2017 marks the 40th anniversary of Star Wars: Episode IV - A New Hope, or just plain old Star Wars as it was known a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away (1977). Is there anything left we don't know about Star Wars at this point? You might think you know all there is to know about George Lucas's space saga, and you might be right, but with 40 years of trivia backed up and new revelations all the time, we're betting you didn't know these 40 interesting Star Wars titbits...
1. George Lucas assumed it'd be a flop and skipped the premiere to go on holiday
Director Lucas wasn't exactly brimming with confidence when the Star Wars release date came around: he was so convinced the movie would be buried at the box-office, he didn't even bother attending the film's premiere, instead deciding to go on vacation. Don't feel bad for him, though: it was while on that holiday with Steven Spielberg that they came up with the character of Indiana Jones.
2. R2-D2 has a potty mouth
Though only C-3PO can understand his honk-honks and wibble-wibbles, R2-D2 did have actual spoken dialogue in early drafts of the script. And what's more, he had a mighty foul mouth. His dialogue was all removed eventually, but every time Threepio responds to an apparent cuss from his rust-bucket friend, rest assured there was an actual insult in the script at one point.
3. Steven Spielberg won the costliest bet of all time
Lucas and Spielberg were best buds back in '77, and both being super polite, encouraged one another with their movies: Lucas egged on Spielberg to complete his sci-fi masterpiece Close Encounters Of The Third Kind, while Spielberg helped Lucas get Star Wars over the line. Lucas was convinced Close Encounters would out-gross Star Wars, but Spielberg disagreed. They placed a wager: each man would give the other 2.5% of the profit from their own film. Close Encounters performed just fine at the box-office, but Star Wars? Let's just say it's kept Spielberg in baseball caps and beard oil ever since.
4. Brian De Palma called it the “worst movie ever”
Famously, Lucas showed an early cut of Star Wars to his filmmaker friends before release. It did not go well. Feedback was generally negative: Francis Ford Coppola did not give it his endorsement, while Brian De Palma allegedly called it "the worst movie ever". Only Spielberg predicted the movie would be a hit.
5. George Lucas got rich from toys
In what must be the savviest business move of all time - or perhaps an accidental act of genius - George Lucas waived the standard Fox fee for writing and directing. Instead, in addition to a minimal £175,000 salary, Lucas suggested he have 40% of the merchandising rights. The Fox lawyers would have laughed their heads off, until the film became a phenomenon and the toys ended up netting George Lucas literally billions of dollars.
6. Darth Vader wasn't guaranteed for the sequel
Back in 1977, sequels were generally frowned upon as being cheap and inferior. With that in mind, Star Wars producers tried to remove the scene near the end of the movie where Darth Vader's TIE Fighter span out of control, allowing him to live another day. Lucas insisted the scene was added back in as obviously he had big plans for Vader in Star Wars 2: The Darthening.
7. Filming almost caused an international incident with Libya
He didn't realise it at the time, but George Lucas almost caused an international incident between Tunisia and neighbouring country Libya while filming Star Wars in North Africa. The Libyan government objected to the huge Jawa Sandcrawler - deemed to be a military vehicle - parked right on their border. The Tunisian government received threats of military action and had to politely but firmly request that Lucas moved the Jawa vehicle further inland.
8. The term 'Wookiee' did not originate in Star Wars
Lucas was like a sponge, always writing down names and places he liked that fit in his Star Wars universe. So when a voice actor working on his first film, THX-1138, ad-libbed the phrase "I think I ran over a Wookiee back there" for some police radio chatter, Lucas made a note of the word. Six years later, an entire race of walking carpets had a name.
9. Cinemas didn't want to show it
With a stunning lack of foresight, cinema chains in 1977 didn't want to show Star Wars - only 40 cinemas across America agreed to play it. Fox had to play hardball to get it out there, threatening any chain that refused to show Star Wars by removing their rights to show their other 1977 movie, The Other Side Of Moonlight. 'Guys, we don't want to miss out on The Other Side Of Moonlight, we better show this Star Trek movie or whatever!'
10. Chewbacca almost wore board shorts
A watershed moment in 'animal characters wearing trousers' history: Chewbacca was allowed to be pantsless throughout the Star Wars movies, despite a studio executive allegedly suggesting to George Lucas that the Wookiee would have to cover up his crotchal region. At one point, it was mooted that Chewie would have to wear shorts, but that just made him look like a big hairy surf dude.
11. Grand Moff Tarkin favoured casual footwear
By all accounts, Hammer horror legend Peter Cushing was a delight on set, playing evil Empire villain Grand Moff Tarkin, all trussed up in boots and leather. However, Cushing had one request which the filmmakers were all too happy to grant: any shot of Tarkin that was above the ankle, Cushing was allowed to wear his own furry slippers, as his leather boots were uncomfortable. Cast mates said it was difficult to take him seriously wearing such relaxed footwear.
12. Alec Guinness didn't hate Star Wars as is often reported
Sure, the acting legend resented that he'd be remembered for a sci-fi franchise, and he was less than thrilled about the franchise fandom, but Alec Guinness spoke kindly about his experiences with Star Wars. Guinness himself wrote that the film was "staggering as spectacle and technically brilliant, exciting, very noisy and warm-hearted... Some of the dialogue is excruciating and much of it is lost in noise, but it remains a vivid experience."
13. The Jawas are speaking Zulu
Oo-tini! Ever wondered what language the li'l Jawas are actually speaking in? Reasoning that it's actually easier to co-opt an existing language rather than invent a new one, sound expert Ben Burtt had the Jawas speaking Zulu, albeit vastly sped up. Incidentally, Greedo speaks in a South American dialect known as Quechua, but reversed. Any Quechuans reading, get in touch to verify if you can.
14. The origins of R2-D2 come from film lingo
Ask anyone what R2-D2 is short for and if they tell you it's because he's got no legs, they're technically correct, but the actual answer is much more satisfying. During post-production on American Graffiti, Lucas was asked to fetch a reel of dialogue, specifically the second line of dialogue on reel 2. This was shortened to "R2-D2" and thus a tiny foul-mouthed droid was born.
15. The character origins were vastly different from what you saw on screen
George Lucas wrote for many years and was forever screwing up drafts and starting over, endlessly tweaking character details. For example, Han Solo was written as a green-skinned alien with gills, the Wookiees were called Jawas and our old friends R2 and Threepio were named A-2 and C-3. At one point, Lucas even suggested that all the characters be played by dwarves. He saved that idea for Willow.
16. Chewbacca was modelled after George Lucas's dog
Could this be the most famous unsung dog in canine history? George Lucas's Alaskan Malamute dog inspired not one but two iconic characters: first, the iconic pup inspired the look of Wookiee warrior Chewbacca, all big, blow-dried and badass; then, years later, a certain archaeologist explorer was named after him. That dog's name was Indiana and we all owe him a collective doggy debt.
17. Harrison Ford as Han Solo was not a sure thing
Okay, so we all know Harrison Ford was working as George Lucas's carpenter at the time and graduated from line-reader stand-in to intergalactic superstar. But did you know the talent Ford beat to the role? Try these guys on for size: actors who auditioned or were considered for the role of Han Solo included John Travolta, Bill Murray, Steve Martin, Kurt Russell, Nick Nolte, Al Pacino, Jack Nicholson and Christopher Walken among others.
18. Orson Welles was almost cast as Darth Vader
Lucas knew he wanted an iconic voice to provide the mumbles beneath the mask of Lord Vader, but he didn't go straight to James Earl Jones and his room-shaking baritone. In fact, Lucas professed an interest in casting movie legend Orson Welles as Vader before realising his voice was too recognisable. Welles would have probably been up for it too, if Transformers: The Movie was any indication of his fussiness.
19. Star Wars changed toys forever but it was a non-starter
In another sign that no one foresaw Star Wars' immense popularity, Kenner Toys won the merchandising rights for the movie, but only prepared a modest line of toys and action figures. They were caught unaware by the movie's huge success and were unprepared for the high demand. When stock ran out for Christmas, Kenner were forced to sell empty boxes with vouchers for toys when they became available in March. Unbelievably, this worked and punters still forked over their dosh.
20. Vader's breathing apparatus has a mundane origin
With Episode III's Anakin BBQ still fresh in the mind, we know now what the official explanation is for Darth Vader's mask and breathing apparatus: messed up lungs and junk, bro. However, Ralph McQuarrie originally drew Vader with a mask as he wanted to explain visually why Vader was able to breathe while transferring from his ship to Leia's ship. On boring reasons have many a great character been built.
21. Jedi come from Japan
In yet another example of culture magpie George Lucas hearing a word or phrase and appropriating it for his own use, the director heard the description 'Jidai Geki' used to describe a TV show in Japan - it translates as "period adventure drama". Lucas liked the word so much he named his ancient order of space badasses after it.
22. Set cleaners kept ruining Star Wars' vibe
George Lucas had an issue when it came to Star Wars' spaceship sets: cleaners kept on cleaning them. Lucas was keen on keeping the ships grubby-looking to give them a lived-in look, but every time he returned to the sets in the morning, cleaners had scrubbed them shiny and new, forcing him and the production design crew to 're-dirty' them all over again.
23. Brian De Palma wrote the opening crawl
Yes, the same Brian De Palma who called the first cut of Star Wars "the worst movie ever" also had a positive effect on the film when he rewrote the movie's iconic opening crawl. "It goes on forever, it's gibberish," he commented on Lucas's original crawl, adding "It looked like it was written on a driveway". De Palma gave Lucas's opening tome a merciless edit and cut it into the concise crawl we came to know and love today.
24. The Millennium Falcon had 'furry dice' but someone nicked them
Set designer Roger Christian added what he thought was a neat tribute to George Lucas's American Grafitti by adding a small pair of golden dice hanging from the Millennium Falcon's cockpit – they're visible in the scene where Chewbacca first enters. However, they can only be seen in a few shots, because someone stole the dice from the set and they were never replaced. Prop guys on The Force Awakens realised it'd be cool to make the connection and restore the dice and so bought a replica pair on eBay for £22.
25. John Wayne technically voiced a character
You might not remember Garindana aka 'Long Snoot', the anteater-esque Kubaz alien who snitches on Obi-Wan and Luke on Tatooine, and he spoke in an undisclosed alien language. However, in 2009 Star Wars sound engineer Ben Burtt revealed that Garindan's voice was created by modulating and processing the voice of John Wayne, giving the film's 'space western' vibe some genuine genre cool. Not that John Wayne knew anything about it, mind.
26. Luke was almost a girl
The Luke Skywalker we know and love was not always a humble farm boy – he was almost a humble farm girl. In one early draft, George Lucas cut Princess Leia from the script and made Luke a lady. In another draft, Luke was a 60-year-old general – light years away from the naïve young moisture farmer in the final cut. Oh, and he was named 'Luke Starkiller' right up until the last possible minute – some scenes had to be reshot after Lucas reasoned that 'Starkiller' wasn't really much of a hero name.
27. World War II dogfights were used as visual references
Lucas was big on aerial acrobatics and instructed the visual artists at Industrial Light & Magic to use dogfight videos from the Second World War as reference material when it came to blocking out the Death Star battle. Lucas even went so far as to hire former pilots as technical advisors to get the feel right for the aerial battles, and based in-flight dialogue on old radio communications from the war. Lucas would later produce Red Tails, an actual World War II dogfighting movie.
28. The Empire was inspired by Ancient Rome
Did George Lucas have a single original idea, or did he nick it all from the history books? When it came to naming the villains of the Empire, he looked no further than Rome. Grand Moff Tarkin was named after the Tarquins, the kings of Rome in the days before the Roman Republic, while Emperor Palpatine was named in honour of Rome's Palatine Hill.
29. Alec Guinness once paid Mark Hamill £20 to go away
This one came straight from Carrie Fisher so you can probably take it with a pinch of salt, but the actress revealed on a 2009 quiz show that Ealing legend Guinness was once forced to remunerate his co-star in order to facilitate his getting lost: “Hamill was asking Alec all these questions about his career, and it became annoying.” A crisp £20 was enough to send Mark packing. If only Darth Vader had used similar tactics.
30. George Lucas wanted to cast Toshirô Mifune as Obi-Wan Kenobi
George Lucas wore his Japanese influences on his sleeve – he originally sought legendary actor Mifune to play the mysterious Jedi Knight, and made no bones about how much Akira Kurosawa influenced the movie, in particular how the story was told from a servile point of view à la Hidden Fortress.
31. The movie was originally about Mace Windu
We know Mace Windu now as the galaxy's coolest Jedi, packing the purple lightsaber that said 'bad mother-effer' on it. But Windu was due to be the hero of Star Wars from the beginning. The opening sentence for Lucas's first 13-page treatment read: “The story of Mace Windu, a revered Jedi-bendu of Opuchi who was related to Usby C.J. Thape, a Padawaan learner to the famed Jedi.” Let this be proof that rewrites are always necessary.
32. There are only three female characters in the entire Star Wars trilogy
Bring up this little doozy every time some bozo tells you too many characters in the new Star Wars movies are girls – that's because it's about damn time. Across the first three movies, only three female characters had major speaking roles: Princess Leia, obviously; Aunt Beru, who lasted about 20 minutes before being flame-grilled; and Mon Mothma, who didn't show up until Return Of The Jedi.
33. Star Wars set the sci-fi standard at the Oscars
It dominated the box-office, which means recognition at the Academy Awards was a sure thing: Star Wars became the first ever sci-fi film to be nominated for the Best Picture award at the Oscars. The movie was trumped at every turn by none other than Woody Allen, whose comedy Annie Hall beat Star Wars not only in the Best Picture category but also for Best Director and Best Original Screenplay. Star Wars did win, however, the Oscars for Best Costume Design, Best Art Direction, Best Sound, Best Editing, Best Visual Effects and Best Original Score for John Williams.
34. The Force was almost a Fabergé egg-type thing
One of George Lucas's many, many spurned ideas that (thankfully) got thrown out early doors was that the Force wasn't a vague energy source that only the most finely tuned beings could tap into, but a sort of large crystal, holy grail-type monument. It was called the 'Kyber Crystal' in one draft – Kyber crystals were later added to official canon as the raw material that powers lightsabers, and also the Death Star's firing mechanism.
35. The 'wipes' weren't just for show
The original cut of Star Wars – you know, the one George Lucas didn't want you to have for years and years – featured no less than 28 optical 'wipe' transitions from one scene to the next. The reason for their inclusion was as a visual throwback to the Buck Rogers-type serial adventures of the '30s and '40s, which used screen-wipes prominently. And you thought it was all just thrown together.
36. Freddy Kruger is responsible for Mark Hamill's career
Before he was Freddy, razor-wielding maniac of '80s nightmares, actor Robert Englund auditioned for both Han Solo and Luke Skywalker, but presumably had a weird 'pizza-faced serial killer' vibe that Lucas couldn't quite put his finger on. It was Englund, however, that suggested that Lucas audition his roommate for the role of Luke – some TV actor named Mark Hamill. Thanks, Freddy!
37. The voice of Bugs Bunny almost played C-3PO
None other than voiceover legend Mel Blanc auditioned for the role of Threepio – that's right, the man who loaned his larynx to Bugs Bunny, Porky Pig, Daffy Duck and Barney Rubble to name but a few chanced his arm at our favourite protocol droid. Anthony Daniels got the part, however, by playing the role as a “snooty English butler” instead of the used car salesman George Lucas was going for.
38. It almost wasn't called 'Star Wars' at all
1977 was a sensitive time in America – the Vietnam War had only just come to a bloody and frustrating end, and the word 'War' was deemed inappropriate after market testing. Fox never wanted to call the picture 'Star Wars' as they thought it skewed too male, but after a cast and crew competition to see if anyone could come up with a better title yielded no results, they caved and the name stuck.
39. The deleted scenes are the stuff of legend
Star Wars had plenty of scenes cut from its opening act that really had no place in such an epic story. Luke was originally set to be seen in the film before even Darth Vader had made his entrance; Skywalker noticed the space battle from Tatooine using 'macrobinoculars' and rushed to Tosche Station to tell his friends about it. Luke's friends had names like Fixer, Camie, Windy and Deak, while Luke was known as 'Wormie'. Thank goodness these scenes were cut.
40. The Falcon was nicknamed after a pork product
The Millennium Falcon went through several design stages before the iconic shape was settled on. Famously, the design of the Falcon was inspired by a half-eaten cheeseburger with an olive on a toothpick on the side, but what a lot of people don't know is that during production the ship was nicknamed 'Porkburger' due to its likeness. Before its design was chosen, the Falcon looked exactly like the designs later used for the Tantive IV, the diplomatic cruiser that is the very first ship seen on screen.
The Star Wars saga Episodes I - VII are available now on Sky Cinema