On 25 May 1977 everything changed. Audiences sat in awe as that first note of John Williams' theme blasted out in b-flat major and two words appeared on screen: Star Wars. George Lucas' space opera made its debut in US cinemas forty years ago today and gave birth to a mythology that would change the world. We've had forty years of lightsabers, wookiees, Sith Lords, X-Wings, force chokes, mind tricks, hokey religions, ancient weapons, sand people, mouse robots, Stormtroopers, scoundrels, masters, apprentices and (variously) Han and Greedo shooting first.
To celebrate this day in history, and to wish the saga a very happy birthday, here are a treasure trove of behind-the-scenes photos from the '77 original, right up to last year's Rogue One. We've had four glorious decades of Star Wars and here's to many more.
Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope
Shooting the first glimpse of Mos Eisley ("You'll never find a more wretched hive of scum and villainy.") in Tozeur, Tunisia. The production used porters and mules to carry equipment up a cliff, including a tea urn for the English crew members. By the time Anthony Daniels was fitted into his C-3P0 suit, it was tea-time and he spent the duration of the break locked inside his metal suit.
An off-duty Mark Hamill shares a laugh with Peter Cushing (Grand Moff Tarkin). Although they never share a scene together in the film, Hamill watched all of Cushing's scenes being shot, nabbing an autograph in between takes. "Cushing is the ultimate English gentleman," recalled Hamill. "So distinguished."
Fitting Anthony Daniels into the C-3P0 suit. On set Daniels had a director's chair with his name on the back but he never got to sit in it, resting on a leaning board instead. "On the first day of shooting, I had to say 'binary loadlifters' which I still can't say," says Daniels. "And we must have done quite a few takes before it occurred to me that it didn't matter what I said because my lips weren't moving."
Visual effects supervisor John Dykstra lays out the miniature rebel fleet. "I wanted drag racers," Lucas says about X-wings, "with a long narrow front and a guy sitting at the back. Then Colin (Cantwell, concept designer) came up with the split wing thing."
Concept artist Ralph McQuarrie at work. A former Boeing illustrator, McQuarrie created around twenty-one watercolour production paintings that became instrumental in visualizing and selling Star Wars. The first image McQuarrie produced for the film saw R2-D2 and C-3P0 wandering through the desert. He sadly passed away on March 3, 2012.
While the bulk of the Cantina sequence was shot at Elstree, Lucas embellished it with inserts shot in Los Angeles in early 1977. In particular Lucas revamped the Solo-Greedo encounter, with actress Maria de Aragon donning Greedo's mask. "It was hot under the mask and I almost lost my life because I was out of breath," she recalls. "George Lucas noticed and made sure I got help. I had a very bad three or four minutes there."
Shooting the Death Star swing took place on Wednesday April 28 1976. The set was built only 12 feet above the floor and extended by a matte painting. "After kissing Mark, George wanted me to say, 'For luck'," says Fisher, "which sounded obscene because the words blended into one another."
Lucas and Alec Guinness hurry up and wait in Tunisia. It was on this leg of the shoot that the director told the actor Obi-Wan was to be killed off. "Alec was a very, very brilliant man but he was also an actor and very emotional, very human," Lucas said at the time. "'You mean I get killed but I don't have a death scene?' he said." It took Lucas a long lunch back in London to explain why this was the right decision.
Dave Prowse and Alec Guinness rehearse the Darth-Obi-Wan lightsaber duel. The fight was shot before the meeting of their characters went before the camera and proved tricky. "Dave Prowse is such a heavy-handed man," said stunt coordinator Peter Diamond during the shoot, "every time they touched swords, the blades kept breaking."
Model maker Lorne Peterson checks the Jawa sandcrawler, pimped here for the 1997 Special Edition. This was shot on the roof of ILM with finely ground walnut shells for sand and carved foam for rocky outpourings. Petersen also created an ickle Jawa (around half an inch tall) to fit in the side hatch. "I doubt whether anyone can see him," says Petersen. "But he's there..."
Darth Vader struts through the Death Star followed by Commander No.1 (Leslie Schofield) later renamed Chief Moradmin Bast in the Expanded Universe — much of Schofield's material was cut and ended up in the ill-fated Star Wars Holiday Special.
The Millennium Falcon approaches the Death Star. All the cockpit scenes were shot together in May/June 1976 whatever their position in the script. The shots initially caused lots of problems after ILM failed to deliver usable background plates (images of space) for front projection for the actors to react to.
Fifty "stunt" stormtrooper helmets were created plus "six" hero helmets for close-ups. "You get panicky inside those helmets," remembers Mark Hamill. "You can see the inside of the helmet and it's all sickly green plus you've got wax in your ears, because of the explosions and you just feel eerie. I only once freaked out and said, 'Get me outta here!' It really was uncomfortable."
The Millennium Falcon recreated on an Elstree soundstage. The UK crew recreated every detail of ILM's miniature including mistakes such as a thick edge of styrene. The construction was so large that sets - Docking Bay 94, Death Star hangar - were built around it.
The surface of the Death Star was blown up in the parking lot at ILM. Lucas envisioned the Death Star trench being around 40 miles long. The miniature trench ran for around 60ft and included 10,000 "windows" painted on by hand. "It was like being exiled to Siberia to be sent to work on the Death Star — and it was always there," says then ILMer (now director) Joe Johnston. "It took us months to build."
Harrison Ford (then 34) and Carrie Fisher (then 20) chat on the Death Star set. "I always knew that I couldn't get the girl," Ford is reported to have said during the shoot. "Han knows if he gets the girl, it will just be a one-night stand."
Although Kenny Baker was inside R2-D2 for many shots, a mechanical version was also necessary for moves Baker couldn't accomplish. In very early drafts of Lucas' scripts, Artoo talked rather than beeped. "I remember at some point it seemed more dramatically interesting to me to have both droids talk, but it took some of the mystery, charm and the uniqueness out of the characters," he says. "I tried to make them as opposite as possible."
Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back
A herd of miniature AT-ATs (less than two inches tall) used for shots looking through Luke's cockpit as he flies toward the walkers on the horizon. Only three full sized walkers were created. Each four-six second shot took around six hours to shoot - i.e. one second an hour.
Visual Effects Art Director Joe Johnston chiefly crafted Boba Fett's weathered look. "I tried to make it look like it was made of different pieces of armour," says Johnston about the outfit. "I painted it in such a way that it looked like he had scavenged parts and done some personalising of his costume."
Dave Prowse playfully strangles director Irvin Kershner. Prowse was often in the dark about the true nature of the script after a Lucasfilm report showed he had the biggest blabbermouth - Harrison Ford had one leak, Carrie Fisher had one leak, Prowse had nine.
Known as the Exogorth in the Expanded Universe but the far simpler space slug to the ILM crew, the puppet was 79cm in length and operated by Jon Berg in over 50 takes. The ILM night crew also shot gag footage of a space slug puppet replaced by a sock. The Space Slug's belch was provided by Lucasfilm employee Howie Hammerman - who also provided the belch for E.T.
Ford and Fisher laugh it up (fuzzball) on the Star Wars stage at Elstree, especially built for Empire. The good humour belies the pressure the cast was under. "We did a lot more second unit," says Carrie Fisher. "They were working, two and three and maybe four units at a time, so you were going from set to set and you had to regroup your emotions for the particular requirement of each scene."
Peter Mayhew dons Chewbacca's mask before distracting the Imperial probe droid. The shoot took place in Norway's coldest winter in 100 years, with temperatures dropping to -29 C and the crew facing 18ft of snow.
Kershner schools Hamill in the Jedi arts on the Reactor Control Room set. Luke's leap out of the window was performed by stuntman-gymnast Colin Skeaping who undertook the jump without a mini trampoline or wires — just a round-out followed by a back somersault.
Anthony Daniels as C-3P0 and Carrie Fisher look set for a clinch. "I think he's rather disconcerted throughout the film that he's not human," Daniels commented at the time. "He doesn't quite understand what kissing is because if there is one thing that a robot isn't into, it's kissing. There are times when he is suddenly pulled up short and I think that slightly upsets him."
The Most Devastating Moment In Star Wars History took a week to shoot. With the script reading "Obi-Wan killed your father," it was Lucas who informed Hamill that Vader was Luke's father just before cameras rolled. As well as the emotional demands of the scene, Hamill had to back away from Vader along a nine-inch wide plank some 30ft above the ground with two wind machines blowing full blast.
Sir Alec Guinness reminiscing with Mark Hamill shooting Ghost Obi-Wan scenes. Due to ill health, Guinness' participation in Empire was a touch-and-go thing. Happily the actor shot his scenes in four and a half hours - for one-quarter per-cent of Empire's gross.
Frank Oz gets to grip with Yoda. Initially Mark Hamill had Yoda's dialogue relayed to him through an earpiece. "I would hear 'Luke, many years have you..' but if you turned your head the wrong way, you'd pick up Radio 1 and the Rolling Stones singing Fool To Cry," recalled Hamill. Soon the earpiece was abandoned and Hamill would do the scene without Yoda's dialogue.
The Falcon arrives at Cloud City. The shooting of the scene was delayed after Carrie Fisher felt unwell following a night with Eric Idle, Harrison Ford and The Rolling Stones drinking a beverage called Tunisian Table Cleaner discovered by Idle during the filming of Life Of Brian. The party atmosphere spilled into the shoot. "Billy Dee (Williams) would say dirty things," said Fisher. "I would say them right back. He said something unmentionable when he kissed my hand."
Mark Hamill hangs from the underbelly of Cloud City. This scene was captured by the Second Unit while Irvin Kershner captured Han being tortured in prison, such was the time pressure faced by the Empire crew.
The classic Empire behind the scenes shot of Hamill, Lucas, Fisher and Ford. Star Wars biographer Jonathan Rinzler has done exemplary detective work in identifying the people in the background — on the extreme right is assistant to the director Debbie Shaw, the daughter of actor Robert Shaw.
Kershner and Lucas confer on the Dagobah set. While it is difficult to imagine it now, the shoot of Empire was suffused with a fear that Yoda wouldn't work. "I hated Yoda," recalled Irvin Kershner. "He scared me." "That was a real leap, because if that puppet didn't work, the whole film was going to fail," observed Lucas. "If it's a Muppet, if it is Kermit running around, the whole movie will collapse under the weight of it."
Lucas lines up a shot with the medical frigate as VFX supervisor Richard Edlund looks on. The look of the ship was based on an outboard motor. The shot was revised once the film was in release: Lucas felt the spatial relationship between the frigate and the Millennium Falcon needed clarifying so created a trio of shots to connect the dots.
Phil Tippett and Jon Berg animate three AT-ATs — the ones in the backgrounds are cutouts. "I do recall a number of different ideas about what the Imperial snow walkers could have been," says Tippett. "At one point they were going to be remote controlled wheeled things and at other times they were going to be like tractor tanks. I think it was (then Effects DP) Dennis Muren who was instrumental in advising George to attempt to do something quasi-animalistic. The rationale was that the artifacts of stop-motion - a mechanical look - would still be okay."
Leia kisses Luke in the days before it was icky. This wasn't the only kiss shot for this scene. After Solo tells Skywalker, "You look strong enough to pull ears off a gundark," and Luke responds with, "Thank you", Harrison Ford kissed Hamill rather than say, "That's two you owe me junior" - the crew cracked up.
Star Wars Episode VI: Return Of The Jedi
Obi-Wan and Yoda shooting their ghostly appearance at the party on Endor. In early drafts of the film's finale, Yoda appeared as flesh and blood, Vader's turning to the good side freeing him from the "netherworld". Yoda also stopped Vader becoming one with the Force and Anakin joins Luke at the celebrations. By the second draft, Yoda and Obi-Wan appear as shimmering figures.
The full scale Imperial Shuttle sits on the second Death Star set. The shuttle's three winged design was inspired by the shape of the T-16 Skyhopper model that Luke plays with in Episode IV. For model maker Lorne Peterson, it has "the elegance of a landing swan", something perhaps out of step for the militaristic Empire.
First glimpsed in The Empire Strikes Back, the AT-ST (aka 'All Terrain Scout Transport' aka ''Chicken Walker'') is worked on here by model maker Paul Huston. For the shot where the AT-ST is crushed by a dual log combo, the head of the walker was built out of Styrofoam and crushed by miniature lead-filled logs - the miniature two-man crew was also weighted so they would drop realistically to their death.
Lucas poses with the unfinished Death Star. Budgetary concerns initially saw the second space station conceived only as a matte painting to keep costs down but Lucas insisted the model be built in 3D. The edges of the superstructure were created from layered platelets of edged brass, as it was intricate enough to retain detail yet sturdy enough to withstand studio lights. Still the model was too fragile to travel on museum tours and has a prominent place in the Lucasfilm archive at Skywalker Ranch.
Model maker Paul Huston works on a massive X-wing fighter for Jedi. The bigger-than-normal miniature was for a planned shot that would see the fighter approach the camera close enough to see Luke Skywalker's face, then soar away. The four feet model was something that ILMers Mike Fulmer and Ira Keeler had been working on in their spare time and included a motorised miniature pilot. Unfortunately, the shot was never used in the finished film.
Lucas and Dennis Muren shoot the speeder bikes against blue screen. "In a way, the rocket bikes were pretty unique because the design was determined in three dimensions rather than on paper," says Joe Johnston. "More than any other machines or vehicles in the film, they really look like they might actually work."
Carrie Fisher and Mark Hamill share a joke in the Arizona desert doubling for Tatooine (it was cheaper and easier than returning to Tunisia). Despite the now famous Blue Harvest smokescreen, the set attracted fans who traveled 300 miles on the strength of a (pre-internet) rumour. T-shirts spotted hanging around the gates included "I've seen Star Wars 80 times" and "R2-D2 is a four letter word".
Carrie Fisher and her stunt double Tracey Eddon sunbathe on Jabba's sailbarge in the Arizona desert. "George always talked about a slave girl outfit," says costume designer Nilo Rodis-Jamero. "I actually struggled with that for a long time and all I kept coming up with was clunky Ben-Hur kind of stuff. And one day I happened to see a sculpture that I really liked and I thought my problem was solved. I did full-scale wax pieces of the costume, taking dimensions from Carrie Fisher. We tested it on her, it looked great and that was it."
Phil Tippett works with the speeder bike puppet - the bike is 30 inches long and the rider 12-15 inches. Rather than work in stop-motion, the riders were rod-animated like puppets. Wind machines blowing the capes enhanced the sense of motion.
Art Director Nilo Rodis-Jamero art directs the forest moon of Endor. ILM learned a great deal about creating miniature woodlands on E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial, discovering a certain type of juniper worked best. Noticing a nearby doctor's office with a surfeit of juniper, ILM's Cameron Noble slipped out at 2am to do some midnight gardening. The police caught him red-handed (green-fingered?) so he played the "I'm-working-on-Star-Wars card" to walk free.
Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace
Lucas poses with Jake Lloyd and Artoo Deetoo. Casting director Robin Gurland auditioned around 3000 kids for Anakin. In the end it came down to three: Devon Michael, Michael Angarano (who went onto Red State and Haywire) and Lloyd whom Gurland first met when he was five and kept in mind for over two years. "There's a very intuitive gut feeling you get about that's the one," said Lucas in 1999. "With Jake, I just got that feeling."
Ahmed Best as Jar Jar Binks provided an eye-line for Jake Lloyd as Anakin. In the 2008 LucasArts game The Force Unleashed, players exploring Kashyyyk will find a trophy room with a Jar Jar Binks encased in carbonite. This is a nod to a full-sized version made by a fan that is now at home in Lucasfilm HQ at the Letterman Digital Arts Centre.
Ray Park as Darth Maul (species: Zabrak) gets ready to battle with Qui-Gon Jinn. The look of Maul's head - once described by Empire as a voodoo tomato - is the combination of three influences; a flayed flesh face, the face painting of African tribes and a Rorschach test. Maul only has three lines in the film: can you name them?
As a half-dressed C-3P0 precluded the use of Anthony Daniels in a costume, ILM used a Japanese puppeteering technique in which the puppeteer manipulates the puppet from behind and is then digitally removed from the shot. On set puppeteer Mike Lynch operated Threepio reacting to Anthony Daniels speaking the dialogue on set.
Steven Spielberg pops by the Episode I set, checking out Natalie Portman's blaster. Spielberg has a long association with Star Wars, from being the only director pal of Lucas' to express enthusiasm at a famous rough cut screening — he predicted it would make $100 million — to creating pre-vis for the Anakin-Obi-Wan duel and the Yoda-Palpatine battle in Sith. After E.T.s appeared in the background of Episode I's Senate scene, Expanded Universe author James Luceno dubbed the character Grebleips — Spielberg backwards.
Sebulba's masseuses, identical twins Ann and Tann Gella, are played by British models Nifa and Nishan Hindes. To be honest, we can't tell them apart. If you can, answers on a post card...
Shooting the demise of Darth Maul. Maul's three lines of dialogue run to "Tatooine is sparsely populated. If the trace was correct, I will find them quickly, master", "At last, we will reveal ourselves to the Jedi. At last we will have revenge" and "Yes, my master."
Star Wars Episode II: Attack Of The Clones
A wireframe Yoda strikes a pose to battle Count Dooku. In describing the springy frog-like movements of the Jedi Master in combat, Lucas referred to Yoda as "the illegitimate child of Kermit The Frog and Miss Piggy."
Lucas does the director-pointy thing with C-3P0 at the Lars homestead. Lucas filmed the one shot he needed of the Lars homestead for Revenge Of The Sith during the Attack Of The Clones shoot to obviate the need to return to Tunisia. Ewan McGregor was unavailable for the scene, so a double handed over a doll to Joel Edgerton playing Owen Lars
John Williams and George Lucas record the score for Clones at Abbey Road in London. For the sequence involving Obi-Wan and Anakin chasing assassin Zam Wesell, Williams included a few wah wahs on the electric guitar, the only time the instrument appears in the Star Wars soundscape. However, Lucas didn't like it and took it out of the film. The guitar riffs remain on the OST.
Lucas confers with Christopher Lee as Count Dooku/Darth Tyranus. The name Dooku riffs on Doku, the Japanese word for poison. In Portuguese, "do cu", pronounced Dooko, means "from the arse". Hence Dooku's name was changed to Dookan in Portuguese-speaking countries.
Star Wars Episode III: Revenge Of The Sith
Peter Mayhew returned to Chewbacca 22 years after Return Of The Jedi for Revenge Of The Sith. Eight Wookiee costumes were made for Sith, taking an average of 12 weeks each - it took a week of ten hour days for one person to add the black hair to one Wookiee suit.
Hayden Christensen and Ewan McGregor work through Jedi bootcamp with fencing double Kyle Rowling: "The choreography and rehearsal for Episode III was three months in total," says Rowling. "Ten-hour days, six days a week, and Hayden and Ewan were both there from almost the very beginning. They both learn choreography really quickly, and quite huge chunks of it too, not just a few moves and cut. Both of them were putting down 100 plus move sequences and then running the hell out of it at full speed."
Christopher Lee gets Dooku directions from Lucas. Kyle Rowling (see previous image) doubled for Lee in the fight scenes, with Rowling's face digitally grafted onto Lee's body. "The fact is that in these films we needed to see the lightsaber combat at the peak of its time," says Rowling. "Chris is an older gentleman, and for most of the really fast stuff he just couldn't do it. Hell, it beat the hell out of me doing those scenes. I was honored to have been the one to fill those enormous shoes for the short time that I did."
Natalie Portman and Ewan McGregor talk with Lucas shooting Obi-Wan and Padme's discussion around Anakin. In between set-ups, McGregor punctured the seriousness by suggesting about the Anakin-Padme relationship that "Yoda has become fiercely jealous."
Production Designer Gavin Bocquet and Lucas talk through a maquette in the Sydney art department. Bocquet started his career as an uncredited draftsman on Return Of The Jedi, designed all the prequels and more recently worked on Jack The Giant Slayer.
Lucas reviews the animatics of the Federation cruiser generator room scene in the video village — the Jedi's underwater swim was cut from the finished film.
Palpatine (Ian McDiarmid) and Mace Windu (Samuel L. Jackson) lock 'sabers with Lucas in between. This scene fulfills Jackson's wish that Windu not die like "some punk". Stuntman Sebastian Dickins performed Palpatine's acrobatics, but for particularly dexterous moves, a digital stunt double was employed.
Producer Rick McCallum does the clapperboard in front of Darth Vader (it is Hayden Christensen in the suit) and Palpatine (Ian McDiarmid) on the bridge of the Star Destroyer. This was the last shot on the last day of principal photography.
Star Wars: The Force Awakens
John Boyega's Finn — fresh out of stormtrooper armour — gazes out over the arid wasteland of Jakku. It was a familiar vista buy this point as Boyega had spent the entire first day of shooting trudging through the sand in blistering heat.
JJ Abrams and Lawrence Kasdan discussing story points aboard Starkiller Base. After Michael Arndt proved unable to turn the film's screenplay around in the allotted timeframe, Abrams and Empire Strikes Back and Return Of The Jedi scribe Kasdan took over and started again.
Abrams and Daisy Ridley's Rey outside the fastest hunk of junk in the galaxy. "Being on the set of the Falcon, giving notes to actors dressed as characters, like Chewbacca and of course with Harrison, Carrie and Mark, it was constantly insane," said Abrams.
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story
Mind the gap! Stormtroopers hanging out on the Jubilee line between takes. Canary Wharf tube station stood in for sections of the Imperial base.
Hosing down a Death Trooper on the planet Lah'mu. The svelte, lanky Death Troopers were inspired by Ralph McQuarrie's original concept art for Star Wars' stormtroopers.
Director Gareth Edwards with Felicity Jones (Jyn Erso) and Diego Luna (Cassian Andor) orchestrate the heist for the Death Star plans on the planet Scarif (in fact the Maldives). Luna, Jones and Alan Tudyk (K-2S0) lived together on a boat during filming at the location.