This December, the Skywalker saga at the core of the Star Wars franchise will be coming to a definitive end. Fans have been following the story of Luke and Leia’s bloodline for over 40 years now, so a lot is riding on the big finale.
Long before J.J. Abrams rebooted the saga for Disney, and long before George Lucas divided his own fan base with a trio of prequel movies, we had the original trilogy. Lucas came to 20th Century Fox as a young man with an idea for a weird little space movie – the fourth part of a six-part epic – and somehow managed to get it funded. But he faced an uphill battle, as the studio had very little faith in the film and even tried desperately to bury it. It was all but guaranteed to be a failure.
And then something incredible happened: it struck a chord with audiences across the world. By the second or third week of its release, people were lining up around the block to watch it for the tenth time. Two highly anticipated sequels followed and the rest is history – the Star Wars phenomenon continues to this day. It’s stronger than ever, actually. Here are 25 Crazy Things Fans Didn’t Know Behind The Making Of The Original Star Wars Movies.
At the end of Return of the Jedi, when Darth Vader is unmasked and we see his true face for the first time ever, he’s played by Sebastian Shaw. Who? Exactly. Originally, the producers wanted a huge star like Laurence Olivier to cameo as Vader in the unmasking scene.
However, during story discussions, they scrapped the idea as they realized it would lessen the impact of the scene. It was probably the right call. It would take us out of the scene to have to say, “Oh, look, it’s Laurence Olivier!” This is the moment in which Anakin Skywalker looks upon his son with his own eyes for the first time. That’s important enough without a big movie star.
Everyone likes to joke about the incestuous overtones of The Empire Strikes Back’s kiss between Luke and Leia, since they were revealed to be twins one movie later. However, while George Lucas had plotted out the rough outline for all six movies from the start, he hadn’t ironed out all the details and was still making some things up as he went along.
The exact plot points in each movie were still being decided in each subsequent writing process. When they shot the kiss scene, he still hadn’t figured out that Leia was Luke’s sister. Thus, it’s not totally weird.
We finally saw Han Solo breathe his final breath after being slashed down by his own son in The Force Awakens, but Harrison Ford actually wanted the character to meet his end much earlier. During the production of the original trilogy, he never signed on for more than one movie at a time.
That’s why Han was frozen in carbonite at the end of The Empire Strikes Back – in case Ford didn’t sign back on for the third movie. He did, but he really pushed for a scene where Han is terminated early on in the story. Lucas refused, because Han needed to complete his character arc for the trilogy.
In the prequel trilogy and the Special Editions of the original trilogy (and in the upcoming The Rise of Skywalker,) Emperor Palpatine is played by Ian McDiarmid. However, in the original cut of The Empire Strikes Back, Palpatine only appears in a hologram scene and his character wasn’t fully fleshed out yet.
Back then, he was played by a female actor named Marjorie Eaton with chimpanzee eyes imposed on her face to give her a creepier look. It did successfully create the iconic Palpatine look, but future movies would just use makeup effects.
The latest Star Wars movies – especially the prequels – can get around dangerous stunt work with CGI. But back in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s, every stunt had to be done practically (unless it involved miniatures). Most actors would just use a stunt double.
However, in A New Hope, during the Death Star escape, there’s a moment where Luke and Leia swing across a giant chasm. Mark Hamill and Carrie Fisher didn’t use stunt doubles in this scene and actually performed the stunt themselves. In fact, they nailed it in one take.
Family Guy fans will be familiar with this fact, because Blue Harvest was used as the title of the show’s special episode parodying Star Wars. It’s a common practice now to use a fake title during the production of a much-anticipated blockbuster like The Avengers or The Dark Knight to avoid fans finding out where they’re shooting and leaking plot details from the set or interrupting filming.
But back then, it was a novel idea thought up by George Lucas to protect the set of Return of the Jedi. Blue Harvest is the most well-known fake working title used by a Hollywood production, because it started the trend.
If you look closely at Han and Leia in the scene in The Empire Strikes Back where they arrive at Cloud City, you’ll notice that they look a little dazed and tired. That’s because they both had terrible hangovers from the night before.
Despite the fact they were in the middle of shooting a Star Wars movie, Harrison Ford and Carrie Fisher spent the night partying until six in the morning with the Rolling Stones and Monty Python’s Eric Idle – and then they had to shoot the Cloud City scene. It’s not like you’re going to turn down an invitation to party with Eric Idle and the Stones, even if you do have work in the morning.
A New Hope was the only movie in the original trilogy that George Lucas directed, and according to the actors, he wasn’t very attentive to their performances. Some directors, like Martin Scorsese, watch their actors intently and provide detailed feedback.
Scorsese reportedly even keeps an eye on all of his extras and gives them specific notes between takes. However, Lucas just said either “faster” or “more intense.” At one point during filming, Lucas lost his voice, so the cast gave him a board with just those two phrases on. It worked a charm!
After the downbeat cliffhanger ending of The Empire Strikes Back, it was a relief when Return of the Jedi ended the trilogy on a positive note – but it almost didn’t. In early story discussions, George Lucas suggested taking the plot in a much grimmer direction.
Lucas told his co-writer Lawrence Kasdan, “Luke takes [Vader’s] mask off. The mask is the very last thing – and then Luke puts it on and says, ‘Now, I am Vader.’” Kasdan replied, “That’s what I think should happen.” In the end, and probably for the best, this was scrapped in favor of the happier, more hopeful ending we got.
According to Harrison Ford, he and Mark Hamill would goof around on the set of the original Star Wars movie, but only on the days when Alec Guinness wasn’t on the set. If Guinness, a behemoth in the acting community, was around, Ford and Hamill acted more professionally.
To be fair, back then, the Star Wars universe was completely unknown. It was up in the air if it was going to be a success or not, and the odds were against that. The actors were uttering words like “Jedi” and “lightsaber” and “Death Star,” which were nonsensical back then. They probably figured they might as well have fun while they were doing it.
Sound designer Ben Burtt is famous for using unusual items to create sound effects. For example, he got the sound of the lid being removed from the Ark of the Covenant from sliding the lid off the back of a toilet. In the Star Wars trilogy, he created the sound of a lightsaber by mixing the hum of an unused 35mm film projector and the feedback that comes from moving a stripped microphone cable past a TV set.
There are endless digital archives of the sound effect now that there are countless toys, video games, and TV shows it’s used in as well as the movies, but it all stems from that.
While George Lucas directed every prequel movie from his own scripts, he only directed the first movie of the original trilogy. Irvin Kershner took on The Empire Strikes Back, while Richard Marquand handled directing duties on Return of the Jedi. But before Marquand was hired, Lucas tried to get some A-list directors on board.
He first asked his friend Steven Spielberg, who declined because Lucas was producing the movie outside the Directors Guild of America, before courting horror directors David Lynch and David Cronenberg, who both turned him down in favor of their own projects.
Remember the scene in the original Star Wars movie in which Han Solo is on the Death Star, talking over an intercom system? He ends up shooting to intercom and saying, “Boring conversation anyway.” Apparently, Harrison Ford decided not to learn his lines for that scene and instead improvised it on the day, so that it would seem more spur-of-the-moment.
It’s rare that actors get to ad-lib in a Star Wars movie, since each one goes through a rigorous story-breaking process that ends with a pretty rigid and air-tight script, but this resulted in a nice touch of authenticity, so maybe it should be more common.
The Dagobah sequence in The Empire Strikes Back is one of the most important in Star Wars history. It introduced audiences around the world to Yoda, and also resulted in Luke being trained once and for all as a genuine Jedi. Obi-Wan had given him some pointers, but this was where he truly grappled with his Force powers.
At one point during the Dagobah scene, R2-D2 is consumed by a monster and then spat out into the swamp. He splashes into the water and starts to sink. This might look like a genuine swamp on-screen, but it was actually filmed – at least partly – in the swimming pool in George Lucas’ backyard.
When Han Solo is frozen in carbonite in The Empire Strikes Back, we see him in a white shirt with folded-over collars like what a chef would wear. But in his frozen form, as we see him for the rest of that movie and the beginning of Return of the Jedi, he’s wearing a regular shirt with a narrow, low-hanging V-neck.
This was a result of a lack of communication between the people dressing Harrison Ford for the freezing scene and the people making the carbonite prop. An important lesson was learned.
While the original Star Wars movie was shooting in Tunisia, the Jawas’ Sandcrawler was parked a little close to the Libyan border – close enough that the Libyan government feared it was a military vehicle, and that military action was imminent. After some wacky political misunderstandings, the Tunisian government had to politely ask Lucas to move the Sandcrawler.
While Lucas and his crew were shooting the scene where Luke and Uncle Owen buy Artoo and Threepio, and the Jawas try to rip them off with a droid that has a “bad motivator,” some politicians were in a frenzy as they prepared for what they thought meant a coming war.
We all know the THX logo that appears at the beginning of some blockbusters and blows out your eardrums with a slowly rising instrumental sound. These movies have been awarded “THX Certification” by Lucasfilm, and they come with a set of instructions for theaters, claiming each screening room “must be acoustically neutral – on-reverberant – to prevent sonic reflections from muddying dialogue; and [their] sound systems must reproduce substantial deep bass throughout the hall.”
The very first one was Return of the Jedi, and the certification was born when Lucas couldn’t figure out what was wrong with the movie’s audio. He realized it wasn’t an issue with the print, but rather the theater he was screening it in.
In one of the scenes set on Tatooine in A New Hope, C-3PO is walking through the desert and a giant alien skeleton can be seen behind him. This skeleton was later identified as belonging to a greater krayt dragon. After the crew finished shooting in Tunisia, no one removed the skeleton and it was just left there.
Years later, when the same crew returned to the same area of Tunisia to shoot Attack of the Clones, they found that the skeleton was still there – and it still is today. Go and check it out!
Upon completing his final cut of the first Star Wars movie, George Lucas screened it for all his director friends, like Francis Ford Coppola and Brian De Palma. He’d faced a disturbing lack of faith from the studio, the crew, and even some of the cast at this point.
And then his friends tore the movie apart. De Palma called it the “worst movie ever.” It can’t have been great for Lucas’ spirit. Spielberg was the only one of the bunch who thought it was good and would be successful – a beacon of hope, kind of like Luke in the movie.
Towards the end of The Empire Strikes Back, right before Han Solo is frozen in carbonite and taken to Jabba the Hutt’s palace, Leia tells him, “I love you,” and Han simply replies, “I know.” It’s one of the most iconic moments in Star Wars history. But George Lucas hated the “I know” line.
Harrison Ford came up with the line himself and kept pushing for it, but Lucas thought it would be unsuitable for the film’s audience. Of course, Ford was right – it’s totally in character for Han and is remembered by every one of the saga’s fans.
With the internet spreading any and all plot details that leak from the production of upcoming blockbusters these days, it’s tougher than ever to keep surprises and twists under wraps. But even back in 1980, it was difficult. George Lucas took some crazy precautions to keep the “I am your father” twist from leaking to the public.
In the script, the line claimed Obi-Wan eliminated Luke’s father, and this was also the line that David Prowse read (his lines as Vader were always redubbed with James Earl Jones’ voice) on the set. Mark Hamill was told the real twist seconds before the scene was shot so that he would react to the real twist, but aside from Lucas, he was the only one who knew before post-production.
For most of its production, Return of the Jedi went by the title Revenge of the Jedi. George Lucas later changed it to Return of the Jedi when he realized that the Jedi would not seek vengeance. However, by this time, thousands of Revenge posters had been printed up with artwork by Drew Struzan.
Those posters even had a red twinge to reflect the darker-sounding Revenge title, which just goes to show how much a title can impact the feel of a movie. It still had Ewoks in it, but it was going to be marketed as a dark, gritty finale.
We know The Empire Strikes Back as the fifth chapter in the Star Wars saga now that we have the prequels and a bunch of home media releases that label the movies with the right episode numbers. However, back in 1980, as far as anyone knew, The Empire Strikes Back was the second part of the story.
Still, George Lucas put “Episode V” at the top of the opening crawl, figuring that fans would be invested enough to look into it. That’s easier to do now that we have Google, but back then, figuring this out would take some serious research.
This one is actually quite widely known. When he was struggling to get funding for the original Star Wars movie, George Lucas took a pay cut in exchange for full merchandising rights. At the time, Fox executives thought he was a chump for taking the deal, since they didn’t think kids would want to buy space toys and film merchandising wasn’t that lucrative a business back then anyway.
Within a few short years, Star Wars merchandise would be a multi-billion-dollar industry, so Lucas got the last laugh and Fox executives were kicking themselves.
It’s fair to say that the adorable Ewoks are not the most popular part of the Star Wars original trilogy. Very few fans really love the Ewoks, and some even wonder why they ended up in the film in the first place. Well, as it turns out, everyone in the cast and crew of Return of the Jedi absolutely despised the Ewoks.
Conceptual artist Ralph McQuarrie even went as far as refusing to design them after George Lucas made it clear that he wanted them to look like teddy bears armed with primitive weapons. It’s a testament to Lucas’ resilience and commitment to his vision that he didn’t let this put him off and the Ewoks as he envisioned them made it to the final cut.