Five Things You Couldn’t Possibly Know About Star Wars (1977)
By Henry Bernice for TheHumbleHeckler.com
(Editor’s note: Film critic/historian Henry Bernice has been struck by lightning seven times. Keep this in mind when reading the following article.)
Star Wars (1977) is arguably the most important movie in the history of the American film industry. That’s not to say that it is the best or most important work of cinema ever created (after all, it is a relatively simple fantasy/adventure tale that luxuriates in rather well-worn tropes concerning good versus evil); however, one could reasonably contend that no other film has had a greater impact on the way movies are made and marketed. Star Wars is, and will always remain, a touchstone in blockbuster filmmaking and an indelible pop culture hallmark. No film has ever inflamed so much passion in so many movie lovers. For decades the most rabid of all fan bases has continuously picked through the minutia of the Star Wars series, finding relevance in even the most trivial of facts. And yet even the most hardcore believers in the Force don’t know absolutely everything. So, without further ado, here are five things you couldn’t possibly know about Star Wars (1977).
(1) In George Lucas’s original screenplay (called The Star Wars) the character of Darth Vader was originally called Darth Kenny. It wasn’t until Gary Kurtz (one of the film’s producers) saw the final script that the idea of a name change was considered. “I just didn’t think Darth Kenny was the kind of name that would strike fear in the hearts of moviegoers,” Kurtz told Sci-Fi Celluloid Magazine in an interview conducted in 1980. “At the time I was really interested in what was happening in the world of video games. A friend of mine in Japan named Tomohiro Nishikado was developing a new game called Space Invaders,” Kurtz said, “so when George asked me to suggest a new name, I thought the choice was obvious: I suggested we call our villain Darth Space. George loved it, but John Williams (composer of the film’s score), who just happened to be in the elevator with us at the time said, ‘That’s the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard. I mean, why don’t we call him Darth Elevator since right now we’re in an elevator.’ Strangely enough, George (whose ability to sniff out sarcasm was severely lacking) loved the idea—until he met a waitress at Denny’s whose last name was Vader.”
(2) Harrison Ford originally auditioned for the role of Princess Leia. Ford was looking for something a little different after playing more masculine roles in films like American Graffiti and TV shows like Gunsmoke. “I don’t know, Han Solo just seemed like a bit of a dick,” Ford told The Cleveland Alfalfa Journal in 1981. “I’d done the whole tough, macho, charismatic thing to death. I really wanted to spread my wings as actor and play a gutsy broad.” Ford actually screen tested for the role and won unanimous praise from Lucas and a number of producers. “It was amazing,” said Lucas to Starfire Magazine in late 1979. “That dude really looked like a chick. Sounded like one, too. No kidding, I was this close to asking him out for a drink before I remembered it was actually Harrison under all that hair and makeup.” When Ford was officially offered the part he was ecstatic, but his enthusiasm waned when he attended his first costume fitting. “It was the hair, man. I just couldn’t get past the hair. For some reason George was married to that style, but it made my head look like my ears exploded or some shit, so I was like, screw it. I guess I’ll be charming … again.”
(3) The infamous Mos Eisley Cantina scene was shot illegally, guerrilla-style, without permits or formal permission at an actual bar called The Landing Strip, located just down the road from Newark Liberty International Airport. Therefore, the wacky cast of outrageous monsters and space creatures were actually just a congregation of Newark regulars mixed with a smattering of air travelers who decided to have a drink while waiting for their flights. Lucas snuck in his actors along with a small crew and just started filming everything. “We really hit the jackpot with that place,” Lucas said in a 1982 interview with Spandex World. “The place was so bizarre and everyone in the joint looked so tired and haggard that we didn’t need to use one drop of paint to dress the set or one drop of makeup on any of the extras. We just stole a crap-ton of footage and booked it outta there.” Lucas may be content with the footage, but a number of the extras are not. Not one of the bar patrons was paid for the film’s use of their image. There is still a lawsuit pending in the state of New Jersey.
(4) R2D2 was originally voiced by James Earl Jones. It’s hard to believe but those now-famous metallic-y blips and blops were initially delivered in a much deeper, much more stentorian register. The great James Earl Jones dove into his R2D2 voice recording sessions with an impressive amount of gusto. “I really loved being that little guy,” Jones told High Fashion Weekly in 1991. “When I heard that I’d been replaced I was really upset. That role meant a lot to me.” Eventually the role would go to legendary R&B/soul singer Barry White, who, for reasons unknown decided to remain uncredited for his performance.
(5) When the film was released in Japan the title had been changed from Star Wars to Happy Space Monster Ray Gun Vader Joy Joy Hour America Yes! As a result, this particular Japanese movie poster has become the holy grail for Star Wars collectors the world over. First printings of the poster are said to sell for as much as 4 million dollars. In 2016 a first printing sold at a Sotheby’s auction for more than 9 million dollars to a collector named Byron Toodles, an investment banker who loves movie paraphernalia. “It’s so stupid looking,” Mr. Toodles said in an impromptu press gathering outside of Sotheby’s auction house. “It’s such a freakout to look at this thing, man. It’s gonna make my cat york up his Meow Mix.”
So, there you have it, Star Wars aficionados. There’s five more things you can use to impress people at sci-fi conventions. You’re Welcome.