This BL-3 camera is the one sold to Lucasfilm for the production of Return of the Jedi, likely at a cost of over $100,000, as was the going rate for such a camera package at the time. After its use on ROJ, this BL-3 became part of Industrial Light and Magic’s inventory, and was used for second-unit (non-VistaVision) work on many other ILM productions. The BL series of camera was developed in early 1970s, and was noted for being one of the first silent, reflexed 35mm movie cameras that could be hand-held. The third generation BL-3 camera was introduced in 1980, and Arri records confirm that this particular camera, serial no. 35750, was built in 1981.
This historic camera is uniquely recognizable by the custom side plate on the right side of the body, featuring a red and green stripe. This sideplate was applied to the camera by Joe Dunton, and the stripes represent his corporate colors of the day. It is not clear exactly when this sideplate was installed on the camera. Studio production photos from ROJ show the BL-3 cameras being used with their standard Arriflex sideplates, but this sideplate (and therefore this camera) is clearly installed during the shoot in Death Valley for ROJ, which was done late in production, in December 1982. The camera can be seen in behind the scenes photography from the Death Valley shoot working on sequences such as the approach to Jabba’s Palace, and the cut sequence outside of Luke’s cave. The DOP on the shoot was Hiro Narita, who also recalls using this particular BL-3 on 2nd unit work for Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. In addition to the sideplate, the camera has several ILM markings and inventory tags.
The lens on the camera is a Cooke-Varitol 20-100mm lens, with a custom anamorphic modification and anamorphic adaptor created by JDC. The front of the lens is marked JDC, and the lens also features several ILM markings and inventory tag numbers. Even the lens cap speaks to the history of the piece – the interior features the old-style ILM magician logo. The American Cinematographer article on Location Photography of ROJ states “Lucasfilm had been testing anamorphic lenses for some time and had determined that the British made Dunton Lens was the best for their purpose. At that time there were only 3 sets of these lenses in existence— prototypes. Two were on our show, one half-set at Leonetti’s Cine Rental in Los Angeles and the other half-set was at Dunton’s Shop in London.” While this lens is not the one specifically seen on the camera in the Death Valley shoot (that lens is a JDC 40-200), it is undoubtedly from the same set and would have worked on the film at the same time. The lens is in fine working order and would still be suitable for production today – film camera lenses are frequently used on digital cameras to lend a film-look to the digital image.