|The following is reprinted from The Best of Uncle John's Bathroom Reader.
The original 1977 Star Wars poster
Did you know that Star Wars almost didn't happen because Universal Studios
turned it down? Or that Harrison Ford was an unknown actor working as
a carpenter when George Lucas chose him to play Han Solo? Or that Luke
Skywalker's original name was Luke Starkiller? Here are some fascinating
facts about Star Wars, one of the highest grossing sci-fi film series
"There's a whole generation growing up without
any kind of fairy tales. And kids need fairy tales - it's an important
thing for society to have for kids." - George Lucas
In July 1973, George Lucas was an unknown director working on a low-budget
1950s nostalgia film called American Graffiti. He approached
Universal Studios to see if they were interested in a film idea he called
Star Wars. Universal turned him down.
It was the biggest mistake the studio ever made.
Six months later, Lucas was the hottest director in Hollywood. American
Graffiti, which cost $750,000 to make, was a smash. It went on to
earn more than $117 million, making it the most profitable film in Hollywood
history - even today.
While Universal was stonewalling Lucas, an executive at 20th Century
Fox, Alan Ladd, Jr., watched a smuggled print of American Graffiti
before it premiered and loved it. He was so determined to work with Lucas
that he agreed to finance the director's new science fiction film.
Star Wars opened on May 25, 1977, and by the end of August it
had grossed $100 million - faster than any other film in history. By 1983
the film had made over $524 million in ticket sales worldwide - making
it one of the 10 highest grossing films in history. [note: this article
was written in 1993; Star Wars is currently the 24th highest-grossing
MAKING THE FILM
- It took Lucas over two years to write the script. He spent 40 hours
a week writing and devoted much of his free time to reading comic books
and watching old "Buck Rogers" episodes and other serials looking
for film ideas.
- Lucas insisted on casting unknown actors and actresses in all the important
parts of the film - which made the studio uneasy. Mark Hamill had more
than 100 TV appearances, and Carrie Fisher had studied acting, but neither
had had much experience in films. Harrison Ford's biggest role had been
as the drag racer in American Graffiti, and when he read for
the part of Han Solo he was working as a carpenter.
Luke Skywalker. At first Lucas planned to portray him
as an elderly general, but decided that making him a teenager gave him
more potential for character development. Lucas originally named the character
Luke Starkiller, but on the first day of shooting he changed it to the
less violent Skywalker.
Obi-Wan Kenobi. Lucas got his idea for Obi-Wan Kenobi
and "the Force" after reading Carlos Castaneda'sTales of
Power, an account of Don Juan, a Mexican-Indian sorcerer and his
experiences with what he called "the life force."
Darth Vader. David Prowse, a six-foot, seven-inch Welsh
weightlifter, played the part of Darth Vader. But Lucas didn't want his
villain to have a Welsh accent, so he dubbed James Earl Jones's voice
over Prowse's. Still, Prowse loved the part. "He took the whole thing
very seriously," Lucas remembers. "He began to believe he really
was Darth Vader."
Han Solo. In the early stages of development, Han Solo
was a green-skinned, gilled monster with a girlfriend named Boma who was
a cross between a guinea pig and a brown bear. Solo was supposed to make
only a few appearances in the film, but Lucas later made him into a swashbuckling,
reckless human (allegedly modeled after the film director Francis Ford
Chewbacca. Lucas got the idea for Chewbacca one morning
in the early 1970s while watching his wife Marcia drive off in her car.
She had their Alaskan malamute, Indiana (the namesake for Indiana Jones
in Raiders of the Lost Ark), and Lucas liked the way the large,
shaggy dog looked in the passenger seat. So he decided to create a character
in the film that was a cross between Indiana, a bear, and a monkey.
Princess Leia. Carrie Fisher was a beautiful 19-year-old
actress when she was cast to play Princess Leia, but Lucas did everything
he could to tone down her femininity. At one point, he even ordered that
her breasts be strapped to her chest with electrical tape. "There's
no jiggling in the Empire," Fisher later joked.
R2-D2. Lucas got the name R2-D2 while filming American
Graffiti. During a sound-mixing session for the film, editor Walter
Murch asked him for R2, D2 (Reel 2, Dialogue 2) of the film. Lucas liked
the name so much that he made a note of it, and eventually found the right
character for it.
C-3PO. Inspired by a robot character in Alex Raymond's
science fiction novel, Iron Men of Mongo. Raymond's robot was
a copper-colored, polite robot who was shaped like a man who worked as
a servant. Lucas intended that C-3PO and R2-D2 be a space-age Laurel and
- The spaceship battles were inspired by World War II films. Before filming
the special effect began, Lucas watched dozens of war movies like Battle
of Britain and The Bridges of Toko-Ri, taping his favorite
air battle scenes as he went along. Later he edited them down to a 10-minute
black-and-white film, and gave it to the special effects team - which
reshot the scenes using X-wing and T.I.E. fighter models.
- None of the spaceship models ever moved an inch during the filming
of the flight sequences. The motion was an optical illusion created by
moving the cameras around motionless models. The models were so detailed
that one of them even had Playboy pinups in the cockpit.
- The executives at 20th Century Fox hated the film the first time they
saw it. Some of the company's board of directors fell asleep during the
first screening; others didn't understand the film at all. One executive's
wife even suggested that C-3PO be given a moving mouth, because no one
would understand how he could talk without moving his lips.
- The underwater monster in the trash compactor was one of Lucas's biggest
disappointment in the film. He had planned to have an elaborate "alien
jellyfish" in the scene, but the monster created by the special effects
department was so poorly constructed that it reminded him of "a big,
wide, brown turd." Result: The monster was filmed underwater during
most of the scene - so that moviegoers wouldn't see it.