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"The trouble with the future in most futurist movies is that it always looks new and clean and shiny," comments George Lucas. "What is required for true credibility is a used future. The Apollo capsules were instructive in that regard. By the time the Astronauts returned from the moon, you had the impression the capsules were littered with weightless candy wrappers and old Tang jars, no more exotic than the family station wagon. And although Star Wars has no points of reference to Earth time or space, with which we are familiar, and it is not about the future but some galactic past or some extra-temporal present, it is a decidedly inhabited and used place where the hardware is taken for granted.
"We were trying to get a cohesive reality. But since the film is a fairy tale, I still wanted it to have an ethereal quality, yet be well composed and, also, have an alien look. I visualized an extremely bizarre, Gregg Toland-like surreal look with strange over-exposed colors, a lot of shadows, a lot of hot areas. I wanted the seeming contradiction of strange graphics of fantasy combined with the feel of a documentary.
Best summed up by Star Wars production designer, John Barry, "George wants to make it look like its shot on location on your average everyday Death Star or Mos Eisly Spaceport or local cantina."
Realizing his needs, George Lucas searched for a more-than-capable director of photography. After considering a number of people, he hired Gil Taylor, basing his choice on Taylor's cinematography for Dr. Strangelove and A Hard Day's Night. "I thought they were good, eccentrically photographed pictures with a strong documentary flavor," says Lucas.
Meanwhile, at Elstree, production designer John Barry and his crew began designing the myriad number of props and sets. Instead of the shiny new-looking architecture and rockets one usually associates with space fantasy motion pictures, the sets and props for Star Wars were designed to look inhabited and used.
The film features more than a dozen robots, but the two major ones are C-3PO, known as 'Threepio', and R2-D2, called 'Artoo'. Threepio was the one robot designed by production illustrator Ralph McQuarrie, art director Norman Reynolds and sculptress Liz Moore. The job of making the other robots work fell to John Stears, who devised the production and mechanical special effects. Besides the dozen robots he built for Star Wars, he also came up with light sabers, land vehicles and a myriad of explosions.
In the meantime, producer Gary Kurtz worked out a budget and logistical plan for the complex job of filming on three continents. For the desert planet, Tatooine, All American, North African and Middle Eastern deserts were researched and explored. In Southern Tunisia, on the edge of the Sahara desert, the ideal locations were found: a dry, arid landscape with limitless horizons filled with bizarre but real architecture.
It was decided the interiors would be photographed in London, England, because of the close proximity to North Africa and also because of the availability of a pool of top technical people at the EMI Elstree Studios, Borehamwood. It was the only studio in England or America that could provide nine large stages simultaneously and allow the company complete freedom to hand-pick its own personnel.
In March, 1976, a film production unit and cast descended on Tozeur, a sleepy little oasis town in Southern Tunisia, where North Africa and Arabia meet and the Sahara Desert begins. The construction crew worked for eight weeks to turn the desert and towns into another planet. Filming began on the Chotte el Djerid, not too far from Tozeur. Chotte means "salt lake" in Arabic. It was an arid, dried-up wasteland dotted with an occasional palm tree; a bare smooth desert reflecting the sun's rays from its myriad streaks of white salt. It's a place of mirages, where it is difficult to distinguish the real from the unreal. In other words, an ideal setting for a film like Star Wars.
The first sequences of Star Wars take place on Tatooine, a planet in another galaxy. The homestead where the young hero, Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill), lies is a huge hole in the ground leading to a series of caves.
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