Alan Warner

Since the Walt Disney Co. acquired Lucas film, a huge effort was made to continue the saga with the same drama, action and creativity which Star Wars fans have come to expect.

Since the original feature “A New Hope” (1977), the franchise has enjoyed tremendous success world-wide with it’s moving story, fantastic creatures, and most of all, spectacular visual effects.

“Episode VI: The Force Awakens” is set 30 years after “Return of the Jedi” (1983) as the New Republic battles with remnants of the Galactic Empire to restore the Jedi Order.

The film’s visual effects will naturally be “state of the art,” merging the ultimate of digital and analog technology.

“You want it to be legitimate and authentic. What I hope is that they see a movie that tells that life is full of unlimited possibility. That there’s an incredible sense of, to use a George Lucas term, hope in the world. And they feel better when they leave than when they got in there,” said director J.J. Abrams.

The original film was a bold, new spectacle at a time when sci-fi / fantasy was not that big. The most prominent feature would be the visual effects; they had to be convincing.

Industrial Light and Magic was opened and the devoted effort of an elite team of artistic talent and mechanical genius created the required effects which creator George Lucas

had dreamed of. Using computer-controlled cameras, scale models and puppets came to life. This new method of animatronics and digital animation, along with live sets ensured a quality production. They really weren’t sure how it would fare, but they had lots of hope and did their best, and that made all the difference. The next two films were made in a similar fashion, and also enjoyed great success. The second trilogy, starting with “Revenge of the Sith” (2005) opened a new era of effects using mainly computer generated imagery (CGI). Much more convenient than location work (some sets were huge, taking months to build), and puppet aliens were difficult to operate (up to 3 handlers hiding behind wall/ under floor). Live sequences were shot in an empty blue warehouse; the backgrounds added digitally later. Actors had to imagine their environment – their movement had to be coordinated precisely. With all it’s usual creativity, the CGI just came up short — it lacked the impact and realism of the previous efforts.

CGI has since overcome its faults, and “Jar Jar” has given way to ‘Gollum’ (Lord of the Rings) and the ‘Na’vi’ (Avatar). Instead of being born in a PC, these creatures were a blend of real actors with many layers of CGI. They were more life-like. Episode VII will take advantage of the latest in CGI, but will emphasize proven ‘old school’ methods for maximum realism. Star Wars is like a silent film- a visual extravaganza with a spectacular soundtrack. It seems only natural that ‘The Force’ will live on for a long, long time.

Facts: Stars — Adam Driver, Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Harrison Ford, Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher. Budget — $200 million. Time to complete — Three years. Crew — 3,000. Location — Abu Dhabi UAE and Ireland. Studio — Pinewood. Effects — ILM.

I remember long ago going to the theater with a single, big screen to see “A New Hope.”

It was truly an incredible experience … full of dramatic action, cool technology, and fantastic creatures, all combined to perfection with sensational visual effects. I’m sure to see this movie two to three times, and will be building the scale model kits as well.

Episode VII opened Thursday at both the new Fox Peak Cinema and Fallon Theatres along with 2,500 other theaters across America (biggest opening ever).

Alan Warner, a resident of Fallon, is a film aficionado and big fan of Star Wars. May the Force be with you Alan.