Star Wars is one of the most popular film series of all time, growing into an empire over the course of forty years and becoming one of the single biggest franchises in the world. The story of a galaxy far, far away is etched into our pop culture subconscious. Even if you’ve never seen the movies, you know the actors and the characters they play. But the movies didn’t spring into existence fully formed. It took multiple drafts, dedicated creators, and exhausted actors to make the films what they are. Behind the scenes, the movies looked different. Actors faced scrutiny and unexpected challenges from their roles in the film.
The villains and heroes of the story shifted as the scripts were tweaked, leaving some major players on the cutting room floor while elevating other elements into major factors of the story. And sometimes, the real life realities of filming such a big, crazy series allowed for some unexpected difficulties and joys for the actors and producers. Both in real life and within the world of the films, things went down in ways we’d never expect. Here are 25 surprising and shocking things from behind the scenes of the Star Wars films that we never knew about.
26 Jake Lloyd Isn’t A Huge Fan Of The Franchise
On paper, being cast as young Darth Vader must have seemed like a perfect gig for a child actor. But for Jake Lloyd, who played Anakin Skywalker in The Phantom Menace, the part became something he regretted. Following the poor reception to the movie, Lloyd faced a great deal of teasing for his part in it. Lloyd, who had been a bunch of films by this point, even retired from acting in response to just how relentless it was.
25 Ahmed Best Was Saddened By The Reaction To Jar Jar Binks
As bad as it got for Lloyd, though, it was nothing compared to Ahmed Best. Best played Jar Jar Binks, who has gone on to become one of the most disliked movie characters of all time. The reception led to Jar Jar Binks getting less screen time as the trilogy continued. The sheer severity of the insults and arguments eventually got to Best, leaving him in a dark place. Luckily, he managed to come out the other end in one piece and is now a happy father.
24 The Prequels Almost Ended Natalie Portman’s Career
Natalie Portman is one of the most popular actresses of her generation. She’s starred in some of the best movies of the last twenty years, and has won Academy Awards for her work. But the Star Wars prequels almost ended her career early. After she was cast in the films and gave what many deemed to be the wooden performance that the bland script ensured, Portman had trouble getting cast in any other movies. She was saved by a supporting role in Seagull kept her on people’s minds, eventually getting her in touch with the Wachowskis for V for Vendetta.
23 They Cut A Female Sith From Attack Of The Clones
In the early days of figuring out Attack of the Clones, a few villains were considered for the movie. Before the producers ended up on Count Dooku, another baddie was conceived. A fearsome and incredibly cool-looking Sith villainess was designed. She would have been the first female villain in the series, but was eventually decided against. The look of the Sith warrior lingered with the creators, though, and the look eventually transformed into Asaji Ventress in the animated series.
22 Samuel L. Jackson Specifically Requested A Unique Lightsaber
Lightsabers tend to only show up in a handful of colors. Blue, green, and red tend to be the most common kinds of lightsabers. But when Samuel L. Jackson showed up to play Mace Windu, he wanted to stand out amongst the massive Jedi battle scenes. To that end, he had a conversation with George Lucas, one he shared with fans. He said “We had this big arena, this fight scene with all these Jedi and they’re fighting or whatever. And I was like… I wanna be able to find myself in this big ol’ scene. So I said to George, 'You think maybe I can get a purple lightsaber?'" And he did, and we were all happier for it.
21 Han Solo Almost Showed Up In Revenge Of The Sith
George Lucas spent much of the prequels trying to seed the things we would see in the future movies. A lot of them were unnecessary, but at least they cut the worst one. One of the proposed scenes that was for intended for Revenge of the Sith would have shown us a young Han Solo on the Wookie home world, for some reason. Lucas eventually decided against including the scene in the story, unknowingly leaving the story open for later creators to make Solo: A Star Wars Story instead.
20 Alec Guinness Regretted Being Obi-Wan Kenobi
Alec Guinness had already been a pretty successful actor by the time he appeared in the first Star Wars. An established actor in great films like A Bridge Over River Kwai, Guinness didn’t really believe in the story of Star Wars, just in its potential success. He didn’t care much for the film, and was disappointed to see his character reappearing in Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi. Ironically enough, Peter Cushing had the opposite reaction. Cushing, the actor who played Grand Moff Tarkin and had a comparably successful dramatic career as an actor, actually loved being in Star Wars and wished he could have been in more of them.
19 Obi-Wan Was Written For A Japanese Star
Toshiro Mifune is one of the most legendary actors in Japanese cinema, staring in many of Akira Kurosawa’s films. Kurosawa was a huge influence on a young George Lucas, with the Star Wars creator calling his films some of his biggest inspirations. So it makes perfect sense that Lucas would try to write around those films. Lucas tried to get Mifune for the part of Obi-Wan. But the actor feared the movie would be a failure and make a joke out of samurai imagery, which Star Wars borrowed heavily from for the lightsaber battles.
18 Carrie Fisher Did Not Like Being Mean To Peter Cushing
Carrie Fisher, by all accounts, was just one of the friendliest women in Hollywood. But one of her favorite people in the world might have actually been Peter Cushing. The actor who played Grand Moff Tarkin was in her very first film scene, and turned out to be very accommodating for the rookie actress. He was such a pleasant man that Fisher said on multiple occasions that she found it difficult to act like she didn’t like him. Mark Hamill didn’t have any scenes with Cushing, but he still rushed out to say hi to him.
17 Harrison Ford Did Not Like The Script
Harrison Ford first achieved real film success with the role of Han Solo. But even though he can trace his career success back to the film, he’s not the biggest fan of the franchise. He reportedly had issues with the script from day one, even arguing with George Lucas about the dialogue of the film. While he did enjoy the films in the early days, by the end of the original contract he was more than ready to leave the part behind and escape from the galaxy far, far away.
16 Orson Welles Was Almost Darth Vader
James Earl Jones as the voice of Darth Vader is unquestionably one of the iconic film roles of all time. With David Prowse providing the physical acting and Jones delivering the dialogue, Vader is arguably the best villain in cinematic history. But he wasn’t the first idea for the voice of the character. Lucas also had Orson Wells, the man behind Citizen Kane, as a possibility in mind for the voice of the character. But Lucas thought Wells would be too recognizable, and instead went with the then-unknown Jones.
15 Billy Dee Williams Had To Explain Lando’s Actions To Children
Billy Dee Williams brought a lot of charm and sympathy to Lando Calrissan, making us care about the scoundrel who betrays our heroes but has a change of heart. But a lot of people, especially kids, didn’t see him redeemed enough to be okay. Reportedly, Williams daughter actually heard lots of accusations from her fellow students about her traitorous father. Williams ended up having to go to the school to try and explain Land’s actions to the children.
14 No One Knew About Darth Vader Being Luke’s Father
The twist about Darth Vader being the father to Luke Skywalker is one of the biggest plot swerves in film history. To make sure that it was kept a secret, Lucas went out of his way to make sure no one knew it beforehand. They filmed the scene with different dialogue, allowing James Earl Jones to change the dialogue after the fact. Director Irvin Kershner was one of the few others who knew, and only told Mark Hamill right before they filmed the scene with a skeleton crew. It ensured it was a huge shocker, with Harrison Ford apparently having the biggest “WHAT?!” in the audience at the premiere.
13 Han Was Frozen In Carbonite Because Harrison Ford Almost Didn’t Come Back
Of the original stars of the first Star Wars films, only Mark Hamill and Carrie Fisher had signed contracts that ensured their participation in three movies. Harrison Ford had only signed on for two, giving him an out if he didn’t want to come back for Return of the Jedi. This is why the movie ends with Han trapped in carbonite. If Ford didn’t return, there was an easy way to write out Han Solo. If he did come back, the creators could start the movie with his rescue – which they did when he agreed to appear in Return of the Jedi.
12 Harrison Ford Improvised Some Of His Most Iconic Moments
Seriously, we can’t understate how much Harrison Ford didn’t like the script to Star Wars. While he did take the part seriously, he changed a lot of the dialogue and his performance in an attempt to make it more workable on screen. His most famous improvisation, though, came during The Empire Strikes Back when Han Solo is frozen in carbonite. Originally, Han Solo was meant to say “I love you too” to Leia. But Ford changed it to “I know.” It’s a simple change, but an impactful one. It made for one of the best scenes of the movie.
11 Filming For The Empire Strikes Back Was Very Difficult
To an extent, every Star Wars movie was difficult to film. But The Empire Strikes Back was worse than anything anyone ever expected. Filming for the Hoth scenes took place in Norway, but the coldest winter to strike the country in years left them with only half their planned scenes filmed. Carrie Fisher and George Lucas butted heads during the production, plot leaks threatened to ruin some of the biggest twists in the movie, and the actors were more isolated and angry. The resulting film is arguably the best of the entire series, but it took the most work.
10 The Ewoks Were Almost Wookies
The Ewoks are one of the more controversial pieces of the original trilogy. The cute little teddy bear creatures were well-received by some fans, but treated as annoying additions by others. But the original version of their role would have at least been a bit cooler. In the original planning for the film, George Lucas wanted the heroes to have to go to the home world of the Wookies to destroy the shield generator protecting the second Death Star. But after considering the price of filming that scene (and also how many toys could be made out of cuter aliens), Lucas switched the role to the Ewoks.
9 Harrison Ford And Carrie Fisher Hung Out With The Rolling Stones
Sometimes, the world is as great as you want it to be. Carrie Fisher opened up about her life, including this crazy story where she was renting a home from Eric Idle. Idle came back and revealed to her that the Rolling Stones were coming over to party. So even though they had an early shoot the next day, Fisher called Harrison Ford and the two proceeded to spend the night hanging out with one of the most popular bands of the 1970s. The pair of Star Wars actors had actually had a brief relationship during the filming of the first film, but they at least were friendly enough afterwards to be buddies.
8 Steven Spielberg Almost Directed Return Of The Jedi
Steven Spielberg and George Lucas have been friends for decades, and Spielberg has always been connected to Star Wars as a result. A bet the pair made in 1970s about the success of the movie has even ended up giving Spielberg millions over the years. He also came incredibly close to directing one of the original three movies. Lucas asked Spielberg to take the reins of Return of the Jedi. But the internal politics of Hollywood prevented it. George Lucas had a bad falling out with the Director’s Guild of America, and left the union. Spielberg, who was a highly respected member of the group, ended up siding with the union and turning Lucas down. The two soon worked together on the Indiana Jones films.
7 Return Of The Jedi Was Almost Much More Bittersweet
The original ending of Return of the Jedi was a much more bittersweet experience instead of the happy ending we ended up getting. Instead of the heroes making it out in one piece, most of the Rebellion was meant to fall in battle, including Han Solo. Leia would be anxious about her impending responsibility as the new Queen of the universe. And Luke Skywalker would end up leaving on his own, echoing the climax of spaghetti westerns where the hero ends up leaving towards an uncertain future. Lucas fought hard against the climax, feeling it would end any chance of future merchandising.
6 Several Female X-Wing Pilots Were Cut (And Then Restored)
During the filming of Return of the Jedi, a number of fighter pilots were filmed for the battle over the second Death Star. Among them were three female pilots. In the final version of the film, though, two of them were cut and the one remaining woman was dubbed over by a male actor. The footage languished on the cutting room floor until Rouge One: A Star Wars Story. The pilots were edited into the film alongside fellow past X-Wing and A-Wing pilots, giving them a role in the story.
5 Force Awakens Used A Bunch Of Settings That Were Once Refused
The Force Awakens was a massive success, building upon the legacy of the original films. While it felt derivative at times, it still retained a sense of excitement and fun that was lacking from the prequels. To ensure they kept their connection to the original films, director J.J. Abrams didn’t just mimic pieces of the story, but he mined the rejected designs from the originals for ideas. Most notably, he used a rejected design for Darth Vader’s castle (yes, Darth Vader almost had a boss looking castle in the original films) that ended up being recycled and reformatted into the home of Maz Kanata.
4 Carrie Fisher Only Came Back If Her Daughter Got A Role
Carrie Fisher happily came back to the Star Wars universe for A Force Awakens, but on a very specific condition – namely, that her daughter Billie Lourd be given a part in the movie. While the announcement of the casting initially led to rumors that she would be playing a young Leia in a series of flashbacks, it was revealed instead that Lourd had a small part as a Resistance lieutenant. And as a gag, the producers gave her a Princess Leia inspired haircut to make it even more obvious.
3 Poe Wasn’t Originally As Important
Poe Dameron is one of the most interesting additions to the Star Wars universe, a subversion of the classic “hot shot” pilot archetype whose cool antics don’t always work out for everyone. But he wasn’t originally intended for much, instead being used as a means to get Finn to Jakku before being dispatched in a crash. But the actor who played him, Oscar Isaac, didn’t want to play someone who would be written out in the first act. He convinced Abrams to give the character a reprieve, letting him survive and go on to become a major character in the new trilogy.
2 Mark Hamill Had Mixed Feelings About The Last Jedi
Easily the most divisive Star Wars movie to be made, The Last Jedi even caused division among the actors who were in it. Mark Hamill, who returned to the role of Luke Skywalker for the role, has had mixed feelings about the arc his character takes. He made this point clear before the release of the movie, contending there were things he didn’t think Luke would do. But he also seemed to understand what the filmmakers were doing, and ultimately said he supports and enjoys the film. That hasn’t stopped him from making occasional joke about the film, though.
1 Puffins Forced Rian Johnson To Come Up With Porgs
The Porgs are the little puffball characters that live on the island Luke Skywalker had been in self-imposed exile on. While some fans contended that the birds were a creation of Disney to sell more toys, director Rian Johnson revealed they actually came more out of necessity. While filming on an island, the natural puffins on the island ended up in most of the shots. The island was a UNESCO Heritage Site, and the puffins couldn’t be moved. So Johnson embraced them and came up with the Star Wars equivalent of the flightless birds – namely, the Porgs.
References: AV Club, Variety, Daily Mail, ScreenCrush, Star Wars, ScreenCrush, Hollywood Reporter, Den of Geek, Dangerous Minds, Wikia, Huffington Post, Page Six, TVTropes, Cracked, Gizmodo, The Independent, Empire, Wikipedia, Filmumentaries, Mental Floss, ScreenRant, TVTropes, MovieWeb