IN A GALAXY FAR, FAR AWAY
20 Star Wars Secrets Revealed: From Leia’s ‘Cocaine Nail’ to the Ronald Reagan Connection
As we await the release of the highly anticipated Star Wars: The Force Awakens, let’s look back at the biggest mysteries of the original trilogy.
1. Many Hollywood Directors Hated the Star Wars Rough Cut
According to Peter Biskind’s fantastic book Easy Riders, Raging Bulls, director George Lucas held a screening of a rough cut of Star Wars just after he wrapped shooting in London. The special effects were far from finished, and the air battle sequences were held together with footage of planes dogfighting from World War II flicks. Lucas’s director-pals, including Steven Spielberg, Francis Ford Coppola, Brian de Palma, and John Landis, were in attendance. When the lights when up, everyone sat in stunned silence. Lucas’s then-wife, Marcia, was sobbing. “The crawl at the beginning looks like it was written on a driveway,” de Palma told Lucas. “It goes on forever. It’s gibberish.” While Landis asked Lucas, “George, is everybody in outer space white?” Spielberg, however, was onboard, telling a worried Lucas his film would make millions.
John Williams’s score for Star Wars has become iconic—one of the most celebrated in cinema history. But few know that that it was heavily inspired by, if not outright poached from, Erich Wolfgang Korngold’s score to the 1942 movie Kings Row, starring an up and coming actor by the name of Ronald Reagan. Korngold’s score was so popular that Warner Bros.’ music department, inundated by requests, drafted a form-letter response for recording or sheet music queries (film scores for non-musicals weren’t commercially distributed until years later). Futhermore, Reagan requested that the original orchestral score to Kings Row play during his presidential inauguration.
3. Alec Guinness, aka Obi-Wan Kenobi, Thought Star Wars Was “Fairy-tale Rubbish”
The book Alec Guinness: The Official Biography contains a series of letters composed by Sir Alec Guinness, who played Obi-Wan Kenobi, about Star Wars. Prior to signing on to the film, he wrote this to a friend: “I have been offered a movie (20th Cent. Fox) which I may accept, if they come up with proper money. London and N. Africa, starting in mid-March. Science fiction—which gives me pause—but is to be directed by Paul [sic] Lucas who did American Graffiti, which makes me feel I should. Big part. Fairy-tale rubbish but could be interesting perhaps.”
4. None of the Star Wars Cast Members Understood the Dialogue
Another of Guinness’s letters came from the set of Star Wars. “… new rubbish dialogue reaches me every other day on wadges of pink paper—and none of it makes my character clear or even bearable,” he wrote to a friend. “I just think, thankfully, of the lovely bread, which will help me keep going until next April even if Yahoo collapses in a week…” [Yahoo is in reference to a play Guinness starred in at the time, not the tech company.] The cast’s dialogue troubles were confirmed by Carrie Fisher, aka Princess Leia, who told me, “None of us knew what we were saying.” And Harrison Ford famously remarked while shooting, “You can type this shit, but you can’t say it.”
5. Han Solo Was Originally a Green Alien
Han Solo was based on Lucas’s wise-crackin’ pal, director Francis Ford Coppola, but the director originally intended him to be an alien. In Lucas’s 132-page The Star Wars: Rough Draft, completed in ’74, Solo is described as a green-skinned alien with no nose and giant gills. In the second draft, Solo was a Jack Sparrow-esque space pirate, but by draft No. 3, Lucas had nailed down the character of Solo, describing him as, “A tough James Dean-style starpilot about twenty-five years old. A cowboy in a starship—simple, sentimental and cocksure of himself.”
6. Grand Moff Tarkin’s Fuzzy Slippers
Peter Cushing, the veteran thespian who played Imperial Governor Grand Moff Tarkin, only filmed for five days on Star Wars, but couldn’t bear wearing his character’s knee-length boots (Cushing’s feet were a wide size 12, so the boots were very tight). According to Cushing, he approached Lucas after the first day and requested that he only be shot from the waist-up. “He consented kindly, and I was allowed to stomp about looking very cross as ‘Grand Moff Tarkin’ for the rest of the picture in carpet slippers!” Cushing recalled. Indeed, here is a set photo of Cushing in his slippers.
7. The Iconic Sound Effects
Sound designer Ben Burtt created the lightsaber sound by mixing the hum of a 35mm movie projector with the feedback generated by passing a stripped microphone cable by a television. He came up with the sound of Darth Vader’s deep breathing by placing a miniature microphone in the mouthpiece of an old Dacor scuba regulator, then recording the sound made when he breathed through the regulator.
8. Han Shot First
One of the more hotly debated plot points of Star Wars is the shootout between Han Solo and Greedo in the Cantina. Many fans believe Greedo shot first, but if you slow the scene in the original film, it’s clear that Greedo not only didn’t shoot first, but that he never even got a shot off at all. For the 1997 Special Edition release of Star Wars, Lucas, much to fans’ chagrin, chose to edit the scene to have Greedo shooting first at Solo, only for him to dodge the shot before firing back at Greedo. Lucas later explained why he altered the scene in an interview with The Washington Post. “Han Solo was going to marry Leia, and you look back and say, ‘Should he be a cold-blooded killer?’ Because I was thinking mythologically—should he be a cowboy, should he be John Wayne?” Lucas told the paper. “And I said, ‘Yeah, he should be John Wayne.’ And when you’re John Wayne, you don’t shoot people [first]—you let them have the first shot. It’s a mythological reality that we hope our society pays attention to.”
9. What’s in a Name?
According to Lucas, the name “Jedi” comes from the Japanese words “Jidai Geki,” which translate to “period adventure drama”—the name for a Japanese TV soap set in Samurai times. The robot R2-D2 came up during post on Lucas’s previous film American Graffiti. A member of the sound crew requested that Lucas retrieve Reel No. 2 of the Second Dialogue Track, and shouted, “Could you get R2-D2 for me?” And “Wookie,” the name of Chewbacca’s race, came courtesy of San Francisco DJ Terry McGovern, who did voice-over work on Lucas’s debut feature THX 1138. “We were riding along in the car one day and [Terry] said, ‘I think I ran over a Wookie back there,’” Lucas told Rolling Stone in a 1977 interview, “and this really cracked me up and I said, ‘What is a Wookie?’ and he said, ‘I don’t know, I just made it up.’”
10. Steven Spielberg’s $40 Million Star Wars Bet
Spielberg is quite the prophet. Not only was he the one that told Lucas Star Wars would be a huge hit after that dismal first cut screening, but while Lucas was visiting the set of Spielberg’s Close Encounters of the Third Kind in 1977, just before the release of Star Wars, the two got into an argument over whose movie would do better—with each believing the other person’s movie would prevail. So, they made a bet: Each would give the other 2.5 percent of their cut of their film if it made the most money. Well, that clearly turned out to be Star Wars by a wide margin. According to Business Insider, Spielberg ended up making about $40 million (and counting) from the bet.
11. C-3PO and R2-D2 Hate Each Other
Their characters may bicker onscreen, but the actors inside the costumes, C-3PO’s Anthony Daniels and R2-D2’s Kenny Baker, who both appear in The Force Awakens, have made no secret over the years of the fact that they despise one another. Back in 2005, Baker told Hollywood.com, “Once when I said hello to him he just turned his back on me and said, ‘Can’t you see I’m having a conversation?’ I was blazing with rage… It was the rudest thing anyone had ever done to me. I was furious. It was unbelievable.” Baker doubled down in an interview with Metro in 2009, saying, “He’s been such an awkward person over the years. If he just calmed down and socialised with everyone, we could make a fortune touring around making personal appearances. I’ve asked him four times now but, the last time, he looked down his nose at me like I was a piece of shit.” In a September 2015 interview with The Daily Mirror, Daniels threw shade at Baker, saying, “He’s not actually on set. I haven’t seen him for years. His name is on the credits as a sort of… I don’t know, a good luck charm, a courtesy. He’s a talisman.”
12. Yoda’s Unprecedented Oscar Campaign
For 1980’s The Empire Strikes Back, George Lucas and distributor 20th Century Fox went all-out in trying to secure Frank Oz, the puppeteer who played (and voiced) Yoda, a Best Supporting Actor Oscar nomination. “Some campaigns were merely funny, such as Twentieth Century-Fox’s flashy campaign for Yoda, and Muppet of ‘The Empire Strikes Back,’” wrote The Washington Post at the time. “Should a Muppet, a puppet or a robot actually be nominated, Academy officers would have to run to their rule books.” The Oscar buzz spread to the media, including a 1980 AP interview with Oz titled, “Frank Oz and Yoda: An Oscar?” In it, he’s asked about potentially being nominated for an Academy Award, and replies, “The thought has occurred to me, but not for very long. If you start thinking about acceptance speeches before the fact, it’s not very constructive.”
13. A Miss Piggy Cameo
Speaking of Frank Oz, in addition to the wise, centuries-old Jedi Master Yoda, the actor is best known for playing Miss Piggy on The Muppets. As the story goes, when Mark Hamill (Luke Skywalker) was having trouble shooting the Dagobah Jedi training sequences with Yoda, Oz brought Miss Piggy onto the film’s set to break the ice, and give him a chuckle. By the look of things, it did the trick.
14. The Rolling Stones, Princess Leia, and Han Solo Party All Night
According to Carrie Fisher, while filming The Empire Strikes Back, she rented a home belonging to Eric Idle (of Monty Python fame), and they had a drink that they’d give to the extras to make them more “compliant” called “The Tunisian Death Drink.” Then one night, well, things got crazy. “We had an early call, and Eric called down and said, ‘The Rolling Stones are here!’ and I came down and it was all of them,” said Fisher. “I called Harrison and said, ‘Get over here! This is ridiculous!’ I wonder how he remembers it. I remember that we never went to sleep, so we weren’t hungover—we were still drunk when we arrived in Cloud City the next day. We don’t really smile a lot in the movie, but there we’re smiling.”
15. Carrie Fisher’s Jedi ‘Cocaine Nail’
Nothing escapes the diligent folks at Reddit who pointed out that in a scene in Return of the Jedi, Princess Leia (played by Carrie Fisher) appears to be sporting one nail that is considerably longer than the rest. Since Fisher has been very open about her past drug use while filming Empire and Return of the Jedi, this made fans wonder if Fisher was using the nail to snort coke. Well, Fisher dispelled the rumor via Twitter in typically hilarious, self-deprecating fashion back in 2012, and, when I asked her if she had “a difficult time” with drugs while shooting the sequels, she laughed. “Actually, no, I didn’t go through a difficult time! I said I did blow a couple of times. That’s not a difficult time!” She added, “It’s a billion years ago, and if I could tell you the truth, you would laugh so hard. And… I can’t. But it was location. Location means everything is permitted. I went without being needed to Norway [on Empire]—that’s how much fun I was having. I was upset that I didn’t get to go to Tunisia for the first one. But I had a good time on the movies.”
16. Luke & Leia’s WTF Kiss
One of the more head-scratching scenes in the entire Star Wars trilogy came in The Empire Strikes Back, when Leia decides to toy with Han Solo by planting a big, wet kiss on Luke. When audiences discovered that the pair were brother and sister in Return of the Jedi, they flashed back to that scene and thought, Huh?! Well, it turns out that the actors—and Lucas—didn’t even know that Luke and Leia were to be brother and sister until pre-production on the final film in the original trilogy. “I think so!” answered Fisher when asked if nobody knew about the brother/sister twist until Jedi. “For us, we weren’t told until far along. I think maybe that kiss wouldn’t have happened—but there’s no tongue! I think the chemistry with Mark does have a more sibling quality to it, though.”
17. The Han Solo/Princess Leia Wedding That Wasn’t
One of the more notorious rumors surrounding Return of the Jedi is that the original ending was to feature a wedding sequence between Princess Leia and Han Solo. Of course, in the Expanded Universe the two go on to marry and have several kids. When I asked Fisher whether a wedding was ever considered, she flatly denied it. “Never. So stupid. Hilarious, but stupid,” she replied, chuckling. “Who would be the best man? Chewie, definitely. It would be great, but can you imagine Han going into a sentimental ritual like that? Hilarious.”
18. Alec Guinness’s Massive Payday
Don’t quote me on this, but for his appearance in The Empire Strikes Back, Sir Alec Guinness may have been paid the most money ever relative to time spent shooting. Guinness reluctantly agreed to work on the sequel, filming just a single day—Sept. 5, 1979—with the thesp arriving at approximately 8:30 a.m. and wrapping his scenes by 1 p.m. For his work, he was reportedly paid a quarter of a percentage point on the film which, when the movie was a massive hit, translated to millions in 1980 dollars for 4½ hours of work. On the first Star Wars film, Guinness cagily negotiated a full percentage point on the back-end, which made him rich.
19. “I Love You.” “I Know.”
One of the most famous exchanges between Han and Leia in The Empire Strikes Back came about in a unique way. In the original script, as Han is about to frozen in carbonite, Leia says “I love you,” and Han is supposed to reply, “Just remember that, Leia, because I’ll be back.” But at the time, Harrison Ford wasn’t sure he wanted to return for a third installment—which is in part why they chose to freeze him in carbonite in the first place. Among Ford, Fisher, and Hamill, Ford was the only actor to refuse to sign a three-picture deal on Star Wars, and at one point suggested that Lucas should kill off Han during Empire, which never came to fruition. So, Ford met with Empire director Irvin Kershner prior to filming the scene and suggested the line “I know.” Kershner agreed, and when it was shot, both Fisher and co-writer Lawrence Kasdan were upset that they hadn’t been clued into the big dialogue switcheroo. Lucas later convinced Ford that he had a juicy enough part for him in Jedi, and he returned for numero tres.
20. More Closely Guarded Than Fort Knox
If you think security is tight on J.J. Abrams’s Star Wars: The Force Awakens, which didn’t allow journalists to screen the film prior to conducting interviews with the cast, consider the lengths George Lucas went to in order to keep the plot of The Empire Strikes Back a secret. Only five people knew the ending prior to the film’s release—Lucas, Kershner, Kasdan, Hamill, and James Earl Jones. During filming, Lucas had David Prowse, who played Darth Vader, say to Luke, “Obi-Wan killed your father,” and had James Earl Jones dub it in post-production to, “I am your father.”
However, Prowse accidentally spoiled the ending to Empire in a 1978 speech at UC Berkeley—two years before the film was to be released. Prowse didn’t even know the ending, but to psych up the crowd, dreamed up a scenario where, according to a press clipping of the event, “Darth Vader and Luke Skywalker… are hooked up in a do-or-die light saber duel when Luke learned that Darth is, in fact, his long-lost father. ‘Father can’t kill son, son can’t kill father,’ Prowse said. ‘So they live again to star in ‘Star Wars IV.’” Prowse eventually burned his bridges with Lucas (and Lucasfilm) after being interviewed for the one-sided documentary The People vs. George Lucas, and was banned from participating in official Star Wars conventions. And as of this week, he’s still salty about it.