Malibu Artist Uses ‘The Force’

Longtime Malibu resident Alan Roderick-Jones stands by a statue of Yoda at Lucasfilm Ltd. in San Francisco. Roderick-Jones worked on several designs for the first “Star Wars” movie.

With the long-anticipated release of “The Force Awakens,” “Star Wars” mania is at a fever pitch, with no signs of slowing down. Box office receipts indicate it will be the biggest juggernaut in movie history,

One person responsible for some of the initial success of “Star Wars” lives locally. In fact, Star Wars the magazine has called Malibu resident Alan Roderick-Jones one of the unsung heroes of the “Star Wars” franchise.

Even those who have not seen “Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope” (1977) in many years can probably recall the iconic cantina bar, which was co-designed by Production Designer John Barry and Roderick-Jones. Roderick-Jones was the visionary eye who then drafted the plans for the bar, as well as the garage, war room, and Millennium Falcon hangar frequented by Luke Skywalker and the group in the film.

Roderick-Jones — who hails from England — is an award-winning artist and production designer who, by the time he joined the “Star Wars” crew, had already lent his talent to a number of films in England, including making models for “2001: A Space Odyssey” and “The Lion in Winter,” which he called his favorite movie making experience.

But it was a call from Barry in 1976 — one year before “Star Wars” was released — that would make him a part of movie history. He was called to bring his artistry to work on what he only knew to be a science fiction film. Roderick-Jones was soon introduced to the film’s young director George Lucas.

“There was a nod and a smile and a handshake and ‘welcome to the team,” according to Roderick-Jones, but he said that no one in the art department really knew what was in Lucas’ head and heart. Roderick-Jones got an idea though when he saw the unforgettable opening segment on screen and was assigned to design the war room, garage and cantina. From his first drafts, Lucas was pleased with Roderick-Jones’ vision. 

The fantastical look of the cantina and other sets that were realized by Roderick-Jones and other designers in the art department came with the help of two retired fighter jets that were taken apart to be used as props.

“Going on the back lot, I found all this junk and numbered it,” Roderick-Jones explained to The Malibu Times. “I told the prop man to look at the drawing of the exterior of the Millennium Falcon and you’ll see my numbers. Clean all the junk and put it where the numbers are. So the exterior of the Millennium Falcon is all the junk I found on the back lot of Elstree Studios.”

The interior of the bar is made up of plastic bottles and jet engine parts, sprayed and anodized in gold and silver, and all of the pipes are plastic and painted as well. The jukebox was also crafted by Roderick-Jones from bits and pieces found around the studio.

“We as the art department would often sit on the set as it was finished and laugh about the fact that that came from the junk room and that those dials over there came from the audio shop down the road,” Roderick-Hones recalled. “We’d say the audience will never know. And they don’t know… but now they may.”

He explained that when he first saw the completed project, “I was completely blown away, like everybody else was. When we were working on the film, who would have guessed it would become the iconic film that it is and would change film history.” 

That success brought him to Malibu where he has lived for the past 38 years, raising two children with his wife, Rachel. They are now the grandparents of three grandchildren.

Still working steadily as an artist, Roderick-Jones has traveled the globe while working on 27 feature films, two of which — “Star Wars” and “Nicholas and Alexandra” — garnered Academy Awards for art direction. He has worked with a variety of film greats, including Charlie Chaplin, Edward G. Robinson, Richard Burton, Katherine Hepburn and James Mason. His artistic vision has been seen in more than 600 commercials for world-recognized brands such as Coca-Cola and Boeing. He also works on designing interactive video games, including “The Lord of the Rings,” “Dirty Harry” and “Van Helsing.”

After 52 years in the business, looking back on the phenomenon that is “Star Wars,” Roderick-Jones called Lucas a young genius. And he mentioned another artistic hero, Ralph McQuarrie, who was hired by Lucas as the original concept artist on the film.

“If I had a hero, along with George, it would also be Ralph,” Roderick-Jones shared.

Roderick-Jones explained that his understanding of “The Force” helped him when working on “Star Wars.”

“He and I were on the same sort of plane … I was understanding what he was talking about when he was talking about ‘The Force,’” Roderick-Jones said of Lucas’s vision. “It’s that power within every breath that we are, and when I sign my drawings, I sign them ‘You are ‘The Force’ within every breath.”