Lucasfilm has always pushed the boundaries of special effects through the Star Wars franchise. The original film is a technical marvel, putting an entire universe on display with costumes, puppets, miniatures, and good old-fashioned craftsmanship. Of course, all of these practical effects are enhanced with computer-generated imagery, which was fairly primitive and rudimentary at the time. Even so, the mix of practical and digital effects has made the original Star Wars trilogy look fantastic and it still holds up today.
Advancements in technology have since made digital effects the quicker, easier option when imagining the impossible, so CGI has come to dominate most of the franchise. While most of it looks great, some CGI in Star Wars is downright unpleasant — and that’s putting it lightly. For this list, we’re going to discuss some of the most controversial digital effects in Star Wars to see what looks great and what never really did in the first place. Keep in mind that the original films were re-released as “Special Editions” where lots of CGI was added into the ’70s footage. Those are the “official” versions of those movies, whether fans like it or not, so we will be talking about those as well.
It’s worth noting that Lucasfilm is a pioneer studio when it comes to technology in film — while not every bit of CGI holds up, we should take a minute and acknowledge that without their work, cinema as we know it might be a very different place. With that said, maybe some things simply look better with modelling clay, wire, and old-school production techniques.
Here are 15 Star Wars CGI That Hurt The Movies (And 10 That Saved Them).
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HURT — Jabba’s Cameo
The original Star Wars doesn’t feature Jabba the Hut, but the Special Edition does — a deleted scene (originally shot with a stand-in actor as Jabba) had the crime lord confront Han Solo outside the Millennium Falcon. The Special Edition adds this deleted scene back into the film with a CGI Jabba replacing the actor. The results are horrible.
The crude CGI clashes with the surrounding scene, especially next to the physically-present Harrison Ford. To make matters worse, Ford paces around Jabba in the original footage, complicating the scene even further. Han must step on Jabba’s tail for the blocking to work, resulting in warped CGI and an unpleasant squeal.
SAVED — Peter Cushing As Tarkin
Studios have been experimenting with performance-capture technology quite a bit in recent years, but nothing has been as impressive as when Lucasfilm brought Peter Cushing back from the grave. The legendary actor passed away back in 1997, but when Rogue One: A Star Wars Story featured Grand Moff Tarkin in the script, Cushing was recreated using special effects and performance-capture actor Guy Henry.
While the character is clearly made of CGI, the combination of the performance and effects delivers something truly special. Casual viewers may not notice the difference, while hardcore fans can be delighted by the return of a classic Star Wars actor.
HURT — Jedi Rocks
The musical number in Jabba’s Palace was never likable, but after the Special Editions replaced the song and traded the puppets for CGI, it became downright awful. The original scene might have been shorter, but the right call would have been to remove it all together.
It doesn’t help that the aliens sing obnoxiously close to the camera, putting the primitive CGI characters on display for everyone to cringe at. Not only is the “Jedi Rocks” hard to listen to, but the special effects are laughable and it goes on for way longer than it should. Fast-forward through this scene whenever possible.
HURT — The Droid Factory
Attack of the Clones may be the peak of Lucasfilm’s reliance on special effects, and nowhere is this more evident than in the factory sequence. Anakin, Padmé, R2-D2 and C-3PO get lost in massive droid assembly line where they must dodge factory machinery. It’s a fun sequence, but it has aged poorly — the environment is rubbery and the actors’ performances don’t quite sell the danger.
They duck and weave around crushing machines, mechanized saws, and hot irons. Obviously, this is too dangerous to be real, but the scene just doesn’t look convincing. The sequence only gets more CGI-heavy as it goes on, pushing the crude effects into Spy Kids territory.
SAVED — The Podrace
The prequel films have a reputation for excessive CGI — set photos often feature lonely actors in front of green screens. However, much of the prequels is made of (or at least modeled after) physical objects. The Podrace is a great example of that.
Not only is the stadium fully modeled, but so were many of the pods themselves. Of course, the race itself is mostly CGI, but the blend of practical and digital effects is what makes the scene look so great. The models provide the vivid details, while the CGI gives the scene has a stressful sense of speed and danger. It’s easily one of the best sequences in the prequels.
HURT — Clone Troopers
Not one Clone Trooper in the prequels is real. There are real droids in the movies, but not a single Republic soldier. This makes perfect sense for massive crowd shots like the one pictured above, but the CGI really stands out in scenes when they stand beside real people — especially if there are only a few Clones in a shot. It seems lazy, especially since it’s so easy to find a cheap Stormtrooper costume for Halloween!
This is especially distracting in Revenge of the Sith. Obi-Wan meets a helmet-less Commander Cody several times in the film, and each time he appears as Temuera Morrison’s floating head on a rubbery, digital body.
HURT — Digital Leia
Considering Rogue One successfully recreated a deceased actor with CGI, this remake of Princess Leia is pretty disgraceful. She appears at the very end of Rogue One ── easily the best part of the film until this uncanny CGI induces a cringe in viewers.
Carrie Fisher’s face was superimposed over the face of stand-in actress Ingvild Deila, and while it doesn’t sound very different from the way they recreated Tarkin, the results are noticeably worse. Leia’s animation is rubbery and something abut her likeness is off. Thankfully, the scene isn’t long enough to ruin the entire film. It just seems like an odd drop in quality considering the CGI Tarkin is so spot-on.
SAVED — Leia Lives
In contrast to the CGI Leia in Rogue One, the one featured in The Last Jedi is implemented with care and respect. She isn’t being de-aged here. Instead the CGI creates a scenario otherwise impossible through completely practical effects.
Leia is thrown into space — seemingly to her demise — but uses the Force to survive and pull herself back into the safety of a Rebellion ship. It serves as a poignant tribute to the late Carrie Fisher. The tribute might be unintentional ─ it was seemingly part of the film before Fisher’s untimely passing ─ but nevertheless it is an elegant scene starring cinema’s greatest princess.
HURT — Hauling Rathtars
The Force Awakens brought Star Wars back to its former glory and is perhaps one of the most rewatchable films in the franchise– except for this scene. When two gangs confront Han Solo on his own ship, Rey and Finn accidentally release these ugly creatures from their cages.
Rathtars — big rolling mouths covered in tentacles and eyes— are plastic-looking B-movie monsters that look way too silly to foster any tension. They look worse when a 74 year-old Harrison Ford outruns one speeding down a hall, flailing its tentacles. We’re not trying to throw shade on Harrison Ford, but it’s hard to believe he could outrun these goofy CGI monstrosities.
HURT — Anakin Vs. Obi-Wan
The fight choreography in the prequels is divisive for Star Wars fans. Every lightsaber battle feels fast, but weightless and excessively flashy. This is especially evident in the final battle between Anakin and Obi-Wan, where the fight begins with speedy lightsaber clashes but gradually devolves into silly flips and CGI set-pieces.
The scene is already so grand in scale that there is no reason to escalate it further with random CGI stunts. It really jumps the shark when Anakin and Obi-Wan leap massive distances to land on shaky, unstable debris in the lava river. George Lucas isn’t exactly a subtle filmmaker, but this sequence a bit much.
SAVED — Jar Jar
Lucasfilm is known for pioneering digital technology in film, and Jar Jar is a perfect example of that. Like it or not, he was (and should be) considered a technical achievement. His detailed animation was built on the performance of Ahmed Best, who is responsible for bringing the character to life with prosthetics before he was given a digital overhaul.
Sure, the character is deeply annoying, but that is the fault of the writing and not the special effects work. Credit where credit is due: Jar Jar is one of the first fully-CGI characters in film and his existence has its merits. It’s too bad that he’s totally unbearable.
HURT — The Canto Bight Chase
Haters of The Last Jedi often cite this scene as one of their biggest grievances. Finn and Rey take a trip to Canto Bight, freeing horse-like creatures called “Fathiers” and using them to evade local police. Say what you want about how it relates to the rest of the movie, but the CGI in this scene dips into prequel territory.
Perhaps that’s an exaggeration, but it has its fair share of uncanny visuals. The chase consists of CGI Fathiers knocking over CGI objects, which goes on for far too long — and it was trimmed for the final release. It might be worth it for that moonlit shot on the beach, though.
HURT — The Sarlacc Pit Has Lips Now
One of the many pointless changes from the Star Wars Special Editions — the Sarlacc from Return of the Jedi was given goofy CGI mouth. Fans remember this creature as the thing that Jabba intended to throw Luke and Han into, though Boba Fett falls in instead.
In the original film, it’s a living hole in the ground with teeth. In the updated versions, it’s a flapping mouth with tentacles all around it. Why bother? Was a bottomless pit made of teeth not scary enough? If that’s the case, a silly mouth made of Playstation-era graphics is not going to fix that.
SAVED — The Space Battles
Originally this point was prequel-specific, but it’s safe to say that every space sequence looks great from A New Hope to Solo.
While many of the early space battles were shot with models and small explosives, they began to rely on CGI more and more as the years passed. Obviously, there is no practical way to shoot over-the-top space battles, but it’s hard to find one in the franchise that isn’t a total blast, CGI or not. The finale of Rogue One particularly stands out, being a wonderful blend of gritty, realistic visuals and a colorful ballet of aerial stunts.
HURT — Jedi Super Speed
This one is so minor that fans probably don’t remember that this moment even exists. At the beginning of The Phantom Menace, Obi-Wan and Qui-Gon are pinned down by a pair of destroyer-droids. They decide to escape by using Force speed — a power that is never seen or used again.
Not only does the special effect for force speed look horrible, but it begs the question: why don’t they use that more? In an instant, the CGI smears them off-screen like a retro cartoon. The Flash proves that this effect has come a long way, but seriously, why don’t they do this more?
HURT — Bouncy Yoda
Although Yoda started out as a puppet in the prequel films, the prop was retired in favor of a CGI makeover. This didn’t look nearly as real, but it allowed for the fluid motion that a puppet could never provide. It was a fine change in concept but not in execution — it only exists so Yoda can have a silly-looking lightsaber fight with Count Dooku.
At the end of Attack of the Clones, Yoda drops his cane, whips out a lightsaber, and starts screaming. He bounces around the room, spinning and flailing until Count Dooku retreats. Shouldn’t Yoda just have cooler Force powers instead? This battle just looks ridiculous.
SAVED — Replacing The Emperor
While many of the changes in the Special Edition serve no purpose, this one actually puts CGI to good use. The Emperor appears for the first time in The Empire Strikes Back, but he isn’t played by Ian McDiarmid until Return of the Jedi. Instead, the character is a stand-in actor wearing prosthetics.
McDiarmid was later added in to The Empire Strikes Back to create consistency between the two trilogies. It’s fairly basic CGI compared to the rest of the list ─ a simple composite of a performance and old footage ─ but this swap is a clever change and it proves that CGI should always come in small doses.
HURT — Obi-Wan Chasing Grievous
Another unnecessarily complicated CGI action sequence — Revenge of the Sith has Obi Wan Kenobi chase after General Grievous on a varactyl. Grievous drives a wheel-shaped bike beside Obi-Wan’s steed as the two rush through tunnels, avoid obstacles, and hit each other.
The scene might be brief, but it’s bland and totally unconvincing. It’s especially uncanny since Ewan McGregor is the most photorealistic thing on screen, and even he bounces around erratically. It makes everything in the scene look fake. Fans should be thankful for it nonetheless — the original cut of this sequence was several minutes longer and featured even more CGI set-pieces, including a highway and a subway train.
SAVED — The Underwater City
Although it’s only a brief moment, the CGI used to render the underwater Gungan city in The Phantom Menace is still a gorgeous scene. Obi-Wan and Qui-Gon follow Jar Jar deep into the water, only to encounter a massive Atlantis-like settlement. It looks like a series of candlelit chandeliers underwater.
The movie spends very little time here, but it’s a nice reminder of how the impossible can be achieved with CGI. Of course, once the gang heads inside to meet an entire city of Jar Jars, it’s easy to forget that. It’s an imaginative sequence that doesn’t get enough credit, especially in a film derided for its often-lame CGI.
HURT — Hayden’s Force Ghost
This effect doesn’t actually look bad — it’s not exactly a complex use of CGI, either— but it’s a pointless change that only distracts older viewers. At the end of Return of the Jedi, Luke sees three Force ghosts: Obi-Wan, Yoda, and his father Anakin.
In the original film, Anakin’s ghost is much older as he’s played by the late Sebastian Shaw. In the Special Edition, Shaw has been replaced with Hayden Christensen, who plays Anakin in the prequel films. It’s an insulting use of CGI and it’s blatantly unfair to Shaw. Shaw isn’t erased from the film completely — he still plays Darth Vader unmasked — but there’s still no need to have replaced him.
SAVED — Supreme Leader Snoke
Lucasfilm has come a long way since Jar Jar Binks. The new trilogy’s premier CGI character is Supreme Leader Snoke, played by the ever-so-talented Andy Serkis. Not only is Serkis perfect for the role — having built his career on fantastic motion-capture performances like Gollum in Lord of the Rings and Caesar in the rebooted Planet of the Apes franchise — but the animation is top-notch here.
Snoke’s expressions and body language are nuanced and human, while details on his body are painstakingly visible. Everything from his scars to the stray hairs on his head look surprisingly realistic, and he’s easily one of the best-looking CGI characters ever made.
HURT — Entering Mos Eisley
The Special Edition of A New Hope features many CGI additions to a world already brimming with detail, but this scene goes way too far. When Luke and Obi-Wan first ride into Mos Eisley to meet Han Solo, viewers are treated to a short montage of the town. This sequence is heavily altered in the Special Edition, now featuring new CGI buildings, extras, and creatures — far too many, in fact.
An attempt to make Mos Eisley look “dense” makes everything look bloated. Locals get into traffic jams, the surroundings look like a video game, and some CGI aliens walk directly in front of the camera– in the middle of dialogue no less!
SAVED — Hyperspace Ram
Admiral Holdo is a new character in The Last Jedi who doesn’t get much screen time before she bites the dust, but she’s responsible for one of the best shots in Star Wars. She sacrifices herself by ramming her ship into a First Order fleet using light speed, turning her ship into a bullet.
The moment is sudden, accompanied by silence and some painterly CGI visuals. Entire theaters gasped at the scene and it remains one of the coolest moments in the new trilogy. Between the contrasting light and mosaic of debris, it just goes to show that CGI can be used for massive set pieces without being a gimmick.
Hurt — Greedo Shot First
Of all the entries on this list, this piece of special effects revisionism is the most offensive. Han meets Greedo in the cantina ─ a bounty hunter set on collecting the price on his head. In the original film, Han shoots Greedo under the table and walks out like the swaggering outlaw he is.
In the Special Edition, Greedo shoots Han first (so that Han is the victim, not the aggressor), and Han’s neck is digitally shifted to the right to dodge the blast. It looks horrible, it clashes with Han’s personality, and it has gone down as one of the worst moments in Star Wars history.
SAVED — The Little Things
Most of the entries on this list bash the Star Wars Special Editions, but there are plenty of good CGI changes that often go unrecognized. Certain scenes are color-corrected (like R2 in space), some environments are expanded (like Cloud City), and the clunkier vehicle props are replaced with CGI.
There are some weird ones — removing Darth Vader’s eyebrows, Ewoks getting CGI eyelids so that they could blink — but all-in-all, many of these changes are the result of good intentions and the exploration of then-new technology. Yeah, it may feel like tampering, but many of these CGI alterations fix problems that filmmakers could never have fixed before. Did they go too far? Maybe — but at least it’s not all in vain.
What is your favorite CGI moment in Star Wars? Make sure to leave a comment before you go, and share your thoughts!
More Info: screenrant.com