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The Best ‘Star Wars’ Documentaries to Watch If You Like ‘Disney Gallery: The Mandalorian’


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star-wars-the-force-awakens-jj-abrams-mark-hamill-sliceOne of the best things to come out of the Star Wars franchise is Disney Gallery: The Mandalorian.

Disney+’s much-anticipated behind-the-scenes doc chronicles the making of the first Star Wars live-action TV series — and how executive producer and writer Jon Favreau and his team brought the instantly iconic Baby Yoda to life.

Like the original Star Wars before it, The Mandalorian is responsible for introducing new technological innovations that will forever change how Hollywood produces television and film. As a result, Disney Gallery’s deep-dive into how the landmark series uses a mix of new digital production tools and analog practical effects is the type of content that makes us want to take an even deeper dive into the making of one of our favorite franchises. Here are ten more essential behind-the-scenes docs and special features that reveal how Lucasfilm made that galaxy far, far away come to life.


The Beginning: Making Star Wars: Episode I - The Phantom Menace (1999)


Image via Lucasfilm

AKA “The One Where Steven Spielberg and George Lucas Play With a Life-Sized Battle Droid.”

The centerpiece of The Phantom Menace’s DVD release, The Beginning is a very thorough, warts-and-all chronicle of the first Star Wars prequel. (The all-access pass viewers have to the production is a sharp contrast to the top-secret way Disney often handles this franchise and its Marvel properties, with the exception of The Last Jedi making-of doc.)

There are no corporate overloads to appease or protect here as the documentary takes a fly-on-the-wall approach to the first Prequel’s production struggles and successes, as it became the first Star Wars movie to beta test then-new advances in CG visual effects while also relying on the tried-and-true practices pioneered by the Original Trilogy’s VFX work. Watching a candid George Lucas direct his first film since 1977’s Star Wars, and gain insights into his process (and the sometimes problematic nature of it), is worth watching.

How to Watch It: On the Phantom Menace DVD/Blu-ray or on YouTube.


The Director and the Jedi (2018)


Image via Lucasfilm

Director Anthony Wonke’s feature-length chronicle of how writer-director Rian Johnson and company made The Last Jedi is an exceptional piece of filmmaking.

Johnson and producer Ram Bergman give Wonke unfettered behind-the-scenes access to what would become the most controversial Star Wars movie ever made, with highlights including rarely-seen production aspects like watching the filmmaking duo signing off on the final approved budget. If you ever wanted to know how one gets a sea cow puppet to a remote island location, or watch Mark Hamill’s reaction to Frank Oz once again bringing Yoda to life, Director has got you covered. This doc feels like the type of standard supplemental material fans used to get on DVDs in the early 2000s that has since become a lost art. The Director and the Jedi makes a strong argument for bringing that practice back.

How to Watch It: On the Blu-ray or on Disney+

The Skywalker Saga (2020)


Image via Lucasfilm

The Rise of Skywalker’s making-of-doc attempts to replicate some of The Director and the Jedi’s success and, like the trilogy capper it chronicles, comes off as a decidedly mixed bag. The feature-length doc is full of behind-the-scenes observations that mostly stick to just past surface-level insights, which is disappointing given that director and co-writer J.J. Abrams’ movie wraps up over 40 years worth of Star Wars stories. (But, this aspect is not surprising, however, given Abrams’ “mystery box” approach to making movies.)

What should be an in-depth, epic chronicle of constructing and filming the final chapter to one of the most unique and essential sagas ever made for the big screen instead feels like an uneven, super-long EPK presentation. Though we are grateful for the sections that highlight all the Easter Eggs hidden in John Williams’ cameo and how the production executed the Babu Frik puppet.

How to Watch It: On the Blu-Ray or on Disney+


Empire of Dreams (2004)


Courtesy of Disney

Released in 2004 to coincide with the original Star Wars trilogy’s DVD debut, Empire of Dreams is a feature-length, in-depth look at how George Lucas and filmmakers made the original trilogy in a way that would change how movies would be made moving forward. The real draw here is the B-roll from the sets of A New Hope and The Empire Strikes Back, as well as the vintage interviews with Harrison Ford, Mark Hamill, and the late Carrie Fisher. Watching Lucas and his cast on the set, making some of the original trilogy’s most iconic scenes, is still goosebump-inducing 16 years later. (This doc can also be found on Disney+).

How to Watch It: On Disney+ or on YouTube.

SPFX: The Empire Strikes Back (1980)


Image via LucasFilm

Mark Hamill hosts this 1980 making-of TV special, providing key narration behind ILM’s process of bringing the iconic sequel’s visual effects to life. We could watch an entire mini-series devoted to the making of the AT-AT assault on Hoth, but we appreciate that the first half of SPFX is devoted to the work required to make it come to life. The second half, though, is where the doc truly shines — with behind-the-scenes insights on stop-motion animation, constructing and filming on the life-sized Millennium Falcon, and working with the original Yoda puppet.

How to Watch It: On YouTube.


Elstree 1976 (2015)


Image via Twentieth Century Fox

Star Wars: A New Hope changed more than just the lives of the people that watched it in May 1977. Elstree 1976 takes the unique angle of profiling ten background players from Star Wars: A New Hope and catching up with how the movie changed their lives and careers. Think of it as a Star Wars doc by way of Michael Apted’s 7 Up documentary film series.

Elstree proves ultimately more engaging as a concept than in the execution of it; at the same time, the doc succeeds at putting a much overdue spotlight on those cast members in the periphery that helped make movie history.

How to Watch It: On Netflix or for rent on various VOD platforms.

Within a Minute: The Making of 'Episode III' (2005)


revenge-of-the-sithDirector Tippy Bushkin’s feature-length doc about the making of Revenge of the Sith focuses on the making of a key sequence from the film’s climatic lightsaber battle between Obi-Wan (Ewan McGreggor) and Anakin (Hayden Christensen). In doing so, it delivers a more streamlined and informative version of what The Beginning attempted.

So many stakeholders have to weigh in on a film with as many moving parts as Episode III, and the insight Within a Minute provides into the decision-making process for one moment of the complicated film arguably provides more instruction than four years of film school. Watching the sequence go from prep to final production serves as a microcosm of the entire experience of making a blockbuster.

How to Watch It: On the DVD or Blu-Ray.


The Toys That Made Us: Star Wars (2017)


Image via Netflix

Netflix’s The Toys That Made Us is more than well-made nostalgia porn. It’s the first doc of its kind to profile the politics and production of how toys became the literal tools of our imagination. Their segment on Kenner’s first-generation Star Wars toys, and that toyline’s lasting legacy, offers a fascinating look back at how merchandising forever changed the filmmaking and marketing business. Toys That Made Us also wisely puts front and center the toyline’s four-decade emotional impact on people of all ages, from the designers to the collectors. A must-see.

How to Watch It: Exclusively on Netflix.

The People vs. George Lucas (2010)


Image via Lucasfilm

Swiss filmmaker Alexandre O. Philippe makes a comedy-documentary hybrid about filmmaking and fanaticism, and how fans struggle finding a balance with both at the expense of often alienating those in either camp. Since fandom has conflated the Star Wars creator with his creation, Philippe puts fans’ inability to see George Lucas in any other light due to the heavy shadow his crowning achievement casts.

Laughs ensue, but sometimes of the tragicomic variety as The People vs. George Lucas takes an insightful and poignant perspective about how the audience’s investment in a property they didn’t create often feels like ownership. Especially when its fans are as integral to its success as those that actually made it.

How to Watch It: Available to stream on Amazon Prime, Pluto TV, and for rent on various VOD platforms.


Classic Creatures: Return of the Jedi (1983)


Image via 20th Century Fox

This CBS TV special from 1983, hosted by Carrie Fisher and Billy Dee Williams, explores the making of Return of the Jedi’s abundance of impressive creature effects and the equally-impressive professionals responsible for wrangling them into movie history.

Jabba the Hutt and the Ewoks are given considerable screentime, as we’re offered glimpses of hundreds of pieces of concept art on the way to the final product. Classic Creatures also serves up anecdotes straight from Lucas and other members of the production team as the movie was being made. Creatures is a slow-burn love letter to ILM’s practical effects heyday, making a strong argument that those working in that field are the closest things the movie business has to actual miracle workers.


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