When Star Wars was released back in 1977 it marked the beginning of a worldwide phenomenon. The original trilogy was groundbreaking in almost every way, and I think it’s fair to say the people involved were all masters in their field - if not, creative geniuses.
Here, we take a look at the team behind the movie and how the films were made. We wanted to see if we could find any lessons on design or methods in creativity that we could share with you.
So without further ado, here are 25 Star Wars facts and creative pointers that come from a galaxy far, far away... Read them, and become a Jedi Master of the creative arts.
1: Find inspiration in the world around you
This first lesson comes courtesy of Ben Burtt, who created the sound effects for the original Star Wars film. He found that using sounds from the real world (sounds people knew but perhaps couldn’t recognise), lent a sense of credibility and realism to the film.
While shooting in Tunisia for scenes on Tatooine, he heard the donkeys used to transport equipment to the location braying, and thought it would be a great sound to use for the Sand People. He recorded it and turned it into the now infamous war-cry of the Tusken Raiders.
2: Drop what isn’t needed
Originally, Lucas was convinced it was essential that some ‘humanity’ be injected into Skywalker’s character early on in the film. He decided to do this by first introducing us to Luke with his girlfriend and pals goofing around at a local hangout called Tosche Station.
However, when the movie was being edited Lucas realised that, not only were the scenes not needed, they slowed down the action. The decision was taken to leave them out of the final cut and now they reside on the extras disc of boxsets around the world.
3: You often discover great ideas by accident
Along with the pulsing of a light sabre and Darth Vader’s breathing, one of the most recognisable sounds in the Star Wars films has to be the noise a blaster makes when fired. It was created by Ben Burtt who came up with it completely by accident. In fact, he literally stumbled upon it.
While he was out hiking with his family, he tripped and bumped into the guy-wires of a radio tower which made a strange twanging sound. That trip led to the creation of one of the Star Wars trilogy's principle sounds.
4: Eliminate distractions
Phil Tippett was one of two stop-motion animators who created the Holo-Chess scene between Chewy and R2D2. Though highly skilled, he said the scene was extremely hard to create. Here’s why…
Apparently, stop-frame animation requires immense concentration (because you have to keep track of lots of little details). Normally, Phil would eliminate all distractions when working on a project - but while he was working on this scene, the Star Wars wrap party was going on next door, which made it particularly tricky to get in the can.
5: Combine extremes to make something new
Phil Tippett also worked as one of the make-up and creature designers on Return of The Jedi. In fact, some of his creations are amongst the film’s most memorable monsters - like the Rancor in Jabba’s palace.
How did Tippett come up with it? Well, one day George came into the workshop and said: “ We need a big monster for a pit.” Phil thought the ideal solution would be to design a beast that was a cross between a bear and a potato. Seriously. True story.
6: Look to the past for inspiration
Hundreds of creatures inhabit the Star Wars universe, all of which had to be designed; often with a dozen ideas considered for a single beast. Coming up with so many original designs must have been draining, so naturally, from time to time, a little inspiration was needed.
One of the earliest creative catalysts for C-3PO’s design was Maria, from the silent 1927 film, Metropolis. It just goes to show that as long as you don’t blatantly rip ideas off, it’s OK to borrow something from past creative work - as long as you move it forward in your own way.
7: Practice makes perfect
George Lucas’ favourite part of filmmaking is editing. It’s during this part of the process that the real creativity takes place, and the film starts to take shape and come together. However, he found editing the huge space-battles in Star Wars very tricky.
In the end, he practised by cutting together archive footage of dog-fights from the Second World War. This helped him get an idea of how fast movements should be, how long shots should last, and how he could get everything working together as a video-montage.
8: Keep it simple
In 1997 Lucas released the Star Wars Special Editions which included new footage, replacing scenes Lucas was never quite happy with. Many of them were created digitally and were met with a less than favourable response, as fans felt they jarred with the original film and looked fake.
Only one of the changes seemed to work: A wolf-like creature in Tatooine’s Canteena was replaced with a character called Ketwol, which is ‘low-tek’ spelt backwards. He was the only new addition created using traditional techniques and stands testament to the fact that basic is often best.
9: Work in a state of ‘Free Flow’
Production Illustrator, Ralph McQuarrie, did all the concept art for the first Star Wars film. His illustrations for characters, sets and scenes on Tatooine were so magnificent, Lucas ended up reproducing them almost exactly as they appeared on paper for the big screen.
MacQuarrie was amazed because, due to the shear volume needed, he hadn’t given them much thought. He said: “George [Lucas] would let me know what he wanted and I would just tear through the thing rather quickly. I didn’t think my paintings would be reproduced.” That, my friends, is the power of working in a state of ‘free flow’.
10: Don’t let your ego get in the way of your art
While filming scenes in the cockpit of the Millennium Falcon together, Mark Hamill (Luke Skywalker) kept referring to Sir Alec Guiness (Obi-Wan Kenobi) as, ‘Sir Alec’. In the end, Guinness gave him a friendly wallop and told him, “I want to be known by my name not my accolade.”
Now deceased, Sir Alec Guinness has gone down in history as one of the finest actors of his generation. Possibly, it seems, because even with a knighthood, he remained humble and dedicated to his craft, never once letting his ego get in the way of his art.
11: The best fantasy has one foot in reality
Some of the most distinctive costumes in the Star Wars universe belong to the Tusken Raiders. Also known as Sand People, they inhabit the dust-filled planet of Tatooine - with their spiky, bandaged helmets being particularly recognisable.
The design of this headgear came about because the concept artist fashioned them with bandages which were meant to look like ad-hoc sand filters. It’s a great example of how, by taking a step back and being practical with your thinking, you can reach great creative solutions
12: You can’t please everyone
Right around the time Return of The Jedi was released, Mark Hamill told a Sci-Fi movie magazine called Starlog: “With everything that’s been set up, you can’t bring the trilogy to a conclusion without disappointing some people. However, I’m sure many others will be surprised and pleased.”
It’s a fact of life whatever galaxy you live in — you can’t please all the people all of the time. The best course of action, to a certain extent, is to please yourself. So, just like a Jedi, search your feelings and trust your instinct. If you like something, chances are others will too.
13: No one ever appreciates your genius
Paul Huston was a model maker who worked on The Empire Strikes Back. When talking about his work creating the Rebel Transporter he had this to say: “When you work with a model for months it’s almost always a disappointment to see it on screen.”
He continues: “Months of work went into that ship. There’s a stack of work - particularly on the hull and the underside of it, where hundreds of tiny cargo containers live - that no one ever really got to see.” It was this attention to detail that is so important in giving the model its sense of scale. However, to this day, no one ever even notices it.
14: Keep ideas you don’t use
A bunch of scenes were shot for Star Wars episode IV: A New Hope, that never made it into the final film. However, Lucas made sure they didn’t go to waste. He held onto them and used them in the Star Wars Holiday Special.
Also, an early Taun Taun design for Empire was later used in the Ewok TV series. So just like we told you in our article, Unusual Tools to Help Creative Freelancers, never throw your old ideas away. If they don’t quite work for one project they might well be perfect for another.
15: If you’re stuck, just start
Early Star Wars concept sketches featured Storm Troopers with light-sabres and a character, which was a combination of Han Solo and Obi-Wan. You might also be surprised to hear that Luke was originally penciled in to be a female character.
It’s very rarely we come up with a fully formed concept, so perfect that it doesn’t need any developing at all. So don’t wait for inspiration and creativity to strike or rely on having a eureka moment of sorts - just start work and ideas will come out of the working process.
16: Remember your target audience
So. Princess Leia’s slave costume from Return of The Jedi (easy fellas). Has there ever been a more popular outfit worn to a comic-con event? Probably not, which is testament to the power of understanding your target audience and knowing who they are.
You see, the costume came about because Lucas understood that the original fans of his films were growing up. What was once a bunch of 7 year old kids were now a gaggle of teens with raging hormones, and they didn’t want to see Leia in a long white gown that didn’t even show any ankle. They wanted something sexy.
17: Problems can be turned into creative opportunities
Irvin Kershner, director of The Empire Strikes Back, said of working with Harrison Ford: “Harrison Ford is a joy [to work with]. Harrison delves into himself all the time and is never satisfied. He creates problems for himself, then in the solution, gets the performance that he wants.“
Most of us get pissed off when a problem presents itself. So next time one crops up take a leaf out of Harrison Ford’s (Han Solo) book and turn the problem into the solution. It’s a bit of a cliché but clichés are often true.
18: Adapt, be flexible and roll with the punches
November '77 and Lucas finishes the first draft of Empire. It opens with Luke being hit in the face by a ‘giant snow creature’ (which later becomes the Wampa). This story point was created as a work-around for problems caused by Hamill’s face wounds from a terrible car accident he'd recently had.
It just goes to show, you never know what’s round the corner (no car crash pun intended) and is another great example of how problems can be turned into creative solutions. On every project, problems arise, briefs change, deadlines are brought forward - you just have to deal with it.
19: Sometimes you have to be brutal
In Empire, the Wampa was going to be a much bigger storyline. Wampas raided Echo Base, attacked R2, and Rebels caught them in special traps which 3PO then cleverly used to avoid capture by Imperial Troopers. As much as he wanted them in, the scenes didn’t work, so Lucas left them out.
Sometimes you have a line that you love but it just isn’t needed, or part of a project your proud of but if you’re honest, is a little superfluous. Hard as it is, it’s times like these that you have to be brutally honest with yourself and, as much as you’d love to leave it in, get rid of it. You can’t be precious.
20: Alcohol aids creativity
Many test have shown that alcohol can help make us be more creative (though I think they should probably test how it affects productivity too), and there’s a great Star Wars story which is also proof of this. Kind of. Well, maybe not in quite the same way, but you know…
George asked the team to think of a name for Jabba’s pet (who sits at his tail, cackling) so they had a brain storming session down the pub. Upon leaving, one of the team (by this time slurring his words) looked down at his sneakers and, not wanting to trip over his laces said: ‘I need to tie my soolashes’, and Salacious B. was born.
21: You will often have doubts and question yourself
May 23 1983 and Lucas appears on the cover of Time Magazine. Time’s San Francisco correspondent recalls, “Lucas seemed every bit as nervous about Jedi as he did about Star Wars. He’s a compulsive worrier, a nonstop perfectionist. Maybe that’s why his movies are so good.”
So it’s OK to worry. It’s natural. We all do it and it’s no bad thing to question your abilities and have doubts about your work from time to time. In fact, I’d go so far as to say it’s an essential part of being a good creative.
22: The good is the enemy of the great
When Lucas completed his second draft of Star Wars (at the time, called Adventures of the Starkiller) it was a radical reworking of the first. Only a few scenes remained unchanged, which startled Allan Ladd jr. and Coppola who learned of this during a production meeting, as both thought the first version was ‘fine’.
Well, fine is fine. But fine isn’t going to go down in history as one of the greatest bodies of creative work ever made. Sometimes it’s easy to settle for ‘good’ or just ‘OK’. But if you want ‘great’ you’re going to have to push yourself, work your butt off and go the extra mile.
23: Be careful when accusing people of stealing ideas
In 1990 The L.A. Times reported on a Calagary writer accusing Lucas of stealing the name and concept for the Ewoks from him. The thing is, people have the same ideas all the time. Chances are, that totally original thought you had, has been had before by someone else.
George pointed out that the Ewoks first appeared in an early draft he did of the original Star Wars film, and that he came up with the name by reversing the word ‘Wookie’ which he then rhymed with a Native American tribe called the ‘Miwok’ to create the word ‘Ewok’. On the internet I think they call that ‘pwned’.
24: Clear communication is key
Lucas originally christened the bandaged bounty hunter we all know now as Dengar, as Zuckuss - but Kenner (who manufactured the Star Wars toys at the time) dropped the ball and released the Zuckuss toy with the name Dengar by mistake. It gets worse…
They then decided to use the Zuckuss name for another bounty hunter. However, Lucas had already called that bounty hunter 4-Lom, meaning they then had to use that name (a semi-acronym of ‘for love of money’) for a third figure! Confused? I am. The lesson? COMMUNICATION, PEOPLE!
25: Know when to stop
Most people would agree that the additional scenes added to the original Star Wars films for the special additions didn’t really add that much. I think it’s fair to say that some (including me) would even say that Lucas’ tweaks ruined them.
There comes a point when you have to stop tinkering. You can over do it, lose your way, and end up spoiling what was once a fantastic bit of design or creativity. Sometimes you just have to say that’s it. No more. Enough is enough. Like now. I’ve got more - but 25 Star Wars tips is plenty.
This blog post is brought to you by the creators of Solo; your freelance wingman. If you'd like to contribute to the blog, contact us on hello[at]wearethrive.com.