One of the first scenes shot in Tunisia shows C-3PO and R2-D2 making their way across the dunes of Tatooine. The production was hampered by inclement weather the first rain there in years and “you couldn’t really see where the land ended and the sky began,” says Taylor. “It was all a gray mess, and the robots were just a blur.” Given the situation, Lucas’ request for heavy filtration perplexed the cinematographer. “I thought the look of the film should be absolutely clean; also, I was mindful that there was an enormous amount of process work to be done in America after we finished shooting in England, and I knew a crisp result would help. But George saw it a differently, so we tried using nets and other diffusion. He asked to set up one shot on the robots with a 300mm, and the sand and sky just mushed together. I told him it wouldn’t work, but he said that was the way he wanted to do the entire film, all diffused.” This creative difference was resolved by 20th Century Fox executives, who saw the results of Lucas’ approach and backed Taylor’s recommendation.
After the production traveled back to Elstree, Taylor confronted another dilemma. “[Art director] John Barry’s sets, particularly the Death Star, were like a coal mine. They were all black and gray, with really no opportunities for lighting at all. My work was a matter of chopping holes in the walls and working the lighting into the sets, and this resulted in a ‘cut-out’ system of panel lighting using quartz lamps that we could put in the walls, ceiling and floors. I thought I was going to get sacked, but Fox agreed that we couldn’t have this ‘black hole of Calcutta.’ So George concentrated on the actors while I took care of my end. This lighting approach allowed George to shoot in almost any direction without extensive relighting, which gave him more freedom. But he still wouldn’t talk to me, really. He was very much preoccupied.”
Working closely with producer Gary Kurtz, Taylor delivered a distinct look, and the cinematographer earned another BSC Award nomination and enduring admiration from several generations of Star Wars fans for his efforts. “I still communicate with fans from all over the world with autographs and photographs,” Taylor recently told one fan Web site. “I am most happy to be remembered as the man who set the look for Star Wars. I wanted to give it a unique visual style that would distinguish it from other films in the science-fiction genre. I wanted Star Wars to have clarity because I don’t think space is out of focus.”
Taylor retired from feature-film work in 1994 but continued to shoot commercials for some time. Now 91, he concentrates on painting, real estate and farming. “I was fortunate enough to always be in command during my career as a director of photography, and my work is there for all to see,” he notes. “I feel very satisfied that people are still so interested in my films.”n