For A New Hope, the crew scavenged interesting-looking spare parts from model kits and junkyards to make the ships and vehicles. Tomkins works the same way now. “It’s found items, you know, be it parts from an airplane breaker’s yard or from a plastics-molding company or a dismantled photo-copier,” he says. Tomkins likes to crack open washing machines and fridges and TVs in search of interesting shapes, which then become what are known in the trade as greebles: the tiny functional-looking details and asymmetrical sticking-out bits that encrust most technological artifacts in the Star Wars universe. “They’re all glued on, and little pipes are added to them – it’s kind of industrial collage, is the phrase that I like to use.”
It gives the Star Wars universe something else too, something even subtler than solidity: an uncanny familiarity. ‘When you’re watching Star Wars, you’re often looking at car and airplane parts, the guts of electronics, bits of appliances, fragments of the everyday world but they’re so far removed from their familiar context that you don’t recognize them – except that, on some level, you do. This is a subliminal, but crucial component, of the Star Wars vernacular that almost everyone on the production side talks about, “You might go to your local garage to have your car fixed and there’s the compressor in the corner and the heavy engineering equipment over there, the guys wearing some safety equipment,” says Scanlan.”Or maybe you’d go to a hospital and see certain things there. These are all things that we are familiar with, and what Star Wars does so beautifully is to take those things and reinvent them, repackage them, reconceptualize them in such a way that they become new and fresh and different to us – but we still have a connection, a visual umbilical between the world that we’re living in in our everyday lives and the one we’re watching on the screen.” Its an effect not far, far away from Picasso’s collages or Marcel Duchamp’s ready-mades. It’s the quotidian made strange and beautiful, the terrestrial made alien.
Lev Grossman, “A New New Hope: How J.J. Abrams Brought Back Star Wars Using Puppets, Greebles and Yak Hair”, Time (14 December 2015), 70-71.