The Amazing Matte Paintings of ‘Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back’

809 Shares

If you’re a fan of The Mandalorian, you’ve no doubt marveled at the seamless integration of both practical and visual effects in the show’s production. In the latest episode of Disney Gallery ~ Star Wars: The Mandalorian, we got to see just how “The Volume” works to create the world of Star Wars. Using cutting-edge technology wasn’t always the case, however. Instead, Lucasfilm relied upon incredible matte paintings to bring the likes of Hoth, Dagobah and other locales to life.

The Empire Strikes Back; matte paintings
Could you tell this wasn’t real? (image: Lucasfilm Ltd.)

This month we are honoring the fortieth anniversary of The Empire Strikes Back. As part of that celebration, starwars.com recently provided some back story for the stunning matte paintings that served as the backdrop for Episode V. For instance, we all know that much of what we see in Star Wars comes from the concept art of Ralph McQuarrie. But did you know that he himself painted some of the actual backgrounds? In one scene, at Echo Base on Hoth, he even walks in front of his own artwork!

The Matte Paintings of The Empire Strikes Back

Empire Strikes Back matte paintings
Live actors against the matte-painted background of Echo Base. (Image: Lucasfilm Ltd.)

Lucasfilm used the artform to create most of the iconic scenes of the Skywalker saga’s second entry. From the snowy battlefield of Hoth to the swamps of Dagobah, it was the matte paintings that made Empire all the more real. Even the scene of Luke flying away from Yoda’s home to rescue his friends was set against a painted reality.  The jewel of those paintings, though, comes with Han and Leia’s arrival to Cloud City. Who can forget Han, Chewie and Leia walking across the landing platform to meet Lando Calrissian?

matte painting; The Empire Strikes Back
Legendary Star Wars artist Ralph McQuarrie paints the Millennium Falcon at Cloud City. (Image: Lucasfilm Ltd.)

As it turns out, almost the entirety of that background was Ralph McQuarrie’s handiwork:

What I loved so much about the exterior of Cloud City was the subtlety of the sky [and] of the lighting. Elegance is what it’s all about. Very few people can pull that off, even today with CGI.”

~ Matte painter Harrison Ellenshaw

“The Volume”of The Mandalorian is amazing, to be sure. But… there’s no question that the matte paintings of the original Star Wars trilogy are still something to behold.

Source: starwars.com

Leave a Reply