No other film series has inspired as much love, anger, debate and downright obsession as Star Wars. If you thought the fandom drama over disappointing prequels and questionable special editions was intense, though, that’s nothing compared to just how crazy things can get on the actual set of a Star Wars film! At various points during the production of the original trilogy, the movies whose greatness people take for granted today looked like they were going to suck. Actors, directors and producers feuded with each other in dramatic ways, and the fact the films turned out as successful as they did was something of a miracle.
This list covers instances of behind-the-scenes drama from throughout the history of the Star Wars franchise. You might wonder why there’s little mention of the prequels on this list. Ironically, it seems production on those films went relatively smoothly, with the regrets of the people involved coming up after the fact. Perhaps a bit of production drama can lead to a better film. Some of the movies discussed have yet to be released, and it remains to be seen whether the major scandals behind the scenes will affect them positively or negatively.
15. A NEW HOPE REJECTED BY ALMOST EVERY STUDIO
George Lucas’ original treatment for the project he was calling The Star Wars at the time was rejected by United Artists in 1973. Then Universal, who released Lucas’ previous hit American Graffiti, rejected it, calling it “strange” and asking Lucas to make something more serious. Disney rejected it! 20th Century Fox agreed to produce, but even they were expecting a bomb.
Why was it so hard to find a studio to produce Star Wars? Science fiction films weren’t selling in the ’70s. Star Wars might be more of a fairy tale “space fantasy” than hard sci-fi, but that didn’t exactly help it either. If major studio sci-fi films were rare in the ’70s, big budget fantasy was practically nonexistent. Once the movie hit theaters, however, those studios that rejected it had some huge regrets.
14. GEORGE LUCAS DIDN’T DIRECT ACTORS ON A NEW HOPE
Anyone who’s watched the prequel trilogy can safely make the assumption that George Lucas’ greatest skill isn’t directing actors, considering the sheer acting talent that went utterly to waste in those movies’ casts. But how do you explain the relative quality of the performances in A New Hope, which was also directed by Lucas? Did he once have skill with actors but lost it?
Turns out, he never really had that skill. Even back then, Lucas was focused more on ideas and special effects than performances, and notably refused to answer questions the actors had about their characters. Producer Gary Kurtz, who previously worked with Lucas on American Graffiti, did most of the actual on-set coaching, and is the main reason the acting in A New Hope is far better than in the prequels.
13. HARRISON FORD AND CARRIE FISHER HAD AN AFFAIR
Everyone loves Princess Leia and Han Solo’s romance. The dialogue between them is perhaps the most natural in the whole series, in large part because much of it was rewritten and improvised by Carrie Fisher and Harrison Ford. But there’s another, more scandalous reason this couple’s scenes were so enticingly romantic.
As detailed in Fisher’s 2016 memoir The Princess Diarist, she and Ford had an affair with each other while filming A New Hope. She was 19, he was 33 and married with two kids. They broke off the affair when filming ended, but the chemistry between them clearly stayed if their relationship in The Empire Strikes Back and subsequent Star Wars films is any indication. This was all conveniently kept secret until Ford was officially done with Star Wars after The Force Awakens.
12. R2D2 AND C3PO ACTORS FOUGHT CONSTANTLY
Not everyone on the set of the Star Wars movies got along so well. The droids R2D2 and C3PO might angrily beep and comically bicker with each other, but that old married couple feel was nothing compared to the downright antagonistic relationship between their actors, Kenny Baker and Anthony Daniels.
Daniels didn’t like socializing with any of his co-stars, notably avoiding traveling with them on the convention circuit, but Baker reported receiving the worst treatment from him. Baker claims Daniels dismissively addressed him as “little man,” extra insulting given Baker’s dwarfism. Daniels went on the record saying of Baker’s role on-set that, “He might as well be a bucket.” The two of them didn’t speak with each other for years, though Daniels tweeted a remembrance following Baker’s death in 2016.
11. MARCIA LUCAS SAVED THE SERIES IN THE EDITING ROOM
By all accounts, the first cut of A New Hope was a bore. It dragged on and the action scenes lacked tension. Enter Marcia Lucas, George Lucas’ wife at the time and an editor who’d worked with Martin Scorcese. Marcia was one of the few people who could effectively challenge George on creative decisions, and had contributed such big ideas to the script as Obi-Wan’s death.
Marcia’s most dramatic reediting choices involved the trench run. The scene as written was repetitive, procedural, and uninteresting. She completely reordered the whole sequence, making sure character beats like Han Solo’s return hit emotionally, and made it exciting. She won an Oscar for her editing and subsequently edited Empire and Return of the Jedi. George and Marcia divorced in 1983, and it’s theorized part of the reason for the Special Edition edits was to cut into Marcia’s royalities.
10. ALEC GUINNESS LOATHED STAR WARS
Alec Guinness, a star of such classics as The Bridge on the River Kwai and Lawrence of Arabia, is the only actor ever nominated for an Oscar for a performance in a Star Wars film. The classiness and wisdom he lent Obi-Wan Kenobi in A New Hope is one of the key reasons the Star Wars mythology felt so rich and intriguing in the first place. People based their own philosophies on Obi-Wan’s discussions of The Force. Alec Guinness wasn’t one of them.
Guinness’s initial reaction to the Star Wars script was that it was “rubbish.” His assessment of the final film was more charitable, but he quickly became uncomfortable with the series’ popularity. He’d throw away fanmail from Star Wars fans. One particularly vivid anecdote involved him begrudgingly signing an autograph for a young Star Wars fan on the condition the kid never watch the movies ever again.
9. EVERYONE WANTS TO FORGET THE HOLIDAY SPECIAL
The Star Wars Holiday Special aired on TV once and never again. George Lucas made sure it would never again see the light of day, and Disney has continued to fulfill his wishes. If you wanted to watch it, your only options would be less than legal. But why would you want to watch it? Some “bad” films are entertaining. The Star Wars Holiday Special is unwatchable.
What does the special contain? Long stretches of dialogue in Wookie language without subtitles. Chewie’s father Itchy watching creepy “fantasy” videos. Painfully unfunny Harvey Korman skits. A not entirely loathed animated segment known for introducing Boba Fett. Weird cameos by Jefferson Starship and Bea Arthur. And, oddly enough, actual appearances by Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher, and Harrison Ford. Fisher sings a terrible “Life Day” song, which years later she wouldn’t actually remember filming due to her drug problems at the time.
8. GEORGE LUCAS LEFT THE DIRECTOR’S GUILD OVER OPENING CRAWLS
Aside from studio logos, the Star Wars films don’t have any opening credits. They start with those classic opening text crawls (Rogue One and possible future films excepted) and then jump straight into the action. This is not how films typically start, and actually went against the rules of the Director’s Guild of America. George Lucas had leeway as director of A New Hope, but on Empire Strikes Back he was to be fined $500,000 for the decision, despite director Irving Kirshner being fine with it.
Lucas quit both the DGA and Writer’s Guild in response. While this allowed him to avoid the fine, it possibly doomed The Phantom Menace. Directors including Steven Spielberg, Robert Zemeckis, and Ron Howard were approached to direct it but weren’t allowed to as DGA members (Spielberg also had to reject directing Return of the Jedi for the same reason).
7. GEORGE LUCAS WAS A CONTROL FREAK ON JEDI
Richard Marquand might have directed Return of the Jedi, but George Lucas was still noted as a control freak as a producer, in contrast with his relatively hands-off approach for Empire. Many of his collaborators questioned the direction he was taking the film, with its cuddly Ewoks and repetitive Death Star plot. Producer Gary Kurtz and production designer Ralph McQuarrie both left the production out of frustration.
Lucas and Marquand would feud on set, arguing over how to film scenes and often giving opposite directions to the actors. The most dramatic production difficulty was the “Black Friday” incident, in which Lucas himself scrapped 100,000 feet of film that failed to meet standards for special effects, forcing Industrial Light and Magic to start over from scratch.
6. STAR WARS: DETOURS CANCELED BEFORE AIRING
So what was Lucasfilm up to in the months before being bought out by Disney? It was animating 39 episodes of Star Wars Detours, for one thing. What was Star Wars Detours? It was going to be a CG animated comedy series set in between Revenge of the Sith and A New Hope; a collaboration between George Lucas and Robot Chicken producers Seth Green and Matthew Senriech.
In addition to finishing 39 episodes, 62 additional scripts were completed. A trailer was released at the 2012 Star Wars Celebration. Shortly after the Disney purchase, however, it was put on the backburner before officially being canceled. Given the tepid response the trailer recieved and the fact there’s already a gagillion other Star Wars parodies out there, this doesn’t feel like a major loss.
5. LUCAS AND ARNDT KICKED OFF OF FORCE AWAKENS
When George Lucas sold Lucasfilm and Star Wars to Disney in 2012, people wondered what the future of Star Wars would look like without its creator in charge. At first, however, Lucas wasn’t set to be entirely absent from The Force Awakens. Initial announcements had him as a “creative consultant” on the film. This arrangement didn’t last long. Disney didn’t think Lucas’ story ideas would please the fans, and Lucas stepped away from the production entirely in response.
Lucas wasn’t the only story architect to leave the production. Michael Arndt, the Oscar-winning screenwriter of Little Miss Sunshine and Toy Story 3, was set to write the screenplay. He demanded extra development time to rework the story (the initial draft had a lot more Luke Skywalker, to the point he became distracting from other characters), which Disney couldn’t afford, so JJ Abrams and Lawrence Kasdan took over writing duties.
4. JOSH TRANK FIRED FROM ANTHOLOGY FILM OVER F4
Few directors’ careers have seemingly flamed out as quickly as Josh Trank’s. His debut feature, the found-footage superhero movie Chronicle, was a surprise hit with both critics and audiences. Trank was hired to direct both the 2015 Fantastic Four reboot and one of the Star Wars anthology films, rumored to have been a Boba Fett spin-off. Right before Fantastic Four‘s release, however, it was announced he was no longer involved with Star Wars.
Trank claimed it was a personal decision, but entertainment press from outlets such as The Hollywood Reporter claimed the real problem was that Trank had proven difficult to work with on Fantastic Four and executives at Lucasfilm were uncomfortable with his lack of communication. Fantastic Four ended up bombing spectacularly with audiences and critics. It’s unclear if Trank’s Star Wars project was canceled or if it might be developed with another director.
3. ROGUE ONE RESHOT AND RESCORED
Gareth Edwards is the credited director on Rogue One, the first of the Star Wars anthology spin-off films, and he was involved in the majority of the film’s production. In the months before the film’s release, however, Rogue One went through a heavy series of reshoots overseen by another director, Tony Gilroy. The film’s original composer, Alexandre Desplat, was replaced by Michael Giacchino.
The details of what exactly changed between Edwards’ initial cut and the reshoots are unclear, and the DVD/Blu-Ray release decidedly did not include deleted scenes. Several shots from the trailer, however, ended up on the cutting room floor, while the reshoots gave Darth Vader a bigger role and expanded some character introductions. While the final cut was still plenty dark, it’s been said the reshoots were done in attempt to find a balance between the darker tone and more traditionally “Star Wars-y” elements.
2. RON HOWARD REPLACES LORD AND MILLER ON HAN SOLO
Directors getting replaced on blockbusters has become a fairly regular occurrence in Hollywood, but these replacements typically happen during pre-production. Firing directors when they have only a few weeks left of filming, on the other hand, is practically unheard of. When Phil Lord and Chris Miller, the directors of The Lego Movie and the Jump Street series, were fired from Han Solo in these circumstances, it was a shocker.
Supposedly, producer Kathleen Kennedy did not like the broadly comedic tone and heavy use of improvisation in Lord and Miller’s movie. Why two directors best known for exactly those qualities were hired for the film in the first place then remains a mystery. Ron Howard took over on an extended shoot. We’ll be able to see the final result of this hectic production on May 25, 2018.
1. JJ ABRAMS REPLACES COLIN TREVORROW ON EPISODE IX
Once again, a Star Wars director’s been replaced. Colin Trevorrow was hired for Episode IX due to the financial success of Jurassic World. The critical response to Jurassic World, however, was mixed, and the hiring was met with skepticism. Skepticism increased when Trevorrow’s The Book of Henry came out in summer of 2017 to horrible reviews and complete box office failure. Book of Henry‘s failure is the most likely culprit as the reason for Trevorrow being fired from Episode IX.
JJ Abrams was hired to return to the director’s chair, an indication Lucasfilm wants to play it safe. Abrams and Chris Terrio are rewriting a script that’s already gone through several writers and significant story changes due to Carrie Fisher’s death. Unlike with Han Solo, this replacement happened during pre-production, and the film’s release date has been delayed from May 24, 2019 to December 20, 2019 to accommodate additional development.
Can you think of any other behind-the-scene Star Wars shenanigans? Let us know in the comments!
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