Welcome to the Homing Beacon Archives. The 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!
Dec 08, 2005
Senate Back in Session
Thanks to the DVD release of Episode III, viewers have been able to see more of Bail Organa in his historic role as co-architect of the Rebel Alliance. Though his part in Episode III’s theatrical cut is substantive — being the adoptive father of Leia and Yoda’s getaway speeder driver are nothing to be balked at — there was originally more Bail in Revenge of the Sith.
The demands of the personal tragedy of Anakin Skywalker meant that the political tragedy of the Republic ended up considerably trimmed. “I knew going in that this politician would go through some transformation,” says Jimmy Smits, reflecting on his role. “This character has scenes that have that political tenor, but he’s much more conspiratorial and suspicious and wanting to be more active.”
The politics behind Imperial ascension is a story told many times throughout history, and writer George Lucas distills many real world precedents in Palpatine’s rise, particularly events in ancient Rome. Though the Republic backroom politics were largely edited out of Episode III, their impact can still be felt in the movie, says Smits.
“George is really quite eloquent about the whole demise, about how you start as a Republic, and without the proper checks and balances, total power can corrupt totally,” Smits says. “Those are chords that run deep in the film without hammering in that this is a philosophical point.”
Helping Smits get into the role of Organa were such accomplices as the intricate wardrobe of the character, and the exotic and varied colleagues he surrounds himself with. “Trisha Biggar is incredible, what she has done with all the costumes. They make you feel regal and noble, walking around in them. It totally puts you into what that character is supposed to be,” he says. “Also, you’re working with this international cast. You have accents from different places, which is what you’d find in another universe with all these characters from different worlds. All of that comes together.”
Bail Organa — Viceroy of the Royal House of Alderaan, father of Princess Leia, founder of the Rebellion — these are the makings of a very important character in the Star Wars mythos. But to Smits, the role’s significance was far closer to home and heart.
“To be involved in something that I saw as a young person, in terms of watching the films, and having my children see the subsequent Star Wars films, was really cool for me.”
Dec 23, 2005
Oz on Wizardry
Frank Oz has a way of turning puppets into pop culture icons, especially everyone’s little green friend Jedi MasterYoda. As Yoda evolved from the sophisticated puppet of the original trilogy into a digital fighting machine in the prequels, Oz had plenty to say about the wonders of CGI and the future of traditional puppetry.
“When I did Empire it was twenty or twenty-five years ago, and the world was not digital then,” Oz says. “Now it is; and the expectations from the audience are different. And to a degree, if you don’t do things digitally, the character will stand out too much compared to everyone else in George [Lucas]’s movie — which is extraordinary.”
“The main thing about Yoda as a digital character is that I really didn’t have to do the work,” Oz laughs. “When I did the others, it was a lot of sweat. But now, I do just half a day and these ILM guys work for over a year — it’s bizarre, because I get the credit! For me, it’s a delight because I see the progression of Yoda as they’re doing it in those movies. It’s also great because he could not do the things that he’s doing on the screen now, in the last two episodes, if he were a puppet. It’s wonderful to see that growth.”
Oz credits Animation Director Rob Coleman and his team for not only preserving Yoda’s true character, but expanding and improving on it.
“There is no way I could have done anything near to that terrific fight,” Oz admits. “One thing that you may not be aware of is that when the animators made Yoda into CGI for the first time, their job was to not live up to their capabilities. The job was not to live up to their potential. If they did all the things that they could have done, the transition would have been too jarring. What they did very artfully, was to mimic me to such a degree that it helped to bound their talent. In the next one, they had to bump it up a little higher. There was a real transition there. They had to really be aware to match it and yet give it a little bit more life.”
Even with CGI taking center stage in not only Revenge of the Sith but also in future science fiction and fantasy films, Oz is certain that the art of puppetry is far from extinct.
“I don’t think there’s any kind of a competition,” Oz explains. “But my feeling is that just like the old saw about ‘will digital take over humans?’ Each has its own place. And the same thing with puppetry and the stuff in movies like Monsters, Inc. Each has its own place. Each can do something that the other cannot. And there’s value in each one.”
Jan 19, 2006
The galactic population has swelled considerably since Luke Skywalker first stepped, goggled-eyed, into the dank interior of the Mos Eisley Cantina. With each Star Wars film, new aliens and cultures are revealed with increasingly sophisticated methods of bringing them onto the screen. The aliens of Revenge of the Sith included everything from digital creatures to shadowy extras encased in slip-on rubber masks
Episode III’s Creature Shop provided the practical aliens that would be captured on camera — with the Wookiees and the Utapauns being the most labor intensive for the small team. “I think we had the smallest team they’ve ever had on Star Wars,” says Dave Elsey, Creature Shop Supervisor. “It wavered a little bit between 15 to 20 people.”
This small team based out of Sydney meant that everyone had a chance to influence a creation as it made its way through the Creature Shop, becoming a truly collaborative venture. “We were lucky because we had done a television show a few years beforehand entitled Farscape and were able to train a lot of local people in Australia to handle that,” says Elsey. “So, when we did Star Wars, we felt the good thing to do would be to get the same team back, again because we knew that we could keep things quite small, but also handle enormous amounts of work.”
This collaboration extended beyond the borders of the department, for while Elsey’s team was responsible for a creature’s features, it still fell to others to clothe and equip the aliens.
“Well, with aliens it’s always quite difficult because they’re not all human shapes. You’re always adding humps and other bits and pieces that upset the costume department most of the time,” Elsey explains. “On Star Wars, Trisha Biggar is the veteran of the Star Wars movies so she is used to anything. She can handle it. We’d talk about fittings, because we were changing the size of the actor’s necks. Everything that we could try out to stretch out or shrink down or fatten up we would do, and Trisha would make adjustments to that. She never complained — she’s fantastic. At the end of the day, I hope you would agree that our stuff looks good sticking out of Trisha’s stuff.”
Feb 02, 2006
Hotter than Hell
Mustafar has become one of the most spectacular sites in the galaxy. A world of jagged obsidian cut through by searing rivers of lava, the hellish landscape became the perfect setting for the tragic finale of Revenge of the Sith. It’s not a world of comforts, and neither was bringing it to life at Industrial Light & Magic.
“We used a series of fairly large miniatures to create the immediate landscape,” explains Visual Effects Supervisor Roger Guyett. “Outside of that, we used digital technology, using textures from the models themselves to extend them out. Then even further, we used a lot of moving 3-D matte paintings and HD footage of actual volcanoes. It’s really an elaborate tapestry of pieces.”
The heat blasted facility perched atop a blackened cliff face was a digital model, but the rocky landscape and much of the lava flow was captured practically. “We ended up with a 30-by-40-foot set of the seemingly uninhabitable topography of Mustafar,” says Brian Gernand, Practical Model Supervisor. “It was a rock-like environment with a four-foot wide and approximately 40-foot long path of lava coming down. Included with that were tributaries, waterfalls, all kinds of other inlets and glowing hot spots around this environment.”
To give the viscous lava the illusion of self-illuminating heat, the 15,000 gallons of Methylcel needed to be penetrated by a light source. The bottom of the river beds were actually transparent, with powerful lights shining through the thick goop. “I think, in the end, there was a calculation of something like 250,000 watts of light under the set that were being blasted through,” says Gernand. “That’s what made the stage environment such a difficult place to be — it was about 110 degrees on that stage!”
Guyett concurs that the stage conditions for the Mustafarian lava flow miniature was hardly heavenly. “It’s one of my favorite moments from working on Star Wars,” he says. “The guys start shooting the model and they’re all in shorts, there’s smoke on the set… It’s like actually working on a volcanic planet. I would just turn up for 10 minutes and say, ‘Things look beautiful here.’ (But) I would think, “… I’m glad I’m not doing this all day long!”
Feb 16, 2006
The Grand Experiment
With the completion of the Star Wars prequel trilogy, George Lucas and his crew have taken digital cinema from its shaky infancy to visionary heights with the Revenge of the Sith finale.
“In order to do something like Episode I, II or III, I had to create worlds in ways that I couldn’t do in the old fashion way,” says Lucas. “I couldn’t build sets that big, I couldn’t have that many extras, I couldn’t create that many costumes.”
During some of the earliest interviews about this trilogy, Lucas had expressed that one of his greatest concerns about the future Star Wars films was expense. “It will be unbelievably expensive,” he said at the 1989 opening of the Disney/MGM Studios, where he broke the news that Star Wars would return in the ’90s. “And that’s one of the things holding it up. If there was a way of doing them less expensively, it could make it easier to go ahead and do more. But there are just huge, huge amounts of money involved.”
The decade that followed saw huge investments of time and creativity in digital experimentation. In 2005, Lucas reiterated the concern of what it would take to bring these new Star Wars epics on the screen using traditional methods. “Financially, I’m a little tiny company — I’m not like these big studios here, and for me, doing a $100 million movie is a really big deal. That’s as much money as I can pull together. I couldn’t possibly produce a $300 million movie; it’s just not possible for me to do that. So, I have to be able to create a big world for a very small price.”
It began by creating big worlds for a small screen: namely, The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles. Were it not for the early ventures in digital backlot, crowd replication, set extensions, and other visual tricks practiced in the critically acclaimed television series, the new Star Wars movies may not have happened. The other breakthrough was the commitment to leaving film behind and shooting entirely on HD video.
“We were designing cameras three years before Episode I, but we didn’t get it finished for [principal photography],” says Lucas. “We did get it finished for shooting our delay unit, which is a two-week shoot we do a year after. We shot two weeks of it digitally with a real big, huge, funny prototype camera. It sort of looked like an old Technicolor camera with cables all over the place.”
When it came time for Episode II, the digital cameras weren’t finalized and delivered until just weeks before principal photography began. “It was real Beta-testing movie making,” says Lucas. “We were experimenting; we hadn’t quite done this before. We were learning as we went along and made Episode II. The great thing about Episode III is that I used the same crew, same cast, same equipment, same everything and we all knew what we were doing. It took me one movie to figure it out. And we pushed it much further because on the first film we had maybe 25% digital sets; the second movie, we had maybe 50% digital sets and in Episode III, I’d say there’s 85% digital sets. We were able to push the limits of what we needed and it allows you a whole different kind of flexibility from what people were used to in making movies.”
Mar 02, 2006
Layers of Sound
“From the beginning of the first Star Wars film, George Lucas always encouraged the sound development to start in pre-production,” says Ben Burtt, Sound Designer and Co-Editor of Revenge of the Sith. “That way, sound is being talked about when you first see the artwork, and sound effects and concepts for sound are there from the beginning as the films were shot. Once the film is being edited, sound is put in right away.” Though that is the tradition with Star Wars movies, the standard Hollywood model had been to scramble to develop sound deep in the post-production period. “In that case, there may be only a short amount of time left to work out all of the concepts; but for us, the sound has really been developed over a long period of time.”
Like many elements in Episode III, the sound design is a mix of new and old as the Star Wars saga bridges together, and the prequel trilogy segues into the classics. Burtt was very much cognizant of that as he began putting together elements for the opening space battle. “I knew when those ships came in that they were going to be the new Jedi starfighters, which were related to the TIE fighters from A New Hope. I felt the sound should have some continuity, so I started working with the old TIE fighter sounds and adding NASCAR sounds to it to develop something that would hint at the direction of the technology.”
Burtt describes there being about a thousand different sound projects for the film, not including foley effects like footsteps. In addition, the sound crew also provided performances both large (Matthew Wood as General Grievous) and small (Burtt as the Niemoidian captain). “We’re a small operation, a sound crew of 9 people, so we tend to use ourselves as characters,” says Burtt. “Matt and I played in the recent films probably about 30 or 40 incidental characters — battle droids, Nemoidians, Gungans, Utapaun pit crews, R2-D2, all kinds of robots, and we’ve enjoyed that because it gives us the feeling that we can really put our performances into the film.”
Since the first Star Wars, Ben has been the “voice” of R2-D2, combining synthesizer and organic sounds with his own voice to create the distinctive beeps and boops of the beloved astromech droid. “We revived some of our old equipment for this film,” he says. “We pulled out an old ARP synthesizer from under my house, and it was all moldy. Howie Hammerman, our engineer, got it working again so we did lots of new Artoo for this.”
The combination of many disparate and sometimes surprising sound sources has been a Ben Burtt trademark, and it continued with this final installment of the saga. “You look at General Grievous’ wheel bike, and it’s nasty, loud and dangerous. I thought a chainsaw would be perfect,” says Burtt. Likewise, the low rumble of the very first Star Destroyer we see on screen is actually the filtered sound of Niagara Falls. And the sound of Vader’s heartbeat while he is undergoing his final transformation into a Sith Lord who is more machine than man?
It was a sonic boom emitted by the space shuttle, as heard in northern California.
Mar 16, 2006
Inside the Mask
One of the most haunting images of Revenge of the Sith is the fearsome black mask that lowers over Anakin Skywalker’s ravaged face, forever sealing him in an implacable armored shell, marking a seemingly irreversible transformation into Darth Vader, Dark Lord of the Sith.
Though the Sydney-based Costume Props Department developed a full suit of armor for Hayden Christensen, the shot of the helmet lowering was achieved separately in postproduction by Industrial Light & Magic. The ILM Model Shop was tasked with building the separated helmet, and Practical Model Supervisor Brian Gernand assigned the task to Don Bies, for good reason.
“He knew of my affinity for movie history and Star Wars lore,” says Bies. Years ago, Bies worked as the archivist for the Lucasfilm Archives, the repository of the props, costumes and models used in various Lucasfilm productions. In that role, Bies had actually rescued the original Vader helmet used in for the unmasking in Return of the Jedi.
“The original prop I found at the bottom of a crate with a bunch of junk on top of it — shredded papers and stuff like that,” recalls Bies. “The crate almost got tossed, but I decided to check it and pulled out this brown flannel bag, and inside were the pieces of the mask.”
The mask became one of Bies’ favorites pieces in the Archive, and he studied it extensively, unknowingly preparing himself years in advance for the assignment of recreating it for Revenge of the Sith. The original mask, on a museum tour in Japan at the time of Episode III production, did not have much inner detail, allowing considerable artistic freedom in designing the inside of the mask.
“Ryan Church had created a design that was very manufactured and more medical,” says Bies. “I started making suggestions as to how to build it. His direction was that it’s supposed to look painful; it goes easy but it doesn’t come off easy. Having that freedom allowed me to start playing around with different materials. I used the readers from computer hard drives in there — it made it look like if you slipped this thing on your face that it would cut into your cheeks.”
Bies worked off of extensive photographs of the original prop, discovering that many of the “found” objects used to dress the original could not be found locally. “A lot of must have been from England surplus stores. I ended up having to laser cut almost all of it,” says Bies.
Some of the material he did find included electronic molex connectors, stainless steel studs from punk rocker collars, and parts from a Tamiya tank model kit. The two silver knobs bracketing Vader’s mouthpiece, nicknamed the “tusks,” came from a surprising source. “We were running short on time, so I actually bought them from a fan.”
Joining Bies on the project were John Duncan, who built the “harmonica” mouthpiece and Carol Bauman who helped paint the helmet. The helmet deviated from the original in that it used the Episode III mold which had a symmetrical face, and the new incarnation was solid black as opposed to the two-tone paint job seen in Episode VI.
“They had a heck of a time shooting the thing,” explains Bies of the shot looking at the mask coming down. “Kim Marks, who shot it, tried to get the angle right. When you get it over the lens, it distorted crazily because of the wide angle. So they had to tilt it. It’s really angled forward and looks more ominous.”
For the side angle shot of the mask lowering onto Anakin face, it was actually a composite since Hayden Christensen had already been photographed in Sydney separately a year earlier.
Mar 30, 2006
Hyperspace Race for the Presidency
Asteroid Beltway pundits have been closely watching the heated race for the presidency of Hyperspace: The Official Star Wars Fan Club. Despite the fact that Corellian pollsters have been reluctant to quote the odds of the outcome, the starwars.com Homing Beacon has pegged two clear front-runners in a race that is still up for grabs.
If the election were held tomorrow… well, there’d be a lot of confusion, because this presidency is not determined by election. Rather, it’s part of a recruitment contest currently being held by starwars.com Hyperspace. The fan who recruits the most members into the Fan Club will be awarded with the title for a year, an all-expense paid trip to Comic-Con International 2006 in San Diego, a guest editor position for an issue of Star Wars Insider, online VIP status and more. (Click here for details).
Running neck-and-neck for the high office are Tommy “uscwannabe” Costabile and Dustin “email@example.com” Roberts, outspoken candidates who are reaching out to the fan community to make their dreams of presidency a reality.
“Well obviously, my track record speaks for itself. I stand head, shoulders, knees and toes above the other… wait a second. There’s other people competing?!” said Roberts, who has announced stalwart astromech R2-D2 as his running mate.
Costabile, bedecked in a natty black robe, is running alone despite past proclamations that there should always be two, a master and apprentice. “I have the ability to run this presidency in this post Clone War-era, which is essential to the preservation of the peace the great Emperor Palpatine has created. I myself have overheard the Emperor discussing the Senate’s dissolution. Too many people in power leads to horrific, horrific situations. I can assure this will not be the case while I’m around! I offer a future!” Costabile punctuated his statements with protracting cackling and impressive display of static electricity.
Though both candidates have varying views on the tough issues of Gungan-control, Jedi marriages, and the teaching of midi-chlorians in school, they are in agreement that the Fan Club President position should belong to a true Star Wars fan.
“When you say a ‘real fan,’ which do you mean?” asked Roberts, known to some as DLR. “Those über-dorky, forum-trolling, Natalie-drooling, lightsaber-waving fans, or the film school elitist that can explain the hegemonic ethos of the Jedi? Cuz’ I can relate to them all. They’re my peeps!”
“Having a president that doesn’t know much about Star Wars would be the equivalent of putting C-3PO in charge of the Jedi Order,” said Costabile. “It must not happen!”
Roberts has been making waves by enlisting a number of fan sites to spread his message of presidency. “There’s no one else that can be more DLR-er than I. You may have some Dustins running, or some Robertses. But when it comes right down to it, just remember you can’t spell ‘leader’ without DLR.”
Costabile is not fazed at all by Roberts’ campaigning, and balks at any notion of campaign spending caps. “When Empreror Palpatine was just a Chancellor fighting the oppression of the Separatists, did anyone tell him we didn’t have enough money? No way, Weequay!”
Though both stand at the top of the frequently updating leaderboard that is tracking current recruitment levels, the contest is still wide open. The presidency could go to you, newsletter reader, if you know of fans, friends and family that would be willing to enter your screen name as the person who prompted them to sign up or renew their Hyperspace membership. Besides, a year’s worth of Hyperspace makes a great gift… and according to our crafty astromech’s calculations, a run for the presidency may actually be cheaper than a flight and accommodations at this year’s Comic-Con…
…But we’ll leave that kind of calculation to the politically minded. The contest continues until May, and till then, it’s anybody’s guess as to who will step up to the enormous podium in the Hyperspace rotunda and address his dellow felegates.
“This is what we’re fighting for,” says Costabile. “To be the leader of the greatest Fan Club in the history of Fan Clubs!”
Apr 13, 2006
The Force of Fashion
While the Star Wars saga is jam-packed with exciting space battles, exotic creatures and shocking plot twists, it’s the innovative costume designs worn by everyone from regal queens to scantily-clad slave girls that intrigue designer Nick Verreos the most. As the founder of NIKOLAKI women’s wear clothing line and an instructor at the Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising, Verreos is most-recently recognized as one of the contestants on season two of the hit Bravo reality TV show “Project Runway.”
As a young child, Verreos’ memories surrounding the Star Wars saga coincide with his family’s relocation from Venezuela to the United States. “I was 10 when my family and I had recently arrived to the U.S., and I first saw A New Hope for the first time,” Verreos recalls. “A memory that is still captured in my head is of me sitting in the theater when the lights go out, and John Williams’ amazing score begins blaring out the speakers and those words start scrolling up. I swear my heart beat so fast I almost fell out of the seat. I still get shivers just seeing that intro and hearing that music; it brings me back to when I was just a boy.”
“I think at the time, as a young kid, it was great to disappear from the real world and be entertained by such a grand fantasy film,” Verreos continues. “I was always a fan of sci-fi, in fact ‘Space: 1999’ was one of my favorite TV shows growing up, so being a fan of Star Wars was a natural fit for me. The escapism of it all, the ‘what’s out there in the other planets,’ the strange creatures, and especially the costumes, was enthralling for me. I also think that in a way, it helped develop my curiosity for other cultures and countries. By dreaming and being able to suspend myself to other worlds, it eventually made me a far more creative individual in the long run.”
The memorable costumes of the Star Wars saga seemed to trigger a special appreciation that would later inspire Verreos as he began his fashion career. “The most fashionable character of the saga is a toss up between Princess Leia and Queen Amidala,” Verreos says. “Princess Leia’s infamous metal bikini was so Paco Rabanne meets Courreges — hot! She was the Bridgite Bardot of galaxy. In The Phantom Menace, Queen Amidala was giving us intergalactic couture. She was a Dior fashion show by John Galliano all wrapped up into one person — a mini diva! When I first saw those Queen Amidala costumes in Vogue magazine, I remembered sketching more voluminous gowns with heavier fabrics. I fantasized that I would do a runway collection with very theatrical, bigger-than-life ensembles, something that Queen Amidala would wear. I used her as my muse and client.”
While Queen Amidala’s style inspired Verreos to try new elements in his own designs, that doesn’t mean there weren’t a few fashion victims in the saga that even the Force couldn’t fix. “Oh dear, Obi-Wan Kenobi and that hemp-looking robe and that 1980s Flock of Seagull-meets-Duran Duran braid of his — bad, bad and more bad!” Verreos laughs. “I would cut that braid off and give him some color, maybe around the neckline or the edges of his robe — something!”
Jedi fashion faux pas aside, Verreos has nothing but respect for costume designer Trisha Biggar and her fantastical creations. “The FIDM exhibit, which was shown at the school I teach at, was so beautiful and inspiring,” Verreos says. “To see those costumes up close and personal was a great moment for me. These one-of-a-kind costume designs are now icons in the world of Hollywood costume-making.”
“It’s so very important to honor costume designers and the silent workers in the wardrobe department for their work,” Verreos says. “I admire and adore Trisha Biggar’s wonderful and inspiring designs. Costume designers work tirelessly just like the producers, directors, and screenwriters — if not more sometimes! They are essential to the overall look of a movie, especially a period film or one such as Star Wars. Living with a costume designer, I know firsthand how often times they are given a tiny budget, a shorter deadlines, and a lack of respect from directors and producers that treat them as ‘silly little dressmakers.’ So it’s refreshing to see Star Wars fans caring about Trisha’s hard work and her incredible team of talented and qualified craftsmen, drapers, patternmakers, sewers, and illustrators.” “It’s these people who attend school to learn the craft, then apply it for years by working on film and television,” Verreos adds. “Just because costume-making and designing is a tactile thing and considered a ‘craft,’ does not mean it worth any less than the special effects or acting in a film. So kudos to Trisha Biggar and all the other costume designers.”