Just as Jedi masters have their padawan disciples, George Lucas recruited a small army of filmmaking rebels to help bring his space fantasy to the screen.
From the shaky early days of the franchise, when disaster seemed imminent through the astronomical expectations laid at the prequels’ doorstep, Lucas has shown a knack for finding talented people he could rely upon to achieve the seemingly impossible.
John Barry: As the series’ original production designer, Barry had the unenviable task of bringing Lucas’ idea of a “used universe” to life without benefit of the digital manipulation available to the prequels. The solidity of the “Star Wars” universe is directly attributable to Barry’s industrial-looking, comicbook-inspired work.
Leigh Brackett: Prolific sci-fi writer was tapped by Lucas to script his story for “The Empire Strikes Back.” Shortly after completing a first draft, Brackett died of cancer and Lucas reportedly revised her screenplay significantly before bringing in Lawrence Kasdan to finish the project.
Ben Burtt: One of the few people to work on all chapters of the saga, Burtt created the distinct sounds of laser blasts, space battles and lightsabers. The innovative work helped sell moviegoers and exhibs on the value of upgrading the way movies sound.
Doug Chiang: When Lucas began planning the prequels, Chiang headed up the art department that not only extrapolated the look of “Star Wars’ ” past but was instrumental in helping Lucas write the script. The relative freedom of digital technology spurred intense design work and conceptualization of everything from belt buckles to entire species and planets.
Ryan Church, Eric Tiemens: After Chiang’s marathon efforts on “Episode I,” Church and Tiemens joined the team for “Episode II” under Chiang’s direction and then led the conceptual art efforts for “Episode III.” Church and Tiemens’ work influenced the writing of the script and bridged the design gap from the classic look of “Episode I” to the grittier of the original trilogy.
Rob Coleman: The original trilogy had no animator, but the prequels were full of digital characters that had to be convincingly animated and interact with actors and visual effects. Coleman led the team that gave (regrettable) life to Jar Jar and took Yoda from Muppet to digital action hero.
John Dykstra: By creating the computer-controlled camera system that made the complex compositing that “Star Wars’ ” visual effects require, Dykstra was at the very center of the original film’s f/x revolution. Though he helped found Industrial Light & Magic and won an Oscar, Dykstra left after the first film to form his own company and now heads up Sony Imageworks.
Nick Gillard: Though exciting, the lightsaber duels of the original trilogy were between untested apprentices, an old man and an evil cyborg. For the full-bloom Jedi of the prequels, the bar had to be raised and it was Gillard who invented the intense dueling style used by Darth Maul, Anakin Skywalker and Yoda.
Paul Hirsch, Richard Chew: The storytelling in “Star Wars” is very fast and a lot of it came out in the editing of the film. Lucas, an editor himself, brought in Hirsch and Chew to help the director’s then-wife, Marcia, salvage a disastrous first cut of the pic. By the time they were done, the editing set the movie’s thrilling pace and won an Oscar. Hirsch extended the style to “Empire.”
Joe Johnston: Johnston began working on the trilogy as a storyboard artist and model builder on “Star Wars” before moving on to art directing the visual effects work on “Empire” and “Jedi.”
Lawrence Kasdan: Kasdan’s work on “Raiders of the Lost Ark” won him the job of replacing Brackett as scribe on “Empire.” Kasdan gave the original trilogy characters their focus and wrote many of the classic lines fans quote repeatedly. For “Jedi,” Kasdan was one of many who felt killing Han Solo would give the film needed dramatic weight, but Lucas disagreed.
Irvin Kershner: Lucas’ former mentor at USC slipped into the director’s chair for “The Empire Strikes Back,” steering the saga in a darker direction that resulted in the best-reviewed installment in the trilogy. Kershner kept California-based Lucas up to date on the shooting in Norway and London through tight storyboards.
John Knoll: By the time the prequels rolled around, the job of a visual f/x supervisor had changed radically. Knoll had to oversee thousands of effects shots for each of the prequel pics. Pulling off such massive sequences as the pod race, the Clone Wars and Anakin’s final showdown with Obi-Wan while maintaining believability and quality in every shot is Knoll’s big accomplishment.
Gary Kurtz: Kurtz started as Lucas’ co-producer on “American Graffiti,” placing him front and center during the years in which the “Star Wars” saga was being conceived. After producing the original film and “Empire” — during which he temporarily took over second unit duties after the death of John Barry — he split from Lucas, going on to produce “The Dark Crystal” and “Return to Oz.”
Alan Ladd Jr.: Fox exec was one of the first besides Lucas to see the potential in “Star Wars,” and took considerable heat for placing so much faith in the director and his space fantasy. That gamble paid off huge for Fox, but even as studio profits soared — in large part thanks to the saga — the deal that gave sequel and merchandising rights to Lucas eventually cost Ladd his post.
Rick McCallum: McCallum joined Lucasfilm in the early 1990s for the “Young Indiana Jones Chronicles” TV series. He went on to produce the 1997 special editions of the “Star Wars” trilogy before stepping up to produce the prequels. In addition to being Lucas’ right-hand man, McCallum has been the public face of the prequel trilogy — a post that’s earned him plenty of heat.
Ralph McQuarrie: A former illustrator for large corporations such as Boeing, McQuarrie was brought on as a conceptual artist to give visual form to Lucas’ ideas. His sketches and paintings helped Lucas sell Fox on making the space saga and many of his images and designs made it to the screen virtually unchanged.
John Mollo: Having written multiple illustrated books on military dress, Mollo was the perfect man to bring authenticity to the costumes for Lucas’ imaginary war. Having advised on “Nicholas & Alexander” and “Barry Lyndon,” “Star Wars” was Mollo’s first costume design job. Returning for “Empire,” he then bowed out and has since alternated between sci-fi films such as “Alien” and “Outland” and historical pics including “Gandhi” and A&E’s “Horatio Hornblower” series.
Dennis Muren, Ken Ralston and Richard Edlund: This trio started on the original “Star Wars” and took over the effects work for the original trilogy after Dykstra’s departure, pulling off an ever-growing number of complex effects shots for each film. Each has become a giant in the f/x biz: Muren helped bring ILM into the world of digital compositing and worked as a visual effects supervisor on “Episode I” and “Episode I” as well as this summer’s Spielberg-directed “War of the Worlds”; Ralston has moved into the realm of CGI effects, supervising work on such innovative pics as “Forrest Gump,” “The Mask” and “The Polar Express.” Edlund has led the f/x work on everything from “Ghostbusters” to HBO’s “Angels in America.”