Star Wars is such an overwhelming pop culture juggernaut that it's easy to forget that the first film was made with a relatively meager budget and less-than-enthusiastic support from the studio. In fact, many of the film's dazzling effects were thrown together using discarded ideas, old dolls, toy model kits, and a coat of shitty paint. Basically, Star Wars was built on a mountain of garbage and happy accidents.
For example ...
5 The Iconic Death Star Trench Battle Was Invented By A Lazy Model Maker
The Meridian Trench that wraps around the Death Star is not only the setting of one of the most thrilling climactic sequences in cinematic history; it's also responsible for a generation of adults who still daydream about unrealistic space dogfights to this day. And it wouldn't have existed at all, had it not been for a single model maker feeling a bit lazy one afternoon in the early 1970s.
To be fair, he was only mimicking the laziness of the Death Star's fictional designer.
Although virtually none of his work appears on film, model maker and spaceship designer to the gods Colin Cantwell was instrumental in the early pre-visualization days of Star Wars. You see, before many of the iconic vessels/future action figures featured in Star Wars found their way to the big screen, Cantwell built concept models for George Lucas to hold in his hands and study, which is a term here meaning "run around the house while making race car noises."
This included an early model of the Death Star, but there was a glaring problem with Cantwell's model: The material Cantwell used to form the Death Star's iconic "that's no moon" shape had a tendency to shrink, which caused the two dome-shaped halves of the model to not quite meet up in the middle, leaving an unsightly gap around its equator.
"Don't shame me. #RealSpaceStations #RealBodies"
Cantwell had previous experience with this precise issue, but in order to fix it, he would have to fill that goddamn seam with putty and sand it smooth, which is something he absolutely did not want to do, because it would take a super long time and there was beer to be drunk. So, he called up George Lucas and suggested that George rewrite the final battle scene in Star Wars to include a thrilling sequence in the giant crack in his model that was totally part of the original design and in no way just a mistake that he didn't feel like fixing.
Cantwell pitched the idea of a "ditch" around the Death Star that the heroic Rebel pilots had to dive and swoop and swish their way through, breathlessly avoiding heavy armaments on their way to the final attack point. Prior to that, the now-famous exhaust port was an obvious but well-guarded hole that the Rebels would just swarm around, like flies at a picnic table. Lucas agreed that Cantwell's pitch sounded way better (because, Cantwell's motives aside, it does), at which point Cantwell presumably wrote "DONE!" on a sticky note, slapped it on his Death Star model, and went out to get hammered.
4 Models Were Created With Off-The-Shelf Toys
For kids growing up in the '70s, life was full of such wonders as Planet Of The Apes, Land Of The Lost, and The Six Million Dollar Man ... that is, before Star Wars came along and stomped all of that crap out like a campfire. Incidentally, Steve Austin, The Six Million Dollar Man himself, made a cameo in the very movie that would usurp his merchandising empire. Or, at least, his action figure did.
To create the human figures occupying the miniature of Luke's landspeeder, 98th-level visual effects wizard Lorne Peterson looked for a quick and dirty alternative to actually sculpting wee versions of Luke and Obi-Wan, and he found it in the form of two Steve Austin action figures, which he mildly disguised with tiny Luke and Obi-Wan robes and stuffed into the vehicle. Although it looks downright ludicrous from the front, it totally worked in the film because the prop was shot only from far away or from behind, and for only short durations. Which is a good thing, because miniature Luke isn't wearing any pants.
And Obi-Wan doesn't have any fucking legs.
But in the quest to cut corners, nothing beats this next example.
First, a quick lesson in special effects history: Pre-CGI model makers used a process called kitbashing, wherein they'd plunder store-bought model kits (typically tanks and military aircraft) for high-tech-looking plastic bits, which they'd then glue together into even more high-tech-looking plastic bits to make a good-looking model for the film. But you know what makes this easier? When stores start selling models from your actual franchise.
That's right -- once the original Star Wars became an honest-to-goodness phenomenon, there were tons of Star Wars model kits on the shelf of every single toy store in America that could be easily kitbashed for the sequels. In at least one confirmed case, an entire off-the-shelf X-wing model kit was used for Return Of The Jedi. It's not even really fair to call this a case of kitbashing, because all Lucasfilm did was simply give the model a metal support structure, paint on some grime, and call it special effects genius.
Of course, the real genius was whoever drew Luke's face on that box.
Said X-wing has been positively identified by the hobby community as an off-the-shelf MPC kit by "tells," such as its uniquely gaunt underbelly, the orientation of its laser cannon tips, and probably the words "Made in China" stamped on there somewhere.