25 Mind-Blowing Behind-the-Scenes Star Wars Facts
Which Star Wars character was gender-swapped, which was almost a monkey and how George Lucas made the most expensive bet of his life.
In a galaxy far, far away
As Star Wars’ Skywalker saga drew to a close with 2019’s aptly titled Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker, it makes for the perfect time for the franchise’s stars to reflect on and share some of the best behind-the-scenes tidbits. Mark Hamill (Luke Skywalker to you and me), even took to social media to offer up some seriously fun set secrets. Want to know more? Check out these surprising Star Wars facts. Even the biggest fan is likely to find something here they didn’t know!
For its time, Star Wars: A New Hope was an impressive feat of special effects. Apparently this didn’t apply towards the cast’s wardrobe. “The pants I wore in the first film were just Levi blue jeans bleached out, with the back pockets removed,” Hamill tweeted. “George (Lucas) called Star Wars the most expensive low-budget movie ever made and every penny spent had to show up on the screen. I think they started with my costume.”
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Yes, there is an actual human being walking around in that metallic C-3PO droid costume. It’s actor Anthony Daniels. As you can probably imagine, it wasn’t the most comfortable of togs to wear on set; in fact, Daniels couldn’t sit down while wearing the contraption. During the filming of The Empire Strikes Back, if C-3PO had to sit down in a scene, Daniels would have to first be seated without the costume and production would have to build it up around him. This is why you never see C-3PO below the waist whenever he is seated.
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If you’ve ever watched a Star Wars film and been taken aback by how loud the background noise is, consider how overwhelming it was for the actors filming these scenes. For example, in The Empire Strikes Back, when Luke and Darth Vader appear in a pivotal scene, the wind machines being used for effect were so loud, Hamill himself couldn’t hear a word Darth Vader was saying. Trying acting against that! On Twitter, the actor reveals how he worked through the issue. “I used visual cues to know when to respond,” he tweets. “It was like acting in a silent movie, except LOUD.”
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Another interesting The Empire Strikes Back secret: There was an issue with a prop head of Hamill that was used in a scene in which Luke sees his own face in Darth Vader’s helmet. When a fan asked about this particular scene, the actor obliged with an answer on Twitter. “Dissatisfied with the prop head of me they had made, we re-shot it with my real head pushed through an opening below the set,” he explained. “The hardest part was keeping my eyes open and not blinking as they wafted smoke in for atmosphere.” He added that the upside to using the not-so-great prop head was that you could “waft fire ants in for atmosphere and the eyes would stay open and NEVER BLINK!”
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That Blue Milk so popular at the Cantina on screen in Star Wars wasn’t exactly the cocktail of choice for the cast. According to Hamill, blue milk was actually “long life” milk which is often used by campers because it doesn’t require refrigeration. Blue food colouring was added to make it that sensational colour. As for the taste? “Oily, warm, and slightly sweet, it literally made me gag, but I was determined to drink it on-camera,” tweeted Hamill. “It was an acting challenge to appear as though I enjoyed it.”
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Although The Phantom Menace, which hit theatres in 1999, received mixed reviews from critics and fans, there are still some little behind-the-scenes fun facts that might surprise followers of the space opera saga. After all, the entire franchise has produced some pretty fierce vehicles for the characters to use. In this film, Anakin Skywalker drives a Podracer, which was actually constructed from the shell of a Maserati Birdcage. This was a racing car first introduced in the 1960s, making its design a bit of a vintage ride as young Skywalker raced across Tatooine.
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Remember that tidbit about the not-so-appetizing Blue Milk? Well, apparently the characters’ beverage of choice greatly improved by the time The Last Jedi rolled around. In that film, the actors can be seen sipping Green Milk, a major step up from the blue stuff, according to Hamill. “The green milk was just regular coconut water dyed green in post-production,” he writes in a tweet. Hydrating and tastier? Sounds like a win-win!
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C-3PO and R2-D2 may have been best buddies on-screen, but off-camera the actors who played the droids allegedly despised one another. According to Hollywood.com, Kenny Baker, the actor who portrayed R2-D2, referred to Anthony Daniels (C-3PO) as rude. “Anthony doesn’t mix at all—he keeps himself to himself,” Baker told the website. “He never wants to have a drink with any of us. Once when I said hello to him he just turned his back on me and said, ‘Can’t you see I’m having a conversation?’ I was blazing with rage. It was the rudest thing anyone had ever done to me. I was furious. It was unbelievable.”
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Millennium Falcon’s peril
Harrison Ford’s Han Solo may have been the pilot of the Millennium Falcon, but on set Ford got so angry with the way production was going he actually took a saw to the beloved ship. “You heard about Harrison taking a saw to the Millennium Falcon because he got so mad?” Hamill mentioned in an interview with Empire. “People were coming up to me going, ‘You gotta stop Harrison, he’s sawing up the Falcon.’ It was made of wood and he just took a saw to it. I love Harrison. I got to stop him because I can make him laugh when he gets really, really mad.”
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Don’t make Yoda mad
Ever since Yoda made his Star Wars debut in 1980’s The Empire Strikes Back, his very specific way of speaking made quite the impression on movie-goers and pop culture fanatics the world over. Even his castmates loved to imitate the green guy. But Frank Oz, who voiced the character, was none too pleased when he would hear their Yoda impressions. “We all were doing Yoda impressions (“Hungry are you? To lunch we must go!”),” recalls Hamill. “Frank finally asked us to please stop because our goofy versions were influencing him and a distraction from the only one that mattered.”
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If it isn’t obvious by now, Hamill has a lot of affection for the Star Wars franchise, and his late co-star Carrie Fisher. A scene they share in The Last Jedi during which Luke places a kiss on Leia’s forehead was just perfect for fans, but wasn’t in the script! “(It was) an emotionally charged day on set filming this because, knowing he was about to sacrifice his life for the greater good, Luke was saying goodbye…forever,” he tweeted. “The kiss was unscripted and spontaneous in the moment, summarizing his/my feelings in a way words could never have conveyed.”
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While most of the cast had a blast filming the initial Star Wars trilogy, the set wasn’t lacking in its grueling circumstances. When A New Hope was filming in England, the country was experiencing a heatwave of epic proportions. This made wearing those fighter pilot suits for scenes incredibly uncomfortable. The actors took matters into their own hands by only wearing the pieces of their costumes that would actually be captured on camera. “Because of a record heatwave in England when we filmed the original Star Wars, most of the pilots wore only the top-half of their costume, attacking the Death Star wearing shorts,” admits Hamill.
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A long time ago (January 1975, to be exact), George Lucas was working on the second draft of an epic sci-fi space opera he called “Adventures of the Starkiller, Episode One: The Star Wars.” Of the many problems with this clunky script, one that seemed easily fixed to Lucas was the serious lack of female characters. So, Lucas did something radical: rewrote his story’s main character, Luke Starkiller, as an 18-year-old girl. At least one concept drawing by artist Ralph McQuarrie exists of this short-lived gender swap, but a few months later, with Lucas’ next draft, Starkiller was a boy again. Star Wars wouldn’t get a female lead until nearly 40 years later.
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A monkey, I am?
Next time you complain about the goofy CG Yoda from the prequels, consider one of these Star Wars facts: the spiritual centre of the Jedi order was almost a real-life monkey in a green mask carrying a cane. Luckily, there was a monkey expert on set to throw a banana peel in this plan’s tracks. One of the crew who worked with apes in 2001: A Space Odyssey quickly pointed out, “Look, the monkey’s just going to pull off the mask over and over again. It’s never going to work.” The team soon enlisted Muppet master-crafter Jim Henson, who suggested casting Frank Oz (formerly the voice of Miss Piggy) to bring Yoda to life. Bonus Star Wars fact: According to the early “Starkiller” drafts of the movie, Lucas wanted to call Yoda “Buffy.”
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Han Solo’s changing fate
The original ending of Return of the Jedi has Luke assuming Darth Vader’s role as evil Galactic enforcer, and Han Solo dying in his heroic raid on the Death Star. Harrison Ford probably would have been fine with this. Ford was famously snippy about Lucas’ script (“George, you can type this ****, but you can’t say it.”) and in a 2010 interview he waved off his iconic character as “Ham Yoyo,” stating he was officially “done with him.” Time makes fools of us all.
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The King Kong connection
Well, in a manner of speaking. When Emperor Palpatine first appears as a hologram in The Empire Strikes Back, the person under the black mantle and facial prosthetics is not Ian McDiarmid, who played Palpatine on screen in Return of the Jedi. It’s not a man at all: the first Emperor we see is actually Elaine Baker, then-wife of Star Wars makeup designer Rick Baker. As Gizmodo points out, Rick Baker once donned the monkey suit in the 1976 King Kong remake, so we can technically say that Emperor Palpatine and King Kong were legally wed. (Just try not to imagine their children.)
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Before the advent of filmmaking software
The famous floating text that opens A New Hope may have been one of the greatest special effects achievements in the film. As Mental Floss points out, the text was filmed practically “by carefully placing 2-foot-wide die-cut yellow letters over a 6-foot-long black paper background with a camera making a slow pass over them to mimic the crawl.” What’s now a default option on filmmaking software took LucasArts three hours to capture. Bonus Star Wars fact: That “revolutionary” text effect? Flash Gordon did it first.
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A real stinker
The trash in the Death Star garbage compactor scene in A New Hope was real. In fact, the smell was so bad that Mark Hamill burst a blood vessel from trying to hold his breath, and the camera angle had to be adjusted for the rest of the scene so as not to show his injury. As for Peter Mayhew’s yak-hair Chewbacca suit? It reeked for the rest of production. Bonus Star Wars fact: At the start of A New Hope, Chewbacca is 200 years old.
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How do you capture a presence as big as Darth Vader? Cast four men. The on-screen body of Vader is six-foot-five bodybuilder David Prowse; his stunt double for action scenes is professional fencer Bob Anderson; the voice of Vader is the great James Earl Jones, and the de-helmeted face of Vader in Return of The Jedi is Sebastian Shaw.
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The best-kept secret in film
Lucas kept the twist ending of Empire so well-guarded, he even wrote fake text in the script to throw the actors off. During filming, David Prowse (whose voice was later dubbed by James Earl Jones reciting the actual line) yelled to Mark Hamill: “Obi-Wan killed your father!” The cast and crew thought this was the real line—only Hamill, who had been told the truth about Vader moments before filming the scene, knew otherwise. If the secret leaked, it would all come back to Luke. Bonus Star Wars fact: Of course, if you spoke Dutch or German, you’d already know by A New Hope that Darth Vader literally translates to “Darth Father.”
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An expensive puppet
Named by some as the most expensive puppet in the world, the $500,000 Jabba the Hutt model required seven people to bring to life: “Three puppeteers were inside: one controlled the right arm and jaw, another handled the left hand and jaw, tongue, and head movements, and both of them moved the body; a third person was in the tail. Outside, there were one or two people on radio controllers for the eyes, someone under the stage to blow cigar smoke up a tube, and another working bellows for the lungs.”
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R2D2 and an Ewok
Kenny Baker also donned the bear suit to play an Ewok in Return of The Jedi. He plays Paploo—the enterprising Ewok who steals an imperial speeder bike. Bonus Star Wars fact: The word “Ewok” is never mentioned once in the original trilogy (though they do get a credit at the end.)
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’80s rock with a space twist
The final victory song sung by the Ewoks at the end of Jedi was written Joseph Williams, lead singer of Toto in the mid-1980s and son of legendary composer John Williams. Bonus Star Wars fact: In other surprising composition news, the new Cantina music featured in The Force Awakens was written by Lin-Manuel Miranda—the creator and original star of the Broadway smash hit Hamilton.
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Kids should thank sound designer Ben Burtt for some of the most memorable noises of their childhood. Want to know how he did it? The sound of Darth Vader’s breathing was recorded by putting a microphone inside a scuba tank regulator; Chewbacca’s signature Wookie gargle is a combination of bear, walrus, lion, and badger sounds. The sound of Vader’s pod door closing in Empire is reportedly the sound of a whole block of Alcatraz cell doors slamming shut.
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One big bet
In the late ‘70s, Lucas was working on A New Hope at the same time his buddy Steven Spielberg was working on Close Encounters of the Third Kind. Visiting the Close Encounters set one day, Lucas reportedly fell into a panic, Spielberg says: “He said, ‘Oh my God, your movie is going to be so much more successful than Star Wars! This is gonna be the biggest hit of all time. I can’t believe this set.’ He said, ‘All right, I’ll tell you what. I’ll trade some points with you. I’ll give you 2.5 per cent of Star Wars if you give me 2.5 per cent of Close Encounters.’ So I said, ‘Sure, I’ll gamble with that.’”
Gamble is right. Star Wars made $775 million at the global box office compared with Close Encounters’ $304 million. Adjusted for inflation, TIME reports, “Spielberg’s edge could come out to as much as $40 million.” The kicker? Lucas actually made good on his bet. (Doesn’t hurt when you’re a billionaire.)
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