Star Wars is a cultural phenomenon that knows no bounds. It came out of nowhere in 1977, and no one believed it would be a success. Except for writer-director George Lucas and his leading man Mark Hamill. Lucas showed all the naysayers wrong when audiences unexpectedly fell in love with the characters and the rich, fantastical universe.
We’ll be treated to the next chapter this December with The Last Jedi, which is sure to thrill and entertain just as much as everything that’s come before it. But the behind-the-scenes stories are almost as fascinating the movies themselves. So, before we get side-tracked, here are 15 things you — probably — didn’t know about Star Wars.
15. Jake Lloyd had to quit acting after The Phantom Menace
Jake Lloyd, the kid who played young Anakin Skywalker in Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace, was forced to retire from acting after the movie, since the role of Anakin effectively killed his career at the same time as starting it. Lloyd was mercilessly bullied by other kids, who jeered at him and made lightsaber sounds every time he walked past.
And it didn’t help that The Phantom Menace disappointed most fans. Lloyd was so traumatized that he retired from acting. But he has played Anakin in a few Star Wars video games and continues to appear at conventions, not averse to milking the cash cow.
14. Almost every actor who’s ever been in Star Wars before wants to be in it again
Ever since Disney bought the rights to Star Wars back in 2012 and announced that there would be new sequels as well as standalone spinoff movies, every Star Wars cast member from here to Timbuktu has expressed interest in returning to their roles.
Among them, Ewan McGregor wants to play Obi-Wan Kenobi again. Liam Neeson wants to revisit Qui-Gon Jinn — either as a Force ghost or in his own spinoff. Hayden Christensen expressed interest to come back as Anakin. And Samuel L. Jackson wants to resurrect Mace Windu, if it can be arranged.
Even Joel Edgerton — who now has more exciting roles in movies like Suicide Squad and more creatively fulfilling experiences like writing and directing his masterful thriller The Gift — wants to return to Star Wars in the minor role of Uncle Owen.
13. Maz Kanata is based on JJ Abrams’ English teacher
When he was writing The Force Awakens way back when, JJ Abrams based the Maz Kanata character — the wise old lady played by Lupita Nyong’o, who runs a bar and tells Rey about Luke’s lightsaber — on his English teacher from his school days, Rose Gilbert.
Apparently she was also very little and wore large glasses. When the director went into preproduction and was working closely with production designer Rick Carter to create the character, he discovered that Carter was also a student of Gilbert’s.
As they designed Maz, they tried to get in touch with their former teacher to tell her about the character, but were saddened to discover that she had died at the age of 95.
12. George Lucas tried to get the Yoda puppeteer nominated for an Oscar
In the Star Wars prequels, Yoda was created using CGI. But back in The Empire Strikes Back, he had to be created using a puppet. The puppeteer behind Empire’s Yoda was Frank Oz, who has enjoyed a wide and varied film career over the years.
He began working as a puppeteer for Jim Henson, playing The Muppet Show characters of Miss Piggy, Fozzie Bear, Animal, and Sam Eagle, and the Sesame Street characters of Cookie Monster, Bert, and Grover. He has gone on to direct some truly brilliant comedy movies, like Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, What About Bob?, and Bowfinger.
On the set of Empire, George Lucas was extremely impressed by Oz’s performance as Yoda and even went as far as investing thousands of dollars into a campaign to get him nominated for the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor.
However, the Academy did not acknowledge puppeteer Oz as an actor. Lucas felt that this was unfair, but Oz really didn’t care either way. But still, Oz was a hell of a guy during filming. Not only did he give a great performance, he would also cheer up Mark Hamill when he was down by bringing in the Miss Piggy puppet.
11. The prequels hint at Anakin being the future Darth Vader
The prequel trilogy of Star Wars was made to depict Anakin Skywalker’s journey.
From being an innocent young Tatooine boy — just like Luke at the start of A New Hope — Anakin would grow into a hot young Jedi Knight. And ultimately rise as Darth Vader, the overlord of the Galactic Empire whose reign of terror lasted for decades before it was ended by his son and daughter.
Throughout the prequel movies, there are various subtle hints at Anakin’s future as the evil Sith Lord. After the credits of The Phantom Menace, Vader’s ominous deep breathing can be heard over the black screen. A
nd in Attack of the Clones, while Anakin is talking to Senator Amidala, the camera pans to their shadows on the wall. Anakin’s resembles the silhouette of Darth Vader, although the DVD commentary says this was not intentional and rather just a coincidence. Great coincidence, though.
10. A fake Return of the Jedi script was written to avoid leaks
Script leaks — or even entire television episode leaks — seem pretty commonplace and unavoidable these days, as technology evolved dangerously. Now hackers are able to get into pretty much anyone’s computer as easily as their own.
But back in the 1980s, when Return of the Jedi was being produced until the fake title Blue Harvest — then known as Revenge of the Jedi — script leaks were still avoidable. So, an entire fake script was written for the movie and given to cast members who were suspected to be untrustworthy.
And the producers were right. These actors did leak the fake story details, one of which being that Lando Calrissian was the “last hope” for the Jedi that Obi-Wan and Yoda talked about in The Empire Strikes Back.
9. Theaters didn’t even want to screen the first movie
Movie theater proprietors were initially hesitant to screen a weird little space movie called Star Wars back in 1977. They were sure it would flop, as were most of the cast and crew of the movie itself. 20th Century Fox were getting worried that they might be right.
To remedy this problem and get their movie out there, Fox refused to send prints of The Other Side of Midnight — another one of their movies considered far more highly anticipated and sure to succeed than Star Wars — to any theater that didn’t also agree to screen Star Wars.
This way, they thought, they might be able to soften the blow of devastating losses expected to come from Star Wars. And, in true underdog fashion, the sci-fi movie became the highest grossing film of all time, shooting pass $700 million at the worldwide box office at lightspeed.
Meanwhile, The Other Side of Midnight made around $25 million and hasn’t had the same lasting impact, to say the least. Is there a convention held in honor of The Other Side of Midnight every year to this day? No.
8. George Lucas is out of touch with his own fan base
George Lucas made Star Wars in the hopes that it would one day be able to find an audience. No one else believed that it would — not the studio financing it, not the crew making it, and not the theaters showing it. Mark Hamill and Alec Guinness always believed it would be a success, but they were in the minority.
But once it was released and found a huge fan base, Lucas didn’t pay attention to them. He hated The Empire Strikes Back and considered it to be the worst movie of the saga, even going as far as apologizing for its very existence.
But then he found out that most Star Wars fans think Empire is the best movie in the franchise, and changed his mind. And between The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi, bounty hunter Boba Fett became everyone’s favorite character.
Lucas had no idea, and he’s said that if he had known, he would’ve given Fett a more memorable sign-off from the series. You’d think Lucas would listen to the legions of fans he got hooked on his own creation.
7. The alien species from ET exists in the Star Wars universe
ET the Extra Terrestrial was the highest grossing movie of all time topping Star Wars. Directed by George Lucas’ good friend Steven Spielberg, it’s about an alien who comes to Earth and touches the lives of a family’s young children. Like a lot of Spielberg’s movies, it’s a story about childhood and adventure.
But the alien had to come from somewhere. Where, you ask? Well, Lucas answered that question by including them in Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace. A few of them can be seen in the Galactic Senate during discussions of the invasion of Naboo. The species has been named as the Asogians by later Star Wars canon.
Lucas did this partly as an homage to his friend, and partly to show where the ET character came from. It really messes with your head to think of an alien from the Star Wars universe coming to Earth, doesn’t it?
6. George Lucas’ first draft was double the length of an average movie script
In 1973, four years before Star Wars came out and changed the world forever, George Lucas wrote 13 pages of story treatment for a movie homage to TV space opera serials of the 1940s. Back then, it was called The Star Wars and the treatment incorporated the entire Star Wars saga, all six movies’ worth of plot.
He sent it to Universal Pictures and United Artists, who were too confused by the plot, so Lucas did some revisions. He cut the story in half to only incorporate the second half of the story (Episodes IV-VI), which was eventually acquired by 20th Century Fox.
But when Lucas’ script came in, it was 200 pages long. An average movie script is usually half that, so the studio asked Lucas to shorten it. After much deliberation, he cut out the second and third acts of the script, leaving him with A New Hope.
The two parts he cut out became The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi. And the whole half of the saga that he removed at the treatment stage would be fleshed out two decades later into the prequel trilogy.
5. Many famous actors auditioned for roles in Star Wars
While some actors took the film for granted — Harrison Ford was always desperate to be killed off and have the franchise be done with, while James Earl Jones, the voice of Darth Vader, was so certain that the movie would be a box office flop that he refused to let his name be featured in the credits – other actors were dying to be a part of it.
The future pairing of Tango and Cash, Sylvester Stallone and Kurt Russell, initially auditioned for the role of Han Solo. Meanwhile, Cindy Williams and Jodie Foster auditioned for the role of Princess Leia.
There’s also a rumor that Tupac Shakur auditioned for the role of Mace Windu before he died — he was reportedly a huge Star Wars fan but this is unconfirmed since Windu was not originally written as black before Samuel L. Jackson was cast.
Alan Rickman auditioned to play one of Darth Vader’s superior officers in Return of the Jedi, five years before his big break as Hans Gruber in Die Hard. Also, future Pirates of the Caribbean star Keira Knightley played Queen Amidala’s decoy in The Phantom Menace, aged just 12 at the time.
4. A child psychologist advised George Lucas on a scene in Return of the Jedi
On the 2004 special DVD release, George Lucas revealed why he included a scene in Return of the Jedi in which Yoda confirms to Luke that Darth Vader is in fact his father. Between the productions of The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi, Lucas consulted a child psychologist to get a little insight into his audience.
The psychologist told him that he would have to insert a scene into the third movie that confirmed Vader as being Luke’s father. According to the psychologist, Lucas’ audience in the 12 and under demographic would not trust Vader’s claim to be Luke’s father and instead take it as a lie.
Therefore, Lucas needed to tell the kids the news by someone they could trust. Enter the wise and adorable Master Yoda. Before the scene was included, Yoda wasn’t even supposed to appear in the movie! Perhaps if that had been the case, Yoda would still be alive and free to appear in the new movies. Is that a good or bad thing?
3. Harrison Ford has a complicated relationship with Star Wars
Han Solo is arguably Harrison Ford’s most iconic role. “Arguably” being the operative word, since he’s also played Indiana Jones, Jack Ryan, Rick Deckard, and the ass-kicking President of the United States.
But Star Wars was where it all began. Ford grew to hate fans over the years because he never quite understood their obsession with this cocky space pirate he played in a corny sci-fi fantasy movie. He doesn’t care who shot first, Han or Greedo, and he doesn’t understand why millions of people do.
Ford wanted to get out of playing Han as fast as possible. He begged George Lucas to kill him off in Return of the Jedi, feeling that it was the right time to do it, since he already had an emotional farewell with all the characters at the end of The Empire Strikes Back when he was frozen in carbonate.
But Lucas convinced him to stay and Han survived the whole film. Then thirty years later, Ford was called upon to reunite with Mark Hamill and Carrie Fisher for The Force Awakens, which was set to kick off a new trilogy.
He finally got his wish and Han was killed off. Reportedly, Ford cried after the first time he watched The Force Awakens. For the first time in his life, he understood the worldwide love and obsessions for these characters in this cultural phenomenon. And it was too late.
2. Ben Burtt got creative with his sound choices
When it comes to sound design, Ben Burtt is now considered one of the forefathers: the greatest for decades and still unbeaten. Burtt is the Ernest Hemingway of sound design or the Babe Ruth of sound design or the Lenny Bruce of sound design. Well, you get the point.
Fresh out of film school, Burtt got his start with the task of coming up with some organic sound effects to use in the first Star Wars movie. Sci-fi movies at the time, like 2001: A Space Odyssey and Logan’s Run and Silent Running, were infested with futuristic, electronic sound effects.
Lucas was going for a more rusting, worn-in feel with the world of Star Wars. Burtt came up with some truly inventive and revolutionary sound effects by messing around with everyday sounds — this technique would be used by Burtt for the rest of his career, and adopted by many sound designers who followed.
For example, his sound effect for the roar of Chewbacca was a combination of the sounds made by bears, lions, walruses, and badgers. He synthesized baby coos into the beeps and boops of R2-D2. He mixed mule sounds with human imitations of mule sounds to create the howl of the Tusken Raiders.
And he put a microphone inside a regulator on a scuba tank to record Darth Vader’s deep breathing. And the whoosh of the lightsaber was crafted by mixing the hum of a 35mm film projector left to stand with the risky business of using a microphone cable with minor damage to record the tubes of an old TV set. So, that’s the genius of Ben Burtt.
1. Star Wars could’ve been very, very different
There are hundreds of legends and rumors about the content of early drafts of the Star Wars screenplays, especially the first one. It was a vast, ambitious project looking to combine pulpy science fantasy, 1940s TV serials, and Japanese samurai movies, spanning all different planets and spaceships.
It took a while for Lucas to nail down a final plot and characterizations for his cast. Imagine a world where the movie was actually called The Adventures of Luke Starkiller as Taken from the Journal of the Whills: Saga I — Star Wars. Not quite as catchy as simply Star Wars, is it? And a whole bunch of other things were different, too.
Mace Windu was originally the main protagonist of Star Wars, and there was no Luke. Windu was described as a “Jedi-Bendu of Ophuchi,” which was thankfully shortened to simply “Jedi” and left out until the sequels.
Windu became Kane Starkiller, who became Anakin Starkiller, who became Luke Starkiller, who became Luke Skywalker at the last minute, right before shooting began. And imagine the lovable rogue space pirate Han Solo as a tall, reptilian alien with green skin and no nose and a huge set of gills.
Imagine General Vader. Originally, Vader was merely a henchman working for Prince Valorum, who was that script’s Sith Lord donning a mask. The Darth Vader that we know today is a composite character of all of these.
His iconic helmet only coming into the picture when concept artist Ralph McQuarrie suggested it would be impossible for him to be out in space without anything covering his face. In the end, Vader doesn’t spend much time in space at all. Thankfully, the mask stayed on!
When the writers were working on The Empire Strikes Back, they didn’t picture Leia as Luke’s sister, and were instead going to write in a new character called Nellith Skywalker as his twin sister. This would explain why Luke and Leia kiss in Empire.
And Return of the Jedi was supposed to take us to Had Abbadon, a city planet where the Galactic Empire is based. This was supposed to be where Luke and Vader had their big, climactic lightsaber battle in the Emperor’s throne room. It was scrapped for being too expensive to produce on screen.
There was also another concept bandied around in the early drafts of Return of the Jedi, with multiple Death Stars. Rather than have the Empire rebuild only one Death Star, the writers had the bright idea of two Death Stars under construction, side by side. The Rebels were faced with the monumental task of blowing both up!
We should just be happy that the movies turned out as well as they did, considering what could’ve been.