Star Wars: A New Hope - Examining the Classic Opening Shot

Towards the end of those six months, however, ILM began to find its feet. John Dykstra’s use of computer-controlled motion cameras allowed for the precise compositing of multiple miniature effects shots, resulting in some of the fastest and most fluid VFX sequences yet seen. But as the release deadline loomed, Star Wars’ opening sequence still hadn’t been filmed. George Lucas knew what he wanted it to look like, alright, and indeed, artist Joe Johnston recalls that it was one of the first storyboards he drew when he was hired for the production in 1976.

“There was a script,” Johnston told Star Wars Insider in 2012. “I don’t really remember working from the script, but I recall sitting down with [John] Dykstra and having meetings, going over storyboards and shots. We were really just tossing ideas back and forth. […] That whole opening sequence was really George’s idea; he knew exactly how he wanted it to work. I’m sure he must have played that sequence in his head 100 times, because when he was describing it, he knew precisely what it wanted it to look like.”

The big question was, how to execute this immensely complicated sequence? With time running out, visual effects supervisor Richard Edlund was growing increasingly nervous. 

Further Reading: Star Wars Streaming Guide

“We just kept talking about it and talking about it,” Edlund said, in Ian Failes’ book, Masters Of FX. “Initially, George was thinking we’d build a big model and truck the camera over it. But we didn’t have enough track to do that. We were getting toward the end of production and we didn’t have that opening shot and I just started worrying about it.”

In order to create the illusion of a vast Star Destroyer, modelmaker Grant McCune encrusted the underside of the three-foot-long ship with dozens of tiny pieces of plastic – otherwise known as greebles, which give small objects the impression of scale. The fleeing Tantive IV Blockade runner, on the other hand, was built a mere four inches long, which just shows how successful ILM were in making the ships look like real, working craft.

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