The Star Wars films always prided themselves on their use of cutting edge technology. For Episode IV: A New Hope, George Lucas practically built what would become Industrial Light and Magic from the ground up. The prequels, for all the ire they’ve received, did push the boundaries of digital and motion-capture technologies. On the other hand, the now Disney-owned LucasFilm has been adamant from the beginning about using a blend of old-school and modern technologies.
J.J. Abrams has admitted to a love for the original Star Wars trilogy’s use of practical effects and is determined to build as many sets, create as many creatures, and fly as many ships as possible without CGI alone. His commitment to the Star Wars feel also extended to shooting on film, which gave Star Wars: The Force Awakens a more realistic look, despite its numerous CGI effects. Now it looks like, for the remainder of the trilogy, including Star Wars: Episode IX, digital video will take a back seat.
Taking part in a panel at the Sundance Film Festival about the value of film stock versus digital cameras, Episode IX director Colin Trevorrow (Jurassic World) discussed his preference for shooting on classical celluloid. The director stated (per Variety) that “there’s something in my brain that says, ‘well they didn’t have video cameras then.” As a result, the director has confirmed that he will shoot the ninth installment in the series on film:
“It’s a period film. It happened a long time ago.”
The discussion group also included notable analog film enthusiasts Christopher Nolan (Interstellar) and Rachel Morrison (cinematographer on Fruitvale Station and Dope), among others. Nolan, Trevorrow, and their compatriots feel that Hollywood is too focused on the digital switchover. Trevorrow compared celluloid to another once-archaic medium, saying “there’s a danger to it [film] turning into vinyl.” Interestingly enough, vinyl is enjoying a minor comeback at the same time as Star Wars is enjoying a major return to form, which points to one of the most interesting aspects of the series.
Star Wars, in both substance and style, was able to create a futuristic feel while also generating an air of grit and authenticity. In the Original Trilogy, our protagonists yearned for a more glorious age, fighting the clean lines and harsh technologies of the Empire with the battered ships and archaic weapons of the underfunded but righteous Rebellion. Among George Lucas’ biggest mistakes in the prequels – although a completely understandable one due to his desire to construct the last days of the Republic’s glory – was to ignore the grittiness which made the original films feel tangible. By acknowledging the nostalgic flavor of film stock and practical effects, Abrams effectively captured that nostalgic sentiment - something Episode VIII’s Rian Johnson and Trevorrow are wise to replicate.
All the same, since we’re in the future of the past of the future (how’s that again?), Star Wars fans still expect some updates to the classic look/ feel. We appreciate Abrams commitment to the authenticity of the Star Wars universe, but 30 years after the OT, we also require a progression, something that makes us feel that the galaxy has moved forward since the Empire’s fall. The First Order’s updated look and weapons did help feed that need, but if Trevorrow (and Johnson) don’t continue to build upon that, all the film stock in the world won’t give the next movies the right atmosphere.
Star Wars: Episode 7 – The Force Awakens is now in theaters, and will be followed by Rogue One: A Star Wars Story on December 16th, 2016, Star Wars: Episode 8 on December 15th, 2017, and the Han Solo Star Wars Anthology film on May 25th, 2018. Star Wars: Episode 9 is expected to reach theaters in 2019, followed by the third Star Wars Anthology film in 2020.