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The Mind-Blowing Way Return Of The Jedi's Speeder Bike Chase Was Actually Filmed

The "Star Wars" universe has always been a showcase for special effects wizardry. The demands of the films in the George Lucas-directed original trilogy basically necessitated the creation of Industrial Light & Magic, the company responsible for those aforementioned special effects. "I remember reading the script and thinking, 'My God, there's a space battle at the end of it, and how can you do some many shots?'" ILM creative director Dennis Muren told NBC News in 2015.

Muren remembers when things really clicked for ILM while filming "Star Wars: Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back." He recalled, "I had a real revelation moment," while describing an establishing shot of the planet Hoth where a stop-motion Tauntaun was added to a real aerial shot. When Lucas approached him about adding the Tauntaun to the existing flyover shot, Muren thought it couldn't be done. "I started thinking about it and, in about 15 minutes, I figured out how to do it with the gear we had. Just arranging it in a different way that hadn't been done before. And it taught me to never stop thinking about something," he said, going on to remark, "It ended up being a template for a lot of shots we did later on."

What Muren learned from this experience on "Empire Strikes Back" served him well, especially in his work on later "Star Wars" movies. It appears to be an especially profound creative experience when you hear about how he and the rest of the ILM team crafted the speeder bike chase on Endor in "Star Wars: Episode VI – Return of the Jedi."

The speeder bike chase combines some clever special effects techniques

A making-of featurette uploaded to YouTube shows Industrial Light & Magic creative director Dennis Muren explaining how the background for Luke (Mark Hamill) and Leia's (Carrie Fisher) speeder bike chase was filmed in the redwood forests of Smith River, California (via IMDb). "I got the idea of using a Steadicam," he says in the video, going on to explain how they did a test at the filming location. Behind-the-scenes footage shows the Steadicam operator walking through the forest, only shooting one frame per second as he walked.

According to Film Riot, this is called "undercranking," and it causes the footage to look sped up in playback. Muren confirmed this in the featurette, commenting, "When you project it back at 24 frames-per-second, it's going 24 times faster. We figured you walk about five miles an hour. It came up to about 100 miles an hour, and it looked great." Additional archival footage uploaded to the Star Wars UK YouTube channel in 2013 shows Muren and his team getting the shots they need at Smith River to create a visceral and visually compelling speeder bike chase. The video also reveals how they created models of the characters and their futuristic craft to map out the sequence.

Behind-the-scenes photos (via Befores and Afters) show both live actors and miniature figures being matted into the Steadicam backgrounds using blue screens. According to Science World, blue screen and green screen both fall under what is known in the FX biz as "chroma key." If ILM were to do the speeder bike scene today, it's possible the background would have been entirely CGI, like the pod-racing scene in "Episode I – The Phantom Menace," or projected on set, like the digital sets on "The Mandalorian."