Star Wars‘ First Days of Shooting, Part 2: The Prequel Trilogy

Familiar faces and new experiments marked the first days on set for The Phantom Menace, Attack of the Clones, and Revenge of the Sith.

Earlier this month, we looked at the first days of shooting for the original trilogy; next up is the prequel trilogy, including The Phantom Menace, Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith.

The Phantom Menace

After waiting more than 15 years, Star Wars would return to the silver screen with The Phantom Menace. George Lucas had begun writing the script as early as 1994, with pre-production starting around that time, as well. In the couple of years it took Lucas to write the script, he was at the same time checking daily on the progress of the designs for the many new worlds, aliens, droids, and other things to be featured in the movie. Returning to the director’s chair, he wanted to test the ongoing transition from filming on tape to filming directly in a digital format. It was decided that some shots would be shot digitally to check if they would stand out when edited together with the other shots.

June 26, 1997

Darth Sidious and Darth Maul on Coruscant, shot June 26, 1997.

June 26, 1997 – While the outside world and the press made a big deal of George Lucas returning as a director after 20 years, business went on as usual for the cast and crew. Producer Rick McCallum had arranged the first month of shooting to take place at the Leavesden Studios in London with sets as well as blue screen.

The very first scene that was to be shot was the conversation between Darth Maul, played by Ray Park, and Darth Sidious, played by Ian McDiarmid, on a Coruscant balcony. Wanting to keep the identity of Darth Sidious a secret, security was tight and no one was allowed on the set unless you wore a special badge with your name on it. Even George Lucas wore a badge — though it read “Yoda.” This joke was repeated on the clapboard where Yoda was listed in the spot of director. To mark this historic moment, the first photo to be released of The Phantom Menace was Rick McCallum holding this clapboard on set. This tradition was repeated earlier this year with the photo of the clapboard for Star Wars: The Force Awakens.

Also shot on this day was a scene between Natalie Portman and Ian McDiarmid in the quarters of Senator Palpatine. Due to the efficiency of the cast and crew, every setup that needed to be filmed that day was actually filmed, causing no delays on the schedule.

Attack of the Clones

After successful tests with the new digital cameras for The Phantom Menace, production decided to shoot Attack of the Clones entirely on digital, using the then new HDW-F900, developed by Sony and Panavision. Lucas once again decided to direct.

June 26, 2000

Shooting Ian McDiarmid in the Senate, June 26, 2000.

June 26, 2000 – The first day of shooting for Attack of the Clones was exactly three years after The Phantom Menace started filming, and once Ian McDiarmid was the first actor to appear in front of the cameras. Together with David Bowers (Mas Amedda) and Sandi Finlay (Sly Moore), he climbed in the Chancellor’s podium to shoot their side of the discussion regarding the Military Creation Act vote. While the Senate in the movie is filled with many floating Senate pods, the reactions of the other senators and Natalie Portman were filmed at later stages, added to the scene thanks to ILM and clever editing. The dialogue of Portman and the other senators was read off-screen by the script supervisor. Just like with the sandstorm scene that was filmed on the first day of shooting for Return of the Jedi, this scene would be cut from the movie.

The day went by in a smooth and easy-going fashion with everybody in high spirits. George Lucas was seen walking around, talking and joking with the cast and crew. Except for a small problem with their power supply, the new digital cameras performed admirably.

This day was also important for a very different reason: After 13 years, Anthony Daniels was once again inside the costume of C-3PO, which he last wore in 1987 for the recording of the droids’ appearances in the first Star Tours ride. (Because C-3PO was too skinny in his unfinished wires-showing look for The Phantom Menace, Daniels was unable to wear a costume, and had to puppeteer Threepio’s movements from the back.) Accompanied by people to make sure he would not trip over loose cables, Daniels made his way to the set to greet Lucas.

Revenge of the Sith

June 30, 2003

Shooting part of the Palpatine rescue scene, June 30, 2003.

June 30, 2003 – To commemorate the Star Wars journey with shooting of the prequel trilogy’s final film, it was decided that the first promotional image was to be one that mirrored a behind-the-scenes photo from The Empire Strikes Back. In that picture we see Lucas near a Hoth set, surrounded by the main actors Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher, and Harrison Ford. To mirror the image as much as possible, Natalie Portman took the place of Fisher, Hayden Christensen that of Hamill, and Ewan McGregor of Ford while George Lucas sat in the same position, joined by Rick McCallum. The usual picture of McCallum with his clapboard was also made, and appeared later in the making-of tome written by J. W. Rinzler.

The shoot itself started with several short and simple scenes in the Invisible Hand, the ship of General Grievous. These scenes were: R2-D2 is ordered to stay behind, Obi-Wan and Anakin are attacked by Destroyer droids, the Jedi stepping from the elevator, battle in the elevator, and Anakin waiting for the elevator to arrive with the wounded Obi-Wan carried over his shoulder. During the first take, Ewan McGregor noticed he could not hear the “Action!” cue from their position inside the elevator and behind its doors. Also Hayden’s cloak would get stuck a couple of times between the doors. “Very good for the outtakes.” Lucas said. After this, they filmed the ending of what would become a deleted scene: the Jedi escaping Grievous by going through the fuel tanks. The day wrapped after shooting a scene with Artoo at 19.10.

And that was the last first day of shooting for 11 years…

Sander de Lange (Exar Xan) from the Netherlands worked on the Rogues Gallery feature in Star Wars Insider and has written the backstory for Niai Fieso through “What’s the Story?”. He is an editor for TeeKay-421, the Belgian Star Wars Fanclub and an administrator for the Star Wars Sourcebooks page on Facebook Being born in Deventer, a city used to shoot the world-famous movie A Bridge Too Far, he always had a passion for shooting locations and tourism, in which he hopes to find a job.

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