Set decorators have to design the look and feel of entire worlds, to bring the director's vision to life. But how does a set decorator convince a director that he can bring this vision to life when it's set "in a galaxy far, far away"? The same way Roger Christian got his job on Star Wars: by recognizing the fact that the film was set "a long time ago."
In an interview with Esquire magazine, Christian discusses his first conversation with George Lucas.
He didn't want anything [in Star Wars] to stand out, he wanted it all real and used… Nothing was new. George was going right against that.
My first conversation with him was that spaceships should be things you see in garages with oil dripping and they keep repairing them to keep them going, because that's how the world is.
So, his messy vision was the reason why Christian was the third person Lucas hired to help him create Star Wars. (Also, the analogy of "garages with dripping oil" might have spoken to Lucas' passion for automobiles.)
Of course, as with other set decorators, he had to work quickly and on a budget. Specifically, he purchased scrap airplanes by weight. He said, "I could buy almost an entire plane for £50."
But it wasn't just the material that made Star Wars a lived-in, almost worn-out universe.
[I]f I bought airplane scrap and broke it down, I could stick it in the sets in specific ways — because there's an order to doing it, it's not just random…
The Millennium Falcon was difficult, because I had to train prop men to break down jet engines into scrap pieces and then line them all up into different categories and stick them to the walls.
According to Esquire, Christian also designed the lightsaber, after multiple iterations from the props department were rejected.
I knew the laser sword or light saber had the potential to become the symbol of Star Wars, like Excalibur was to King Arthur, so it had to look the part… One day at the camera shop we rented equipment from, I asked the owner if he had any spare parts somewhere. And he pointed to some boxes buried deep under the shelves and there in the box were several Graflex flashgun handles. They were perfect, heavy, and had a red button for firing the flash. I could not believe my luck. I used rubber T-strip as a base, which I had also used for the Stormtroopers' Stirling sub machine guns, and I pulled out my superglue and stuck strips along the base to form a handle grip. Then I had found some interesting bubble strip from an old calculator LED strip and they fit perfectly into the grip where the Graflex attached to the camera. I placed some chrome tape over the Graflex name and voila.
R2-D2 was also built as cheaply as possible, with wood and a lamp top.
And the hardest job for Christian? The trash compactor scene.
…I knew I had actors in there and the walls had to come in, and they had to be in dirty water and I had to get stuff that would be light enough so it wouldn't hurt them, but also not bobbing around.
Obviously, it worked out for him.
Check out the original article here.