|The Millennium Falcon, showing off the design work on the hull
“The Star Wars future was not showroom shiny but dented and rusty, as if it had hard use on the back roads on innumerable galaxies. Lucas told an interviewer during production in England that the Apollo capsules may have looked brand new when they soared away, but it was clear when they returned that the interior was littered with candy wrappers, empty Tang cans, and other trash, just like the family station wagon.”
- Charles Champlin - George Lucas: The Creative Impulse
Whilst previous films had hardware that looked as if it had been built at the same time, Lucas wanted a “a future with a past”. He told John Barry, his production designer, that the Millennium Falcon should look like a ship from 2001 “that had aged two hundred years”.
“George wants to make it look like it’s shot on location on your average everyday Death Star or Mos Eisley Spaceport or local cantina,” Barry told American Cinematographer magazine in 1977.
|The design team, 1976 - from left: Roger Christian, Leslie Dilley, John Barry, Bill Welch, Norman Reynolds
“The Production designer," he said, "comes up with the ideas for the sets and does some of the drawings and sketches. The director will have some ideas of his own, as was the case with George Lucas, who had some of his people in the U.S. come up with some sketches as well. The final execution of the sets is the responsibility of the production designer. The art director...helps execute the designs because sometimes the designer has to travel to see the various locations. [An Art Director is basically] the production designer's right-hand man.”
|John Barry (left) and George Lucas examine photographs from location scouting expeditions
|Blueprints - from top left clockwise - Blockade runner corridor, R2-S2, Millennium Falcon cockpit and landing gear
The added advantage was that the aircraft parts not only saved time and money, they added great complexity to the designs. “We bought thousands of pounds worth of aircraft junk and took it to pieces,” said production designer John Barry in interview. “You can imagine the complexity of drawing that would have to go into making those very complex sculpted forms. But when you just take apart a jet engine, you get wonderful things.”
“I taught the guys how to break [them] down,” said Christian, “and we made bins of different objects. They learned how to identify things that might look good on set.”
Working closely with Ralph McQuarrie, Barry embraced the idea his environments needed to look like real places and infused his work with striking architectural designs, focussing on function rather than creating elaborate, futuristic looking structures. In total, 30 sets were produced for the film and the production took over all nine of the soundstages at Elstree Studios, whilst the massive Yavin-4 hangar set was built at Shepperton Studios (the exterior for which was filmed at Cardington Sheds in Bedfordshire).
For Tatooine, Barry used the environment as his design. Since the summer heat is so intense in Tunisia, the locals live in caves cut into the sides of huge pits and Barry took advantage of this, using the Hotel Sidi Driss in Matmata as the Lars homestead. It therefore felt real because it was real and he repeated the process with Ben Kenobi’s dwelling.
|Set dressing in a real location - the Hotel Sidi Driss in Matmata, Tunisia
|Three views of the Death Star corridors
|Top - John Barry sketch of the Millennium Falcon
Bottom - the set, including a lot of greeblies
|top - Han Solo (Harrison Ford) - and bottom - Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) - in the Falcon gun turrets
(note how 'busy' but perfectly functional the walls look)
Whilst C3PO was originally sculpted by Liz Moore and finished by Brian Muir (as I wrote about here), Roger Christian supervised the construction of R2-D2 working from designs by Ralph McQuarrie and Norman Reynolds.
|left - George Lucas with the Roger Christian, Leslie Dilley & Bill Harman prototype R2-D2
right - George Lucas and John Barry (far right) measure up the R2 legs for Kenny Baker (centre)
Even so, creating the droids went to the wire and Reynolds has since admitted to finishing C3PO’s hands the night before shooting began in Tunisia. “We had the glove part of it and metal tips for the fingers, but it needed to be made to look authentic. Adding those little 'greeblies' made it all finally came together.”
|Top - Anakin's lightsaber, as given to Luke
Bottom - Obi-Wan's lightsaber
|Top - Han Solo's blaster (prop)
Bottom - the original Mauser gun
“We went to one of the big weapon-hire companies that had endless rows of arms and armour," John Barry said. "George, Roger Christian, and I got together a lot on those things. Rather than have your slick streamlined ray guns, we took actual World War II machine guns and cannibalized one into another.”
Han Solo’s iconic blaster, for example, started life as an antique broom-handled Mauser pistol. Christian fitted it with a rifle telescopic sight, a custom mount and modified the barrel with a flash hider from a German M-81 machine gun. Greeblies were added to the magazine block and the base to make it look more complex.
Christian wrote a 'memoir', Cinema Alchemist, which details his work on Star Wars and it's very informative and in-depth. My review of the book can be found here.
|At the 1978 Oscars - from left:
John Barry, Norma Reynolds, Greer Garson &
Henry Winkler (presenters),
Leslie Dilley, Roger Christian
The design team of John Barry, Norman Reynolds, Leslie Dilley and Roger Christian shared the 1978 Academy Award for Best Art Direction. You can read John Barry's speech here.
|Harrison Ford on the Millennium Falcon set
Norman Reynolds was born on 26th March 1935 and began his career as an assistant Art director on Battle Of Britain (1969), before becoming Art director on The Little Prince (1974). He performed the same role on Star Wars, Superman (1978) and Superman 2 (1980) before moving on to Production designer with The Empire Strikes Back (1980). He stayed with Lucasfilm for Raiders Of The Lost Ark (1981) and Return Of The Jedi (1983) and retired after making Bicentennial Man (1999). He also directed two episodes of Steven Spielberg’s Amazing Stories - The Pumpkin Competition (1986) and Gather Ye Acorns (1986) - and was 2nd unit director on The Exorcist III (1990) and Alive (1993).
He won two Academy Awards - Best Art Direction 1978 for Star Wars and Best Art Direction 1982 for Raiders of the Lost Ark (shared with Leslie Dilley and Michael D. Ford), as well as being nominated for four more.
He won one BAFTA - Best Production Design 1982 for Raiders of the Lost Ark (shared with Leslie Dilley and Michael D. Ford), as well as being nominated for one more.
Leslie Dilley was born on 11th January 1941 and started his career as Art director on The Three Musketeers (1973). He worked with John Barry on Lucky Lady (1975), which led to him becoming Art director on Star Wars and Superman (1978). He was Art director on The Empire Strikes Back (1980), Raiders Of The Lost Ark (1981), An American Werewolf In London (1981), moved up to Production designer with Bad Medicine (1985) and still works in the industry.
He won two Academy Awards - Best Art Direction 1978 for Star Wars and Best Art Direction 1982 for Raiders of the Lost Ark (shared with Norman Reynolds and Michael D. Ford), as well as being nominated for three more.
He won one BAFTA - Best Production Design 1982 for Raiders of the Lost Ark (shared with Norman Reynolds and Michael D. Ford)
Roger Christian was born on 25th February 1944 and worked in the art department on Oliver! (1968). After working with John Barry on Lucky Lady (1975) he became set decorator for Star Wars and worked as Art director for Alien (1979) and Life Of Brian (1979). He moved into directing with the short Black Angel (1980), under the mentorship of George Lucas and still directs. He also served as 2nd unit director for Return Of The Jedi (1983) and Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace (1999).
He won one Academy Award - Best Art Direction 1978 for Star Wars and was nominated for another. His second short film, The Dollar Bottom (1981) was nominated for a BAFTA.
Laurel & Wolf Spotlight on John Barry
Den Of Geek
Skywalking, by Dale Pollock
George Lucas: The Creative Impulse, by Charles Champlin
Star Wars Modern blog
Star Wars insider interview with Norman Reynolds
Star Wars: The Blueprints, JW Rinzler
Cinema Alchemist, by Roger Christian
2017 marks the 40th anniversary of Star Wars, which was released in the US on 25th May though it didn't hit the UK until 29th January 1978 (following a 27th December release in London). I was lucky enough to see it in early 1978 and it remains my favourite film to this day.
To mark the anniversary, I'll be running a year-long blog thread about the film with new entries posted on the first Monday of each month.
May The Force Be With You!
Find all the entries in the thread here
Find all the entries in the thread here