A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away, the original Star Wars trilogy used real actors in real costumes on real locations doing real stunts. Sadly, years later, this approach was thrown out the window in favor of copious amounts of CGI in the prequel trilogy. Star Wars fans decried the way the CGI completely changed the feel and gravity of the movies. So this time around, The Force Awakens director J.J. Abrams promised fans that the new film would more closely match the experience of the originals. Many people were skeptical, even after the release of an enticing teaser trailer. But now, Abrams has released a brief cut of some behind-the-scenes footage that highlights just how much “real” has gone into the making of the film.
Full-size X-Wing models? Massive explosions in the desert? Simon Pegg in an alien suit? Sure, there are some greenscreen sets and motion capture characters, but overall what we’ve seen so far looks remarkably practical.
The strength of Star Wars has always been that it transported us to a galaxy far, far away, yet managed to stay grounded with relatable characters and a detailed world that felt as though we could step into it. As filmmakers in an age where almost nothing is impossible with computers, it’s important to remember that sci-fi still needs to be rooted in something palpable. For Star Wars, this means all the details of the world. The alien extras who are actors in elaborate costumes instead of last-minute CGI additions. The flaming spaceship wreckage in the background that could have been cheaper and more convenient to do on green-screen. The battle scene cutaways that really feel exciting because they’re actual stuntmen dodging actual explosions.
But it’s not just about refusing to take the easy way out. It’s also about using a script that cuts out the unnecessary and impractical scenes that would only exist “because they can” (If you think hard, you can probably remember a dozen of these from the prequel trilogy. Hint: There’s always a bigger fish). Thankfully, Abrams seems to have written The Force Awakens down to a more practical and essential version of the far-away galaxy we know and love.
Adding to the nostalgia, it’s nice to see that Episode VII is being shot on film (both 35mm and IMAX 65mm). This in itself doesn’t guarantee beautiful, realistic-looking images, as proved by the fact that Episode I was shot on film as well, but it seems to be another way of Abrams nodding to the craftsmanship of the originals.
All in all it’s good to see Star Wars looking more like the classic golden-age blockbuster it once was. The Force Awakens opens in theaters December 18th, 2015, but until then we can be encouraged by seeing all the practical work that went into the film.