5 ways Star Wars wouldn’t be Star Wars without Anderson!

For (hopefully) obvious reasons, May 4th is now known around the world as Star Wars Day – but were you aware of the many connections between Star Wars and the Anderson universe? On the day celebrating the most popular film franchise in history, let us share with you a few Star Wars secrets that you may not have been aware of…

Space:1999 laid much of the visual effects groundwork for Star Wars

The feature film quality of Space:1999’s visual effects had been noticed by George Lucas even before Star Wars entered production. In 1976 he and Gary Kurtz visited Bray Studios, then the home of the model effects department for Space:1999 headed by Brian Johnson. A few days later Johnson was contacted by Lucas with an offer for him to lead the effects department on Star Wars, but Johnson declined the offer due to being otherwise engaged on 1999’s second season. However, the fact that 1999’s had been produced to such a high standard on a television budget proving particularly interesting to Lucas considering his film’s relatively limited budget, and when Star Wars hit cinemas in 1977 the film’s visual style owed more than a little to that of Space:1999.

The Eagle vs the Falcon

Han Solo’s Millennium Falcon is one of the most famous spaceships in the history of cinema – but as originally designed, the ship looked very different to the one we know and love today. That is, until George Lucas ordered the design be changed!

Ralph McQuarrie artwork showing the original design of the Falcon.

His reason? The original design of the craft too closely resembled the look of the Space:1999 Eagle transporter – particularly the insect-like forward section of the model – and he didn’t want to have a star vehicle that reminded viewers of one they were already familiar with.

As a result, the original Millennium Falcon model was repurposed into the Tantive IV blockade runner seen under attack from Darth Vader’s star destroyer at the beginning of the film. Modelmaker Joe Johnston went back to the drawing board looking for a vehicle ship that in no way reflected anything seen in Space:1999 – and the equally iconic new Millennium Falcon was born in just four weeks!

Talent on set and on screen

As well as inspiring the film’s model effects, Star Wars also benefited from the talents of many of those who had helped bring Space:1999 to life on set; from practical effects to costume design. For instance Andrew Ainsworth, the man who designed the iconic Darth Vader and Stormtrooper helmets,had previously built the plasma alien costumes for The Bringers of Wonder and the alien monster head first worn in the episode The Beta Cloud by future Darth Vader himself Dave Prowse!

You’ll also spot a plethora of actors who had previously appeared in Space:1999 turn up in the original Star Wars trilogy (and even some of the later films); everyone from Peter Cushing as Grand Moff Tarkin and Christopher Lee as Count Dooku to regular 1999 extras Mike Stevens, Pam Rose, Alan Harris, Jenny Cresswell and many many more filling out the Star Wars universe as various background rebels, Imperials and cantina patrons!

And Shane Rimmer’s in it. Because how could he not be?

Brian Strikes Back

With the cancellation of Space:1999 Brian Johnson had moved on to other projects, including the feature films The Medusa Touch (1978) and Alien (1979) – for which he won an Oscar. However, his influence on the model effects of the original Star Wars still loomed large in the mind of George Lucas, who invited him to take on the role of special effects director for The Empire Strikes Back – an offer Johnson accepted. This thrilling sequel included some of the saga’s most memorable visual effects sequences, including the Empire’s attack on Echo Base, the Imperial pursuit of the Millennium Falcon through an asteroid field, and the Bespin Cloud City – all of which helped Johnson win his second Oscar.

The legacy continues

The twenty-first century has seen Star Wars flourish across all mediums, with multiple new television and feature film productions. These shows and films have benefitted from the technical expertise of many who worked on the old Anderson shows; most notably Mark Harris. Production designer on Space Police and New Captain Scarlet (as well as contributor of story ideas to Space Precinct) Mark later moved on to serve as art director on feature films including the 2004 Thunderbirds movie, several of the Pierce Brosnan and Daniel Craig James Bond films, and eventually the Star Wars films The Force Awakens, The Last Jedi and the television series Andor. Such was his contribution to the series that his work was subtly acknowledged onscreen during The Force Awakens when Rey tells Finn to pass her a “Harris wrench” – an appropriate nod to the past considering that one of Mark’s earliest gigs was as an art department assistant in The Empire Strikes Back!

While the Star Wars cinematic empire flourished thanks to a large number of talented artists creatives and technicians who never had anything to do with any Anderson production, there’s also no denying that the original trilogy owes a lot of its look to the visual style of Space:1999 in particular. While today we associate the franchise with the very latest cutting edge special effects and technological advancements, it’s worth remembering that it was the adventures of Commander Koenig and the Moonbase Alpha crew that first proved to George Lucas that the model effects he needed for 1977’s Star Wars were not just achievable on a limited budget – but could actually look spectacular!

Know any other interesting links between Star Wars and the Anderson universe? Let us know in the comments below!

Written by
Chris Dale

Writer, editor & voice actor on Big Finish's Doctor Who, Terrahawks, Thunderbirds and Captain Scarlet audio ranges. Host of the Randomiser on the Gerry Anderson Podcast.

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