Why is shooting Star Wars on film so important

Colin Trevorrow has definitely got his mind on Star Wars, already planning a great finale to the Sequel Trilogy. He’s even gone as far as to contemplate how to do a shot in outer space. That would be truly amazing, but how would they do it? They’d maybe take an airplane very high in the atmospher to accomplish this, but even then to stabilize the camera for a “Star Wars shot” might be tough. Nevertheless, I like the way he is thinking. He wants to create an ultra-real Star Wars.


In a recent interview with Variety, Episode IX director Colin Trevorrow said he would shoot Star Wars on film, much like JJ Abrams did. Colin goes further and essentially suggests that film produces a sense of age to the movie, by saying that

“It’s a period film. It happened a long time ago.”

He is saying that film captures an essence of something that happened, and possibly creates a greater sense of reality/realism that the film actually took place some time in the past. Compare this to digital, which often looks a little artificial for some viewers. Something else comes through the film. There is some magic that happens in film development that picks up on some subtle details.

This got me thinking about the past Star Wars films. Whereas all the original trilogy was shot on film, as well as The Phantom Menace, both Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith were shot on digital. The difference between the latter two is perhaps, as many fans may remember, Revenge of the Sith was shot on a special new camera. From wikipedia:

Apart from this, there were a number of operational problems with both the lenses and cameras used for Attack of the Clones[citation needed], and so for Revenge of the Sith, George Lucas severed his long-standing relationship with Panavision in 2003, obtaining newer-model Sony HDC-F950 cameras and lenses from Plus8Digital instead.

Although there is no citation/source for the comment that Attack of the Clones had issues with the digital camera, in my mind something stands out as different for Attack of the Clones.


In fact, I’ve said before that I think The Phantom Menace holds up better than AotC. It isn’t the use of CGI characters, because TPM has its share. I think that maybe it was the digital film. The digital cameras of that era don’t effectively capture the texture and feel of the physical actors. I am not sure if its the translation of visual to digital bites or perhaps the human eye can detect ever so slightly that the curves we see on screen are actually pixels. Or perhaps it was the addition of digital information with CGI that makes a difference, IE Digital effects+ Digital footage = reduction in overall texture that Film and CGI doesn’t loose.

Was it worth it? Hard to say. I think one thing is clear that the work done in AotC paved the way for Revenge of the Sith to look so much better. Revenge of the Sith somehow avoids most of these issues and doesn’t have this surreal digital quality. Still it lacks something when watching the real human characters interacting.


The Force Awakens certainly proves that Stormtroopers work better with a judicious mix of real costumes and digital composition. That’s certainly part of it. Any issues with with the CGI clones was largely fixed in RotS, but still not perfect. The real costumes digitally copied over and over again to create the effect seen in TFA beats them both hands-down.

So looking back, there were a number of flaws in AotC, and maybe, just maybe, it would have worked better on film. No way to know for sure, but a lot of signs point that way.

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