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Thursday, 7 March 2013

ROTJ AT 30: "ROGER, ROGER!"

Roger Christian with George Lucas during the 1997 UK filming of EPISODE ONE.


Note: Another classic AFICIONADO blog from 2008, with behind the scenes on JEDI info prior to the release of the STAR WARS Classic Trilogy on Blu-ray in 2011.


One of the great pleasures of creating the AFICIONADO magazine and launching this website over the last few years has been the chance to correspond and talk to fans from across the world about our one all consuming passion in life: STAR WARS. It’s not only great to hear from all of you out there, but when I also get the unexpected chance to talk with people who have worked on the films themselves, especially linked to the all important Original Trilogy, then I can’t tell you how thankful, happy and grateful I am to be a part of this universe. In the last few months I have had the lucky privilege to be able to e-mail converse with Roger Christian, a fellow Brit who, in various important roles over the seven year period of the making of the Original Trilogy, was involved in the creation of so many of the wonderful visual icons that have continued to define the saga for old and new fans for the last thirty two years. From set decorating and bringing to life the original interior and exterior of the Millennium Falcon, to the creation of the lightsabers, macro binoculars, Imperial technologies and all kinds of other iconic material (including Aunt Beru’s blue milk!!), Roger Christian has been there. And over the period of that all defining Original Trilogy, as his strong Academy award winning reputation grew so did his working position within the saga, becoming a trusted friend and colleague to George Lucas and moving up the ladder to handle directorial duties on first and second units on the films. Apart from STAR WARS and EMPIRE, however, what isn’t so widely known is that Roger also did a lot of un-credited directing work on RETURN OF THE JEDI. In researching our latest issue of AFICIONADO I was aware of some of his work on the final film but not the full extent of it, his having helped Lucas extensively, on and off, from periods of January to at least around March 1982 on so many vital and memorable sequences of the film, on all manner of sets and working with the huge range of characters, vehicles and weapons that were to be brought to life.

Currently (as of December 2008) based in Canada, and constantly in demand within the industry, as well as working on his own projects as a director, Roger plans to eventually do a book about his work/ career, especially on the four STAR WARS films he worked on (including THE PHANTOM MENACE, where he was a fully credited Second Unit Director on what was then one of the biggest gambles in film history-could Lucas and co pull the STAR WARS magic off a second time?) and the huge legacy he was involved in in bringing the saga to life. Aware of the recently published THE MAKING OF STAR WARS book by J.W. Rinzler, Roger has informed me that the book, mighty in tome though it was, really only scratched the surface and there is still much more behind the scenes material, especially on the making of the original first film, that has yet to be revealed (though, with the tragic 1979 passing of his friend/STAR WARS co-worker, Production Designer John Barry-whose presence is still a huge loss in the film-making industry, Roger knows a lot of additional information has been lost forever).

I’ve asked Roger to keep us in the loop when he can as to what happens not only with the book but also his other future film projects as well-of which his current sci-fi/fact related work about to enter pre-production sounds very interesting indeed. In the meantime, here are some of his words relating to his work on RETURN OF THE JEDI, including some excellent new cut scene information that I’m sure will surprise and delight all fans of the behind the scenes universe of the saga.


ROGER CHRISTIAN ON “STAR WARS” AND “RETURN OF THE JEDI”

“I was the 3rd person (UK-wise-Scott) hired on STAR WARS as stated in the MAKING OF BOOK which is correct, and it turned out to be the 2nd as Geoffrey Unsworth who was hired as DP couldn't do it.” 

“As far as JEDI, I worked for about 5 weeks or more on the movie. George was doing it and he felt he needed to be more with Director Richard Marquand and first unit, so they called me and asked me to take over. I was un-credited as they had promised the credit to the 1st AD, but I was happy to help George out as part of the family and was waiting for theSender to Go green light day by day.”

“The first scene I shot when I joined at EMI was during the ship battle scenes when a huge piece of engine flies into a Rebel ship through the glass view screens, and smashes into the decks. That was a massive scene to complete with a lot of effects and stuntmen. We had about 5 or 6 cameras running as I remember.  George went off with first unit and left me to it as Robert Watts explained that they had a scheduling problem and had to get off the stages.  I shot so much in those five weeks it’s difficult to remember now.” (This is amazing new information-an action sequence on a Rebel ship during the space battle (presumably nothing to do with Piett’s Death scene on the Super Star Destroyer, though Christian's scene may have been cut from the film, perhaps, because it was deemed too similar?) that certainly never appears in the final movie, or mentioned in the book or script info that I have. Anyone else out there got any more info on this lost scene?-Scott)  

“I shot about 10 days with the Ewoks.  I did the closing party scene with Ewoks dancing and celebrating, and then George wanted more and more footage of them, so we shot tons of footage.  He loved Warwick (Davis) and his character and was planning ideas for a Ewok movie, so we shot lots of stuff. Also I shot a lot of plate shots in the forest, etc.” 

“I did do some of the Jabba the Hutt sequence. That’s when I first met Bob Keen (the British special effects technician).”  

“I did do Harrison awaking from the carbon when he was frozen in time.  I was filming a legendary sequence, I remember then saying to the crew. “

I asked Roger whether he was involved in any of the filming of scenes linked to the Falcon during the space battle, and, apart from the cockpit and gun port set re-creation, whether he filmed scenes in the rest of the interior of the Falcon (the main deck leading to the gun port tunnel) and also if he could confirm that set was indeed built (I think it was, as evidenced by construction photos at ELSTREE in section 109 of the book 365 DAYS by John Knoll (it’s not a construction image from EMPIRE-note the pic shows part of a Tatooine Skiff built on the floor in front of the set)). Being twenty five years ago, Roger can only recall: “I seem to remember shooting something with that gun port. Also I did shoot stuff in ship corridors.”

Additionally, there is the famous missing deleted scene involving Luke building his lightsaber which no one we've asked behind the scenes-wise can fully confirm whether it had been totally completed or not for the film. Of this, Roger can only add: “There was a scene in Luke’s hovel or cave I think, but cannot qualify if the opening sequence was shot or not.”

On location withe Lucas for THE PHANTOM MENACE in 1997.

A big thank you for Roger for taking the time out of his busy schedule to respond to my e-mail questions, and good luck on both his upcoming book and all future endeavors.

The official STAR WARS INSIDER magazine interviewed Roger for their UK issue 74. It’s still available from certain sci-fi magazine outlets in the UK or US, or on EBAY. In the last couple of years, Roger has been working in Canada on several ambitious sci-fi movie projects, whilst his memoirs of working on classic films like STAR WARS and ALIEN, edited by J. W. Rinzler, should be published in the not too distant future...


Roger has also recently done a great interview talking about his film work- past, present and future- for the excellent cult website SHADOWLOCKED, especially talking about his now rarely seen first film, the evocative fantasy, BLACK ANGEL, funded specially by George Lucas, which was released opposite THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK in its original theatrical engagements back in 1980. Head here for the link:



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