Star Wars in photos: 40 years of the Force

Relive the saga with iconic onscreen moments and behind-the-scenes peeks from four decades of Star Wars movies.

Richard Trenholm
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"Star Wars" came out 40 years ago in May 1977. Relive the saga from its earliest moments to the latest films in these behind-the-scenes photos and stills from the original trilogy, the prequels and the new movies.

Here, writer and director George Lucas and the crew shoot "Star Wars" at London's legendary Elstree studios in 1976.

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Alec Guinness, who played Obi-Wan Kenobi (centre, in "A New Hope") is the only actor to be nominated for an Academy Award for his role in the saga.

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George Lucas on set for "A New Hope" in Tunisia, with Anthony Daniels as finicky droid C-3PO.

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The iconic opening text crawl was achieved by moving the camera, not the text.

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Luke's landspeeder was based on the chassis of a Bond Bug three-wheeler car, with an angled mirror and a broom underneath to kick up dust and create the illusion of hovering.

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Harrison Ford, Peter Mayhew, Mark Hamill and Carrie Fisher have fun in the Millenium Falcon cockpit while filming "A New Hope".

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Modelmakers touch up the Millenium Falcon miniature.

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Mark Hamill plays Luke Skywalker, with Tunisia standing in for his home planet of Tatooine.

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Princess Leia loads the plans for the Death Star into R2-D2 in "A New Hope", kicking off the Star Wars story.

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Peter Cushing played the villainous Grand Moff Tarkin in "A New Hope". Nearly four decades later, both he and the late Carrie Fisher were digitally re-created for "Rogue One".

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Luke Skywalker cruises Tatooine in his landspeeder in "A New Hope".

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Darth Vader battles Ben Obi-Wan Kenobi in a lightsaber duel in the Star Wars film that kicked it all off.

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The Empire's AT-ATs advance on the icy planet of Hoth in "The Empire Strikes Back".

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Luke astride his trusty Tauntaun on Hoth. These "Empire" scenes were filmed at the Hardangerjøkulen glacier near Finse in Norway, where the crew struggled with the worst winter storm in 50 years.

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Veteran director Irvin Kershner took over directing for "The Empire Strikes Back".

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George Lucas with the cast on the set of "The Empire Strikes Back".

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The modelmaking team with their AT-ATs, including Joe Johnston (left), who would go on to direct movies such as "Honey, I Shrunk the Kids", "Jumanji" and "Jurassic Park III."

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A model Star Destroyer filmed against a blue screen, known as the chroma key technique.

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Luke Skywalker on the planet Dagobah, where he meets Yoda in "The Empire Strikes Back."

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Yoda trains Luke Skywalker in "The Empire Strikes Back".

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Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader do battle for the first time.

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Darth Vader reveals the famous news to Luke in "The Empire Strikes Back". Dave Prowse, the actor playing Vader, was given fake dialogue to preserve the secret.

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The Millennium Falcon chased by TIE fighters and a Star Destroyer. These models were all shot separately using the specially invented Dykstraflex motion control camera system, then composited together.

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"The Empire Strikes Back" ends with a cliffhanger, echoing the old-school adventure serials that inspired the saga.

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Lucas and Richard Marquand (right) on the set of "Return of the Jedi". Perhaps bizarrely, famed directors David Lynch and David Cronenberg were both considered for the job.

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Carrie Fisher and Mark Hamill share a joke in Arizona's Yuma desert, which stood in for Tatooine.

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Our heroes in the Ewok village.

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Preparing a matte painting of the new Death Star.

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Michael McCormick and Phil Tippett operate the Rancor.

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Director Richard Marquand goes over the "Return of the Jedi" script with Mark Hamill.

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C-3PO and R2-D2 make their way along the road to Jabba's palace on Tatooine in "Return of the Jedi".

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Bounty hunter Boba Fett, played by Jeremy Bulloch, has been one of the most enduringly popular characters in the saga despite appearing on screen for less than 20 minutes in total.

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In "Return of the Jedi", Luke Skywalker, now a skilled Jedi, battles Jabba's guards on the sail barge in the Dune Sea on Tatooine.

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"Return of the Jedi" scenes set on the forest moon of Endor were shot in the redwood forests of northern California, near Crescent City.

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Luke Skywalker vs Darth Vader in "Return of the Jedi": the re-match.

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It's a trap! Puppeteer Timothy D. Rose played Admiral Ackbar.

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The Millennium Falcon, piloted by Lando Calrissian, heads into the second Death Star in "Return of the Jedi".

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Emperor Palpatine finally appears in person, played by Ian McDiarmid in "Return of the Jedi".

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Liam Neeson is Jedi Knight Qui-Gon Jinn in "The Phantom Menace".

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Ewan McGregor is the young Obi-Wan Kenobi in "The Phantom Menace".

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Natalie Portman plays Queen Amidala, mother of Luke and Leia, in "The Phantom Menace".

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Darth Maul, one of the saga's most memorable bad guys.

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Released in 1999, "The Phantom Menace" was at the forefront of cutting-edge digital effects.

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In "The Phantom Menace", Jake Lloyd played the young Anakin.

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Darth Maul and his mysterious mentor plot the destruction of the Jedi in "The Phantom Menace".

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George Lucas once again wrote and directed the prequels.

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The prequels reveal the origin of Boba Fett.

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"Attack of the Clones" was filmed in Tunisia, Spain, Italy, China, Canada and Australia.

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Send in the clones.

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Hayden Christensen played the growing Anakin in "Attack of the Clones".

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The prequel version of Yoda was created entirely digitally, instead of as a puppet.

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After "The Phantom Menace" was shot on 35mm film, the other two prequels were shot on high-definition digital cameras.

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As the prequels progressed, more and more scenes were shot against greenscreen rather than on real sets.

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The villainous Palpatine fulfills his plan to become Emperor in "Revenge of the Sith".

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As Jedi Master Mace Windu in "Revenge of the Sith", Samuel L Jackson requested a purple lightsaber.

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Gary Oldman was considered for the voice of General Grievous, but refused to violate acting union rules.

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Actual footage of a volcanic eruption at Mt Etna in Italy was spliced into the backdrop of scenes on the volcanic planet Mustafar for "Revenge of the Sith".

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The prequels culminated with the birth of one of cinema's greatest villains: Darth Vader.

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"The Force Awakens" co-writer, producer and director JJ Abrams gives Daisy Ridley a pep talk.

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Location shooting for "The Force Awakens" began in Abu Dhabi.

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The saga returned in 2015 with new stars including John Boyega and Daisy Ridley.

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Oscar Isaac is rebel pilot Poe Dameron.

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Abrams directs the late Carrie Fisher, who returns as General Leia in "The Force Awakens".

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Lupita Nyong'o dons a motion capture suit to play the digitally created character Maz Kanata.

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The adorable BB-8 was a breakout star of "The Force Awakens".

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The villainous Kylo Ren, played by Adam Driver, and his deadly lightsaber.

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"The Force Awakens" was shot on location around Britain in the Lake District and Forest of Dean.

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Kylo Ren and Rey clash.

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JJ Abrams directs Harrison Ford, who injured his leg during filming of "The Force Awakens".

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The Millenium Falcon returns.

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"The Force Awakens" was shot on 35mm film, like the original trilogy.

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2016's "Rogue One" introduced a rogue's gallery of new stars including Riz Ahmed, Diego Luna, Felicity Jones, Jiang Wen and Donnie Yen.

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Felicity Jones is Jyn Erso in "Rogue One", the first spin-off from the main Star Wars saga.

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"Rogue One" re-creates the rebel base from the original film.

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Rebel craft take on digitally created AT-ATs on Scarif.

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Darth Vader returns.

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"Rogue One" scenes set on the tropical planet of Scarif were filmed in the Maldives.

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New-look Death Troopers in "Rogue One" scenes filmed in Iceland.

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Mads Mikkelsen plays Galen Erso, who helped design the Death Star.

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Ben Mendelsohn is the villainous Director Krennic in "Rogue One".

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Brothers-in-arms Baze Malbus, played by Jiang Wen, and Chirrut Imwe, played by Donnie Yen, give us a glimpse at other parts of the Star Wars universe.

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Phelgmatic droid K-2SO, played by Alan Tudyk, was a "Rogue One" breakout star.

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