The Secret History Of Star Wars

Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope

by Ian Freer, Steve O'Hagan, Olly Richards, William Thomas |
Updated on

Exposed! The truth behind the most famous myths of Star Wars - with testimony from those who were there.

(This article was first published in Empire Magazine Issue #192, June 2005.)

The could-have-beens...

We wound up with Hamill, Fisher and Ford, but it was nearly so different…

Dianne Crittenden (casting director): George's feeling was that it was the technology and the story that people were going to see. They were the stars of the film, rather than the actors. So we saw everybody. We literally went through something like 3,500 people. Anyone even vaguely in the right age-group came in to see us. I always said that anyone who had an agent and didn't come in to see us should get a new agent.

William Katt (auditioned for Luke and Han): I don't know why, but I caught somebody's attention. I think maybe it was my hair at the time. It was so big and blond and fluffy. I had no idea what I was going in to audition for. Brian De Palma was holding auditions for Carrie at the same time so I read for that too [Katt eventually won the role of Tommy].

I remember reading with Harrison Ford and him looking completely bored.

Terri Nunn (Leia): At the time I was doing really well and I got some better scripts than most people. I remember George was really low-key. I don't know if he knew what he wanted. I remember reading with Harrison Ford and him looking completely bored. I don't think he was into me at all.

Glynn Turman (Han): In those days it said ‘black actor’; ‘white actor’, ‘Hispanic actor’ for every role, but it didn't say either for the Han Solo part. It didn't specify ‘black actor’. I was rather pleased because I was just being called in as a talent. I remember George was very professional. We were all young then, so I thought he was this young guy doing his thing and I was impressed with that. He didn't seem ‘Hollywoodish’. He seemed like a regular guy, which made him easier to talk to.

Crittenden: George was definitely the more quiet of the two. Every time somebody came in that George liked, Brian would say, “No, I need them.” He took Sissy Spacek and John Travolta and Amy Irving. I got quite upset by that, that Brian took the people who I thought were the better people at that time. But he just said, “That's alright. Brian's a good guy, he can have them.”

Nunn: Nobody understood what George was doing. We just showed up in this warehouse, sat down in folding chairs and started to read these lines that were like, “R2-D2, grab the phaser! The Force is coming! It will destroy us all!” I was like, “What the fuck am I saying?” You can't say that shit!

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Clockwise from top left: William Katt; Glynn Turman; Kurt Russell; Nick Nolte

Katt: I was just thrilled to be in the same room as Kurt Russell, who I read with for both Han and Luke. Actually, I've seen the audition, for the first time in 30 years, and I thought it was not bad. What I had a problem with was the Han Solo role. I found it very difficult to get a handle on that and bring the particular attitude they were after.

Nunn: I didn't have the vision for that kind of thing. I'd never been into comic books or fantasy at all. So I didn't think it would fly. I thought George was a really nice guy, but I didn't think that this was really going to do anything.

I would certainly have brought more hair to the role.

Crittenden: There were some people I really liked who didn't get roles. I liked Nick Nolte for Luke and I remember in particular Dennis Dugan, who is now a director (Big Daddy, National Security), had the quintessential farmer look that George was talking about. I don't remember much of Mark Hamill. I don't want to say it in a way that's unflattering, but there was something that was maybe a little bleaker about Mark that George felt would make him more the farmer who was in over his head. He just didn't want anyone who he felt was a real survivor and would figure it all out, so that Han Solo could come in and be the hero. For me, Amy Irving was absolutely the right person for Leia, but it was Carrie Fisher that I fell in love with because she's so quirky in her way.

Turman: I found out many years later that I was going to get the role, but they realised that a love interest was going to develop between Han and Princess Leia and they didn't want to confuse the issue with an interracial relationship. So it went to Harrison Ford. I was rather disappointed by that. Harrison Ford has my career!

Nunn: Nothing against Carrie, because she's a talented girl in her own right, but I would have put a bit more emotion into the role – which probably would have been wrong, but that's how I did things. Realism probably wouldn't play that well in those situations. But more power to all those actors…

Katt: Well, they clearly picked the wrong man for Luke. I would certainly have brought more hair to the role.

- Dianne Crittenden is a leading US casting director. Her credits include Pretty Woman, The Thin Red Line and Spider-Man 2.

- After starring in Carrie and Baby: Secret Of The Lost Legend, William Katt has directed his second film, coming-of-age yarn Molding Clay.

- Terri Nunn is the lead singer of soft rockers Berlin.

- Glynn Turman recently appeared in Sahara and TV series The Wire.

The first screening....

Much mythology has grown over the years concerning a rough cut screening of Star Wars that Lucas showed to a few filmmaking friends. Exclusively for Empire, here is the truth from someone who was there – one Steven Spielberg.

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Nobody will get it. It's just a void with stars and some silly ships moving around.

Steven Spielberg: “I was in on the very first rough cut of Star Wars with De Palma, Jay Cocks, Willard and Gloria Huyck, Hal Barwood and Matthew Robbins. When we went out to dinner afterwards, Brian began yelling at George: ‘I DON'T UNDERSTAND YOUR STORY! THERE'S NO CONTEXT! WHAT IS THIS SPACE STUFF? WHO CARES? I'M LOST!’ And George began yelling at Brian, saying, ‘You never made a commercial movie in your entire life! What are you talking about?’ And Brian said, ‘This won't be commercial. Nobody will get it. It's just a void with stars and some silly ships moving around.’

But from that contentious dinner came an idea. Brian said, ‘Why don't you start the movie with some kind of legend? You keep saying you want to make this movie into a space serial, then why don't you have a legend like they had in the old days, rolling up the screen and setting out the whole story?’ And that idea came from Brian De Palma. George appreciated it, adopted it – didn't stop him insulting Brian – but used the idea and that became the famous crawl at the beginning of every episode.”

The novelisation....

Sci-fi author Alan Dean Foster on ghost-writing the Star Wars book...

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Alan Dean Foster: “In 1976 I got a call from George Lucas’ lawyer. They were looking for someone to do a novelisation of Star Wars, and to write a sequel (Splinter Of The Mind's Eye). So I went out to ILM, which at the time was an old warehouse in the San Fernando Valley. George showed me around. (Legendary graphic designer) Saul Bass had been invited, and we sat and watched dailies of TIE fighters and interior shots of the Millennium Falcon. Saul seemed very impressed, which seemed to please George greatly. There was no sound and nothing was cleaned up, but I said, ‘If the rest of the picture looks like this, then you might actually have something here.’ That was my visit to the Mesozoic era of ILM. I had had a good time, so agreed to do it.

The main thing with a novelisation is to expand on the characters and the action. When Leia is first confronted by Darth Vader, there's obviously something going on in her mind that you don't see on screen. I get to go inside her head and expand on that. It's the same with the backgrounds and the settings. I feel that if you buy a novelisation, you want at least 50 per cent original content, otherwise you may as well just print the screenplay. George made no changes to Star Wars, and only two minor ones to Splinter. But his name ended up on the covers because the contract specified it. I had no problem with that.

I thought George was much too nice to be in the movie business.

George was always thinking ahead. When he asked me to write Splinter, his only stipulation was it had to be a story that could be filmed on a low budget. He was thinking if Star Wars made some money but wasn't a big hit, he could take the existing props and costumes and do a low-budget sequel. That's why Splinter takes place entirely on a fog-shrouded planet. I wasn't able to use the characters of Chewbacca or Han Solo either, because the actors had not yet made a deal for a sequel. He asked me to cut the original opening, a complicated space battle that forces Luke down onto the planet of Mimbon. On the cover of the book, you only see Luke and Leia from behind, because neither Mark Hamill nor Carrie Fisher had yet signed on for the use of their likenesses in subsidiary products. Darth Vader doesn't have that problem.

I thought George was much too nice to be in the movie business. I asked him, ‘What are you gonna do if this film is a flop?’ He said, ‘I'll be alright – I think I have enough money coming in from American Graffiti to be okay.’ I see him on TV now and he seems to be the same guy. He's put on a little weight, but still has great hair.”

The Star Wars bit players....

Rebel pilot, Jabba henchman, third cantina musician from the left - we salute you...

Bib Fortuna

Bib Fortuna – AKA Jabba's consigliere, the scary maître d' of the Hutt's palace...

Playing Jabba's right-hand man, the improbably headed, red-eyed Bib Fortuna, National Theatre actor Michael Carter had an auspicious entry into the world of Star Wars. "The first line I had was, 'Te wanna wanga,' when the droids entered," he recalls. "But I had my contact lenses in, so they nailed a piece of wood to the floor – when my foot hit it, I knew I was in the right position. So we started the scene, I started to walk and my foot hit the baton, but I hit it too hard and so as I fell I shouted, 'Te wanna wangaaaaaa!'" Over the following five weeks at Elstree, Carter contended with the extreme heat on set ("The Gamorrean Guards had a hard time"), the extremely hot ("Carrie Fisher in a gold bikini – that was a sight for sore eyes") and saw some of his best work go by the wayside. "We shot some things which were never shown on film, such as when Bib was drunk. I was sitting with (Jabba's pet) Salacious Crumb and one of the dancers and Salacious drinks my beer and throws up. George thought it was very funny, but it got cut because it was just too much."

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Greedo AKA Jabba’s henchman…

“I asked George, ‘How do you want me to play this alien?’” recalls Paul Blake. “‘I play Shakespeare. I've done bits of Chekov. I'm a serious actor here.’ And he replied, ‘Play it like they play it in the movies.’ That was the best bit of advice that a director has ever given me.” Learning of the role from his friend Anthony Daniels while working on Jackanory, Blake applied his serious thesp training to the green-skinned assassin in order to nail the character: “Greedo was quite reptilian-looking, so I thought about how alligators and crocodiles moved.” Blake was only one of the actors lucky enough to inhabit Greedo, after Lucas decided that he wanted a more expressive villain and reshot the scene in L.A., with Maria de Aragon playing the part in an articulated mask. However, he did shoot the all-important death scene (“The crew sprayed the suit with acid to keep it smoking, I nearly suffocated”) and has strong feelings on the whole Greedo-shooting-first debate. “I liked the idea that Solo was portrayed as a cold-blooded killer. It's quite obvious that there were a lot of unsavoury characters in that bar and what drew me to that role was a shoot-first-ask-questions-later kind of scene. Solo did what he did out of self-preservation. Then again, the new version does show that Greedo wasn't as stupid as he first appeared to be.”

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Biggs Darklighter – AKA Luke’s childhood friend and Rebel pilot…

"Biggs was probably the best part cast in England, aside from Alec Guinness, because of the relationship he had with Luke,” remembers Biggs’ alter-ego, Garrick Hagom. “They were almost like family. I was very pleased to get the role but I didn't actually understand any of the film until I saw the final cut.”

Much of Hagon's screen time is spent in an X-wing cockpit – “Very primitive. They had this sort of basic computer-game control panel for us to hit so it looked like we knew what we were doing” – but he also featured in one of the series’ most famous deleted scenes.

"Having left Anchorhead Station, Luke and Biggs go out and talk about the Force and I advise him that there's a cause that we have to fight for. It's a scene that has some poignance because Luke can't go with me, he has to go back and work on his uncle's farm. The way the film is now, Luke doesn't have as much of a family connection or quite the same path. But it's quite a talky scene which I suppose doesn't really belong in an action picture."

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Yavin IV Sentry – AKA the rebel guard who watched the fleet fly off to face the Death Star…

As A New Hope moved deep into postproduction, a small band of ILMers were sent to Guatemala (the Mayan ruins at Tikal to be precise) to shoot scene-setting exteriors for the Rebel base. Hiring a local band of peones to schlep the incredibly heavy 1970s camera equipment, the crew set up shop atop a giant pyramid covered by foliage. “As a lookout post, we erected a pole with a glorified trash can on the end of it,” recalled cameraman Richard Edlund. “(ILM model maker) Lorne Petersen was on holiday and decided to join us, and he got to play the guard. We were there for about ten days and did a bunch of shots – three or four wound up in the movie.”

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Nien Nunb – AKA Lando’s snub-faced co-pilot…

“I think he was very appealing,” begins Mike Quinn about his puppet alter-ego, Nien Nunb. “He had those big black eyes and big stick-out ears. He reminded me of Dopey from Snow White.” A Jim Henson vet (he was both Kermit's right hand and slavemaster Skeksis in Dark Crystal), the then 17 year-old Quinn puppeteered Nien in scenes shot in the Falcon cockpit while an actor doubled for the creature in long shot. “They cut the base out of Chewie's seat and I just fit inside it, lying flat on my back. I had a little monitor so I could see and stage hands were rocking the thing around for three-quarters of the day. I came out of that thing totally motion-sick.” As well as Nien, Quinn assisted on Yoda (right hand), fish-faced Admiral Ackbar, singer Sy Snootles and everyone's favourite vile gangster. “I remember helping inside Jabba doing the odd ear and eye bulge, when he was being strangled, and Jabba's poor old fibreglass was beginning to crack in his back. I was thinking, ‘Jabba's gonna die and we're all gonna die with him.’”

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'Many Bothans died to bring you this information'. That line comes back to me all the time, but nobody can tell me what a Bothan is.

Mon Mothma – AKA Rebel leader who outlines the plan to attack the second Death Star…

“When Jedi came out,” laughs Caroline Blakiston about her small but crucial role as the white-robed dignitary, “we timed how long I was on screen and it was 27-and-a-half seconds. Despite having worked on both the Russian and English stage, TV (The Avengers, The Saint) and films, Blakiston still found the role of Mothma intimidating. “I was there with all these guys who were playing huge parts, sitting and listening to me. I had that great nervousness, especially as my lines had just been changed, and I had trouble getting my voice out. (Director) Richard Marquand said there were pigeons on the roof and they were interfering with the sound. That might have been a nice way of saying, ‘We couldn't hear you.’” Despite her barely-sketched character (“There's not a tremendous amount you can do with ten lines. You can only go and say it with conviction”), her place in the Star Wars Hall Of Fame is assured through one line of dialogue. “‘Many Bothans died to bring you this information,’” she repeats proudly. “That line comes back to me all the time, but nobody can tell me what a Bothan is.”

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The Cantina Band – AKA The house turn at Mos Eisley’s Home Of Swing…

“I think I was the lead guy in the band, whatever that instrument was,” says stop motion animator/creature­maker Phil Tippett. Then a fledgling animator, Tippett joined a small LA crew to reshoot the cantina scene, since Lucas was unsatisfied with the monster menagerie from Elstree. “They all looked like Egyptian hieroglyphics – there was a rat man, a bird man and an alligator man – and George just wanted some aliens.” Having created 20 creatures in around six weeks and with mounting pressure (“The studio was quite anxious at that point about the money being spent”), Tippett and crew had no option but to play the aliens themselves. “I was also a cyclops and a worm-eyed creature. We just worked every single scene. I remember that George helped put goo on the creatures. It was a lot of fun.”

This article was first published in Empire Magazine, Issue #192 (June 2005).

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