It’s been nearly 40 years since the release of Star Wars and it’s still remarkable just how much it has been ingrained into our popular culture. Between the movies, the books, cartoons and comics, fans have enjoyed the adventures of this galaxy far, far away and it still hasn’t died out. Even the prequels have supporters and the fact they elicit such passionate responses proves just how important Star Wars is for this world. With The Force Awakens due for release this December, expect a whole new generation to fall in love with the saga all over again and continue its legacy.
With so many behind the scenes books and documentaries having been made, not to mention tons of interviews, it’s pretty hard to find a facet of the franchise uber-fans don’t know in and out. But there are still some tidbits that might surprise the casual viewer who doesn’t indulge in such things and even the more hardcore fans might not know them. Here are 20 facts of Star Wars, both in and out of the story that makes you see it in a new light and enjoy it even more.
20. Everyone hated the Ewoks
The Ewoks have gotten a bad rap from fans of the films over the years from their too-cute looks to how they take down the Imperial army to being obvious merchandise cash cows. As it turns out, the fans aren’t alone: Even those working on Jedi didn’t like the Ewoks that much. Ralph McQuarrie, the Oscar-winning designer for all the movies, refused to do any artwork involving them and crewmembers who deride the actors in costume, especially the final dance scene. The Ewok actors weren’t happy about being treated this way due to how they had to run around in the fur costumes in battle scenes. They got their payback by making it look like they were staging a huge walk-out to the airport and when production assistant Ian Bryce got a flat trying to get to the airport, a bus pulled up with all the actors exiting wearing “Revenge of the Ewoks” t-shirts. Just like the Stormtroopers, Bryce learned not to mess with these little guys.
19. The original Emperor was a woman
One change to the Special Editions fans are actually okay with is in Empire Strikes Back as the original video of the Emperor was replaced with new footage of Ian McDiarmid in the role. Originally, Lucas wanted to keep the Emperor more of a shadowy figure to enhance his reputation and thus used a long-mysterious woman in some makeup and robes with Clive Revill providing the voice. It wouldn’t be until a behind-the-scenes book in 2010 that the woman was identified as Elaine Baker, then-wife of legendary makeup artist Rick Baker and another interesting connection to the saga.
18. Yoda was a monkey
CGI wasn’t a thing back in 1980 and the complications of the puppetry of making Yoda work were rough as well when shooting Empire. The wild solution was to take a trained monkey, put a mask on him and have him be Yoda on set. There’s actual photos of the monkey in “costume” on set but the idea was quickly abandoned as they realized that the monkey was just going to pull the mask on and off again and throw off shooting. So they went with the puppet idea that worked out much better.
17. It’s also a radio drama
Star Wars is such a visual experience that it’s hard to imagine it working on the radio. But in 1981, NPR put together a 12-episode radio dramatization that did a damn good job replicating the movies. Mark Hamill and Anthony Daniels reprised their role with a good cast like Perry King (one of the original Han choices) as Han and veteran actor Brock Peters as Darth Vader. Written by Brian Daley, the radio shows did a good job expanding on things with scenes of Luke and his friend Biggs; Vader interrogating Leia; Han meeting an agent of Jabba the Hutt and refusing to sell out Luke and Ben; and Tarkin plotting to use the Death Star in a coup against the Emperor. A follow-up followed for Empire Strikes Back but due to funding cuts, it wouldn’t be until 1996 that Jedi would finally complete the saga. They still stand up today as a showcase for how Star Wars is amazing no matter the medium.
16. Brian DePalma worked on Star Wars
At the time of the original movie, there was a rise in Hollywood of young and hungry directors that included Lucas’ pal Steven Spielberg. Also with them was Brian DePalma who enjoyed the early screenplays by Lucas which included the opening crawl inspired by the old Flash Gordon serials. However, DePalma felt Lucas was way too wordy with it, it would be too much for audiences and thus rewrote it to the famous lines introducing us to this galaxy. While he didn’t work on much more, DePalma’s influence on the saga has been keenly felt since.
15. Return of the Jedi could have been truly wild
Before settling on Richard Marquand, Lucas considered various other directors for the final movie of the trilogy and two choices came up. The first was David Lynch who had yet to embark on his famously bizarre films and actually hated Star Wars totally. Out of respect for Lucas, he at least met for lunch but the talk of Wookies gave him a migraine and he begged off. Given his later sci-fi work was his much-derided adaptation of Dune, the genre might not have been the best for Lynch.
He wasn’t alone as also offered the job was David Cronenberg who admits that it took one meeting for Lucasfilm to realize he probably wasn’t right for the job. While both men were odd fits, the idea of either giving the franchise their own insane spin would have been interesting.
14. The Cover Movie names
When shooting Return of the Jedi in 1982, the film crew went to massive lengths to cover what the movie was, putting out the word to locals in Yuma that they were making a horror movie called Blue Harvest. Even when a guy managed to get inside the fence to shoot photos of Jabba’s barge, they insisted on it being a horror movie. When sandstorms delayed filming for a few days, the cast and crew half-joked of making Harvest for real. As an added tidbit, Seth McFarlane would use the Blue Harvest name as part of Family Guy’s famous Star Wars episodes. Also, the name was derived from a Japanese story that would inspire the Kurosawa movie Yojimibo.
That wasn’t the only cover name as, to protect the prequel trilogy from thieves, each movie was shipped to theaters under a different name on the case. Episode I was “The Doll House,” Episode II was “Cue Ball” and Episode III was “The Bridge.”
13. Bounty hunters are into recycling
The scene of the bounty hunters gathered on the Star Destroyer in Empire Strikes Back showcases several recycled props and outfits. The droid IG-88 is a mix of robot parts of other movies, its head actually one of the dink dispensers from the cantina in the first film. Boba Fett’s outfit uses some of the early concepts of Stormtroopers while Zuckuss and 4-Lom were unused aliens from the cantina scene. And linking two iconic sci-fi properties, the costume worn by the lizard Bossk was used in an episode of the British series Doctor Who.
12. The sound effects came from strange places
Sound effect work is always fun and Star Wars is no exception as the noises we take for granted came from some unique places. The TIE fighter roar is an elephant call mixed with a car on wet pavement. Darth Vader’s iconic breathing is the respirator of a Scuba. The blaster noises are a cable hit by a hammer. The Sarlaac mixes sounds of an alligator’s stomach. The lightsaber mixes old TV signals and interlock motors. It’s also interesting that when Timothy Zahn wrote the first post-movies novel, Heir to the Empire, he came up with the idea of “snap-hiss” to describe a lightsaber igniting which has since become the regular way of describing it by authors and fans alike. One can only wonder where the sounds from the next movies originate.
11. Mark Hamill’s Injuries
Mark Hamill really did suffer for his art. In the garbage compactor scene of the first film he held his breath so long that he burst a blood vessel on the side of his face and they had to shoot to avoid showing the blemish. Bigger was Hamill getting into a bad car accident in between the first and second movies that required some reconstructive surgery on his face. To excuse the new features, Lucas created the opening of Empire where Luke is attacked by a Wampa with a deleted scene showing a face graft being peeled off. It could have been worse; Lucas has said that if Hamill had died in that wreck, he’d have had to kill Luke off-screen and then introduce a new character to fill the gap which would have thrown the entire saga off.
10. Several names are never used
Fans and even casual viewers have become so used to the names of various characters and creatures becoming accepted that it’s easy to forget none of those names are ever mentioned on screen. For example, while readers of some books knew the Emperor’s name was Palpatine, it took a bit for newer viewers to realize that Ian McDiarmid was playing the same role in the prequels (aided by how the actor had been under massive makeup in Jedi) as he was simply “The Emperor.” He’s not alone however as at no point are the Wampas or even the Ewoks ever called that on screen and there have been entire backstories created for various “blink and you’ll miss them” characters like the “ice cream” guy running the halls in Empire. Hell, Boba Fett, one of the most popular characters of the series, was only referred to by his name in the closing credits, showing the way the expanded universe has enhanced the saga.
9. The costume stories were wild
Most know that Carrie Fisher had to tape down her breasts as Leia in the first film so as not to appear too sexual but that’s just one of the various stories of the costumes of the saga. The studio wanted Chewbacca to wear some sort of clothing rather than be basically naked. Anthony Daniels had tons of pain in the C-3PO outfit and even injured his foot when a paneling jammed into it. Meanwhile, Peter Cushing found the jackboots worn by Tarkin to be too painful so he talked Lucas into letting him wear slipped on set and only being shot from the waist up in his scenes. It continued in the newer films with Natalie Portman sharing stories of the agony of wearing Padme’s various elaborate dresses and Hayden Christensen taking time to get used to Darth Vader’s massive armor.
8. C-3PO was meant to be a car salesman
Even during shooting, the characters of the first Star Wars movie were shifting as Lucas reacted to the performances to better shape things. That included C-3PO as the stuffy protocol droid was originally imagined by Lucas as a “used car salesman” type who spoke in a weaseley voice. However, Anthony Daniels preferred using his natural accent for a more “English Butler” type that Lucas quickly realized was better fitting for a protocol droid.
7. Liam Neeson’s height added $150,000
When Liam Neeson showed up on the set of Episode I, the sets have already been constructed for everything from spaceship interiors to Anakin’s home. However, the set designers had failed to take into account that at six feet and four inches, Neeson was the tallest actor of the cast and thus too tall for some interiors. As having him hunched over constantly didn’t fit the image of a steady Jedi Master, the construction crew had to spend a total of $150,000 raising the sets for him to stand straight, one of the odder costs for the entire saga.
6. Justin Timberlake was almost in Star Wars
It’s mostly forgotten now but in 2001, the Internet was buzzing with the news that then-hot boy band NSYNC were to cameo as a band of Jedi at the Temple in Episode II. A sigh of relief went up when no such appearance was made but apparently, the group did shoot the cameo only for it to end up on the cutting room floor. Many speculate Lucas never intended to put them in but his daughter was such a massive fan of the band that she begged her father to do it and he at least shot the sequence to please her. It would have meant Justin Timberlake making a big screen role much sooner than his current fame but many fans no doubt are happy it never came off.
5. George Lucas is on the Return of the Jedi poster
Originally entitled Revenge of the Jedi, the title of the third movie was changed as Lucas felt revenge didn’t fit the Jedi code. The teaser posters were simple but effective, Luke holding up his lightsaber across a field of stars. However, it’s not Mark Hamill’s hands but rather Lucas himself as he was more easily available and actually thought Hamill wasn’t holding the lightsaber right for the image. It makes sense that the man who started it all would work his way into things even bigger (plus his blink and you’ll miss it cameo in Episode III).
4. Stormtroopers are left-handed
When the design team came up with the blasters for the Imperial Stormtroopers, they based them on the Sterling L2A3 9mm submachine gun, a real weapon used by the British forces. When the actors originally used the weapons in their right hands, the design caused the magazine to hit them in the chest so it was switched over. While they were modified in later films, the then-limited budget meant that throughout the original film, the Imperials are always firing left-handed. No wonder they’re such lousy shots.
3. Han Solo was a giant green lizard
The first screenplays for Star Wars bear little resemblance to the movies we know today. It was far more derived from Japanese cinema with the Jedi full-on armies of soldiers, our main character Luke Starkiller, Leia far more a princess and Han Solo a massive Wookie-sized green-skinned alien smuggler. It might still have been a hit but it would have been a lot different than what we got. If you want to see it, check out Dark Horse’s comic adaptation The Star Wars and marvel at what could have been.
2. Yoda’s first name
Since his introduction, the diminutive Jedi Master has been one of the saga’s most iconic characters, the classic case of “don’t judge by size” and his role expanded to a great warrior in the prequels. Originally, Lucas was going to have Yoda be his surname and his first name be… Minch. Yes, the most revered Jedi of all time was to be called Minch. Thankfully, Lucas realized that just one name was better but the name of Minch would be used for a character of Yoda’s species in the distant past of one of the Dark Horse comics.
1. Obi-Wan Could Have Been Japanese
If Lucas had his way, instead of Alec Guinness, Obi-Wan would have been played by the greatest star in Japanese cinema, Toshiro Mifune. A great actor, Mifune starred in several films by Lucas’ idol, Akira Kurosawa, especially The Hidden Fortress, which Lucas has always cited as one of Star Wars’ key influences. However, the studio wanted someone with more name recognition to Western audiences (not to mention, could speak fluent English). Too bad; nothing against Sir Alec but Mifune as Obi-Wan would have made Star Wars even cooler.