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The real Death Star cost even more than George Lucas’s Ferrari

The second Death Star proved a costly creation, but George Lucas needed the Star Wars movies to look real. We're pleased he pushed it.

The Death Star cost more than Star Wars creator George Lucas's Ferrari

Since Disney bought Star Wars, it has felt a lot like a case of money no object. No budget is too big to bring the galaxy far, far away to our screens. But that wasn’t always the case, such as when George Lucas decided he wanted an enormous model of the second Death Star built for Return of the Jedi.

In fact, the Star Wars creator was far more relaxed about cost than the studio bosses holding the cash. This relaxation even extended past when Lucas was told that his model for the lair of the Star Wars villains would cost even more than the Ferrari he had recently bought thanks to the success of the best movies in the franchise.

In a behind-the-scenes clip shared on YouTube, ILM model shop supervisor Lorne Peterson explained that there was a matte painting of the Death Star in place. But because of the nature of the painting, the camera “couldn’t really move much”. Lucas wanted a model to enable more freedom of movement, but those holding the purse-strings weren’t keen.

Peterson said: “Production would talk to me and say: ‘Don’t emphasize the model, we could do it with a painting because we don’t want another big-budget model made’. George said to me specifically: ‘What do you think it’s gonna cost if we did it as a full-size model?’

“I had known that he had bought a Dino Ferrari, a used one, and I knew exactly how much he had paid for it. I said: ‘It’ll cost about as much, a little bit more, than the Dino Ferrari you bought’. He said: ‘Is that all? Let’s do it’. George had already made the decision and they weren’t going to be able to change his decision now, so we built it.”

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That chimes with the Lucas we all know and love. The Star Wars characters were his babies and he was determined that the Star Wars movies would tell the stories of those characters in the best possible way, regardless of expensive demands for the modeling team.

It’s great to hear these sorts of stories and to hear about the very practical approaches that made the Star Wars universe feel so real and lived in. This had changed somewhat by the time Lucas returned for the prequels, leaning on shonky CGI. It was a relief when the new Star Wars movies of the sequel era returned somewhat to their roots with as many practical effects as possible.

So next time we watch the Star Wars movies in order and we reach the explosive climax of Return of the Jedi, we’ll remember that the devilish structure was even pricier than a luxury car.

For more on the Star Wars cast, we’ve explored why Billy Dee Williams had to constantly defend Lando and the ways George Lucas fought to keep Chewbacca naked.

We’re very excited for the new movies from the galaxy far, far away, especially because we really think Rey deserves a new Star Wars movie of her own. For more from the future, look ahead to our favorite Star Wars series as we prepare for the Andor season 2 release date.