George Lucas And Steven Spielberg Played Tug Of War With A Key Star Wars Crew Member

Visual effects have come a long way since the first "Star Wars" trilogy premiered in the late 1970s and early 1980s. 1983's "Star Wars: Episode VI – Return of the Jedi" broke ground in terms of effects, just as its two predecessors had. One of the people responsible for this was Industrial Light & Magic's Dennis Muren. He worked on the visual effects for both of the first films but had even more responsibility for "Return of the Jedi."  

When you're in demand as a top visual effects artist, you often have to work on more than one project at a time. A while back, Muren spoke to about his experience on the film and how he simultaneously balanced doing work for George Lucas and Steven Spielberg. 

To give you a taste of the work Muren has done, he's provided visual effects for films like "Jurassic Park," "War of the Worlds," 2003's "Hulk," "Terminator 2: Judgement Day," "Willow," "Dragonslayer," "The Abyss," and Ghostbusters II." That is an impressive resume.

In the interview, Muren explains that he had finished up on "The Empire Strikes Back" and had gone to work on "Dragonslayer" and "E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial" before "Return of the Jedi" had him come in again. Production had already begun on the trilogy's final film with conceptual artist Ralph McQuarrie, the art department, and art director Joe Johnston. They'd set up a creature department with Phil Tippet, and they'd already started shooting when he got the call.

An embarrassment of riches

Muren, however, hadn't finished up on E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial" with Steven Spielberg. He said:

"I just finished a shot in 'E.T.' and had to jump on an airplane and fly over to do some blue screen stuff for the rancor pit creature. Then I came back and finished the stuff we were doing in 'E.T.' That's the way these shows usually go."

He explained that "Return of the Jedi" had so many effects that they had to split it into three sections. He was responsible for "most of the land stuff and the forest, and I think a few other things," as well as some stop-motion. Muren said that particular technique made it easier, with fewer shots required. He can't recall exactly but said he "probably didn't see a script. I probably just saw the pages at this point."

It's interesting to look at the budgets here to get an idea of the effects requirements. "Return of the Jedi" had a budget of $32,500,000, according to Box Office Mojo, while "E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial" only had $10,500,000. 

Muren said of the schedule he had between the two films: 

"I felt exhausted from barely finishing 'E.T.' because that was a pretty tough show and a pretty tiny show. And we had no money on that. We were really scrambling to get the thing done and make it look good."

This is what you call an embarrassment of riches. Muren's hard work brought us some incredible effects for the time, leading the way for what films can do these days. 

"Star Wars: Episode VI – Return of the Jedi" is currently streaming on Disney+.