"We were a band of renegades, really," Edlund mused. He wasn't even a member of the cinematographer's union when he was first hired for "Star Wars." ("I had quit, earlier, when I became a hippie.") He was the film's special-effects director of photography.
"I was in the right place at the right time with the right capabilities," he said. "You know, when people ask me, 'What happens to effects now? How much further can they go?' I can only say, 'Look back 10 years ago, at "Star Wars." ' Because we keep advancing. And already, there are moments in that film, that look a little, well, creaky."
And then there are those scenes that would seem to retain their impact, well, almost forever.
At least one of them was pulled off for next to nothing.
The famed hyperspace shot was accomplished by shooting a Polaroid camera on a piece of glass.
"That effect cost about five bucks," laughed Edlund. (He was serious as he added, "It brought me the biggest burst of applause in my career.")
Unlike its sequels, "Star Wars" didn't shoot under tight security. The set wasn't even closed. The reason was simple: "No one took what we were doing seriously. It was an outer-space movie--when no one was making them. It was on Page 7 of 20th Century Fox's list of movies to come. Everybody thought 'The Other Side of Midnight' was going to be the big hit."
He laughed: "And there I was, saying, 'Hey, we did another one!' Because the goal was to do things that hadn't been done before. The goal was to unseat 'The Shark.' " ("Jaws" was then one of the Top 10 films.)
The result: a film that Edlund credits with helping to instigate no less than "the renaissance of special effects." ("Close Encounters," released a few months after "Star Wars," also figured in that honor.)
As Edlund pointed out: "The year before, the two big genre films were 'King Kong' and 'Logan's Run.' So you can see, the strides that were taken were enormous.
" 'Star Wars' was a complete innovation. It was as if we built a Stradivarius and then had to learn to play it. We really didn't have much time to learn how."
Little wonder, considering what transpired, that he deems the opening shot in "Star Wars" (in which the "bad guys" go after the "good guys" following the legendary scroll that begins, "A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away") "one of the genre's most significant shots--and it may be my favorite shot, because it started my career.
"It was also the most important shot in all the 'Star Wars' films. Because if the audience didn't buy that shot 100%, we'd have lost it right there."
He went on to help pioneer Industrial Light & Magic (ILM), the special-effects arm of Lucas' Marin County-based Lucasfilm. In fact, Edlund was the architect of the photographic system, which means he designed and built much of ILM's equipment.
"In this business, you have to build your own equipment because it doesn't exist. So if you want to do something, you sometimes start out with an idea and say, 'OK, now we have to build the equipment to carry out the idea.'
"Sometimes you build the equipment knowing that it will spawn all sorts of ideas."
Edlund went on to work on "The Empire Strikes Back" and "Return of the Jedi." In between, there was "The China Syndrome," TV's "Battlestar Gallactica," "Raiders of the Lost Ark" and "Poltergeist."
Along the way, he collected four Academy Awards. (They are for visual effects on "Star Wars," several technical advances on "Empire" and visual effects on "Raiders.")
He also got homesick for L.A. When the third film in the "Star Wars" trilogy was completed (and by the third time out, Edlund admitted, the project had become "tedious"), Edlund did what he called "a fade-out" at ILM. They're now his chief competitor.
"In many ways, we're also competing with ourselves," said Edlund, who summed up his philosophy toward special effects this way: "Your only limitations are time and money.
"To say we can't do any more with effects is like saying, 'Well, they've made 100 movies. Why should they have to make any more?' "