Talking Pictures: Dennis Muren on making ‘Star Wars’ glow

“Everybody wants to know about the lightsabers,” says Dennis Muren, standing before a full house at the Century Cinema Theater in Corte Madera. Muren—a legendary special effects artist and veteran of Industrial Light & Magic, having worked on all of the original Star Wars films, and many other high-profile projects—is clearly still intensely enthused about the films he helped to create. As part of October’s Mill Valley Film Festival, Muren, the guest of honor following a screening of Return of the Jedi, is taking questions from an audience that is still humming with excitement after watching the third original Star Wars movie on the largest screen in the North Bay.

The first question is about the lightsabers used in the films. The gentleman posing the question wants to know how a lightsaber can glow with green light, even when being wielded in front of a green screen, which filmmakers use as a substitute for background sets, which are often inserted artificially afterwards. The question is a testament to how believable those lightsabers were.

“Those weren’t actually real lightsabers,” Muren admits. “The actors used sticks or rods of some kind when filming the scene, and the glowing light was added later, basically as an animated effect. I’m really thrilled you think that was real, though.”

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