George Lucas and his film crew used the studios at Elstree for most of the interior shots for Star Wars, The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi. For The Phantom Menace he used Leavesden Aerodrome and some of the surrounding woodland. The crew also used Shepperton and Ealing Studios for pick-up shooting for Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith after principal photography was complete at Fox Studios, Australia.
Elstree’s filmmaking history began in 1914 when Percy Nash and John East two early British filmmakers decided Elstree was their ideal location for a film studio.
Director George Lucas started filming on A New Hope (ANH) on July 16th 1976 on stage 8 at the studios. After the problems with the Tunisian shoot Lucas was hoping for an easier time – he was wrong. It was a difficult shoot, the atmosphere on set was tense, no one had any idea about what was going on, Harrison Ford is quoted as saying “ you can type this shit, but you can’t say it” with regard to the script. It didn’t help that George’s direction amounted to little more than “Faster, more Intense”. Another headache was the British Union rules which meant that no filming could be done after 5:30pm.
Nonetheless, principle photography wrapped in July 1976 and Lucas turned his attention to pick-ups and post-production at ILM.
The sad passing of screenwriter Leigh Brackett of cancer in 1978 just after handing in her first draft marred the pre-production of The Empire Strikes Back (TESB). There were many other complications to overcome during the filming of TESB in 1979.
Following the gruelling Finse shoot the crew were already behind schedule and over budget. Plus, a now infamous fire in January on stage 3 five weeks prior to principle photography put more strain on the production team who needed to build the film’s 64 required sets.
On Wed 6th June while talking to Robert Watts (producer) in his Elstree office, John Barry (production designer) collapsed and was taken to hospital. He died the following morning.
For Return of the Jedi (ROTJ) the production would use nine sound stages to house the Millennium Falcon and all the major interiors.
Star Wars came back to Elstree in 2002 for Attack of the Clones (AOTC) pick-ups.
Lucas and Crew finally returned to Elstree almost 29 years after ANH to film some pick ups for the last part of the new trilogy, Revenge of the Sith (ROTS). Rick McCallum (producer) admitted “we could have shot anywhere in the world, but Elstree is our home”.