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Star Wars – The Real Back Story
When someone writes a hit movie or a best seller, it’s easy to think that it all resulted from a stroke of creative genius and it just happened organically. But in almost all cases nothing could be further from the truth.
Take for example the Stars Wars movie franchise. Many intriguing back-stories exist about how things came to be in the Star Wars movies. Here I must give a plug to a writer called Chris Taylor who discovered them and wrote a book aptly titled: How Star Wars Conquered the Universe: The Past, Present and Future of a Multi-billion Dollar Franchise.
For example, Taylor tells the story that when Star Wars creator George Lucas showed a rough cut of the film to his partners Steven Spielberg and Brian De Palmer, Spielberg thought it would be a big hit but De Palmer mocked it mercilessly. He tells Lucas what this is all about ” Force shit? Where’s all the blood when people shoot them.” But sarcasm aside, De Palmer is a talent. Lucas already knew. And De Palmer wanted to help his friend. So he and Jay Cocks, another screenwriter and critic for Time magazine, agreed to rewrite the opening crawl. Do you remember. The big words in yellow at the beginning of the movie, disappearing into outer space. The words give the back-story of the Empire and the rebel alliance.
And there are many other intriguing and delicious morsels to be had.
What is the origin of Han Solo Wookie? That happened after the sound editor on one of George Lucas’ other projects hired a voice actor named Terry McGovern. And McGovern happened to bring along an old army friend called Bill Wookey.
You may be starting to get where this is going.
At some stage, marijuana must have been smoked because a stoned McGovern adlibs in a voice-over recording “I think I just ran into a Wookey there.” Lucas who may have been equally stoned, who knows, thought McGovern’s remark was funny and wrote the line in his notebook but changed the spelling of Wookey so that it ended with the letters ‘I’ and ‘e ‘. Coincidentally, McGovern was also hired to be a voice actor in Star Wars. Remember the scene where Obi-Wan-Kenobi hypnotizes one of Darth Vader’s Storm Troopers by saying: “Aren’t these the droids we’re looking for?” Well that’s Terry McGovern’s voice saying it. McGovern was paid the princely sum of $200 for his token bit of screen immortality. Bill Wookey, McGovern’s friend never met George Lucas and had no idea that his name would inspire film history. That was until Bill Wookey saw the movie and other people who saw it said he must have inspired the character Chewbacca. Bill Wookey is a hairy man with a beard of 6 feet 3 inches.
There was a back-story that Taylor said that I liked. This has something to do with 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 mix. But to do the job properly they need to match the dialogue to the correct film reel. So they would write on film cans the letters R for reel and D for dialogue. Of course each can is numbered so there is no confusion. Apparently, one day (this is a true story) Murch shouted: “I need R 2 D 2” and everyone on the set laughed their heads off. Lucas also laughed but also wrote the line in his notebook.
The Vietnam War played a major role in shaping the Star Wars trilogy. Lucas was rejected for the draft because of his diabetes. But even before he made Star Wars, Lucas wanted to create a documentary-style anti-war film on Vietnam. It will be called Apocalypse Now, a title coined by one of Lucas’ friends. Instead, the project was passed 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 huge technological empire chasing a small group of freedom fighters.’ In some ways, that’s how Lucas saw the Vietnam War. The Empire is the United States and the freedom fighters are the Viet Cong. Star Wars seems to have had trouble getting the necessary support from a studio. It was pitched to United Artists but they rejected it. Universal had an option on production but didn’t bother to give Lucas an answer. He brought the project to Disney but he said no. Fox finally said yes and the rest is history.
In case you’re interested, Fox will permanently own 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 last. Taylor’s book talks about how Han Solo came to be cast. Lucas considered Harrison Ford but initially dismissed him because he thought a potential Star Wars audience might be distracted if a cast member from American Graffiti (Ford had a small part) suddenly appeared. in his next film.
Harrison Ford, was unemployed at the time and returned to his original job, as a carpenter. Would you believe that one of his carpentry jobs happened to be at the offices of American Zoetrope where Lucas cast for Star Wars. Ford installed a new door. Lucas saw Ford working and decided, after all, to invite him to cast for the role of Han Solo and Ford got the gig. It just goes to show everything happens for a reason. Imagine how different things would have been if Lucas had gone with his other choice, Christopher Walken instead of Harrison Ford? Would Star Wars still be a box office blockbuster with a different Han Solo? I doubt it.
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