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Star Wars – The Real Back Story
When someone writes a blockbuster movie or a bestseller, it’s easy to think that it was all the result of a stroke of creative genius and it happened organically. But in almost every case, nothing could be further from the truth.
Take the Star Wars movie franchise for example. There are a number of intriguing stories about how things came to be as they were in the Star Wars movies. Here I should give a take to a writer called Chris Taylor who discovered them and wrote a book appropriately titled: How Star Wars Conquered the Universe: The Past, Present and Future of a Star Wars Franchise. several billion dollars.
For example, Taylor tells the story of when Star Wars creator George Lucas showed a rough cut of the film to his friends Steven Spielberg and Brian De Palmer, Spielberg thought it was going to be a huge hit, but De Palmer laughed at it mercilessly. He told Lucas what all that Force shit is? Where’s all the blood when they shoot people? But sarcasm aside, De Palmer was a talent. Lucas knew it. And De Palmer wanted to help his friend. So he and Jay Cocks, another Time magazine screenwriter and critic, agreed to rewrite the opening crawler. Do you remember. The big yellow words at the beginning of the film, which disappear into space. The words tell the story of the Empire and the rebel alliance.
And there are plenty of other intriguing and tasty morsels to sample.
What about the origin of the Han Solo Wookie? This happened after the sound editor for one of George Lucas’ other projects hired a voice actor called Terry McGovern. And McGovern just brought an old friend from the army named Bill Wookey.
You may be beginning to understand where this is going.
At one point some marijuana must have been smoked because a very stoned McGovern said during a voiceover recording “I think I just ran over a Wookey over there.” Lucas, who might have been just as stoned, who knows, found what McGovern said hilarious and he jotted down the line in his notebook but changed Wookey’s spelling to end in the letters ‘I’ and ‘e’. “. Incidentally, McGovern was also hired to be a voice actor on Star Wars. Remember the scene where Obi-Wan-Kenobi hypnotizes one of Darth Vader’s Storm Troopers by saying, “Aren’t those the droids we’re looking for?” Well, it was Terry McGovern’s voice saying it. McGovern received the princely sum of $200 for his token little bit of on-screen immortality. McGovern’s friend Bill Wookey never met George Lucas and had no idea his name would inspire film history. That was until Bill Wookey saw the movie and other people who also saw it said it must have inspired the character of Chewbacca. Bill Wookey is a hairy, bearded man who is 6 feet 3 inches tall.
There’s a story that Taylor tells that I particularly like. This is the origin of the name of the little droid R2 D2.
George Lucas was also responsible for the film American Graffiti. He and a guy called Walter Murch did the sound mixing. But to do the job properly, they had to match the dialogue to the correct film reel. So they wrote on the film boxes the letters R for reel and D for dialogue. Of course, each box was numbered so there was no confusion. Apparently one day (this is a true story) Murch shouted, “I need R 2 D 2” and everyone on set burst out laughing. Lucas laughed too but he also jotted down the line in his notebook.
The Vietnam War played a major role in shaping the Star Wars trilogy. Lucas was rejected for the draft due to his diabetes. But even before making Star Wars, Lucas wanted to create a documentary-style anti-war film about Vietnam. It was to be called Apocalypse Now, a title dreamed up by one of Lucas’ friends. Instead, the project was passed on to Francis Ford Coppola, who gave Lucas his first film job working on the musical Finian’s Rainbow. Taylor says in his book that in 1973 Lucas wrote a note on Star Wars: “A great technological empire takes on a small group of freedom fighters”. In a way, that’s how Lucas saw the Vietnam War. The Empire being the United States and the freedom fighters the Viet Cong. Star Wars apparently struggled to get the required support from a studio. It was pitched to United Artists but they rejected it. Universal had an option on the production but never bothered to give Lucas an answer. He brought the project to Disney but they also said no. Eventually Fox said yes and the rest is history.
In case you’re interested, Fox permanently owns the rights, but Disney will get a piece of the action. They bought LucasFilm for $4 billion two years ago.
But I saved the absolute best anecdote until the end. Taylor’s book talks about how Han Solo was cast. Lucas considered Harrison Ford but initially ruled him out because he thought a potential Star Wars audience might be distracted if an American Graffiti cast member (Ford had a small role) suddenly showed up in his next movie.
Harrison Ford, was unemployed at the time and had returned to his original job as a carpenter. Would you believe that one of his carpentry jobs was in the offices of American Zoetrope where Lucas was performing for Star Wars. Ford was installing a new door. Lucas saw Ford work and decided he would, after all, invite him to play the part of Han Solo and Ford got the gig. It just goes to show that everything happens for a reason. Imagine how different this all could have been if Lucas had chosen his other choice, Christopher Walken instead of Harrison Ford? Would Star Wars still be the box office blockbuster with a very different Han Solo? I doubt.
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