Happy ‘Star Wars’ Day! 10 fascinating behind the scene facts about practical effects in the original ‘Star Wars’ trilogy
In honor of “Star Wars” Day, check out behind the scenes about the making of the original trilogy
“Star Wars” has dozens of sequels, prequels and spinoffs. Many of these have wonderful stories, such as “The Mandalorian” and “Andor.” But none of the movies or TV series have the authentic feel of the original trilogy, which debuted in 1977 with “A New Hope.”
The original trilogy came before the advanced special effects techniques that we have today. Many of the scenes in these movies are achieved through practical effects, such as using puppets and painted backdrops.
In celebration of “Star War” day, here are 10 behind-the-scenes-facts from the original “Star Wars” trilogy.
1. Yoda was almost played by a monkey
Yoda, who made his “Star Wars” debut in “Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back,” was almost played by a monkey wearing a mask, according to Reader’s Digest Asia. Crew members realized early on that the monkey wasn’t the right actor to play Yoda.
“Look, the monkey’s just going to pull off the mask over and over again. It’s never going to work,” said a “Star Wars” crew member, per Reader’s Digest Asia.
The Yoda puppet was built by British make-up artist Stuart Freeborn and voiced by the “Muppets” veteran Frank Oz, per CBR.
2. The opening text crawl took hours to film
The famous “Star Wars” opening text crawl took hours to complete, reports Reader’s Digest Asia. To bring the effect to life in “A New Hope,” filmmakers placed large yellow letters on black paper as the camera made a slow pass over the text to mimic the floating text crawl. Apparently it took three hours to complete.
3. Lightsabers were wrapped in reflective tape
George Lucas needed a weapon fit for Jedi, who were meant to bring peace to the galaxy — the lightsaber. Lucas described the evolution of the lightsaber in a “Star Wars” featurette, “The Birth of the Lightsaber.”
“The original lightsaber was actually the flash attachment to a four by five camera and we just took the round flash part off and turned it into a lightsaber,” Lucas said.
But as Luke Skywalker’s saber skills improved, lightsaber battles got faster and more intense and the lightsaber props evolved. For a time, actors held “rotating poles” with reflective tape on them to create the flash of the sabers and shine light on the actors, but it never worked very well.
As special effects advanced, actors simply held swords, and the lightsaber look was added in later.
“Every laser sword is part real and part animated. We need the real poll to tell us where the sword blade is,” Lucas said.
4. Jabba the Hut was operated by multiple people
The Tatooine gangster was operated by a whole team of actors. The puppet fit three men inside — two to operate the arms, head and tongue and another to move the tail.
A man lying below the puppet pulled strings to move Jabba’s mouth and make his sides heave. And two radio operators controlled the slimy goon’s eyes, including pupil dilation, direction and wideness of eyelids. A final crew member was responsible for rubbing gel on the puppet to give Jabba his slimy look, per Business Insider.
Below is a diagram of how it all came together.
5. Using mirrors, Luke’s landspeeder appeared to be floating
Luke’s X-34 landspeeder in “A New Hope” looks like it’s hovering above ground. This effect was achieved using mirrors. The speeder was actually a vehicle with wheels, but the clever placement of mirrors on the bottom edges of the vehicle hide the wheels so the speeder appears to be floating, reports CBR.
6. Mark Hamill’s car accident may have impacted ‘Empire Strikes Back’ script
In January 1977, Mark Hamill (Luke Skywalker) was involved in a car accident in which he fractured his nose and left cheekbone, reports Business Insider. He had to have cartilage taken from his ear to rebuild his nose, giving his face a slightly different look.
During the opening scene of “Empire Strikes Back,” Luke is mauled by a Wampa, which damages his face.
George Lucas claims the scene was not added to explain Hamill’s appearance, but that it did help. Carrie Fisher (Princess Leia), on the other hand, remembers things differently.
“I was still shooting ‘Star Wars’ when Mark got into the car accident,” Fisher said, per Business Insider. “It was a really bad accident. Miraculously his teeth didn’t shatter. But his nose did. He had to have some of his ear put into his nose. So they adjusted the film with this snow monster to right away in the movie scratch his face to account for his looks being different.”
7. Vader is portrayed by four different actors
The original “Star Wars” trilogy used four different actors to fulfill the vision of Darth Vader. His iconic voice comes from James Earl Jones, but the on-screen Vader is portrayed by David Prowse, a 6-foot-5 bodybuilder.
Prowse’s stunt double is pro fencer Bob Anderson. And when Vader is demasked in “Return of the Jedi,” he is played by Sebastian Shaw, per Reader’s Digest Asia.
According to The Hollywood Reporter, James Earl Jones was the only Vader actor who knew Darth Vader told Luke he was his father. The line read by Shaw during filming was “Obi-Wan killed your father!” and the real line was later dubbed by Jones.
8. Matte painting backdrops
Many of the famous scenes from “Star Wars” were actually matte paintings. Seventy matte paintings were done for “Empire Strikes Back,” per the Star Wars website. Some paintings were done to fill an existing shot and others done to give a look into the “Star Wars” galaxy. Or in one case, extra storm troopers were created through paintings. Most notably, the Battle of Hoth scene in “Empire Strikes Back” was achieved with matte paintings.
9. R2-D2 is played by an actor in costume
Kenny Baker, who was 3-foot-8, played R2-D2 in six “Star Wars” films, including the original trilogy. But Baker almost didn’t take the role, according to The New York Times.
“This film came along and I turned it down,” Baker said, per the Times. “I said, ‘I don’t want to be stuck in a robot, what for, for goodness sake.’”
He ultimately took the part, which had no lines, and Baker did not make the beeping noises that comes from R2-D2. He claims the role changed his life and if he went back in time he would do it again, even without pay.
“Had I known I would have done it for nothing because he was broke at the beginning, he didn’t have a penny, George,” Baker said, per the Times.
10. Many scenes were achieved with models
Models for the “Star Wars” movies were designed and built by a Hollywood special effects house, according to a “Star Wars” video called “Star Wars Visual Effects, from AT-ATs to Tauntauns.”
“It took two years and 31⁄2 million dollars to do the Star Wars miniature and optical effects,” the video’s narrator said.
The models were filmed against a blue screen so other backgrounds and images can be added in later. Even miniature explosions were created and caught on camera. Movement was often created using stop-motion photography or other camera techniques.
“By controlling the motion of the camera and by remembering those motions, the computer allows for more complex and visually dynamic photography,” the narrator explained.