A filmmaker’s guide to the galaxy — tips on how to choose and light the characters, costumes, and location, in a galaxy far, far away . . .

1. Lighting with Lightsabers

Light saber
The blue light from the lightsaber helps illuminate the actor’s face. Image via Lucasfilm.

Well, they aren’t exactly meant for battle. But lighting tubes like Quasars have had a major impact in the filmmaking world, especially among indie filmmakers and music video cinematographers.

In the J.J. Abrams films, you can even catch a glimpse of the latest lightsabers used on set. Unlike the previous trilogies, these latest trilogies use practical lighting from lightsabers to help cast light on actors for a more realistic look.

Look at the face of John Boyega in the image above. While some post-production was done to tweak the look of the lightsaber, the blue glow across his face and arms is partially lit by the lightsaber itself.

Here are the lightsabers in action on the set of Episode VII.

2. Take Inspiration from Your Favorite Films

George Lucas is quick to admit that it was his love of films and serials, like Flash Gordon, that was a huge influence for him.

Flash Gordon
Lucas’ love for certain iconic films influenced his own style. (Image via Universal.)
Sith light saber
Certain characters in Star Wars were descendants of Lucas’ love for past films. (Image via Lucasfilm.)

And, it wasn’t just the look of characters or story points. Even the iconic scrolling text is a nod to the Flash Gordon serials.

Don’t be afraid to pull inspiration from your favorite films and shows. It’s all about stealing like an artist.

3. Pre-Viz Is Crucial

When it comes to projects that involve a large mix of footage and VFX, you need to know how everything will work together.

Whether you’re cutting from live action shots to full CG renders, or even compositing elements together, you need to make sure to capture all the footage so the VFX artists have everything they need when it comes time to comp.

Working with a small team, or doing it all yourself? If you’re using stock footage elements or assets, make sure you know what type of assets you have in your toolbox so you can frame your live action shots around them for the best look.

Here’s a great VFX breakdown of iconic Star Wars scenes from Corridor Digital.

4. Don’t Fear the Blue Screen or Green Screen

Blue screen
The blue screen was a key ingredient in many scenes in Star Wars. (Image via Lucasfilm.)

The blue screen process was crucial to the success of the original Star Wars films. As featured in the VFX breakdown video above, it was the key ingredient to the many space battles and flying space debris.

George Lucas
Setting a scene in Revenge of the Sith. (Image via Lucasfilm.)

Over on PremiumBeat, Mark Vargo shares his experience of working on The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi. His blue screen breakdown is also a must-watch video.

5. The Art of Matte Paintings

Star Wars certainly pushes the limits of new emerging technologies, but the franchise has also been using classic techniques to blend worlds together.

The films often use matte painting for backdrops and even scenes with large numbers of Stormtroopers.

Matte Painting
Matte paintings were used for scenes with large amounts of stormtroopers in the backdrop. Image via RocketStock.

Check out this post on RocketStock showing off some incredible matte paintings throughout history, and a few amazing Star Wars matte paintings.

6. It Still Comes Down to Editing

No matter how great your film looks, it’s the final edit that people will watch.

The story, pacing, even wipe transitions — they all play a role. Star Wars isn’t immune to falling to a bad edit.

You can’t be afraid to cut fluff and restructure your film to move the story forward. RocketJump has a great behind-the-scenes look, with deleted footage, to show you how the film was saved in the edit.

7. The Right Location Can Put Your Audience Anywhere

Choosing the right location for your project is essential. (Image via Mohamed Messara.)

You don’t have to travel to another galaxy to shoot. Choosing the right location for your film adds so much depth to your world.

You may be inclined to rely on green screens and back plates, or stock footage for your locations, but practical locations have always been a go-to.

The same desert used on the first Star Wars films has been revisited time and time again.

Here are 20 Star Wars locations you can visit yourself.

Get creative with your surroundings to create any type of world.

8. Costume Choices Can Become Iconic

Storm trooper
Sketchbooks were helpful when creating the right image for a character. Image via Harry Lloyd-Evans.

Just like the look of your location and set, getting your actors in the right attire can also help immerse the audience in your vision.

Now, you may not have the budget for armor or realistic alien puppets, but then again, a trashcan might look the part. Costumes also come down to the simple things, from jackets to gun holsters, that help create an iconic look.

Jabba the Hut
Princess Leia’s legendary metal bikini became iconic. Image via Lucasfilm.

Let’s not forget the cultural impact of a metal bikini.

9. Use “The Force”

You know that gut feeling, when something just doesn’t feel right? It’s your body’s natural reaction trying to tell you something.

When you feel like a shot or edit just isn’t working, odds are your gut instinct is right. Don’t be afraid to trust those invisible forces in your life.

Cover image via Disney.