Monday, 1 February 2016


Our heroes gather for the finale scenes of STAR WARS. Image: Kurtz/Joiner Archive.

May 1976: One one of the biggest soundstages (H) of Shepperton Studios, London, George Lucas, cinematographer Gilbert Taylor and his team get ready to film certain shots from the finale medal ceremony within the Massassi Temple on Yavin, amongst a crowd of 241 various rebel outfit attired extras for the first day, then around 148 for the second onwards. Because of the low costume budget many of the extras had to wear their own black shoes for the scene and some costumes had to be redressed from existing stock from the famous BERMANS AND NATHANS costume warehouse, supervised by John Mollo and his small team. Despite his enthusiasm for the scene and explaining to the extras what was going on in this seemingly bizarre space flick, Mark Hamill received a rather rude response from them, some muttering insults and curse words as he and Harrison Ford, equally annoyed by the Brits but trying not to make too much of it, made their way past them to the top dais to collect their medals from Carrie Fisher's radiant Princess Leia. Once Hamill had told the extras that they were playing heroes involved in a massive victory, they apparently warmed up to things better.

Prior to the revised drafts used in filming, it was originally planned that Threepio would be alongside the human heroes in the celebration walk, as was the fact that Chewbacca would have received his medal too. These ideas made it into Alan Dean Foster's novelisation of the film in 1976.

Harrison Ford queries Mark Hamill's Step-Step - 2015 British Academy Britannia Awards - YouTube

Peter Mayhew films his separate close-up shots as Chewbacca.
Filming towards the thirty feet high platform.

Despite the extras, though, the main stars would enjoy the filming of this sequence. At some point, the cast and crew, prompted by Assistant Director Tony Waye, even sang Happy Birthday! to their shy writer/director- if only someone had some recorded footage of that!

Presumably Gary Kurtz took the above top image during the rehearsal. Note: film still cameramen John Jay at bottom middle looking up to take his own picture towards the staircase!

Ann Skinner's continuity polaroid of Carrie Fisher- a note highlighting her barely seen bracelet. Image: Ann Skinner/BFI.
Leia's striking necklace, Planetaariset Laaksot, made by Bjorn Weckstrom of Lapponia of Helsinki, purchased by John Mollo from their Fulham shop in 1976. 

Presumably due to space reasons, only one of Script Supervisor Ann Skinner's continuity polaroids from this scene's filming would be on display to the public at a special BFI STAR WARS behind the scenes exhibition during Xmas 2014. However, the BFI's Special Collection has 8 unseen colour Polaroids of the rehearsal filming of the extras scenes, showing the way they were shot (ultimately handled by Gary Kurtz and a unit, and not by Gilbert Taylor, who didn't want to do anything too complex regarding effects) in different groups (4 shots of left side arrangements, 4 of right side arrangements), to make it look as if there were more extras on screen than there actually were, and for potential later compositing together (a process red underlined in Skinner's camera script for later ILM duties). Other so far unseen rarities: a colour image of a select group of at least four to five medal bearers (including Nick Joseph and Derek Lyons) and other rebels on the top dais, an image of two unknown generals (one with longish grey hair), 2 B/Ws of unknown staff bearers with and without helmets on between filming, a wide angle colour image, taken from almost left side, of our trio emerging from the open shield door and heading down the steps, followed by another colour shot of them, taken far left, ascending the steps to Leia and her party.

Miss Skinner's handwritten continuity cards note the following as Rebels on the dais: Victa Galucci, Pat Gregory, Eric Bass, Howard (surname illegible), Alan Gilds (or Golds), Nick Joseph, Derek Lyons, Robert Van Kapherus, George Stock, Robert Clark, and someone called "Kid".

With thanks to Ann Skinner and the BFI Special Collections.

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