While preparing for Star Wars in 1975, George Lucas investigated existing optical facilities but could not find "a special effects company equipped to do what I wanted to do. The only course was to start a company of my own to do the special effects, and to start from scratch, hiring young people and, when necessary, training them." Initially founded to work solely on Star Wars, Industrial Lights & Magic (ILM) combined new technology with old techniques to create stunning visual effects, and went on to produce breathtaking work for over 125 features. Despite the original trilogy's award-winning visuals, George was frustrated by the technological limitations, and was reluctant to develop a new Star Wars movie "unless I had the technology available to really tell the story I was interested in telling." Nearly 10 years after the release of Return of the Jedi, George saw the photo-realistic computer-generated (CG) dinosaurs ILM created for Steven Spielberg's Jurassic Park (1993) and realized the time had come to return to Star Wars. "With CG at my disposal, I knew I could do whatever I wanted."
A key effect since the earliest days of movie-making, matte paintings allow live-action sequences to take place in scenes that "expand" beyond the set. For The Empire Strikes Back, Ralph McQuarrie conceived and designed the shot that utilized his matte painting of Cloud City at twilight. His painting was done by applying paint directly to a large sheet of glass, enabling the filmed action to fill in the blacked-out areas. Today, this method has been replaced by digital mattes, computer-generated environments which look absolutely real.
For the original trilogy, the lightsaber effect utilized rotoscoping: the artistic retouching of individual frames on a length of film. Spinning wooden "blades" were coated with material that reflected the set's lights, then photographed through a half-silvered mirror. Through the camera, the lightsabers appeared to glow. This was enhanced by rotoscoping. In the prequel trilogy, lightsabers were made with metal blades, and were illuminated by CG effects.
For the scene in which Obi-Wan tours the Kaminoan cloning facility in Attack Of The Clones, actor Ewan McGregor was filmed alone in front of a bluescreen, without co-actors, props, or a set. The footage of Ewan was then composited with CG characters and surroundings, and texture and details were added, making the scene look completely realistic. The final illusion is that Obi-Wan is walking through a glass-lined corridor with Lama Su and Taun We.
Thinking that electronic sound had been overused in fantasy films, George Lucas encouraged the recordings of sounds from real sources--not from synthesizers--for the sounds of Star Wars. These recordings were later enhanced to create distinctive sounds for spacecraft, weapons, and creatures. Just as sound designer Ben Burtt collected a wide variety of sounds for the original Star Wars trilogy, supervising sound editor Matthew Wood gathered rare sounds for the prequel trilogy.
Composer of the scores for all six Star Wars films, John Williams conducted the 87-piece London Symphony Orchestra in March 1977 to record the original music for Star Wars. John created a theme for all the main characters as well. "I made a conscious decision to try and model and shape the score on late 19th century, romantic orchestral scores," John said in 1979.