Tuesday 4 July 2023


Camera rehearsal shot of our heroes at the finale medal ceremony. Image: Star Wars Archives.

Celebrating the bravery of our unique band of space heroes in destroying the Death Star, Princess Leia Organa and the other Rebel leaders at their Yavin IV base initiate a memorable medal ceremony for Luke Skywalker and Han Solo (also accompanied by Chewbacca), watched and cheered on by assembled soldiers, officers and pilots, as the original Star Wars ends on a joyous and iconic note. 

A modern look at Stage H at Shepperton Studios. Image: The Kurtz/Joiner Archive.

With Sir Alec Guinness now managing to take a prior arranged week's break, the 13th and 14th May, 1976 sees the main cast of younger stars of Star Wars head from Elstree to the larger spaces of Shepperton Studios Stage H, so as to capture the first of two planned sequences set on the jungle world of Yavin IV (the move also gives the dedicated Elstree set builders time to work on future sets that need to be ready for filming there upon the main crew's return). First off at Shepperton is to be the memorable finale taking place within the huge open Massassi temple celebration interior, in which Han Solo and Luke Skywalker, with Chewie behind them, make their way to a special step raised dias and receive their medals of bravery from the beautiful Princess, watched and clapped on by the rest of the assembled Rebel Alliance (of which, in the original Ralph McQuarrie production paintings for this scene, from the early Third and Fourth Draft scripts, a survived Obi-Wan Kenobi is among the party (and which also sees Threepio walking amongst the band) about to receive their medals). The filmed scene is, controversially, an almost an exact recreation of a similar sequence within the Nazi Germany World War II propaganda movie, Triumph Deus Willens (1934), if used for more positive and fantasy effect. 

British extras gather outside Stage H at Shepperton Studios, presumably during a lunch break. Note the barrow full of greenery likely needed as extra set dressing for the temple interior.

A look at the movable set-dressed walls of the temple exterior at Shepperton Studios. Image: Star Wars Archives.

George Lucas (bottom far left) watches Assistant Director Anthony Waye observing the extras whilst Jamie Harcourt prepares the filming clapperboard at Shepperton in May 1976. Image: the Ben Ageros Collection.

Preparing to film an ultimately unused scene that would likely have required multiple on set extras rearrangements and ongoing camera take exposure trickery.

The Massassi throne room set is designed so that all of the filming coverage can be done without visual effects (bar one establishing shot showing the entire room) and budget restrictions mean that only two hundred background artist extras, instead of thousands, constantly re-arranged to make it look as if there were more Rebels on screen than there actually were, can be hired (not needing as many people for additional background shots the second filming day, that amount is whittled down to around 150 people). Costume Designer John Mollo and his team, in liaison with the famous Bermans and Nathans costumers, create the vast amount of different Rebel outfits needed for the sequence (though, due to budget restrictions, many of the extras playing generic technicians end up wearing their own telltale seventies high-heeled shoes in the filming, rather than any specially made items). 

Gary Kurtz starts taking stills images alongside the camera crew as filming begins of our heroes walkdown.

Assembling the extras in specific arrangements on set (note Gary Kurtz handling the crowd layout sheets for filming) as Hamill talks to the extras about the scene and its place in the movie. Image: the Ben Ageros collection.

Unused ground level angle of our heroes. 

The walk down continues. Image: Star Wars Archives.

George Lucas and his team capture close-ups of our heroes on their walk to the princess.

Galactic heroes! An image, likely taken by Gary Kurtz, used for prime publicity.

Additionally, John Barry uses cardboard cut outs/ photo blow ups of the extras to enhance the scene further (two matte paintings by Harrison Ellenshaw - one of the crowd and another showing a natural light source above- would finish the job for a long shot, adding even greater size and people to the sequence). The use of blow ups is not a new idea in film making- most television production designers having used this trick to keep production costs down, especially with drama shows (British science fiction television programmes like Doctor Who used this technique a lot, especially in the Sixties). In the 1997 Special Edition re-release, this sequence was changed further- the cut-out extras of the original 1976 filming now replaced with a full complement of living human extras. 

Already helping out on the film shooting material as part of what he would term a “quasi-second unit”, Gary Kurtz handles the filming of certain shots of the throne room sequence instead of Gilbert Taylor. Kurtz would recall to the IGNFF website: “Gil just said he didn't want to be responsible for the camera work there because it was a complicated series of mattes, and I said, "Fine, just do the lighting and I'll worry about the shots." It wasn't really that complicated – it was just a locked down camera and we moved the extras around on the floor. All this stuff sounds very archaic now, it all could be done digitally and no one would think twice about it, but at that time, what had to happen was the camera had to be very clearly locked off, and each section of the extras standing in their line had to be shot piece by piece in about eight different sections so we'd have a room full of people when they were all mounted together. Then on top of that, we did one where all of the extras dressed up in a variety of costumes stood along the frontline right in the middle, and did the scene with the actors walking down the aisle up to the end where the throne was. A very standard kind of matte shot that has been done on hundreds of pictures since the 1920s, and as I say now it looks quite archaic – working that way, because it's so time consuming – but it worked fine then.” 

Kay Freeborn tends to the Chewbacca costume inhabited by Peter Mayhew.

Kenny Baker enjoys a cup of tea and sandwich on the set.

The cleaned-up, fully repaired Artoo joins the thoroughly golden Threepio for the medal ceremony in this classic stills shot.

During filming of the finale medal scene, the cast joked that if they did a sequel they hoped it wouldn't start off right from the scene where the gang are on the Massassi Temple steps after receiving their medals. Specially posed photographs of the medal adorned heroes happily celebrating with Princess Leia never appeared in the film. In an early draft of the script, Chewbacca did indeed receive a medal for his bravery against the Empire, yet Lucas dropped the idea, thinking that the Wookiee race would have a different set of values regarding the receiving of awards. The 30 feet high steps of the temple Throne Room set, with walls surrounded by lush creeper like plants (specially brought in for the film), would prove a worry for Kenny Baker who had a scene requiring his character to move slightly forward from Threepio whilst the little droid reveals his newly repaired self to his fellow star warriors. 

A rare out of the suit shot of Anthony Daniels at Shepperton.

One of the infamous matchbooks created by Anthony Daniels for the cast and crew of the film.

Anthony Daniels, meanwhile, would enjoy being at the Shepperton location, enjoying the area’s nearby locales and preferring it to the “morbid high street of Elstree”. Unfortunately, he would continue to play the part of Threepio so convincingly that the crew still forgot that there was a man inside the suit and mask, and despite the fact that he would soon only partially wear the uncomfortable golden outfit in its entirety prior to the main filming. Fed up with the situation, Daniels would have matchbooks printed up with the word '3PO IS HUMAN!' on the front - which he would leave on cast and crew buffet tables. “They thanked me but most of them didn't get my point”, the actor would hilariously recall in 1999.


General Dodonna (Alex McCrindle) presents Han Solo's medal to Leia. Image: Kurtz/Joiner Archive.

Veteran British film and TV actor Alex McCrindle joins the cast as General Jan Dodonna for the scenes where he presents Princess Leia the medals to give to Han and Luke (though his voice is later dubbed by an American actor, Peter Hobbs, in post production), whilst extras would include Clive Bennett, Ted Western (one of the rear platform honour guards, as well as being involved in the film’s prop department), and a very young Derek Lyons, who plays both a medal bearer and a Massassi temple guard in the film.


Filming another angle of the walkdown. Note the temple guards in the background (one of whom was played by Derek Lyons).

Filming from an angle towards the Rebel leaders that was not ultimately used in the film.

Some of the other ground level British background artists during the Throne Room scene filming would be arrogant and unfriendly towards the young cast of soon to be major stars, calling Ford and Hamill “wankers” under their breath as they went up to collect their medals. Though Hamill, wearing a dyed yellow ski jacket bought in (or possibly previously orange and worn by Pondo Baba in the Cantina scenes filmed a month earlier at Elstree), was upset by the rude goading (especially having helped fill in the film's story to the crowd so that they knew what was going on), Ford would shrug it off, telling Hamill: “Hey, who gives a shit? Forget about it.” In one funny blooper, Ford, wearing his newly received medal, tests the metal to see if it’s gold by biting down on it! 

Now able to put on the bulky and painful droid costume only when necessary for actual filming, Anthony Daniels watches Hamill and Fisher camera rehearse their medal scene.

The striking necklace worn by the newly costumed Princess Leia is titled "Planetaariset Laaksot" which means "Planetary Valleys" and was made by Lapponia of Helsinki. It was the creation of jewellery designer Björn Weckström. When LUCASFILM/John Mollo purchased the necklace from his Fulham shop, the designer wasn't told what the film was about and was surprised to see it worn by Carrie Fisher in a movie, which "later became a cult". The item was introduced in 1969 and produced until 1981.

Stars Wars dress worn by Carrie Fisher as set to sell for up to $2M | Daily Mail Online

Producer Gary Kurtz confers with Hamill and Ford during a filming break. Image: Kurtz/Joiner Archive.

Though Leia’s blaster prop is most famous for being used by the character later in the filming schedule on the Blockade Runner, it should also be noted that the weapon was worn first in the filming schedule by Luke Skywalker at the Rebel Ceremony-indeed several posed promotional pictures of Hamill in Luke’s medal ceremony costume (pulled together by the costume team at the last minute as Lucas wanted the character to look more grown up for the film’s conclusion) would be taken showing him using the weapon (this would be a fact lost on KENNER with their later 'Power of the Force' toys, as Luke's ceremonial figures (3 3/4" and 12") instead have him with a Han Solo "Mauser style" blaster). 

Just good friends? Hamill and Ford lark about on set. Image: Kurtz/Joiner Archive.

A thrilled Luke receives his medal from the beautiful Princess Leia. 

Of the final scenes, and the love triangle being established between Leia, Luke and Han, and just who would get the girl, Carrie Fisher would joke in 1978: "We all thought about it. I've insisted there is absolutely no truth to the rumour about me and the Wookiee. I was partial to Artoo. I was glad he was shorter. But you know, in the last scene Mark and Harrison sort of go, 'Hey, buddy,' and they cut. So I said I understand now who gets the guys. They do. And the Wookiee and I sort of skid off together. Do you think Wookiees believe in marriage?" 

Presumably a rehearsal image for the planning of extras.

Approaching the Medal bearer party.

Alternate filming take for crowd re-arrangement superimposition.

A terrific side angle from atop the Studio as our heroes turn to the Rebel applause.

On the 14th May, before the medal sequence has finished filming, and under supervision from the First Assistant Director, Tony Waye, the cast and extras sing Happy Birthday! to a highly embarrassed George Lucas. Anthony Daniels, who, that day, would complain of a sore right hand caused by his costume chaffing, also recalls Waye giving him an important piece of advice on an extras-heavy day: "He told me to have lunch (which was served in a couple of tents on the studio grounds) a little early. I said I could wait for everyone else, to which he responded: 'have you ever seen a crowd of extras rush for lunch?'" 

Lucas on set (with camera operator Ronnie Taylor) wearing a Shepperton Studios jumper likely given to him as an additional birthday gift by the studio.

Listed on the production notes, on May 14, the filming period was 8:30 to 5:40. On Tuesday, May 18th, it's 8:30 to 7:35. On Wednesday, it's 8:30 to 5:30. Three of the four days would have set-up times of an hour, an hour and a half, and two hours, fifteen minutes. With filming completed, the sets would be torn down and construction beginning anew for the film - this time for the Yavin IV hangar bay, for upcoming filming the upcoming June.

Our heroes in individual celebration.

Receiving a warm ovation from the assembled Rebel crowds.

With thanks to Chris Baker for selected images used in this article.

This is the final entry in Star Wars Aficionado's Forty-Fifth Anniversary celebrations of the original 1977 version of Star Wars. We hope you've enjoyed the expansive coverage. 

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