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How The Team That Made Star Wars Came Together, From The VFX Legend Who Was There - Exclusive

In 1975, director George Lucas got the greenlight from 20th Century Fox to put a fantastical, wildly ambitious sci-fi adventure called "Star Wars" into production. There was just one problem: Lucas envisioned massive dogfights in space between starfighters, daring escapes from a planet-sized battle station, worlds full of exotic aliens, and more — and he had no one to help him make that happen.

With the grittier, more realistic films of the '70s dominating the cultural landscape, sci-fi had fallen out of favor and visual effects houses were few and far between. Lucas decided to open one himself, and named it Industrial Light and Magic. It started life in an empty warehouse in Van Nuys, California and went on to become the leading VFX company in the world.

In the new Disney+ documentary series "Light and Magic," director Lawrence Kasdan (who co-wrote "The Empire Strikes Back" and "Return of the Jedi" for Lucas) recounts the fascinating history of ILM, through a treasure trove of archival footage and recent interviews with some of the people who were there at the very beginning. They came together through a mutual love of filmmaking, art, monsters, and sci-fi, and all were dedicated to bringing "Star Wars" to life even when it seemed impossible.

One of the company's charter members, Dennis Muren — who's won nine Academy Awards for his work and is still at ILM to this day -– tells Looper in an exclusive interview what it was like when the nucleus of ILM came into being: "I think it was very lucky the way it all happened," he says. "But also [there were] a lot of smart people working on it."

Industrial Light and Magic came together almost organically

George Lucas's first choice to handle the visual effects on "Star Wars," Douglas Trumbull, wasn't able to sign on for the project, so he suggested (via Deadline) that Lucas hire his assistant, John Dykstra.

In turn, Dykstra assembled a crew of animators, cinematographers, painters, and sculptors that included Dennis Muren, Richard Edlund, Phil Tippett, Ken Ralston, John Berg, Lorne Peterson, Joe Johnston, and others. Some had worked together previously at an animation studio called Cascade Pictures, while others had been friends in college or even since they were kids.

"There are commonalities," Dennis Muren says about the organic way in which the VFX team developed. "I brought Ken Ralston into it and then eventually brought Phil and John Berg into it. I brought my little group of people that I trusted. John Dykstra had his group of people that he trusted also. Richard Edlund had his group that he trusted ... you hire the people you know who can do the work."

All of them rose to the challenge of making "Star Wars" unlike any movie ever seen before. "George's attitude to it also was like, do your best, try to not go overboard, make sure you get it done on time and do the best you can do on it," he continues. "We made some very, very smart decisions that we had our fingers crossed and adjusted all the time when there were problems."

Muren agrees that it was the right people at the right time who brought "Star Wars" to life and also, as a result, created a VFX company that changed film history. "It is serendipity that it all happened," he says. "Because somewhere in there, if there had been an obstacle that came in and somebody saying, 'Nope, we've got to do it like this,' the whole thing could have changed."

All episodes of "Light and Magic" are now streaming on Disney+.