Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 27 October 2020

Exclusive: ‘We were flying the Millennium Falcon, X-Wings and TIE Fighters over Abu Dhabi’

You won’t see them when the film hits theatres , but helicopter pilots Andy Nettleton and Andrew Masterson flew three very famous spaceships during filming of Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens in Abu Dhabi last year. In an exclusive interview, Masterson reveals the behind the scenes story.
Helidubai helicopter pilot Andrew Masterson, who worked on Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens when it filmed in Abu Dhabi last year. Courtesy Andy Nettleton
Helidubai helicopter pilot Andrew Masterson, who worked on Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens when it filmed in Abu Dhabi last year. Courtesy Andy Nettleton

You won’t see them when Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens hits cinemas on December 18, but Abu Dhabi helicopter pilots Andy Nettleton and Andrew Masterson flew three very famous spaceships during director J J Abrams’s top-secret desert shoots in Liwa and the Empty Quarter last year. In an exclusive interview, Masterson, 50, who is from Dublin, Ireland, tells us what it was like.

What did you fly?

We were flying the Millennium Falcon, the X-wings and the TIE fighters, and they did CGI over that – all the dramatic opening scenes. All the desert chases with the fighters were very exciting. And the explosions.

But you didn’t really fly the Millennium Falcon, did you?

We set the helicopter up in a position where it simulates where the start and finish points are. In the case of the Millennium Falcon, there was a mock-up of part of the ship and I had to then simulate a departure from the ground behind it, while being CGI shot at and with real explosions going off around me – all at a safe distances. The camera angles compress the shots to make them look closer than they are and the explosives are actually minimal charges with very little explosive quality. They are directed charges so all of the energy in the explosions is sent in a particular direction and so contained. On the “action” call, we go flying through the scene. The Millennium Falcon will be put in using CGI, but all of the actual flying on camera is real.

How long did it take?

Andy and I shared the filming over almost two weeks. As we worked dawn to dusk each day, we split our duties. This means that there are some shots which we each exclusively did and then several where we were both involved. It’s all about the teamwork.

Where did you fly?

We shot Star Wars in Liwa, down at Qasr Al Sarab, and the Empty Quarter, down towards the Saudi border.

What were the crew like?

The crew were all super. I didn’t get to meet Harrison Ford because he was in a different area. I met J J Abrams, most of the producers and the cameraman, a guy called Adam Dale, who I also worked with on Mission: Impossible 4 [in Dubai]. A good mix.

artslife@thenational.ae

Updated: March 1, 2015 04:00 AM

Editor's Picks
THE DAILY NEWSLETTER
Sign up to our daily email