Star Wars will probably remain as one of the most influential movies in the sci-fi genre thanks to its imaginative and timeless designs. But none of that would have happened if weren’t for the talented artists, prop makers and designers who helped create the epic space opera that is a household name today.
It took a lot of research and creativity to make all the props and designs of the robots and characters. Since the world was “a long time ago in a galaxy far far away” characters like the stormtroopers had to be designed from scratch. The Star Wars series began over 40 years ago yet the space-age concepts still remain prominent today.
Doug Chiang, the design director for Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace, said, “Anakin’s podracer was really fun to make.” To him, the design of the podracer was very interesting because of the idea that these vehicles would be made of a bunch of scrap parts. Initially, when he started making the podracer, he says, he was hindered by thinking too realistically, especially about the engines. When the thought finally hit him to let go of realism, he came up with the idea of an engine that was able to hover.
He wanted to know more about engines so he decided to do some research at the San Francisco International Airport where there were a lot of old planes getting stripped of their parts. Doug realized that you just need to take raw engines and put it out in the desert. He designed Anakin’s workshop as a jumble of scrap parts all thrown together.
The battle droid was one of the very first things that Doug Chiang designed for Star Wars. He didn’t like his first design for the droids. Series creator George Lucas had told him that he wanted a “robotic stormtrooper” look. Lucas wanted the droid to look half-human, half-robot. But Chiang didn’t think the result was very pleasing, so he scraped the design and went in his own direction.
Chiang was really struggling with the design of the droid so he decided to do some research. He found a book on ancient African sculptures and that inspired the design of the battle droids we all know and love today. He wanted them to be distinctly scary so he made them look almost like living skeletons. They were elegant and smooth, and had the elongated shape of that ancient art.
One Star War’s most iconic robots, the gold-plated and polite C-3PO, was heavily inspired by a robot in the early silent film, Metropolis, from 1927. When Ralph McQuarrie was designing the droid, Lucas was the one who suggested that source material. “George brought a photograph of the female robot from Metropolis and said he’d like Threepio to look like that, except to make him a boy.” The two droids had a lot of similarities but what drove them apart was C-3PO the surprised look created by C-3PO’s large eyes. That design choice supported his role in the film as comic relief.
KICKER: The design of Star Wars is now part of our shared visual culture. Its impact is incalculable. The countless hours spent on every character and their backstories have developed the Star Wars universe into a unique, if often imitated, world.
Cover Image Credit: LEON NEAL