That’s the line I made up. That’s about it though.”
Acting is by no means a simple profession, especially in the science fiction genre. “They don’t exactly give you a course in- acting in a science fiction film,” says Carrie Fisher. “At one point, I’m supposed to react to seeing my planet blow up. You know, there go my parents, my record collection, everything. What do I see? A hand waving telling me where to look.” Mark Hamill, who plays the hero, Luke Sky walker, adds, “Acting in this movie, I felt like a raisin in a gigantic fruit salad. And I didn’t even know who the coconuts or cantaloupes were.”
PHOTOS ABOVE: (LEFT) the strong-willed Princess Leia Organa (Carrie Fisher); (RIGHT) Ben (Obi-Wan) Kenobi (Alec Guiness), last of the once-great Jedi.
Hamill says, “A lot of the stuff we didn't see. It was miniatures. George told us ‘Look over your shoulder’ and ‘Here comes a TIE fighter! Watch out!’ But there’s only so much you can imagine.”
“We had to swing across a thirty foot drop,” says Fisher. “We never used any doubles for anything. Tney hung us from the rope originally just to test its durability—or ours. I don’t know which.”
There was also difficulty in trying to recite some of Lucas’ lines. “I thought I recognized your foul stench when I was brought on board, Governor Tarkin’ is not everyday conversation,” admits Fisher.
Harrison Ford confesses, “There were times when I issued threats to tie George up and make him repeat his own dialogue. I told him: ‘You can’t say that stuff, you can only type it.’ But I was wrong. It worked.”
Lucas knew what he wanted in the film, even to the littlest detail such as Carrie Fisher’s hair-do. “Hair-don’t,” corrects Fisher. “Hairy earphones. The hair is in England. Someone said it got a little flat. It’s doing a lot of theatre now.”
“George said he wanted a used future,” states Hamill. “Normally in science fiction movies everything looks clean and unused. There are spaceships in our movie that are the equivalent of the family station wagon. There’s trash all over the place and oil drips.”
The actors inside the two robots, Artoo Detoo and See Threepio, also had their share of problems. Anthony Daniels, who played Threepio, was plagued by the hot Tunisian sun. The robot suit, which was a cast of his own body, had almost melted on one occasion and sand continually worked its way into the joints of the costume, irritating Daniels skin severly.
“He was in a fourty-five (sic) piece aluminum suit in the Sahara Desert,” discloses Hamill. “That’s the glamour of Hollywood. He was passing out. They had a fan and they were blowing air through that little mouth hole.” Baker, who was inside Artoo when he was walking, had difficulty in seeing out from his squat costume. At times he bumped into the unstable Daniels, sending him tumbling. However, despite these handicaps, the two turned in thoroughly enjoyable performances.
Harrison Ford states, “I didn’t have my character fixed on another actor when I did it. That would have been robbing myself.”
Carrie Fisher, on the contrary, had a definite actor in mind. "Peter Lorre, yeah, saw all his movies before I did it. (Laughs) No, I used no one in particular.”
PHOTOS ABOVE: The villains of STAR WARS: (LEFT) Grand Moff Tarkin (Peter Cushing); (RIGHT) Darth Vader (David Prowse).
Mark Hamill declares, “I used Nehemiah Persoff (laughs). Jack Hawkins pops into my mind all the time. From Treasure Island. I mean the prototype was there. The very serious straight forward guy. I don’t get any jokes. It’s interesting, there was a character that was jettisoned in the final cut. His name was Biggs Darkiighter. He was practically my only friend on Tatooine. Originally they showed me going to a teen club to establish the fact that I’m not very well respected by my peers. They call me wormy and say ‘Ah, he’s been out in the sun too long.’ ‘Cause I’m all excited because I’ve seen this, thing up in the sky (the space battle between the Princess’ ship and the Imperial Cruiser from the opening of the film). So' ' originally the way we shot it was Guiness at first said ‘Trust your feelings’ (during the final assault on the Death Star), and I wasn’t sure if I was just imagining this. Then, finally, when my best friend, Biggs, blows-up, thats when I turn (to the force). As it is now that that character is gone, they looped in another line of Guiness’ where he repeats it (‘trust your feelings’), and Biggs Darkiighter became just another one of the pilots.”
The force, one of the most pivotal points of the movie, is also one of the most vaguely described. “Well, that’s the thing,” says Mark Hamill. “It’s all up to the viewer, really. Some people think it’s a very spiritual, religious thing. Other people feel it’s a positive force within us that says ‘no matter how evil and how out of control this gigantic Death Star, which is this 'technological terror’ they call it, ‘if you are still true to yourself, you can be a bumbling, callow youth and still bring this down, with the help of this guy and her’ (Solo and the Princess). I mean it’s up to you It’s hard to really get specific because that’s the very nature of it.”
“I’d like to continue to do films,” projects Carrie Fisher. "I love films. That’s why I like this film. Because it’s about movies. George has merged every film that he ever loved. It has High Noon, it has Errol Flynn, it has all those films that I love. We knew it was going to be special because of George Lucas who made American Graffiti and THX 1138. It was a wonderful script and we knew it would have a particular kind of audience; a lot of the people who thought it was science fiction and so forth. But we never thought it would have this kind of reception.”
As might be expected, there is a sequel to Star Wars in the planning stages. But unlike the scores of sequels in Hollywood’s past, the next chapter in ‘The Adventures of Luke Skywalker’ was anticipated even before the first film began production. Mark Hamill confesses, “When I signed, I signed for three of them. It was all in George's master plan. The very nature of the picture demands a sequel. That’s why Darth Vader just kind of spins out into space. Ming the Merciless will be back to annoy Dale, Dr. Zarkoff and everyone else.”
Harrison Ford; “We hope to start next summer. But the script is not finished yet. Lucas is still working on it.”
It is interesting to note that the film is just an interrupted segment of the character’s lives. Many things have happened to 'them prior to our meeting them, like the reference to Solo making the Kessel Run in less than twelve parsecs. At the conclusion of the film the Death Star is destroyed, but the Empire itself still exists. There is a rebellion yet to be won. There is no “The End” credit in Star Wars. It is all just the beginning...
THE SPECIAL EFFECTS OF STAR WARS
by Allan Asherman.
Magicians have been charming the public for hundreds of years. People enjoy being fooled, when the only motivation is to inspire momentary escape from the pressures of reality. The more sophisticated the illusion, the more complete is the observer’s temporary return to childhood and its many wonders. In recent years, the developing art form of motion pictures has given birth to another type of “magician;” the bringers of visual wonder who we call the movies’ special effects artists. They take the impossible, and make it happen before our eyes. They paint entire cities on pieces of glass, construct miniature spaceships that appear huge, and bring unearthly creatures to life with a variety of techniques. They are truly illusionists, and they recently gave us their greatest illusion to date: STAR WARS.
PHOTOS ABOVE: (TOP) A rebel ship is fired upon by a TIE Fighter; (BOTTOM) the original pre-production painting of that scene.
A complex universe was created especially for STAR WARS by its writer/ director George Lucas and his staff. The magical words “once upon a time...” were heavily relied upon, and although this specific phrase does not appear in the film, STAR WARS uses the more sophisticated equivalent: "...a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away...” Instantly, upon seeing the prologue’s scroll-like words, the audience has escaped into the fantasy of it all. The escape would have been pointless, though, without the almost continuous special effects needed to sustain the illusion. Lucas realized this when he, and special effects specialist John Dykstra established the Industrial Light and Magic Corporation to create STAR WARS’ special effects from start to finish.
There are no front projections, no sodium screen mattes, and only one video technology sequence (Princess Leia’s holographic message) seen in STAR WARS. According to the film’s special effects unit 2nd cameraman, Dennis Muren, no drastically new techniques were employed anywhere in STAR WARS. Conventional blue-screen “mattes” were used throughout the film, just as they had been used throughout the TV series STAR TREK. Then why were the effects in STAR WARS so much more perfect than those of STAR TREK?
PHOTOS ABOVE: (LEFT) The pre-prodution painting and (RIGHT) the acutal (sic) filmed scene of the light saber duel aboard the Death Star.
STAR TREK was done on an extremely tight deadline per episode. Most of TREK’s opticals had to be used no matter how they looked (complete with stars seen through the Enterprise on occasion). The TREK staff also had to rely upon outside optical labs to achieve their effects; they were “at the mercy” of these outside corporations. The vast majority of STAR WARS’ effects were done “in house;’’ that is, completely within the confines of the film’s I.L.&.M. installation. Under one roof, effects were planned, story-boarded (sketched out in detail); miniatures were designed, built, photographed; backgrounds were painted and all these elements were combined optically onto one final piece of film. For the more intricate and lengthy shots, no outsiders were relied upon. This meant any scene could be shot, reshot or shot still again if necessary. Step by step comparisons could be made, conferences could be held, contrasts could be adjusted by the people who were making the film. Perfection could be (and was) obtained.
Before we go any further, let’s tackle an annoying problem. You’ve probably read articles before that referred to “mattes,” but chances are that you’ve never been told what a “matte” really is.
PHOTOS BELOW: (LEFT) The pre-production painting of the Jawa Sandcrawler; (RIGHT) The full-scale mock-up of the Sandcrawler's wheelbase.
A good start would be to remember that film is transparent, in its completely developed stage. If you have a scene involving a spaceship flying over a field of stars, a simple “double exposure” (filming first the stars, then the ship) will give you a transparent ship; the stars, and whatever else is in the scene, will be seen through the ship. The ship will not look realistically solid, unless something else is inserted into the composite film to prevent you from seeing through the spaceship. This something else is your “matte” (“matte” is simply the French word for “mask;” a device to “mask out unwanted details from a given area of film).to further understand the process, it will be necessary to separate the individual elements which will form the completed composite of the spaceship flying past the stars.
First we have the stars (element # 1), painted on a background. Second, we have the matte of the spaceship (element# 2). a black “mask” the exact size and shape of the spaceship, finally, we have our spaceship (element# 3).
Our spaceship (probably a miniature) is photographed suspended by wires, ' or resting on a mount. The developed footage is taken to a special illuminated table called an “animation stand,” where it is projected onto a drawing board. An artist takes a piece of “cel” material; a transparent sheet. He places the sheet over the projection of the spaceship, and proceeds to “opaque" (blacken in) the area of the spaceship. We now have a solidly black image of the ship; our matte (element # 2).
In a special camera called an “optical printer,” element # 2 is superimposed over element# 1. We now have motion picture footage of a black, spaceshipshaped hole flying past stars. No stars can now be seen in the space over which the spaceship will fly.
Now the spaceship (element # 3) is superimposed upon the film already containing the first two elements. The result is a spaceship flying past stars. If done perfectly, no stars can be seen through the ship. Sometimes, the j “matte line” (if the ship was flying over j a clear sky this matte line would be j easily seen). If the matte has been printed too small, the outer edges of our spaceship will be transparent. If the entire matte has been underexposed (printed too light to cancel out all the stars behind it), we will be able to see stars through our spaceship.
This three-element matte is the ' process described in its simplest form. Any number of elements can be present in one shot, provided the elements are superimposed over each other in the correct order. Take, for instance, the view of Princess Leia’s blockade-running spaceship being “inhaled” by the huge Imperial Destroyer. For this scene we would need the following elements to form the completed composite film: (1) a star background, (2) a matte of the Imperial Destroyer, (3) the Imperial Destroyer, (4) a matte of Princess Leia’s small ship, and (5) Princess Leia’s ship. Any animation effects (tractor beams, laser beams, meteorites), additional artwork (planets, moons) or miniatures (additional spacecraft) would require two more elements for each additional shot (the object’s matte, and the object itself).
For STAR WARS, not all of the mattes were hand-painted. Footage of each element was taken, and developed as a black-and-white negative. This produced a ready-made matte for that element. In addition, most miniatures (space craft) needed hand-painted “garbage mattes.” These are rough mattes painted to eliminate wires, mounts, reflections and other “garbage” not wanted in the final exposure. These garbage mattes did away with the light rectangles that sometimes surrounded the Enterprise on STAR TREK (reflections of the blue screen), or annoying lines following beneath the models (dim images of their mounts).
With all these “elements,” chances for underexposure and overexposure, and the need for precision, it’s easy to understand how the in-house facilities of I.L. & M. came in so handy.
In STAR TREK the miniatures never moved; they merely pivoted u.: their mounts while the camera mo» . closer or farther away on a specially constructed set of tracks. In STAR WARS, the cameras were also on tracks, but in some cases so were the models. When the miniatures and cameras move in separate directions, the illusion of speed and motion is more convincing on film. The mounts for cameras and miniatures contained many movable parts which were manipulated carefully, so that the movements of the models was always in proportion to the camera’s motions. This special camera set-up is called the “Dykstraflex,” named after the head of I.L & M. operations, John Dykstra.
Good mattes and convincing movements would not have done any good if the miniatures constructed for STAR WARS did not appear realistic. It is a, misconception that models must be very large in order to have sufficient details and illusion of bulk. Details can be affixed on miniatures of any size, provided your artists are sufficiently dedicated to accomplish the painstaking work necessary to make the audience think they’re watching full-sized, functional machines instead of “toys.” Stanley Kubrick’s 2001:A SPACE ODYSSEY had a huge budget (roughly twice that of STAR WARS), and so Kubrick could afford to commission a 40 foot long spaceship miniature. For all its size and bulk, Kubrick’s spaceship “Discovery” did not have the impact of that first closeup “fly-by” shot of the Imperial Destroyer.
The Imperial Destroyer miniature is only three feet long. Carefully adorned with as many details as possible, the ship was given its size thanks to the wizardry of effects cameramen Richard Edlund and Dennis Muren. The camera’s movements were carefully controlled to pass slowly over the ship at a slight angle. The film within the camera was recording the action at many times normal film speed. The camera’s lens was a wide-angle arrangement, which distorted the perspective of the miniature, making it seem to drag on and on. The animated ray overlays," sound-effects and John Williams’ impressive music completed the incredible effect.
Another object that appears to be extremely large is the Jawa Sand-crawler. The rumors of a 4 story tall mockup of the Sandcrawler built in the Tunisian desert are completely false. The only full-scale section of this craft that was actually built is its wheelbase. This set measures approximately 15 feet high and 20 feet long, and was used in every scene where people, Jawas and “droids” were seen entering, leaving or huddling near the vehicle.
PHOTOS ABOVE: The Millenium Falcon surrounded by Stormtroopers, as seen in (TOP) the pre-production painting, and (BOTTOM) the filmed scene, from the movie.
One closeup view of the Cruiser is a matte panning (a carefully executed painting with provisions for live actors to be matted into the picture). All other views of the “wagon” were accomplished with a miniature. Although one of the film’s technicians recalls it being 4 feet tall, it was in reality somewhat smaller (probably half that size).
PHOTOS ABOVE: Three of the pre-production paintings for STAR WARS:(TOP) a light saber duel; (MIDDLE:) the cantina at Mos Eisley spaceport; (BOTTOM) some Sandpeople in the Jundland Wastes.
Because of the added potential for miniature movement, thanks to the Dykstraflex camera, special effects scenes could be intricately “choreographed” as needed. The flight formations at the end of the film were obtained by using footage from old -war movies for inspiration. A complete sequence of aircraft "dogfights” was snipped from earlier, more conventional movies and was edited together by Lucas. His conception of the sequence was viewed by the film’s effects people, who drew detailed storyboard sketches of the original fights, plus any changes they wished to see incorporated into the fight scene. After all the sketches were studied, approsimately 50 °/o of Lucas’ original sequence was adapted, together with additional closeups, “spins” and crashes needed for the film. The motions of the aircraft, their maneuvers and angles, were carefully noted, and these movements were then “programmed” into the Dykstraflex camera. The mattes were especially difficult here, because many of the tiny “elements” (aircraft) would be seen flying by light-colored backgrounds which would emphasize any matte defects. In addition, transparent ray blasts and smoke were double-exposed onto the footage between whatever elements they belonged. The huge Deathstar, visible in the background of these effects, had to appear as if it, too, was moving in its proper perspective.
The Deathstar miniature was probably a little over 3 feet in diameter, and was seen only where the entire circumference of the Deathstar was visible. Individual segments of the Deathstar were matte paintings. Closeups of the surface and trench were oversize models built on portable wooden platforms. Paintings executed in false perspective were hung in the rear of the trench shots, to make the set appear as if it continued into infinity. Because of the many details required for the closeup segments of the Deathstar, no lights were built into these models. What we think are lights are actually small pieces of front-pro-jection screening material. This fabric is highly reflective, and throws the powerful illumination of the set’s lighting back into the camera lens. Front-projection material also played an important role in the creation of the light saber effect.
The light sabers are composed of handles and hollow plastic rods. Pieces of front projection material cover the rods, which are motorized to revolve rapidly. Powerful lights placed next to the camera are focused on the rods. The light is thus reflected back into the camera. This is the entire process in regard to Darth Vader’s saber. But the effect did not have the subtle, almost “living” luminosity that Lucas wanted seen in the heroes’ sabers. (After all, theirs are motivated by the good side of The Force.)
Everytime Luke Skywalker or Ben Kenobi uses his light saber, additional animated overlays have been created to suggest that soft-focus glow. Animated overlays, like mattes, are produced in conjunction with an animation stand, and must be painted by hand, frame by frame. (On STAR TREK, they were used to produce the phasor beams, photon torpedoes, Romulian energy bolts and portions of the transporter effect. In STAR WARS, the energy bolts and ray effects were accomplished the same way, and in some cases were even done by the same optical houses, such as Modern Film Effects, Van Der Veer Photo Effects and the Ray Mercer Company.)
The mechanical side of the story is not exclusively responsible for the success of STAR WARS. George Lucas was not the only science fiction and film fan to contribute to the picture. Effects cameraman Dennis Muren and barroom alien makeup specialist Rick Baker are also dedicated followers of the genre. Dennis Muren recalls’; “I didn’t feel that there were any people drawing on the past. I was trying to do
all of that.” “I put a lot of myself into it, whereas the other people working on it really weren’t that much into traditional cinema. And that may ultimately be one of the advantages of the film. It looks very fresh; it doesn’t seem to be drawn that much from other films.
While the inspiration was there due to nostalgic memories of FLASH GORDON, THE WIZARD OF OZ, THE WAR OF THE WORLDS, THE ADVENTURES OF ROBIN HOOD and other films, it was realized that STAR WARS should appear different from these past influences. So rather than imitating things that ha'd been seen on film before, STAR WARS features the scenes that all science fiction film fans have always wanted to see on film. Its magic is so powerful that an explanation of how its magic tricks were done doesn’t detract from one’s enjoyment of the film. If anything, it increases one’s respect for STAR WARS, once we’re aware of the large volume of inspiration, dedication, work and imagination that is there to make STAR WARS so enjoyable to us.
PHOTO ABOVE: re-production painting shows Millenium Falcon and Death Star through cockpit.
PHOTO BELOW: An X-Wing Fighter soars down a trench in the Death Star's surface on a bombing run.
[Source: Reel Fantasy Vol.1 No.1 January 1978 P1-23. Copyright © 1978 REEL FANTASY, INC. STAR WARS Photos are Copyright © 1977 Twentieth-Century Fox.]