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The Old School Practical Effects of the Star Wars Universe

Scott Porter

Take a look at the miniatures, models, matte paintings, puppets, and other practical effects that brought a distant galaxy to life.

Star Wars is famous for a lot of reasons, but one of the original trilogy’s greatest accomplishments was its masterful incorporation of practical effects. To celebrate May the 4th, we decided to round up a few videos that showcase the unparalleled talents of the Star Wars special effects team.

The original trilogy has been released on home video seemingly a thousand times at this point, and a few of the following videos appear to have been transferred from VHS tapes. So, to paraphrase the Emperor… Let the nostalgia flow through you.

Slimy Piece of Worm-Ridden Filth – Life Inside Jabba the Hutt

By: Filmumentaries – Jamie Benning

In Jamie’s own words:

After interviewing puppeteer Toby Philpott at great length over Skype I decided to go a step further and create a mini documentary about his work on Jabba the Hutt for Return of the Jedi. This led me down many paths. Here is the result.

Dennis Muren Interview: The Rancor

By: Star Wars

Keeping with the theme of Large & Fairly Disgusting Creatures… In this video, hollywood effects legend Dennis Muren discusses the challenges he faced when bringing the Rancor to life in Return of the Jedi.

Return of the Jedi – Special Location Effects

By: Filmumentaries – Jamie Benning

Renowned special effects master Kevin Pike talks about his location special effects work on Return of the Jedi, including participating in the construction of a full-sized AT-ST Scout Walker and Jabba’s sail barge. Which is awesome.

Star Wars Visual Effects, from AT-ATs to Tauntauns

By: Star Wars

This is easily my favorite video in this roundup. With a couple of segments narrated by Mark Hamill himself, this vintage clip showcases the unbelievable patience and precision it took to create some of the most iconic sequences in film history.

BB-8 Droid From the Force Awakens Rolls out on Stage at Star Wars Celebration Anaheim

By: Inside the Magic

Anybody worried that Star Wars: The Force Awakens will be Prequel-like display of overdone CGI effects can rest easy. Here’s a quote from J.J. Abrams himself, speaking to fans at the 2015 Star Wars Celebration in California:

The thing that struck me, that wouldn’t get out of my head, is just how real you knew and felt Star Wars was when you first saw A New Hope. You couldn’t deny it… It’s Star Wars. There will be an endless number of effects. We needed a standard. You want it to be legitimate and authentic.

And in one of the convention’s most exciting moments, Abrams introduced BB-8, a completely practical and present droid. As BB-8 rolled up next to R2D2, on stage and in front of a live audience, it was as if millions of cynical voices suddenly cried out in relief and were suddenly silenced.

Things have definitely come a long way, but not so far that the lessons of the past are forgotten. It’s refreshing to see the Star Wars legacy in the hands of people who recognize the undeniable emotional pull of tangible practical effects.

If you’d like to see a few more examples of great (and a few pretty not-so-great) special effects, check out these stories from the PremiumBeat blog:

What are your favorite Star Wars practical effects? Are practical effects worth the trouble? How adorable is BB8? Share your thoughts in the comment section!

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