How’d They Do That? – Return Of The Jedi

Welcome back to How’d They Do That? Each week, we check out behind the scenes stills and video from the making of some of cinema’s greatest! With May 4th upon us, there’s no better time than taking a look back behind the scenes of Star Wars – specifically Return of the Jedi – the film in which I’ve seen the least behind the scenes shots from! Check out the below pictures and video from the making of the final film in the original Star Wars trilogy!

First off the rank is a great example of one of many matte paintings that were used throughout the making of Return of the Jedi. Below we see ILM artist Chris Evans painting in rows of Stormtroopers awaiting the arrival of the Imperial shuttle aboard the second Death Star. Matte Paintings are a method of extending sets out well beyond the scale of whats shot in the camera. They almost act as a ‘frame’ around the live action footage.


Below we see the actual set that was built for the same hangar. Ultimately the matte painting was superimposed on top of the footage and voila – you have a Death Star hanger with rows and rows of additional stormtroopers!


Jabba’s palace on Tatooine feature many fantastic creatures – none more disgusting than that Hutt crime lord himself. Below we see the effects crew start putting together final Jabba puppet. Jabba was designed by Stuart Freeborn (who also designed Yoda and many other creatures). The Jabba puppet required 3 puppeteers to operate, with the eyes and facial expressions operated via radio control. jabba

Besides Jabba, the other heavily feature creature was the almighty Rancor. Initially, on George Lucas‘s suggestion, ILM attempted to do the Rancor as a ‘man in suit’, with multiple performers working within the same suit. Below, Phil Tippet (left) works with the performers with the Rancor suit.


When the suit didn’t work – the Rancor was then built as a rod-puppet.rancorarmature

The rod puppet footage was combined with insert shorts of Mark Hamill filmed on set with props such as the giant rancor hand

luke rancor

Below, ILM‘s legendary Dennis Muren explains the evolution of the Rancor in Return of the Jedi

As most Star Wars fans know, the working title of Return of the Jedi was “Blue Harvest” – a fictional film with the tagline “Horror beyond imagination”. This ruse was throughout production but was heavily used when filming the Sail Barge sequence in Yuma, Arizona. The filming of this sequence was done over a Thanksgiving weekend, the same weekend the dunes hosted a large dunebuggy enthusiast meet. Whilst the fake title and various security measures were put into place, some keen fans figured out what was really filming and refused to leave until they got a few autographs.

Below is a fantastic shot of the large Sail Barge set over the Great Pit of Carkoon
sailbargeBetween takes, Harrison Ford relaxes on the Skiffs gangplank.


Below, a young(er) Ian McDiarmid is ready to shoot his sequences as the emperor.


The Speeder Bike sequence is a true highlight of the film, and a wonderfully inventive sequence, both on and off the camera. To capture the speed the bikes fly through the forest, a camera operator walked VERY SLOWLY, through the forest, capturing the image a 3/4 a frame per second. Having a cameraman walk this (rather than putting a camera on a quadbike or something) allowed the footage to appear smooth and steady. The footage was then sped up 30 times to the standard 24 frames per second. This was incredibly slow, but clever filmmaking at work.

Below we see Dennis Muren and George Lucas directing Carrie Fisher and Mark Hamill on the speeders being shot against a blue screen. This footage would ultimately be placed against the forest backdrop.


For shots that didn’t rely on close ups – stop motion puppets were used to film the bikes. Below, Phil Tippet slightly adjusts the Luke puppet atop the bike, ready for the next shot.


Below, an ILM staffer moves the stop motion AT-ST as it stumbles over the log trap.


“Just kill me off George – I have Indiana Jones now, I don’t need this teddy bear rubbish”


Finally, a great behind the scenes shot from the shooting of the final confrontation between father and son. Director Richard Marquand can be seen on the far right, overseeing this dramatic sequence.


May the 4th be with you everybody! Hope you enjoyed this look back at Return of the Jedi. As always, if you have a film you’d like us to explore – drop a note in the comments. Until next time, keep watching and asking How’d They Do That!