15 Things You Didn’t Know About Star Wars15
By Chris Littler
Few movies have had an impact on our lives as big as Star Wars. Ask anyone what the Death Star is and no doubt they’ll be able to tell you not only what it looks like and what it does, but how you can destroy it with a single proton torpedo. Tell someone that their boyfriend’s back looks like Chewbacca’s face, and you’ll get a knowing laugh. “Luke, I am your father” is not only one of the biggest revelations in movie history, but the number one thing shouted into spinning fans. (Try it!) Star Wars transcends not only science fiction, but film itself. It’s a cultural phenomenon that spans across television, video games, board games… but most importantly, toys.
It’s influenced nearly everything that’s come after it. And we’re not just talking about the constant references to it in other movies. We’re not even talking about the idea of the Force, which is better understood by most people than the eastern religions it so blatantly borrows from. We’re talking about things like The Crew, which deal with the day-to-day life of living on a starship, or even the beloved sci-fi staple, Star Trek.
Yet, despite the omnipresence of Lucas’s juggernaut, there’s a surprising amount about Star Wars people know very little about. We know what you’re thinking: there’s bound to be a nearly endless source of minutia connected to a film series that has so many moving parts, but these are not those. These are big-ticket revelations. So read on if you call yourself a Star Wars fan. But be forewarned, if you fail to pass the test, you’re going to feel like that stormtrooper who hit his head on the ceiling in A New Hope.
The Crew – Pilot
1. Five Different Actors Portray Darth Vader
Remember when Darth Vader was a singular evil entity, uncompromised in his cruelty and steadfast in his mission? Man, those were the original trilogy. Unfortunately, each new addition to the canon has poured another glass of water into the character until we were left with a genuinely sudsy interpretation of “Darth Vader.” To further confuse us, five different actors portray the guy: Jake Lloyd plays the gee-willikers-what’s-a-midochlorian version in The Phantom Menace; Hayden Christenson does his best to overcome Lucas’s clunky dialogue in Attack of the Clones and the Revenge of the Sith; David Prowse is the tall guy in the suit in the original trilogy (with James Earl Jones providing the voice); and Sebastian Shaw plays the final, redeemed, eyebrow-less version of the guy at the end of Return of the Jedi.
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2. A Dog Named Indiana was the inspiration for Chewbacca
Chewbacca’s role in Star Wars is that of a trusty co-pilot. He sits shotgun in the Millennium Falcon, barking nonsense that only his best friend Han Solo can understand. He also shares more than a passing resemblance to man’s best friend, the loyal dog. It’s no coincidence. Lucas got the idea for Chewbacca from watching his wife, Marcia, drive off in her car with their Alaskan malamute sitting in the passenger seat. He decided to take Indiana (who’s responsible for naming that other George Lucas creation) and combine him with a bear and a monkey. One can only imagine that, had Indiana lived to witness the gradual dissolution of his master’s creative integrity, he would have barked wildly at his master.
3. The title of the film was originally seventeen words long when it went into production
A quick study of how Star Wars became Star Wars reveals a lot about George Lucas’s creative process. And by creative process we mean how George seems to come up with roughly twenty-two terrible ideas for every good idea he has. The original treatment for Star Wars is so wackadoo crazy that it’s nearly impossible to imagine how it transformed into the script that’s regarded today as one of smartest, cleanest pieces of fiction ever written. To give you a sense of how far off base George was when he started, take a look at the title of the production draft: “Adventures of Luke Starkiller, as Taken From The Journal of the Whills, Saga 1: The Star Wars.” Not so hard to see why only a handful of the actors on set took the movie seriously. The thing had B-movie written all over it.
READ: 10 Most Epic Battles in Fiction – #3 Battle of Yavin
4. Mark Hamill Got in a Car Accident the Night Before He Was Supposed to Film His Last Shot for A New Hope
Remember when that wampa attacked Luke in the beginning of Empire Strikes Back? Not many people know that that was added to the film not only because everyone loves giant snow beasts who serve no purpose in the grand scheme of things, but because Lucas needed a reason why Luke’s face would suddenly look different in the second film. Hamill fractured his nose and left cheekbone in a car accident on the last day of shooting of A New Hope. Not only was a double used for that day of shooting, but his new face needed an explanation for subsequent films.
5. Every Star Wars Film Has Been Released One Week After George’s Birthday
We’re going to guess it’s probably a coincidence that the first Star Wars was released a week after George’s birthday. The guy may have had a lot of pull with Fox after he made American Graffiti, but we doubt he had the power of choosing his own release date. But the fact that each subsequent film has been released on the exact same week means that either George was just lucky enough to have a birthday that falls in prime movie-releasing time, or he’s making some serious demands.
6. R2-D2 is Named After Editor Jargon: Reel 2 Dialog 2
According to several sources, Lucas was working on his sci-fi epic long before he did American Graffiti. In fact, he was generating ideas for it while editing the film. The name for R2-D2 came while he was in a sound-mixing session with editor Walter Murch. As the legend goes, Murch asked Lucas for R2, D2 (Reel 2, Dialogue 2), and George wrote the name down for later use. It’s the only film reference we know of in the Star Wars universe, and a rather oblique one at that. It’s a good thing, because we much rather prefer the name C-3PO to Sides von Boomshadow.
R2-D2 Photo Courtesy of Mike Verta
7. The executives at 20th Century Fox hated the film the first time they saw it
Is it really a surprise that the company’s board of directors fell asleep at the first screening? In their minds, Lucas had filmed a pet project that only served to amuse him. This whole Star Wars thing was just another two-hour block that took up valuable golf time in their schedules. Beyond their inability to stay awake, their suggestions for fixing the film were comically insulting: one executive’s wife boldly asserted that no one was going to understand how C-3PO could talk if he didn’t have a working mouth.
8. The most famous line of The Empire Strikes Back was never uttered on set
As far as “I was on that set” stories go, being there when Darth Vader tells Luke that he’s his father, as he’s hanging over a chasm, is a whopper. But if anyone tells you that they heard Vader utter those words live on set, he’s lying. Actor David Prowse never uttered those lines. In fact, Prowse had no idea that Darth Vader was Luke’s father. No one did, save for Lucas and a few others. To protect the secret until the last possible second, George told Prowse to say that Obi-Wan was Luke’s father. Mark Hamill knew the truth, of course, but not until he walked on set that day.
9. Harrison Ford originally asked George Lucas to kill off Han Solo in Empire
Reading into the lore of Star Wars, you get a sense that Harrison Ford really understood Han Solo. Though he later admitted to not liking the character much, the guy played the loveable scoundrel so well, we can only assume his dislike comes from the role being too close for comfort. So, after the first film hit it big, Ford decided to try and get the spice smuggler killed. He suggested to Lucas that whole Han Solo character had been played out, and that the only way for Solo to go out would be dying for the alliance in the sequel. For a couple of drafts, George went with it, but apparently he changed his mind along the way. To sate Ford, George left Han’s fate open-ended at the ending of Empire, in case Ford decided to walk away from an absurdly giant paycheck.
10. Around 2.2 million Americans played truant from work and school to see The Phantom Menace when released on May 19th, 1999
The excitement surrounding the release of the first Star Wars prequel was stunning to behold. It seemed like the world stopped for a day. And, in a way, it did. A whopping 2.2 million people took the day off to stand in line for the film. Was it worth it? Probably not. Though it’s nice to be able to say you were there to witness the breaking of millions of nerd hearts. A geek-jangling of that magnitude wasn’t felt again until the double-hitter Matrix sequel disaster of 2003.
11. Han Solo’s ‘I know’ line in Empire was ad-libbed by Ford
Imagine this: Han Solo is marched to the carbonite chamber, his fate uncertain, possibly saying goodbye to his friends for the last time. He stares into Leia’s eyes as the platform begins to lower. She tells him that she loves him. He replies, “I love you, too.” Record scratch! Is there anything less scoundrel-ly than a scoundrel wearing his heart on his sleeve? Ford thought something felt wrong about it and asked Lucas if he could ad-lib freely on the next take. Lucas loved the “I know” the minute he heard it. So much so, in fact, that a reversal of it is used the in the attack on the bunker scene in Return of the Jedi.
12. Wedge Antilles is the only fighter pilot survivor of all three battles of the original trilogy
Is there ever a more unsung hero than Captain Wedge Antilles? The man survived three of the deadliest battles in the Star Wars. In fact, he’s the only one who survives that isn’t a main character. In fact, Wedge’s only lines are ones in which he’s talking about stuff he’s going to shoot or reassuring us that he’s still alive. In Empire, his landspeeder is dramatically shot down, but before Luke takes off, Wedge gives him a wave goodbye and wishes him luck. What happens to him between that and the final run on the 2nd Death Star? We can only assume he single-handedly takes out a battalion of star destroyers with only an x-wing.
13. A New Hope was the only one of the six films in the franchise to be nominated in the Academy Awards best picture category
Star Wars has plenty of Academy Awards now, thanks to Lucas’s special effects powerhouse Industrial Light and Magic. But back in the year of its release, it seemed like a huge deal that such an epic film, one that changed filmmaking forever, would be snubbed in favor of Annie Hall. Don’t get us wrong, we love Annie Hall. We just think that Best Picture should go to something that raises the bar, and Annie Hall is not that. So if Mr. Allen would please bring his Oscar to Skywalker Ranch so George can melt it down into some bullets and have his triple-chinned revenge, that would be lovely.
READ: 10 Most Spectacular Space Vessels in Film – #5 The Death Star
14. Movie theaters only bought prints of Star Wars because the distributor threatened to withhold The Other Side of Midnight
Ever heard of The Other Side of Midnight? It’s an adaptation of a Sidney Sheldon novel starring Susan Sarandon. It totally bombed. The only reason we’re still talking about it is because everyone thought it was going to be a huge blockbuster. So much so, in fact, that the film’s distributor threatened to only sell prints of it to theaters that agreed to show Star Wars. Take that, Susan Sarandon! Maybe you should have stuck to the proper side of midnight after all.
15. Endor is the Elvish name for Middle-Earth in J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings
It’s easy to forget just how many influences George had with him when he was writing Star Wars. He was culling from a lifetime of comic books, books, and movies. The names he came up with for things accurately harken back to the original place of inspiration. And as much trouble as we give him for everything that he’s done since, you can’t stay very mad at a man who’s inspired millions of people to dream just as big as him. Who knows, without George and his homage to hobbits, Peter Jackson may not have been inspired to create his own piece of sci-fi/fantasy history with Lord of the Rings!
The Crew – The Last Romantics
The Crew – Ghost Ship
Chris Littler lives in Hollywood. He has a degree in Dramatic Writing from the Tisch School of the Arts at New York University, one of the most prestigious writing programs in America, which he totally plans to hang on the wall when he has a Study. Chris currently covers video games at UGO.com when he’s not performing improv at iO, and is currently writing a one-hour TV pilot with his friend Wes. Like everyone else you know, he has an album available to purchase on iTunes and has lots of things to say on his blog: chrislittler[dot]com.