Ever since the first film debuted to critical acclaim and unprecedented box office success in 1977, Star Wars has been a staple of pop culture. The franchise has proven to be so popular and omnipresent in the zeitgeist that even those who are unfamiliar with the films still know all about Han Solo, Darth Vader, and the Force. And with the series set to make a major return in the form of this year’s The Force Awakens, even more people will become acclimated to the galaxy far, far away.
As memorable as the movies may be, not everything about Star Wars is common knowledge. There are little bits of trivia that even the most ardent fans may be surprised when they hear a story of what might have been. We’ve compiled the following list of 10 Secret Star Wars Facts You (Probably) Didn’t Know to bring forth some of the more fascinating items about the saga. How many are you aware of?
Liam Neeson’s Poor Judgment
It’s no secret that the Star Wars prequels are considered big disappointments; there’s no real point in harping on that fact. However poorly-received they might have been, certain aspects of the films still stood out. In the Phantom Menace, most moviegoers enjoyed Liam Neeson’s turn as Jedi Master Qui-Gon Jinn, as they actor gave the film an authoritative presence and gravitas it desperately needed. But if Neeson had used better judgment during the pre-production phase, we may not have even gotten that.
When offered the role by director/writer George Lucas, Neeson accepted the part… without reading a word of Lucas’ screenplay. We understand that the chance to be in a Star Wars film is too exciting to pass up, and Neeson probably saw it as a golden opportunity for his career. Still, one has to wonder what is reaction might have been if he actually sat down with the script beforehand and saw he’d be spending most of his time hanging out with Jar-Jar Binks and talking about midichlorians. This wasn’t exactly Alec Guinness in the original film.
Yoda Speaks the Truth
The Empire Strikes Back boasts one of the most famous twists in cinematic history, when Darth Vader (spoiler?) reveals to Luke that he is the young Jedi’s father (and did not kill Anakin, as Obi-Wan had said). The confession rocks Luke’s world, and it was such a surprise that even James Earl Jones didn’t believe Vader was telling the truth when he recorded the famous line. Since Vader was a villain, deception was very much in play, so Lucas had to clear the air in Return of the Jedi.
Consulting with a child psychologist, Lucas learned that kids under the age of 12 would dismiss Vader’s revelation as a lie unless it was 100% clearly stated as fact. For this reason, Lucas included a scene early in the film where Luke asks Yoda to verify Vader’s claim. His line, “Your father, he is” was exactly what Lucas needed to sway the audience, since Yoda was a hero and perceived as an honest individual. When that scene was over, anyone who believed there was misdirection was only fooling themselves.
Spielberg Can’t Direct
In one of the more tantalizing “what ifs” in Hollywood history, we almost got a Star Wars movie helmed by none other than Steven Spielberg in his prime. When planning out Return of the Jedi, Lucas first offered the gig to his longtime friend, who was coming off of the blockbuster smashes Raiders of the Lost Ark and E.T. – The Extra Terrestrial. Unfortunately, Spielberg had to decline the job, as Lucas had left the Director’s Guild following a heated controversy over the famous opening text crawl (The Guild had fined Lucas and Irvin Kershner for having all of The Empire Strikes Back‘s credits at the end). Spielberg was still a member and could not participate.
With his options limited, Lucas had to turn to the unknown (and non-union) candidate Richard Marquand. As thrilling as it might have been to see Spielberg lend his talents to the franchise, things worked out in the end. Though Jedi is perceived as the “weakest” installment of the classic trilogy, it still brought the series to a rousing conclusion and was thoroughly entertaining in its own right. Nobody left bemoaning what could have been with Spielberg when it was over.
Ford Takes Two
When Star Wars became a massive hit, stars Mark Hamill and Carrie Fisher were quick to sign on for two sequels. Their colleague, Harrison Ford, did not. Believing that Han Solo’s story had been told in full, the actor was unwilling to commit to future appearances following Empire Strikes Back. This was one of the influencing factors in freezing Han in carbonite, since nobody knew if the actor would be returning to the franchise.
Obviously, Ford was convinced to come back, and the series was all the better for it. It’s hard to imagine Return of the Jedi without Han’s involvement, as the threequel allowed his character arc to conclude in heroic fashion (playing an instrumental role in defeating the Empire). And Han still isn’t done, since he and Chewie will be making their triumphant return home in Episode VII. Star Wars without Han seems like an oxymoron, so everyone’s happy Ford eventually bought in.
Lando’s a Clone?
After hearing a tease of it in 1977, audiences had to wait until 2002 to see what the famed Clone Wars were all about, learning that it involved an army of clones of bounty hunter Jango Fett squaring off against Republic separatists. Lucas had a lot of time to iron all the details out, and the conflict went through a great deal of revisions before he settled on what was showcased in the prequels. Case in point: Han’s old buddy Lando Calrissian was originally conceived as a clone who fought in the War, and led a legion of them to a planetary settlement.
Admittedly, this would have been an interesting angle to explore, as it would have provided more breadcrumbs about the galaxy’s past to theorize over in the classic trilogy. And without knowing the full details of Lando’s original conception, we can’t truly say if this would have been a disaster or not. However, it is hard to argue with what we got. Calrissian was a one-of-a-kind smooth talking scoundrel perfectly brought to life by Billy Dee Williams. He stands out so much as his own man, envisioning him as one of several copies of the same person extremely difficult.
Luke Becomes Vader
Return of the Jedi has one of the more emotionally poignant moments of the trilogy, when Luke and Anakin share one touching moment as father and son before the elder Skywalker passes away. It’s a truly beautiful scene and serves up an extremely satisfying payoff for what the three movies had been building towards. So it seems odd that Lucas toyed with a couple of other endings, including one that would have infuriated fans to no end.
When working Jedi‘s story through its kinks, one of Lucas’ thoughts was to have Luke wear Vader’s helmet after Vader dies and proclaim, “Now I am Vader,” giving in to the Dark Side. It’s easy to see why this would be extremely problematic. It’s a twist that comes out of left field and completely goes against Luke’s character. It would essentially ruin the entire series and make everything we had invested in for naught. Luke was obviously upset that his father died as soon as he came back to the Light Side, but there are better ways to honor his legacy than to put on his mask and become a Sith Lord. Thankfully, Lucas changed his mind and went with the ending we all know and love.
Star Wars: Flop of the Century
It’s funny to think about this now, but there was a time when Star Wars was considered a huge risk. Even though he got his dream project made, Lucas was one of the ones convinced the film would be a disaster. He didn’t exactly get a confidence boost from his director friends, who mostly agreed with him after seeing a first cut. Brian de Palma went as far as to call it the “worst movie ever made” and nobody was particularly hopeful in its potential quality.
The only one who was prophetic enough to see the greatness Lucas had created was Spielberg, who walked away from the private screening convinced it was going to be a hit. Whether he honestly believed that or was just trying to make his old buddy feel better is up for debate, but it goes to show it’s not wise to go against Spielberg. Lucas even bet him that Spielberg’s Close Encounters of the Third Kind would gross more than Star Wars, illustrating that maybe it’s Spielberg who’s one with the Force.
A Disturbance in the Force
Lucas deserves a lot of the credit for creating Star Wars, but he was not alone in making the classic trilogy what it was. The cast and crew saw producer Gary Kurtz as an equally important piece of the puzzle, as he developed strong working relationships with the actors and kept everything on track. After collaborating with Lucas on Star Wars and The Empire Strikes Back, many were heartbroken to learn that Kurtz was leaving the franchise when he and Lucas had disagreements over the direction for Return of the Jedi.
The two former partners did not see eye-to-eye on what made Star Wars so beloved. Kurtz believed it was the memorable characters and story that drew audiences in. After Raiders of the Lost Ark became a smash, Lucas was convinced that they didn’t care about the narrative and were only in it for the spectacle. One only has to look at the reaction to the prequels to get a sense about which side was “right.” At the end of the day, Jedi perhaps had more spectacle than its predecessors, but luckily Kurtz’s absence was not too great. Screenwriter Lawrence Kasdan was there to guide the story along and it still provided many nice character moments to go with the action.
The First Film is Fourth?
When it was released in 1977, the original film was simply titled Star Wars. Only with the sequels did the subtitled “episodes” become standard practice for the franchise, with The Empire Strikes Back being dubbed “Episode V.” In an effort to make things more consistent, Lucas added “Episode IV – A New Hope” to the opening Star Wars text crawl for the 1981 theatrical re-release. What was odd about this, however, was that he did not have the prequel trilogy planned at the time. For all intents and purposes, the original trilogy was all we were going to get.
Lucas’ reasoning for making the first, second, and third films fourth, fifth, and sixth chronologically may never be known, but Fox was not too pleased with the decision. Fearing the Roman numerals would confuse moviegoers, they tried to convince Lucas to do away with the episode numbers. Obviously, they were unsuccessful in their attempts, and each installment of the saga has a numerical attached to it. Even though “Episode VII” is being left out of The Force Awakens‘ title card, you can be sure it’ll be there during the text crawl.
What’s My Name?
Names like Boba Fett, Palpatine, and Ewoks are well-known to die hard fans and casual viewers alike, but it’s interesting to think how they got that way. Consider this: throughout the original trilogy, Palpatine is only referred to as “The Emperor” and nobody calls the Ewoks by their proper species name (Han resorts to “fur ball” and the like). And up until his final moments in Return of the Jedi, Boba Fett’s identity is just “the bounty hunter” to those who only watch the movies. So how did they all become household names?
It’s a testament to the strength of Star Wars marketing. Through action figures, comic books, and other forms of media, little-heard identities such as Wicket W. Warrick and Palpatine are common knowledge just like Han Solo and Darth Vader are. It’s hard to imagine these characters becoming as iconic as they are if we only had generic terms for them; their names gave them something unique to remember them by.
Those are our picks for Star Wars hidden facts you (probably) didn’t know. As always, our list is not meant to be all-inclusive, so be sure to share some of your stump-worthy trivia bits in the comments section below!