As part of the production process on shows like “The Mandalorian” and “Ahsoka,” Chiang and his fellow ILM workers have to keep the low-fi 1970s and 1980s “Star Wars” films in mind when designing creatures and effects. A large part of the early “Star Wars” films’ appeal was their cutting-edge practical effects, as well as the shabby handmade qualities of the 1977 original. The initial theatrical cut of “Star Wars” is hard to find in 2024, as new versions with cleaned-up digital effects have come to replace it. Nevertheless, the shabbiness remains a core aspect of the franchise, which is why aliens like Grogu are crafted to retain a human touch that CGI can’t emulate. Chiang explained:
“The main key upfront is to capture the personality and feel that it all works. After approval, then we think about practical approaches. Though there aren’t any true restrictions on what can be accomplished these days, we make a conscious effort to restrict ourselves on designs. To make this feel old-school ‘Star Wars,’ we do try to use wilder techniques, not only because they work, but because there is a charm to them. Stop-motion has an old-school charm, but the sensibility and look may not be as pleasing to younger modern audiences, but there’s room for different approaches.”
As someone born in the 1970s, this author was weaned on stop-motion effects and puppetry in FX-based movies, so I can personally agree 100% with Chiang. Stop-motion and puppetry have an ineffable human touch that CGI has never been able to replicate. Oldsters like me, however, would like to hear how someone born in the early ’10s would react to such effects.