Film, Digital, and Big Lenses: Here’s How the New ‘Star Wars’ Movies Are Being Shot

     August 28, 2015

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This December marks the beginning of what’s sure to be a very long trek back into the world of Star Wars with Star Wars: The Force Awakens, the seventh “episode” in the series and the first installment in a new trilogy. Given that Star Wars is quite possibly the biggest franchise in the world, interest was understandably high in specifically what kind of cameras would be bringing the series back to the big screen. There are a number of different options available to filmmakers nowadays, so how best to capture the franchise’s return?

Reports resurfaced today about the types of lenses being used on director Gareth Edwards’ anthology film (now officially dubbed “A Star Wars Story”) Rogue One, so this feels like a good opportunity to recap what we know so far about the equipment being used to bring Star Wars to life.

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Image via Disney/Lucasfilm

Starting with the first new film, we have Star Wars: The Force Awakens. Abrams has long been a proponent of shooting on film, and indeed he used 35mm to capture the majority of The Force Awakens with cinematographer Dan Mindel, who shot all of Abrams’ previous movies save for Super 8. However, in addition to 35mm, Abrams and Mindel also used 65mm IMAX cameras for one specific sequence, the Millennium Falcon chase through Jakku as seen in the first trailer. The movie is being presented both in 2D and 3D upon release, but as Abrams shot on film, the 3D will be a post-conversion. The Force Awakens is also being showcased in IMAX 3D, which is where fans will get the full benefit of the IMAX footage.


Next up is the aforementioned Rogue One, which is currently in production. Edwards and cinematographer Greg Fraser (Zero Dark Thirty) are using a variety of formats for what will be the first standalone film of the new Star Wars era, as Rogue One takes place before the events of A New Hope and revolves around a group of Rebel fighters working to steal the plans for the Death Star. As we previously reported, the film will be utilizing the new large-format 6K resolution model of Arri’s Alexa 65. This is a digital camera that specializes in intensity and definition of image, and was used for the underwater sequence in Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation and for parts of The Revenant, and it is the predecessor to Arri’s first fully digital IMAX camera that’s being used on Captain America: Civil War.

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Image via Disney

But Edwards and Fraser are combining old with new on these Alexa 65’s, as THR previously reported that they’ll be using the Ultra Panavision 70 anamorphic lenses that Quentin Tarantino refurbished for The Hateful Eight (which was shot on 70mm film) on the Alexa 65s. Rogue One is also using regular 35mm film for certain sequences, so a variety of techniques will attempt to bring to life this more grounded, boots-on-the-ground look at the Star Wars universe.

After Rogue One we have Star Wars: Episode VIII, which will begin filming early next year with Rian Johnson (Looper) at the helm. As the movie is still in pre-production we don’t know too many technical details just yet, but Johnson previously said that he’ll be shooting on 35mm film and initially wanted to shoot the whole movie on 65mm. Unfortunately, he says “for some specific logistical reasons” they’ll be sticking with 35mm—though that doesn’t rule out 65mm IMAX for certain sequences. Johnson is expected to be reuniting with cinematographer Steve Yedlin, who shot Looper, The Brothers Bloom, and Brick.


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Image via Lucasfilm

The next Star Wars film after Episode VIII is the untitled young Han Solo picture directed by Phil Lord and Chris Miller, but since they just signed on, it will likely be a while before we hear what kind of cameras they’ll be using. Though it’s worth noting they shot 21 Jump Street on film and 22 Jump Street on digital, so they have experience with both formats. And then there’s Colin Trevorrow directing the ways-off Episode IX. He shot Jurassic World using a mix of 35mm, IMAX, and digital, so he’s also well versed in both realms.

So, while the filmmaking world grows ever-reliant on digital filmmaking, it’s nice to know that the filmmakers at the helm of the new Star Wars universe have a passion for 35mm and a desire to capture these spectacles with a wide, vast canvas. But it’s also refreshing to see that we might be getting some variety in terms of film format and approach for the anthology films, as evidenced by Edwards’ diverse camera choices on Rogue One.

Catch up on all of our Star Wars coverage by clicking here, and get a refresher on the impending calendar below.

  • Star Wars: The Force Awakens – December 18, 2015
  • Rogue One: A Star Wars Story – December 16, 2016
  • Star Wars: Episode VIII – May 26, 2017
  • Untitled Han Solo Star Wars Story – May 25, 2018
  • Star Wars: Episode IX – 2019

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Image via Lucasfilm

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