What is left to be said about a film that fundamentally revolutionised the film industry (not always for the better), invented modern movie marketing, created the reality of the franchise blockbuster, supercharged special effects work and along the way saw itself become so deeply enmeshed in the fabric of modern popular culture that you don’t need to have seen a single frame of Star Wars footage to recognise the film’s legacy of tropes, characters and slogans?
Commemorating Star Wars Day, today’s Lockdown Rewatch is A New Hope. You already know that the filming of Star Wars was a horrific stress-fest that drove Lucas to the edge of a nervous breakdown. You probably also know that:
1) David Prowse’s thick West Country accent not only got him dubbed over but also earned him the nickname “Darth Farmer” from Carrie Fisher
2) James Earl Jones was paid $10,000 for his voice-over work but refused screen credit (he says because his work didn’t warrant it, more likely that he didn’t want to be associated with what was sure to be a cast-iron bomb)
3) Artoo Detoo’s name came from a canister of film footage marked “Reel 2 – Dialogue 2”
4) Han Solo was a huge green skinned alien with gills in early drafts
5) Much of the original script took place on Alderaan (budget limitations meant that action scenes had to be downscaled and instead take place on the Death Star)
6) Wookiees were at one point going to be trained to fly X-wings against the Death Star
7) C-3PO was meant to sound like a sleazy American second hand car salesman
8) Luke was going to be a girl
9) Johnny Cash and Muhammad Ali were spotted queueing up to see the film at their local cinemas
10) Lucas’ first merchandise ideas were a Chewbacca mug and an R2 cookie jar
11) In 1978 Kenner sold 42,322,500 Star Wars action figures.
But did you know that Star Wars was an entirely unexpected hit? It was meant to be a dud, a clod-hopping financial write-off that would eventually cost the career of the man who greenlit and personally championed the film at 20th Century Fox (Alan Ladd Jr). The film originally opened in just 32 US cinemas; Fox’s lack of faith in the film had translated into poor pre-release word of mouth and apart from one trailer, almost zero marketing collateral so distributors were loathe to book it. Fox’s studio execs had slept through their first screening of the film and even Lucas’ closest industry friends were highly sceptical; directors Brian De Palma teased Lucas mercilessly about how poor he thought the film was (though he did later rewrite the original crawl) and Francis Ford Coppola privately called it “twerp cinema”. Only Steven Spielberg saw the potential, promising Lucas that the film would make $100M dollars in the US (a fantastical amount of money at the time).
But audiences, especially teens, immediately reacted to the film in an altogether more positive manner. Lucas’ then wife, Marcia, had told him that they would know if the film worked if the audience cheered when the Millennium Falcon joined the Death Star trench run at the end of the film; yet instead early preview audiences such as the one on May 1st, 1977 at the Northpoint cinema in San Francisco were gasping and clapping as Vader’s Star Destroyer engulfed the screen as it overtook Princess Leia’s blockade runner in the opening moments of the story. By the time the Falcon first made the jump to Hyperspace they were cheering loudly and as Han and Chewie swooped in to save Luke, they were standing on their chairs, screaming and waving their arms in the air like at a World Series baseball game. The rest is cinematic history.
Check out this BTS clip that shows the Millennium Falcon being brought to life and a deleted scene where Luke finally gets to go to Tosche Station to pick up those power converters.