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Star Wars study puts film industry’s sustainability under the spotlight

A photograph showing film props that have been left after a shoot as debris in the Tunisian desert

Lightsabers, Stormtrooper helmets, Yoda’s pointy ears. With sky high production values, the Star Wars franchise is an industry leader in next level props and costumes. It’s ubiquitous and unmistakable, and not just among diehard fans.

But where, exactly, do these props and costumes come from, and what happens to them at the end of their useful life? What are the environmental impacts of this epic scale of production?

These are the questions posed by a new study, the Environmental Impact of Filmmaking (EIF), led by The Open University and supported by sustainability experts at BAFTA albert, and the National Science and Media Museum. Taking Star Wars as the centre of four case studies, the landmark research project will trace the life cycle of four objects, from the extraction of raw materials all the way through to disposal or repurposing.

Dr Rebecca Harrison, Lecturer in Film and Media at the OU, who is leading the project hopes that the research findings will lead to more sustainable practices in the UK’s film industry:

 "The research will help us design workshops and online resources that encourage filmmakers to go greener, with advice about things like recycling props, choosing eco-friendly fabrics, and cutting carbon emissions.

  "The wide range of materials and processes used by UK-based creative talent to make Star Wars props and costumes are brilliant for thinking about good practice – and areas for improvement – from the 1970s to the present day.

 "It’s exciting to think about what's changed for the better over the past five decades, while also asking if there are sustainable practices from the past that we might want to revive."

Beginning in October 2022, and running for almost two years, the project will bring together academics, sustainability experts, curatorial staff, and industry professionals to explore how the filmmakers of today might learn about sustainability from the practices of the past. Given that props like those in Star Wars are so culturally significant and enduring - decades on from the premier of A New Hope, you can still build a Lego Millennium Falcon or see homages to the franchise in Toy Story, Friends, and Stranger Things – it's clear that a focus on sustainability could offer a force for good in the future.

Visit the project website, or contact Dr Rebecca Harrison  for further information.

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