Homing Beacon Archives : 111-120

Welcome to the Homing Beacon ArchivesThe Official Newsletter of Star Wars.Com, no longer available. I have salvaged as much as I can but have only concentrated on the main part of the newsletter and not the peripheral stuff. I have used images where possible. Enjoy this blast from the past!

Thursday, May 27, 2004
Issue #111

The second installment of Star Wars Weekends at Disney-MGM Studios bubbled over with excitement as fans met with Peter Mayhew (Chewbacca) and the man of many Star Wars alien faces, Jerome Blake.

During the “Stars of the Saga – Star Wars Celebrity Talk Show,” Blake entertained audiences with stories of his experiences portraying some of the more unusual characters in the prequels, while Mayhew reminisced about his role as one of the most beloved characters in the original trilogy.

Blake, most noted for his role as the slimy Neimoidian schemer Rune Haako, has also stepped into the shoes of Mas Amedda — the booming voice of order in the Galactic Senate — as well as the shaggy-haired serpentine Jedi MasterOppo Rancisis, Watto’s tall-crested betting partner Graxol Kelvyyn, and alien senators Orn Free Taa and Horox Ryyder.

“I seem to always be playing the dodgy characters,” Blake laughs.

When Blake first auditioned for The Phantom Menace, he and fellow actor Silas Carson were put to work shooting animatics of the submarine scene playing the parts of Qui-Gon (Blake) and Jar Jar (Carson). Even though Liam Neeson and Ahmed Best played the intrepid heroes in the final film, Blake joined Carson in the Star Wars universe depicting half a dozen notable characters.

To the audience’s delight, Blake mentioned that his latest movie project will have him working closely with none other than Star Wars alumnus Warwick Davis (Wicket).

“I’m working on a little movie called Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy,” Blake says over the applause. “Have you heard of it?”

Hitchhiker’s is being shot in the same place Star Wars made famous, Elstree Studios. “When I work there I get the sense that history is creeping out of its very walls,” Blake remarks.

After Blake was asked by a fan to do his impression of Darth Vader by breathing into an empty glass, it was Mayhew’s turn to take center stage.

When asked by a fan which scene was the hardest to play, the towering 7′ 3″ actor explained that acting around bluescreen wasn’t the only obstacle on the set. Director George Lucas asked Mayhew to pretend to play against R2-D2 in a friendly game of holographic chess in the Millennium Falcon in A New Hope.

“He said to just pretend as though I was playing chess,” Mayhew says. “But of course I’d never played chess in my life, not to mention against droids. So I faked it.”

Mayhew also went on to describe what it felt like to meet one of his heroes while he was being fitted for his Wookiee costume last year on the Sydney Episode III set.

“I met Christopher Lee and was completely awestruck,” Mayhew recalls. “When I shook his hand he said, ‘I think you have more screen-time than I do.'”

To the audience’s surprise, right when Mayhew reminded fans that Episode III is scheduled to be released on his birthday of May 19, 2005, his alter ego Chewbacca, accompanied by a few Ewoks, walked on stage with a chocolate birthday cake to celebrate Mayhew’s recent 60th birthday.

“Chocolate is a Wookiee favorite,” Mayhew smiled.

Star Wars Weekends continues this weekend, May 28 – 30, with special guest stars Anthony Daniels (C-3PO) and Andy Secombe (Watto). In addition to the celebrity talk show, other fun activities keep fans busy during Star Wars Weekends.

These include the Jedi Training Academy, where youngsters train in the art of the lightsaber to face off against Darth Vader or Darth Maul; the Galactic Game Show, where Star Wars trivia mavens compete in a “Who Wants to Be A Millionare”-type setting; roaming costumed characters from the entire saga, including new bounty hunters, clone troopers, and even Mickey Mouse as a Jedi; and the ever-popular Star Tours attraction.

For a complete celebrity list, see this story here. For a look at some of the exclusive merchandise available at Star Wars Weekends

Thursday, June 10, 2004
Issue #112

Space Battle Recipe
Episode III starts with a bang. The starfleets of the Galactic Republic and Confederacy of Independent Systems are locked in a jumbled brawl of lumbering capital ships and swift starfighters, exchanging fire high in the Coruscant atmosphere.

Hundreds upon hundreds of ships are engaged in this high-stakes battle of the Clone Wars, but the audience will only really follow two small snubfighters into the thick of battle. As Obi-Wan and Anakin dive into the heart of the conflict to carry out a most important mission, they’ll be the camera’s guide through the chaos.

Designing the motion of the revealing opening shot fell to Animatics Artist Euisung Lee, but filling the enormous background battle in the entire scene is a group effort. “We had a brainstorming session about possible cool background battle stuff that can happen,” he says. “We have a list of ideas. I don’t know how many of them are actually in the movie, but we had come up withsome modular background action so that we can pop them into place.”

One of Lee’s most intriguing contributions may be missed upon first glance, tucked away as it is in the backdrop of the action. A triangular Jedi cruiser is locked in a deadly embrace with the much larger Trade Federation battleship, occupying the gap between the battleship’s forward arms and pointing its dagger-like nose straight towards the huge central sphere.

“My thought was that maybe the clones were actually boarding the donut ship,” explains Lee. “There’s an opening in the waist of the Jedi ship. The middle sphere is falling apart. The idea is that they took over the whole thing, and the middle sphere is drifting away from the center.”

A dry-erase board hanging in the Animatics Department serves as a recipe list for otherpossible mini-dramas playing in the background of the scene. Note that not all may not be in the final film. This list instead just represents some of the tantalizing possibilities:

Colliding / scraping starships
Sacrifice ship to break through blockade
Diving formation of assault frigates to save cruiser from swarm
Shockwave causing havoc from large explosion of ship
Shockwave bombs across surface of larger ship causing damage
Shockwave bomb on droid fighters
Tractor beams picking up ships to repair / collision
Pockets of intense debris caused by explosion that heroes fly through
Reinforcements dropping out of hyperspace to help less-than-fortunate ship
Launching and docking tri-fighters / clone fighters
EMP bomb causing loss of power to large ships, out-of-control collision
Vulture droids landing on large ships and attacking
Leaking fuel ignited by ship passing
Combined ray attack

For continued coverage of the post-production process, including in-depth examination of this epic battle sequence and others, subscribe to Hyperspace: The Official Star Wars Fan Club today!

Thursday, June 24, 2004
Issue #113

Report from the Battlefront
The endless storm pelts your armor as you scramble up a rain-slicked ramp. A report from headquarters rings in your helmet — the Confederacy is in danger of taking the Kaminocloning center! If they control this vital command post, it may choke the flow of your reinforcements. A team of droidekas and super battle droids blocks your path, but two platforms away, you see your salvation. An unmanned Jedi starfighter sits unguarded. If you can get to it, it may just tip the balance…

Welcome to Star Wars Battlefront, an action-packed open-ended multiplayer action game that spans the entire Star Wars saga. The game isn’t due out until September, but this past Tuesday, June 22, select members of the electronic gaming press were given a taste of the action to come.

The setting: the woods. Not painstakingly detailed and amazingly rendered foliage, but actual woods in the Presidio in San Francisco. LucasArts transformed one patch of Endor-like forest into a unique gaming event. Stormtroopers and Rebel commandos from local 501st fan detachments were there in full armor and gear, flanking the paths to camo-netted tents that served as gaming stations.

The game supports up to 32 combatants on a battlefield, so to fully experience the potential of Star Wars Battlefront, LucasArts set up a number of LANs and unleashed the press into the firefight. Players could choose from Xbox, PlayStation2 and PC tents, and their stations were each assigned a character name so they could keep track of just who-fragged-who.

Battlefront does away with an overriding story or puzzles for players to solve – it’s raw combat and battlefield adrenaline. Though it can be played as a chaotic free-for-fall, there are definite benefits to teamwork and strategy. Throughout each environment, there are key “command posts” to control, which ultimately determine the number of spawning areas in which new combatants appear. If a warring side — be it Imperial or Rebel, Confederacy or Republic — completely conquers all the command posts on a map, they emerge victorious.

The martial refrains of the Imperial March, the din of blaster fire and roar of explosions filled the chilly San Francisco air as locales such as Rhen Var, Endor, Yavin 4, Hoth and Kamino were opened up for eager combatants to sample. The absolute freedom for soldiers to explore anywhere, and jump into and out of turret emplacements and vehicles was a big hit. These fully textured and detailed vehicles are not just cover or scenery – they are workable battlefield assets, fully controllable armor and air support experienced from a first person perspective.

These vehicles uniquely expand the game experience — they’re not just powered up soldiers. For example, the flight capabilities of the droid and Jedi starfighters on Kamino allow for players to fly below the city surface levels, and enter into combat in the girders beneath.

“If you’ve seen a vehicle in a Star Wars movie, odds are it’s in the game,” says Executive Producer Greg Burrod of Pandemic Studios. There are over 30 different vehicles that appear in Battlefront, one of which specifically underscores how teamwork can make a tactical difference.

“If I jump into a snowspeeder, I’m going to want to take out AT-ATs,” explains Burrod. “Well, from the movies, the best way to do that is to use a tow cable. So, I’m going to need a gunner. Another player will need to jump in, and over my headset, we’ll need to coordinate that attack,” he describes.

Keep checking starwars.com, and especially LucasArts.com for more detailed Star Wars Battlefront coverage and war stories. The game is scheduled for release on September 21 for Xbox, PlayStation 2 and PC. For those wanting a sample, the DVD release of the Star Wars Trilogy will feature an Xbox playable demo of the game.

Thursday, July 08, 2004
Issue #114

Prepare Yourself for Comic-Con

Star Wars fans get ready. It’s going to take some preparation, planning, and maybe a little perspiration to make sure you’re equipped to get the most out of what’s in store for you at this year’s Comic-Con International, coming July 21 – 25, 2004 to the San Diego Convention Center.

Prepare to explore the huge Star Wars Pavilion at the front of Hall D, which will feature a wall-sized screen of exciting Star Wars video footage, plus eighteen Lucasfilm licensees presenting a virtual “street fair” of Star Wars. Many are debuting products or selling Comic-Con exclusive merchandise in the Pavilion. There will be autographs, events, give-aways, and prize drawings throughout the show.

It’s hard to imagine Comic-Con without Steve Sansweet’s Star Wars Spectacular, scheduled this year for Saturday, from noon to 2:00 PM in Hall H. Sansweet will share the inside scoop with fans on the coming original trilogy DVD release slated for this September, and the latest on Star Wars: Episode III. The head of Fan Relations at Lucasfilm has been known to have a few surprises up his sleeve just for Comic-Con fans, and this year should not be any different.

Thursday night, fans can enjoy the works of promising filmmakers in the #3rd annual Star Wars Fan Film Awards at 8:30 in Room 20. There will be special entertainment by Charlie Ross, performer of the One Man Star Wars Trilogy, too. Come for fun, and come for free popcorn while it lasts, courtesy of Comic-Con International.

Friday is Star Wars Day at Comic-Con, repeating a popular tradition of Star Wars panels and news throughout the day. This year, kids can enjoy special Star Wars activities, contests, and prize drawings just for them during Comic-Con Kids’ Day on Sunday.

Pack a schedule, pack a lunch, and prepare yourself for days of Star Wars fun at San Diego Comic-Con.

Thursday, August 05, 2004
Issue #116

Kashyyyk Revisited
The Wookiee homeworld of Kashyyyk has the odd distinction of being a world established in detail by George Lucas, but that has only been explored thus far in the expanded universe. During the development of the original Star Wars, Lucas had planned a journey to the Wookiee homeworld but the evolving storyline and budget realities kept the arboreal world from appearing on the big screen.

Nonetheless, Lucas’ detailed notes about Wookiee ecology and culture became the springboard for a number of authors and artists who weren’t limited by fiscal restraints — any planet can be visited in a comic book, for instance, for the same costs. The Wookiee planet of Kashyyyk appeared in the Marvel run, the Star Wars daily newspaper strips, and even on television in “The Star Wars Holiday Special.”

Finally, the Wookiee homeworld will be given the movie treatment in Episode III. “It’s a tropical, but cool planet,” describes Concept Design Supervisor Ryan Church. “The only real directive we got from George is that they live in giant trees.”

In developing the look of Kashyyyk, the Art Department first turned to the much-maligned 1978 television special to see what had come before. “We watched that on a loop about four or five times, avoided suicide, and went back to work,” laughs Church. Though produced on a variety show scale, the Holiday Special’s Wookiee world (then called Kazhyyyk — pronounced, oddly, as ‘Kazook’) did have an establishing shot of a Wookiee domicile rendered as a painting by Ralph McQuarrie. The set built for the show — the inside of Chewbacca’s home — was a mix of flashy sci-fi tech and carved-from-wood naturalism.

“We wanted to have a sort of high-tech Frank Lloyd Wright feel where the Wookiees incorporated the natural environments into their living conditions,” says Church. “George was very specific about not wanting to see the same thing over and over again. We’re visiting a lot of planets in Episode III, so when we cut to Kashyyyk really quickly, you have to know where you are.”

The end result will be a single city on Kashyyyk that straddles several massive trees. Though other published sources have explored the thickest areas of jungle canopy, Episode III’s location is on the shore of a tree-lined lagoon, offering greater visual dynamics and story potential.

In Episode III, Kashyyyk will be at war, and as such, the Art Department needed to develop Wookiee instruments of warfare. “We wanted it to look distinct from what the rest of the cultures in the Star Wars universe use,” says Church. “Feng Zhu did a lot of these technical illustrations, and came up with a very unique aesthetic. I wanted to come up with a type of vehicle that implied that only a Wookiee could handle it. Like they took some kind of technology that’s out there, and they commandeered it and modified it for their own use.”

If you’d like to see a slideshow of over 40 concept art images of Episode III Kashyyyk, be sure to check out this article, available only to Hyperspace subscribers.

Thursday, August 19, 2004
Issue #117

Gary Kurtz: Risks Worth Taking
Though most fans would find it hard to believe, there was a time when Star Wars was a huge gamble. Gary Kurtz, the producer of the original Star Wars and The Empire Strikes Back, had to face a world of skeptical studios executives who couldn’t fathom George Lucas’ outer space fantasy ever becoming a crowd-pleaser.

“The atmosphere in the studios was not very partial to sci-fi,” recounts Kurtz. Even the most popular sci-fi film at the time had been a meager success in the eyes of Hollywood executives. “2001 had come out in 1968 and took six years to make its money back,” he says.

But Alan Ladd Jr. at 20th Century Fox had enough faith in Star Wars to greenlight the project. “It was the cheapest film that they had on their slate that year; everything else was more expensive, so even if they didn’t make their money back and just broke even, it would be okay,” says Kurtz.

In the almost three-decades since the debut of Star Wars, the movie landscape has changed so radically that the quieter days of 1977 seem almost alien in comparison.

“In the box office takings nowadays, the opening weekend is the key thing. In the ’70s, the style of release was quite different,” says Kurtz. “Most films were platformed, which means they were tried out in a few cinemas, and then expanded over time. In this case, we were stuck, as Star Wars was one of the first films with Dolby Surround sound and Dolby stereo mix. We only opened in cinemas which had Dolby stereo installed, and cinemas were so reluctant that Fox had to guarantee they would recoup the costs of the installation, and said they were willing to pay for the costs of removing the equipment if cinemas didn’t want to keep it!”

From the initial 32 theaters on May 25, 1977, Star Wars’s release grew to encompass hundreds of theaters, but it was still just a fraction of the number of theaters most big films open nowadays. What contributed to its box office success was months, not weeks of steady business. “It was never in more than 600 cinemas at one time,” says Kurtz, “but it played for a long time; some ran the films for six months! You’d never have that these days. A big film will open in 4,000 cinemas and be gone in three months.”

The dramatic uphill struggle to make Star Wars is extensively documented in Empire of Dreams, the feature-length documentary found on the Star Wars Trilogy DVD that debuts on September 21. Kurtz is one of the dozens of personalities interviewed in the film. In the coming weeks, keep checking starwars.com for a more extensive look at the making of this long-awaited DID set as the countdown continues to September 21.

Thursday, September 02, 2004
Issue #118

Shepperton Flashbacks
From August 23 to September 3, Episode III Set Diarist Pablo Hidalgo is in Shepperton, UK, chronicling the 11 days of additional photography for Revenge of the Sith. Here is a classic-themed bonus entry, exclusive to the Homing Beacon. If you’re not a Hyperspace member, you’ve missed in-depth coverage of Episode III since the very first day of principal photography, including a live webcam capturing images from the filming locations. Don’t miss a single day, join now!

A casual stroll through Shepperton Studios reveals its deep roots in the history of cinema. Structures on the lot such as the Orson Welles Building, the David Lean Building and the Korda Theatre give hints to its storied past. Here, Lean shot some of Lawrence of Arabia, Stanley Kubrick shot parts of 2001 and Dr. Strangelove, John Huston shot some of The African Queen. And here, George Lucas is shooting Star Wars …again.

In May of 1976, Shepperton became the Fourth Moon of Yavin for three days of studio shooting. Though Elstree formed the bulk of the studio shoot for the original A New Hope, the production trekked to Stage H in Shepperton Studios to find the space needed for the Rebel outpost.

“Stage H at the time was the biggest stage in England,” recalls Lucas. “They didn’t have the Bond stage here yet. I built a bigger one later in Elstree for Empire, but that’s all we had back then.”

On Friday, May 14, 1976 — a little more than a year before the movie would come out — Star Wars came to Shepperton. Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher, Harrison Ford, Anthony Daniels and Peter Mayhew were the principal cast members there for the medal ceremony in the Massassi throne room. Joining them were supporting cast members Alex McCrindle (General Dodonna), Angus McInnis (Gold Leader) and Colin Higgins (who appears to have played Wedge in the Rebel briefing scene, though the report lists no character name).

I figured Colin Higgins may be a common name around here, but I had to ask George: “Is this the same Colin Higgins who wrote Harold and Maude?”

“No, that wasn’t him,” George laughs. I’ve brought copies of the Daily Production Progress Reports from those three days of shooting along with me to the re-shoots, to see if they jog any classic Star Wars memories.

An eye-catching detail is the length of the workday. The current Episode III pick-up schedule has days starting at 7:30 am and wrapping at 7:00 pm. In 1976, it’s a different story. On May 14, it’s 8:30 to 5:40. On Tuesday, May 18, it’s 8:30 to 7:35. On Wednesday, it’s 8:30 to 5:30. Furthermore, on Episode III, the first set-up is typically completed within a half-hour of the day’s start. For Episode IV, these three days have set-up times of an hour, an hour and a half, and two hours, fifteen minutes.

How things have changed. “This was the crowd breakdown then?” asks Ewan McGregor, who also examines the progress reports. He looks at what the extras got paid for the Massassi war room sequence.

“Those were the days,” chuckles George. “In those days, you could get a really good dinner for !”

Ewan, who has spent so much time preparing for the fateful duel between Obi-Wan and Anakin, took special interest at the May 18, 1976 report. “Look at this: ‘As per Call Sheet, a rehearsal of the Sword Fight between Sir Alec Guinness and Dave Prowse was held, but the venue was EMI Studios this morning, under the supervision of Stunt Arranger Peter Diamond,'” he quotes. “These are amazing.”

Anthony Daniels, who was present at the ’76 Shepperton shoot, recalls that it was George Lucas’ birthday during the first day. He also recalls the assistant director giving him an important piece of advice on an extras-heavy day. “He told me to have lunch 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?'”

Thursday, September 16, 2004
Issue #119

Behind Empire of Dreams

When documentary filmmaker and producer Kevin Burns began tackling the gargantuan task of interviewing over 40 actors, special effects experts, editors, journalists, friends and George Lucas himself for the 2 1/2-hour Star Wars Trilogy DVD documentary Empire of Dreams, he wanted to give fans more than the typical rehashed back story.

“I really cringe when someone says that Empire of Dreams is merely a ‘making of’ documentary,” Burns says. “Even with all the shows (‘Backstory,’ ‘Biography,’ etc.) that I’ve done in the last 10 years through my company at Fox, I really try not to do a typical ‘making of’ documentary. I’m not interested in how many reels of films were shot on Day 13. I’m concerned with the human story behind the making of a film. And what agony and struggle and curve balls people have to deal with in order to go through the process of making a film. That to me is what’s interesting.”

He wasn’t alone in his thinking. One of the main reasons Burns was able to secure hard-to-come by interviews with such heavyweights as Harrison Ford, Mark Hamill and Carrie Fisher had to do with his unique vision behind the documentary.

“Those are the people who have spent 27 years answering the same 40 questions and have been hounded to death about the films,” Burns says. “They weren’t hostile… they were simply weary and wary of being involved in another Star Wars retrospective.” Burns and Hamill had known each other for quite sometime before he was set to interview the actor about his legendary role as Luke Skywalker, however during their friendship, the Force wasn’t exactly a topic of casual conversation.

“We had been friends for 16 years, but in the time I’ve known him we had never sat down and asked him about Star Wars,” Burns admits. “So it was really odd to sit there with my friend for three hours and conduct a huge cathartic kind of therapy session with him. It turned out to be a great interview.”

Another reluctant interview involved an actor who’s character not only spans the original trilogy, but all three prequels as well.

“Anthony Daniels didn’t want to do the interviews until he spoke to me about his concerns,” Burns recalls. “Daniels had said, ‘I don’t know you and you don’t know me, but I want to tell you right now – I will not do this interview if I’m asked yet again, ‘What was it like to be C-3PO’ or ‘How did it feel to be in Star Wars?’ So please don’t ask me something so inane. I hope to have a level of discourse at a higher intellectual plane than that.’ And for that I immediately had respect for him.”

A&E will air a special 90-minute version of Empire of Dreams throughout the month, including this Sunday. Check local listings for times. The full 2 1/2-hour version can only be found on the Star Wars Trilogy DVD set. For more information on Empire of Dreams and the Star Wars Trilogy DVD, visit starwars.com.

Thursday, September 30, 2004
Issue #120

Golden DVD Memories

Though C-3PO seems to have trouble remembering key events fromone generation to the next, actor Anthony Daniels’ recollectionsare far more precise. With the release of the Star WarsTrilogy on DVD, many of those memories have come rushing back,in crystal clarity thanks to unparalleled image and soundquality and recently unearthed archival footage.

“The very first day out in the desert, I thought there wasgoing to be Hollywood-style trailers, and there was aboy-scout tent.” recalls Daniels. “I stood there andput on my underclothes and then had six people attackme with various bits of the costume and two hours later,I was in pain!”

It took two hours to fit Daniels into the very firstThreepio costume, a process that now, by Episode III,has finally been perfected to just a matter of minutes.”Somebody switched on the light and C-3PO’s eyes lit upand then they pulled back the curtains of the tent andI stepped forward into the rising sun,” continuesDaniels. “The sun was just coming up over the dunes,and just hit my costume. Around me, all the crew –Americans, Europeans and the local Tunisian people –just stopped work and gazed. It was his greatest moment,but from then on we had to start filming and was all abit down hill from then on!”

What coaxed Daniels into the uncomfortable golden suitwas the poignant strength of a concept painting byRalph McQuarrie, depicting the lonely droid standingin the sprawling desert. Daniels says he felt akinship with the droid, particularly when it cametime to shoot the desert sequences.

“You have to realize that the cameras were about amile away and Artoo was empty and being pulledalong by someone with awire. The wind was blowing.It was cold. I’m all alone. I can see people at thecamera, and they’re going to wave at me when they’reready. I’m looking around, and there, very, veryclose to me, is a Tunisian desert person — a realone, not someone George had made up. With a facelike a million old leather handbags all sewn together,he was looking at me in this strange way.”

Daniels likens the experience to the classic scene inE.T. The Extra Terrestrial when young DrewBarrymore sees the alien for the first time. “It wasthe same. We both went, ‘AHHH!’ I looked at the cameraand I looked back and he’d gone. He absolutely meltedback into the sands. That was a very bizarre experience.He’s in some village now saying, ‘And then there was theday when I saw the gold god…'”