The summer of 1976 was probably not a fun one for George Lucas, who was then toiling at London’s Elstree Studios during a brutal heatwave. His third feature film, Star Wars, was five weeks behind schedule, and his bosses at 20th Century Fox were running out of patience. The studio imposed a July 16 deadline for principal photography, so Lucas and his crew scrambled to complete their ambitious space opera in the time allotted. The trouble was, the movie didn’t have a proper introductory sequence, and Lucas knew that the film’s action-packed opening scenes would require the building of new sets and the hiring of additional crew members. The whole nerve-wracking story is told at Episode Nothing, a blog entirely devoted to documenting the early days of the Star Wars franchise.
As fans know, the early moments of Star Wars involve Darth Vader and his Stormtoopers forcing their way onto a Rebel Alliance ship, where Vader takes Princess Leia captive while R2-D2 escapes with the Death Star plans. The original idea was to use the cargo hold from the Millennium Falcon and redress it a little for this part of the movie, but that wasn’t good enough for Lucas. He commissioned a brand new set and hired two additional camera crews, with all three units working on the film simultaneously. The resulting sequence is impressive, but a lot of that is due to filmmaking trickery and outright deception. Lucas filled the set with smoke so that less of it was visible on camera. And the use of quick editing meant that he could get away with having just a handful of Rebels and Stormtroopers onscreen. There are maybe 17 people involved in the classic battle, but viewers think they’re seeing two vast armies at war. It’s a classic shell game. Keep the suckers disoriented so they don’t know what’s what.