By Robert Vaux
- Source: The Making of Star Wars; J.W. Rinzler; 2007
The settings in the movie "Star Wars" are deceptively tricky to discuss. Twenty years after its initial release, director/creator George Lucas re-released a "special edition" of the film, which included revamped settings, which made copious use of computer generated imagery. Before that, "Star Wars" created its settings the same way most other films do: building sets on sound stages, shooting on location and finding ideal spots which lent the film a science fiction atmosphere.
The first section of the film takes place on Tatooine, a remote desert planet whose inhabitants eke out an existence by moisture farming. Lucas chose to film it in the Saharan nation of Tunisia, where temperatures could climb into the triple digits Fahrenheit. The town of Matmata contained a number of unique Berber dwellings--built from domed white masonry and often located underground--which provided a sufficient sense of the alien for the film to work. Many of the locations, particularly the Hotel Sidi Driss (which served as the farm where Luke Skywalker grew up in the film) have since become famous.
The Death Star
The center of the film takes place in the Death Star, a planet-sized space station capable of destroying entire planets. It and many of the interior scenes were shot at Elstree Studios in England. They were built using traditional means, with crewmen and electricians constructing walls and corridors to simulate a high tech environment. Stories have since circulated about frequent clashes between Lucas and the crew who built the sets, and Lucas often expressed frustration that the budget didn't allow his vision to translate on screen.
The finale of the film centers around a forest moon called Yavin, where the rebels have a secret base and which the evil empire attempts to destroy with the Death Star. Most of it consists of interior shots, filmed on a sound stage the same way the Death Star sequences were. However, for the planet's exterior, the crew shot images of ancient Mayan ruins in Guatemala. Like the locations in Tunisia, they lent the scenes a sense of the otherworldly, and the lush green jungles formed a lovely contrast with the harsh browns of Tatooine.
A few of the movie's key settings--such as the final raid over the surface of the Death Star--existed solely as special effects. Lucas's effects wing, Industrial Light and Magic, set up operations in Van Nuys, California, just north of Los Angeles. To achieve the look of the Death Star's surface, workers glued together pieces from countless plastic models--planes, battleships and tanks--which created the impression of a vast technological landscape.
Though "Star Wars" attained unprecedented levels of success, Lucas always felt that existing technology was insufficient to realize his vision. In the 1990s, computer imagery had reached sufficient levels of sophistication to correct the oversight. He subsequently released a "special edition" of the "Star Wars" films, using enhanced images created on a computer to provide the scope he was looking for. The most obvious adjustment in terms of the settings was Mos Eisley on Tatooine, transformed from a mocked-up Tunisian village into something much more exotic and grandiose.
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