The stories behind Star Wars

Robert Watts, Star Wars producer

Star Wars fans were treated to some of the behind-the-scenes stories of the making of the iconic movie trilogy at the Cayman Islands International Film Festival Monday.

As stormtroopers walked the corridors of The Ritz-Carlton hotel and posed for pictures on Seven Mile Beach, some of the craftsmen who helped create the distinctive look and sound-effects of the original movies entertained fans with the stories behind the movie.

The Star Wars panel discussion featured producer Robert Watts, stuntman Paul Weston, Lorne Peterson, chief model maker with Industrial Light and Magic, special effects supervisor George Gibbs, Jeremy Bulloch, who played Boba Fett, and Ben Burtt, who was responsible for the sound effects.

Though lesser known than the stars of the movies, like Harrison Ford and Carrie Fisher, they are responsible for some of the most memorable motifs associated with Star Wars, from the look of the Millennium Falcon to the sound of the lightsaber.

Ben Burtt, who created the distinctive whistles and beeps of R2-D2 and the sinister heavy breathing of villain Darth Vader, told how he flirted with animal cruelty to record the plaintive howl of Chewbacca.

“I went to the zoo initially to try to record bears but zoo bears are very quiet, they sleep all day, they are not dissatisfied.”

Eventually, he said, the crew located an animal trainer who had a bear cub, which he kept on a farm outside Los Angeles.

“The trainer decided the way to get the bear to vocalize was to not feed her for a day or two or three. We teased it by dipping bread in milk and holding it there and taking it away …

“We got all the basic vocalizations that day which eventually became the core of Chewy. We cut those sounds into little pieces and stretched them and run them at different speeds to create the vocabulary.”

Despite its enormous box office success and its status nearly 40 years later as a classic movie, there were those who had their doubts about whether Star Wars would be a success at the time.

Mr. Watts recalled, “20th century Fox hated it and as a result gave us no money and no time to make it, then when it opened, their price on Wall Street doubled, so ‘hello 20th Century Fox,” he said, raising his middle finger in salute.

In the model shop, Mr. Peterson was one of a team of visual effects artists working on the spaceships. He recalled moving from a minor role on the Death Star to working on his favorite creation, the Millennium Falcon.

“Not only is it an iconic picture, it’s one of the first things I did,” he said.

The distinctive look of the Millennium Falcon, and the rest of the sets and models in Star Wars, were deliberately designed to look lived in.

“It was very much coming down from the top. George wanted a used universe,” said Mr. Peterson.

He said the “model shop” on Star Wars had been like a “college art department with money,” saying it was amazing to think that the models were now “in museums around the world.”

Some of the props used in the movies also became collectors’ items.
Mr. Watts said he had taken a TIE Fighter helmet home from the first movie for his kids to play with and later sold it for 30,000 pounds sterling (CI$32,000).

“I was able to give that money to my kids to help them pay their mortgages,” he said. “Ridiculous. I wish I had kept a lot more things.”