Star Wars has always been a massive merchandising empire, with series creator George Lucas famously making a lot of his money by securing a cut of toy sales back in the 1970s.
Since then every new movie in the series has been accompanied by a wave of action figures, costumes and other tie-in goodies.
However, it’s now emerged that the toys might have had an even more significant influence on latest Star Wars movie The Last Jedi.
Below, the VFX team behind the movie explain how a design error in one of the toys forced the filmmakers to change the movie to match the toy, rather than the other way around.
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The change comes in a pivotal scene near the beginning of the film, when Adam Driver’s Kylo Ren uses his personalised ‘TIE Silencer’ starfighter to try and hunt down his mother Leia (Carrie Fisher).
Kylo’s ship is definitely one of the cooler new designs introduced into the Star Wars universe. However, the scene in the movie had to be altered halfway through production after director Rian Johnson noticed something troubling in the prototype merchandise.
“Initially, the plan was to have missiles on the underside, and shoot them off, and that was it,” Mike Mulholland, VFX Supervisor for Industrial Light and Magic (ILM) London told the crowd at the VFX Festival held in East London last week.
“But halfway through production Rian got a toy, a prototype toy of the Kylo fighter. And they had the missiles on the side wings! So we went and redesigned a bit of it [in the movie] so that we could open it up and pop them out.
“I’ve heard of the toys’ influence in the past, but that was the first time for me,” Mulholland laughed.
And it wasn’t the only compromise Johnson had to make when it came to his Star Wars ships, with Mulholland revealing that the director initially planned to return to the franchise’s roots by using small models for some of the pivotal space battle scenes, just as George Lucas and his team had done for the original trilogy.
“In early conversations with Rian and his producer Ram [Bergman], the question was, ‘How much can we do practically for the space battles?’” Mulholland said. “To get it kind of feeling like the original trilogy.
“That was investigated and discussed. It was a kind of an exercise in working out who could do it practically, who’s actually got the knowledge, the know-how and the time to do it, and how much it would cost.”
Sadly, though, Johnson’s dreams weren’t to become a reality, as the practicalities of making a scene with miniaturised spaceships set in.
“The quick answer is, it’s quicker and easier and more flexible to do it in CG,” Mulholland concluded. “So we were tackling it that way.”
It’s a shame, really – those meddlesome toys could have had a second use standing in for the real ships. Oh well.
The VFX Festival took place at Rich Mix Shoreditch and was created by Escape Studios, part of Pearson College London