TimeLine : The Making of Star Wars

Star Wars: 1944-1974 . 1975 . 1976 . 1977
The Empire Strikes Back: 1978 . 1979 . 1980
Return of the Jedi: 1981 . 1982 . 1983

    January 1977

  • Pickup shots of Mardji the elephant (as a Bantha) were shot in Desolation Canyon (Death Valley).
    Marjdi would also be filmed years later by special effects artists Dennis Muren, Phil Tippett, and Jon Berg as reference footage for the movements of the AT-AT Walkers in The Empire Strikes Back.

    The bantha was played by a 22-year-old female Asian elephant named Mardji. At the time she was a resident of Marine World Africa U.S.A. (currently known as Six Flags Discovery Kingdom and in a new location), where she was trained to perform tricks like waterskiing. It took six crew members to make Mardji a costume that would fit her and that she would tolerate. The base of this costume was a howdah (an elephant saddle) with added palm fronds to create the shaggy coat of a bantha. They then added a special head mask that was molded from chicken wire and then sprayed with foam to give it shape. The beard was made from horse hair, while flexible home ventilation tubing was the base for the curving horns. While the weight of the head mask caused some concern, it was actually the shaggy tail that was made from wood and covered with thick thistles that took some getting used to for Mardji. The distinct moaning sound of the bantha came from Ben Burtt's need to record as many bear sounds as possible to create the voice of Chewbacca. Among those recordings are some that were given to Burtt from a documentary producer named George Casey, who had recorded animal sounds across the world. These bear recordings were then slowed down to create the sound for the banthas.

    Other scenes that were shot at this time included many of the landspeeder scenes and additional shots of the Jawa sandcrawler.

    January 11, 1977

  • Mark hamill is injured in a car accident in his BMW and requires facial reconstructive surgery.
    Mark hamill: "No. What happened was that I was on the wrong freeway. I was way out in the sticks somewhere and there were no cars and no traffic, thank God. I was going about 65-70 mph... I was speeding, going too fast... and what happened, I think, was that I tried to negotiate an off-ramp and lost control, tumbled over, and went off the road. I fractured my nose and my cheek.
    "I read in magazines, 'Mark Hamill almost killed in auto crash.' And what prose... 'As he dragged himself from the wreckage... the flames were higher'... you know?... 'his nose slid off his face.' And I'm going, 'Wow, this is great! But I don't remember it!'
    "I just woke up and I was in the hospital and I knew that I had hurt myself very, very, very badly... but I wasn't really sure. And then someone held a mirror up to my face and I just felt that my career was over." (Source: Gossip Magazine, 1978)

    January 24, 1977

  • ILM films additional shots of aliens for the Cantina scene at a small studio on La Brea Avenue. Lucas put up an additional $10,000 to add new creatures created by Rick Baker. The original filming for the scenes were less than what Lucas had hoped for due to the hospitalization of Make-Up supervisor, Stuard Freeborn.

    January 25, 1977

  • ILM films additional shots of aliens for the Cantina scene at a small studio on La Brea Avenue.

    February 4, 1977

  • ILM begins shooting the Death Star trench run and surface battle scenes. Additional explosions are shot outside the studio in the parking lot.

    February 5, 1977

  • Some additional pieces of dialogue are added to the scene with Greedo and Han Solo. Some of the dialogue originally planned for Jabba the Hutt was moved to Greedo's conversation with Han, since Jabba's scene had to be cut. The alien character speaks the South American language of Quechua. Stuart Freeborn, who designed Greedo, did not originally design the mask to be able to move its mouth or ears because the character was meant to be a background character. When dialogue was added between Greedo and Han Solo, Freeborn had to rework the mask to install the mechanism to allow it to move.

    Mid February 1977

  • George Lucas screens an early cut of the film for a number of director and writer friends. After the film had finished, no one applauded. Marcia Lucas burst into tears. Many of the directors present had a very negative reaction to the film. Brian DePalma in particular criticized the film and Lucas when the group had dinner that evening. The one exception was Steven Spielberg, who believed that once special effects were finished, the reaction would be different. Surprisingly, Fox Executives loved the rough edit.

    February 1977

  • George Lucas screens an early cut of the film for Alan Ladd, Jr and other FOX Executives and representatives from Marvel Comics. The reaction was mixed.

  • Lucas toys with the idea of creating a low-budget sequel for Star Wars out of his early drafts of Raiders of the Lost Ark in which Luke Skywalker and Leia would crash land on a jungle planet in search of the Kiber Crystal. Darth Vader and the Imperial troopers would be trying to find the crystal themselves. Alan Dean Foster was hired back in 1975 to develop the story into a novel with the idea of potentially turning it into a film at a later time. Harrison Ford had not yet signed on to do a sequel, so his character of Han Solo is left out of the story. The project was entitled Splinter of the Mind's Eye (from the further adventures of Luke Skywalker).

    February - March 1977

  • Harrison Ellenshaws matte paintings of Tatooine and various Death Star interiors were filmed and composited.

    March 1, 1977

  • James Earl Jones arrives at Goldwyn Studios to record lines for Darth Vader in a single 2 1/2 hour session. In order to give Vader a more mechanical sound, sound designer Ben Burtt first attempted to add beeps and clicks to the sound of Vader's suit moving. It was decided that this would be too distracting, and it was abandoned in favor of a closely mic'ed scuba-breathing regulator to add the familiar breathing sounds. Burtt also played back Jones' dialogue and re-recorded the sound modified by the acoustics of the room to make it sound like the words were being spoken through a mask.

    David Prowse believed throughout production of the film that his voice would be used in the film. It became apparent early on however that Darth Vader needed a more menacing voice. Early on, Orson Welles was envisioned by George Lucas to be the voice of Darth Vader, but the idea was soon abandoned as it would have broken the director's goal not to utilize established actors for the majority of the roles.

    March 5, 1977

  • John Williams conducts the London Symphony Orchestra and records the Star Wars soundtrack in 12 days.

    March 1977

  • A film crew travels to Guatemala to film scenes depicting the moon Yavin 4.

  • After a very difficult filming and editing process where nothing seemed to work, Lucas, along with many others, were convinced that the newly completed film would be a disaster.

    April 1977

  • ILM completes work on the Death Star battle scenes.

    Early 1977

  • The legendary "opening crawl" is created by Dan Perri. It took many tries and a lot of work to find just the right design to earn Lucas' stamp of approval. The final idea was inspired by the opening titles of the 1939 film Union Pacific.

    Dan Perri: "I had no idea what he was doing, so it was just this stupid space film. I didn't think anything of it. Everything I showed him, he didn't like. So I was constantly going out there with new ideas, and he would tell me to look at certain films. The Buck Rogers films and all the serials from the '30s that he was using for inspiration."
    Dan Perri on the final idea: "He (Lucas) liked the idea, but then I had to start shooting and testing and setting type. I went through 20 or 30 or 40 different type styles before I settled on one. Once we did that, I shot tests for weeks and weeks and weeks. It was all on film. You shoot a test on black-and-white film and then it had to be developed the next day or late that day. I'd rush out to Van Nuys with it and wait for him for hours to show it to him and he never liked it, and it just went on and on and on. He accepted it and they cut it in. By then, it was only maybe a month before the release. The day I delivered it, it was such a relief to drive away from there knowing, 'Wow, it's done finally.' He had so many things on his mind, he was so busy. He took a few minutes to look at it and he went right back to whatever other problems he had that day."

    Mid April 1977

  • FOX executives were once again shown a rough edit of the film - this time in a nearly finished state including effects shots and Williams' score. This time, the reaction was very enthusiastic.

    April 12, 1977

  • Marvel Comics releases Star Wars #1, a comic book adaptation of the film.

    May 1977

  • ILM finishes its remaining effects shots, including shot number 114 - the iconic jump to hyperspace, which took months to complete.

    May 12, 1977

  • The Novel of Star Wars: From the Adventures of Luke Skywalker is re-released.

    Mid 1977

  • Many of the props and models used in the recently finished film are stored in a storage unit owned by Dollar Moving and Storage in Southern California. Following post production, Fox no longer wanted to pay rent on the storage facility and decided to discard everything that had been stored for the film. Crew members were able to save a few random pieces including the original Death Star model and segments of the Death Star trench.

    One crew member, Doug W., kept the Death Star model on display in his home in California for nearly the next ten years before eventually moving to Missouri in the late 1980s.

    May 25, 1977

  • Star Wars is released to 32 movie theaters nationwide. In this original release of the film, the opening crawl did not include the words "Episode IV."

    Much to everyones surprise (including the filmmaker), the film becomes a major blockbuster, raking in more than 54 million dollars in the first eight weeks.
    George Lucas: "I was mixing sound on foreign versions of the film the day it opened here. I had been working so hard that, truthfully, I forgot the film was being released that day. My wife was mixing New York, New York at night at the same place we were mixing during the day, so at 6:00 she came in for the night shift just as I was leaving on the day shift. So we ran off across the street from the Chinese Theatre - and there was a huge line around the block. I said, "What's that?" I had forgotten completely, and I really couldn't believe it. But I had planned a vacation as soon as I finished, and I'm glad I did because I really didn't want to be around for all the craziness that happened after that." (Source: "The George Lucas Saga," by Kerry O'Quinn, Starlog, July 1982)

    May 30, 1977

  • Time Magazine declares Star Wars "The Year's Best Movie."

    June 1977

  • The Lucas's and Spielbergs vacation in Hawaii. Alan Ladd, Jr would call up each evening to inform Lucas of the climbing box office numbers. It was here that Spielberg mentioned to Lucas that he would like to do a James Bond film, to which Lucas replied that he had something better - Raiders of the Lost Ark.

    August 3, 1977

  • Darth Vader, See Threepio and Artoo-Deetoo are immortalized in the Hollywood Walk of Fame by adding their unique footprints to the sidewalk at Mann's Chinese Theater.

    August 15, 1977

  • Time Magazine reports on the August 3rd event where Darth Vader, See Threepio and Artoo-Deetoo put their footprints in the concrete outside of Mann's Chinese Theater.

    September 16, 1977

  • The Making of Star Wars airs on television (ABC). C3PO and R2D2 appear and host the program.

    August 22, 1977

  • Time Magazine reports that 20th Century Fox is already planning a Star Wars sequel and that other filmmakers are rushing to make their own sci-fi films.

    August 25, 1977

  • The stars of Star Wars appear on the cover of Rolling Stone Magazine. Lucas tells the Magazine that he is considering doing a film about the early days of young Ben Kenobi.
    George Lucas: "I have sequel agreements with all the actors except Alec Guinness. We may use his voice as the Force - I don't know. One of the sequels we are thinking of is the young days of Ben Kenobi. It would probably be all different actors." (Source: "The Force Behind Star Wars," by Paul Scanlon, Rolling Stone Magazine, August 25, 1977)

    September 21, 1977

  • George Lucas finalizes a deal with 20th Century Fox for a sequel to Star Wars. Lucas negotiated a larger percentage of merchandising rights. He would fund the sequel himself through a deal with Bank of America. This allowed Lucas more control over the next film.

    September 23, 1977

  • R2D2 and C3PO appear on the Donny and Marie Show on ABC. Anthony Daniels an Peter Mayhew also appear.

    October 1, 1977

  • Star Wars opens in Paris, drawing more than 1 million people.

    November 1977

  • With the unbelievable success of Star Wars, Lucas abandons his low-budget sequel and begins to imagine a more elaborate storyline. George Lucas and author Leigh Brackett begin work on Star Wars II. Lawrence Kasdan is also hired to write the screenplay.

  • Lucasfilm and Industrial Light and Magic move their headquarters to Marin County, CA.

    November 28, 1977

  • George Lucas completes a handwritten treatment for the next film, now entitled The Empire Strikes Back. One of the most striking differences to the finished film is that Luke's father appears to him with Ben Kenobi as a force ghost.

    November 28 - December 2, 1977

  • Lucas and Leigh Brackett begin having story meetings about the film where they continue to develop ideas. One of the most significant ideas to come up during these meetings was the concept of Yoda to essentially replace Ben Kenobi as a mentor to Luke. At the time, Yoda was seen as a crazy, tiny little creature known only as "The Critter." The writers saw the Critter as an almost frog-like creature, with a wide mouth, no nose, bulbous eyes, thin spidery arms, short legs and very large, floppy webbed feet. An idea of Darth Vader in a black castle surrounded by lava was also thrown around. Unused ideas of a water planet with an underwater city, and a "city planet," that was to be the home of the Empire were also discussed.

    The backstory of Han Solo was also fleshed out during these meetings. Solo was an orphan that was raised by Wookies on their planet. The character of Lando also grew out of these meetings. He was to be a slick, gambler - possibly a clone from the Clone Wars.

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All material used on these pages are used for illustrative purposes only under Fair Useage terms of copyright law.)
Research and written documentary Copyright 1997-2016 Eric Townsend All Rights Reserved. Do not reproduce or publish without permission.

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