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Special Effects Show Star Wars Its Age

May 04, 13 Special Effects Show Star Wars Its Age

In celebration of “May the Fourth be with You,” redOrbit is hosting a series of Star Wars-inspired blogs.

When watching the original Star Wars films (that is renamed episodes IV, V and VI), I find myself sometimes quoting Beevis and Butthead, “Those special effects aren’t very special.” The truth is, they are, or they were. At the time, George Lucas and crew found new ways to film models of spaceships that looked more realistic than what was filmed at the time. The series has continued to push the boundaries and break new ground in special effects. But that doesn’t mean they will hold up through time.

Even before Episodes I, II, and III came out, even before the original three episodes were restored with updated special effects, the films looked dated. While the models of space ships were advanced for their time, they didn’t stand up to computer animation and CGI when that became the predominant method for such scenes.

In addition to external shots, scenes with actors lose their cutting edge looks as time goes by. The sets look more like sets each time you watch the film, and the action looks staged. The films also suffer from costuming and other styles, such as haircuts. When the original films were made, specification of haircut and color wasn’t commonly in the actors’ contract. Apparently, neither were wigs. The film looks like it took place in the 70s and early 80s because the actors look like they were in that time.

Even when Lucas Films refreshed the original three films, adding special effects and scenes, the work did little to update the films. In fact, some might argue that the new effects appeared jarring in some cases, and helped highlight the older special effects that remained in the film.

Now we move on to the newest films, Episodes I, II and III. While somewhat criticized by the older crowd who grew up on the original films, it cannot be denied that the special effects are more special. They look better, but that’s because much of the film takes place in front of a Green Screen with CGI graphics. Even since the first three episodes were released, CGI has improved and become more accessible. It’s used for TV shows, which was not possible due to time and expense just a few years ago.

Computer generated graphics has advanced to the point where the products shown in many ads – both video and still images used in print and banners – are generated by 3D graphics instead of film or photography.

Where Episodes I, II and III have an advantage is in the look of the actors. Wigs, hairstyling, costuming and hairstyles transform the characters into an alien future like the original films didn’t. We can’t necessarily speak to how the acting holds up through time, however.

With technology advancing in leaps and bounds, how long will it be before the CGI of just a few years ago will be replaced by better and more convincing graphics? It may be hard to believe that the most recent Star Wars films will ever look dated; this goes for other films and TV shows that rely heavily on CGI graphics. But in time these films, too, will show their age as new films with new graphics will date the films that came out before them. It is even possible that when Disney produces a new Star Wars film, it will look that much better than the previous three.

Image Credit: StarWars.com

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  • Anonymous

    True, the special effects look dated, the hair styles look dated and the costumes look dated but that is the case with all movies that use consumes, hair styled and/or special effects. The funny thing about many of the special effects is that they have a more realistic quality than lots of the crappy computer generated stuff out there today — computer graphics still have problems with looking real, particularly with creating viable shadows, defects on objects (which distinguish real world images from computer generated stuff) and lighting effects that are consistent across a screen. There is still a long way to go before computer generated images are as special as many people claim they are.