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STAR WARS galaxy
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the

galaxy

 

The start of it all…

“Do you know that we turned down Star Wars back then?” William Friedkin. asked Deadline Hollywood’s Mike Fleming Jr in October 2015. “We” was the Paramount-based Directors Company, formed by the current film-making hot-shots: Peter Bogdanovich, Francis Ford Coppola, William Friedkin. “Because of Francis’ relationship with George Lucas, we were offered Star Wars. It was more than we had the right to spend… Both Peter and I hated the script. We didn’t see it. Francis did. But we passed on Star Wars!!!” 

Then again, every studio in town turned it down, Until George’s agent, Jeff Berg, performed a miracle by winning a begrudging OK from Fox.  Then, when Lucas required more money to finish the shoot, Berg pulled off a bigger miracle for George.  “Instead of Fox giving him a few dollars more,” recalled Friedkin, “Berg got for him the remake rights, the sequel rights andall of the merchandise. That’s how much that studio believed in Star Wars!”

"Don't tell anyone, but when Star Wars first came out, I didn't know where it was going either. The trick is to pretend you've planned the whole thing out in advance. Throw in some father issues and references to other stories, let's call them homages, and you've got a series." – George Lucas, 2010.

 

I have a bad feeling about this" – Obi-Wan Kenobi

STAR WARS: EPISODE I - THE PHANTOM MENACE

 George Lucas . 1997

 

Now let’s go back to the real beginning…  as kindly Uncle George gets down on his zillionaire knees and relates not one, not two… but  three prequels.

"He didn’t necessarily want to direct them," Ron Howard told the Josh Horowitz podcast. "He told me that he had talked to [Robert] Zemeckis, he talked to me, he talked to Steven Spielberg.  They all said the same thing: 'George, you should just do it. This is your baby.' Nobody wanted to follow that act I don’t think at that point. That was an honor, but it would’ve been just too daunting."  (Yeah, Ron, like Solo).

Anakin Skywalker .  After his spirited debut in his dad's biggest flop, The Postman, George Lucas saw young Joe Costner for young Anakin - the future Darth Vader, in the first of his flashback tales. Joe was even called back, but as Papa Kevin reported:  "Joe hasn't shown a great desire to act." (Or only in  Pa’s movies: The Cup, 1995, and The Postman, 1997).

Lucas cut the contenders to three… Brooklyn’s Michael Angarano  (just ten here, but he grew up to be one of Kristen Stewart’s lovers) and Justin Berfield   (Malcolm in  the Middle’s older brother) were beaten by Colorado-born Jake Lloyd. He was nine and looked like some kid copying  American  Graffiti; and indeed, kids alone could be interested in the tot. He was so wooden he became nicknamed Mannequin Skywalker. He remains the only US actor to play Luke Skywalker’s father (in eight of his 15 screen credits, video games included). His predecessor, Sebastian Shaw, was British, and his successor, Hayden Christense, Canadian.

The Anakin name come  from the UK director Ken Annakin (1914-2009).  Lucas was a great fan of his 1959 Disney film, Swiss Family Robinson. He would  base the Ewok battle in Episode VI on the climactic Swiss battle. Born in Yorkshire. Annakin  moved from WWII documentaries to features, including The Story of Robin Hood and his Merry Men, The Sword and the Rose,   The Longest Day (the British scenes), Battle of the Bulge and Those Magnificent Men in Their Flying Machines or How I Flew From London to Paris in 25 hours 11 minutes!

Qui-Gon Jinn .   Lucas first wanted an American as the Jedi Master, who discovers and trains Anakin as a Jedi. He mused over such   mentor figures as  Morgan Freeman, Tom Hanks (his son, Colin, was on the Episode II iist for Anakin), Twin Peaks’ Kyle MacLachlan, Denzel Washington… and Kurt Russell, who had been part of  the Luke List 21 years before. Then, the mighty Irishman Liam Neeson showed up. Nolo contendere! A master actor, with  the right qualities of strengthsaid George - the cast would would look up to him.  And not just literally.

Obi-Wan Kenobi .   Qui-Gon's 25-year-old Jedi Padawan, who holds his master in high regard  if often  questioning his motives,   was won by Scots star Ewan McGregor from a reported 50 other actors - including American singer Harry Connick Jr and Gary Oldman. During the next 17 years, Oldman was also up for  for General Grievous in E III and Lor San Tekka in VII.  But being Oldman, he was always fully booked..

Queen Padmé Amidala .  Larisa Oleuynik (from 10 Things I Hate About You) and,  surprisingly, Kelly McDonald - beautiful, but with an at times an impenetrable Scots accent - were in the running until Natalie Portman became queen.  She had never seen the first trilogy and told James Lipton, Inside The Actors Studio, she never knew the difference between Star Wars and Star Trek. Because of her high school exams, she missed the US premiere, but met Prince Chares at the UK event. He hadn’t bothered to scan his note on the people he would be meeting and asked Natalie if she had been in the first film.  "Well, no sir, I wasn’t born until four years later."

Darth Maul .  Rapper Tupac Shakur (the name sounded very Lucasian) came and went. So Benicio Del Toro was set for the ten-horned Maul until splitting when Lucas cut most of his lines. Ray Park didn’t blink at that. In fact,  his Maul never blinked at all.  And his few lines remaining were voiced by Peter Serafinowicz (from Shaun of the Dead). Park's lightsaber fighting, however, was all his own.  (Del Toro became DJ in VIII).

Jar Jar Binks .  Of all people, Michael Jackson wanted to play the Gungan outcast, one of the most irksome characters of all time,  according to a  2006 poll. Jackson also told his agent to get him a  James Bond movie… as James Bond! Both men were able to persuade him that his global fame would “compromise” such films.  Michael wanted to do Binks  with prosthetics and makeup like Thriller but Lucas voted for CGI. (Well, he would, wouldn’t he? He owned the SFX house,  ILM). After seeing Trace Beaulieu, fhe comic-puppeteer and write-actor, famous for the Sci-Fi Channel’s  MST3K (Mystery Science Theatre 3000),  George gave Jar Jar to New Yorker Ahmen Best and took him (and Natalie Portman) backstage at a Jackson concert to win Michael’s blessing for Best. This was his second fiilm (he was an extra in, ean On Me, 1988, with Morgan Freeman) and he remains Jar Jar’s voice to this day in the films, shorts and video-games. 

Sio Bibble .  The governor of Naboo (oh, c'mon, you m must remember him!) went to Oliver Ford Davies instead of  dear old - booming! - Brian Blessed.

However, the most fascinating casting story was behind the camera...  was only revealed by  Ain’t It Cool News as late as  December 9, 2008...Lucas asked UK playwright extraordinaire Sir David Hare to co-direct with him.

Hare had shot an episode (Paris May 1919) for George's series, The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles, in 1993  .“I really did [it] because I knew I could get some fantastic actors [Cyril Cusack, Douglas Henshaw, Michael Kitchen, Jeroen Krabbé, Michael Maloney, Anna Massey, Josef Sommer] and thought it would be fun... He asked me to work more seriously with him. It was a lovely idea - he would be able to do all the action and the stuff that he loves.  He said: ‘You really love actors. I never really feel I understand actors as well as you do, so why don't you direct the actors and I'll do the action...’  But that is so not what I do.”

This anecdote supports Terence Stamp’s theory about George, indeed the very reason why Terry refused to reprise his Chancellor Valorum in Episode II. He  found the whole Lucasian experience… bland. “He’s obviously a visionary, a really smart man,“ Stamp declared  in 2016, “but he’s not the kind of filmmaker that I’m interested in. It’s about kids and toys and special effects. I’m sure it’s fascinating in his head. I don’t think he’s interested in actors."

Footnote: According to  The Guardian’s Ryan Gilbey  (September 3, 2015),  the series' second  sub-title. The Phantom Menace, had “acquired the voodoo power of the word, Macbeth.”   The  greatest superstition of the British theatre, and  of those who work in  it, is to never  mention this  Shakespeare play  by  name inside a theatre – except  when called for in the script while rehearsing or performing – or it will will cause (and has caused) disaster. Among British actors, it is simply referrred to as “the Scottish play.”

 

 

I've got a bad feeling about this” - Anakin

STAR WARS: EPISODE II - ATTACK OF THE CLONES

 George Lucas . 2000

 

Annakin Skywalker .  Supposedly,  more than 400 guys were screentested for Anakin Skywalker (father of Luke).   However, my hero list includes  only Christan Bale, Jonathan Brandis,  Paul Cattermole (then still with the SClub 7 band),  Misha Collns (future Castiel in TV’s Supernatural, 2008-2020), actor-writer-producer Jett Garner, Colin Hanks, Charlie Hunnam (a gay icon since Queer As Folk, 1999), Jonathan Jackson (best, er , only known for  Thames TV’s The Bill), Joshua Jackson, Chris Klein (from such total opposites as American Pie), Heath Ledger, future producer Donald Mackinnon, Eric Christian Olsen, Ryan Phillippe  (looking too old for Natalie Portman), Australian Jesse Spencer (ex-Neighbours, of course), James Van Der Beek (Dawson in what else but Dawson’s Creek, 1998-2003), Erik von Detten (far too good looking for just voice work), rock band drummer Nathan Wetherington.  Sadly, Brandis (Bastian in The Never Ending Story II) hung himself at age 27 the following year.

Leonardo DiCaprio had a meeting with George Lucas about the prequel(s) and like with Batman Forever and Spider-Man, Leo passed. “Again, just didn’t feel ready to take that dive. At that point.”   

Paul Walker, the future Fast and Furious icon, auditioned and(was “too old” for the only role he ever really wanted.  Lucas settled upon Hayden Christensen  because, among other reasons, he and Natalie Portman made a great looking couple.  Walker would have been better than the void Christensen,  He was 22 to Walker’s 30.  Ten years later, Walker was dead in the passenger seat of a tragic car crash.

Dormé . The beautous Aussie Rose Byrne replaced the beautous Keira Knightly (fromEpisodeI) as the leading handmaiden in the entourage of Queen, now Senator PadmeAmidala. “That was easy.I just stood by Natalie Portman looking very serious.”

Captain Panaka .  The Royal Shakespeare Company actor Hugh Quarshie  decided not to continue his  Episode I role when Lucasfilm refused to let him read the whole script.  His character was replaced with a new Security chief Captain Typho, played by Jay Laga'aia.  He didn’t get to read the entire script, either. But then, ,  he didn’t think he had a right to!

And, as mentioned in Episode I, Terence Stamp - Superman’s  General Zod - refused to reprise his Chancellor Finis Valorum (the Supreme Chancellor of the Galactic Republic) for this second chapter.  Because… actors prefer to work with actors."

George Lucas  had a walk-on, so did his kids: Katie and Jett.

Victims of George’s Final Cut were Australian actors Graame Blundell (the infamous  film and TV character Alvin Purple), singer Trisha Noble  (also known for  the Buck Rogers  in the 25th Century series), and Claudia Karvan, Hayley Mooy, Keira Wingater as Padmé's parents and sisters. Their Naberrie family did, though, make it to the finale of….

 

“Oh, I have a bad feeling about this” -  Obi-Wan Kenobi

STAR WARS: EPISODE III - REVENGE OF THE SITH

 George Lucas . 2003 

“I began Star Wars when I was 14,” said Natalie Portman, “and I'm going to be 24 when this final movie comes out, So,  these movies were ten years of my life and now I'm just trying to do something different.” That she sure did.  Closer and The Black Swan, playing Jackie Kennedy. a gost in  Paul McCartney’s Dance Tonight   music video and Jane Foster in the Marvelerse Thor franchise.  

“Episode III is very dark and much more demanding. We all know that Anakin becomes Darth Vader but to actually see this transition is very painful. So when you have such a dark story to work with it demands you as an actor to work harder.“

General Grievous .  Gary Oldman agreed to be General Grievous, then quit  (a repeat  of his dealing with Steven Spielberg in 1983) when learning that Lucas was hiring non-Screen Actor's Guild members.  Another SAG member who refused was  the Welsh John Rhys-Davies, who owes his career to Spielberg-Lucas’ Raiders of the Lost Ark, 1981. The role was read on-set by Duncan Young   and screen-voiced by Matthew Wood,  , a Lucasfilm employee, hence his familiar, if more usually directorial pseudonym of Alan Smithee. George Lucas supplied the coughing! ?

Governor Tarkin .  Australian Wayne Pygram took over when Lucas dropped plans to have Peter Cushing return, posthumously, from the first film - computerising his stock Tarkin footage, circa 1976.

Mace Windu .  Rap star Tupac Shakur tested for the role that proved yet another fan-worship winner for Samuel L Jackson. Tupac was murdered in 1996.

Captain Antilles was first offered to Denis Lawson

- and not because he was Ewan McGregor's uncle.

Apart from Luke, Denis (mis-credited as Dennis) is the only X-wing pilot character in all of the entire original trilogy.   (And he was back again - a flash! -  in the absolute  final Episode IX  in 2018).

Coppola, Spielberg, De Niro, Liam Neeson, Elijah Wood visited the set of the now first trilogy finale   - which featured walk-ons from Lucas, his daughters Amanda and Katie, son Jett (as a young Jedi again) and, for once outside his C-3PO suit, Anthony Daniels

 

 

INTERVAL... 

Reviews by… directors

Talking to Mike Fleming Jr @ Deadline Hollywood, December 18, 2015

 

Luc Besson: I will never, never forget when, at 16 years old, I sat in a film called Star Wars, and then suddenly, there’s a sound, and everybody did this [he turns around and looks behind], because for the first time, the sound was coming from the back. Everybody turned, and we look at the spaceship from the roof coming on screen, and everybody was like, wow. That’s why I’m working so hard. I want to offer people a wow moment that they will remember, you know?

Guillermo Del Toro:   I was very, very young and I first saw it in the equivalent of a four-screen multiplex in Mexico. I went to the first matinee not knowing what to expect. This is pre-Internet. I loved the poster and I went in and I went to all the showings in two of the cinemas all day long until the people at the box office were amused and they would let me stay… George Lucas changed the way we see a genre forever. It was a genre that was on the verge of self-parody when Star Wars came out and all of a sudden, it became so huge.The true secret of Star Wars is that it is really not sci-fi. It’s really sci-fantasy. It’s a tale of princes and princesses and evil wizards. George combines, in a majestic way, the best of Tolkien, the best of Nordic lore, the best of science fiction. All of this appetite that he has for these mythologies, all packed into one movie. I think that it’s not something that will be repeated. Honestly, he’s created something that is unique in film history. I do think the only other person that has that scope and ambition is Jim Cameron with Avatar, which comes from no other place than his imagination and the worlds that filled the minds of these guy as teenagers.

 

 

“I have a very bad feeling about this ”  - Luke

“I got a bad feeling about this”  - Han Solo

STAR WARS: EPISODE IV - A NEW HOPE

George Lucas .1976

 

The trio from the trilogy. Han, Leila and Luke. Harrison, Carrie and Mark  [Lucasfilm, 1976]

 

The first seen chapter of a galaxy far, far away... There would be  eight more, promised Lucas, changing his game after five to just six, until Disney’s billions changed it again by inisting on the full monty.  (And more).

Star Wars started as a Flash Gordon reboot.  That had been George’s idea for years No one was interested. In selling him the rights. Nor  in making any comicbook film.  By George, saiid George, I‘ll create my own space opera. And mty hewrto will be n named after me. Luke.

To cut a long story - and this is the longest Special Movies report on the site – Lucas  became king of the world; before James Cameron and when, of all people. Dino De Laurentiis produced it, Flash Gordon (nealrl starring ope ofg George’s Luke choices. Kuryt Russell) sas a rtip load of steaming faeces. .  

“He was under so much pressure.,” recallefD Anthony Daniels. “Everything was going wrong. The weather, the droids breaking down, no one having done anything like this before …”

 “George  was not a jolly guy on set. [Laugh],”saif Mark Hamill.  “I always felt badly for him because he agonises over details, and I’m sure after imagining it in his head for so many years, to see it realised - he’d look up and just hang his head and groan. Harrison, Carrie and I were always trying to cheer him up and joke him out of his doom and gloom.”

It didn’t end there…

At the first screening for his New Hollywood group, George Lucas was convinced he had a flop. "I've made a Walt Disney movie! A cross between Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory and The Computer Wore Tennis Shoes. It's gonna do maybe eight, ten million."

He had, as many of his characters were to exclaim in the series, "a bad feeling about this."

At the beginning, he wanted "a real triangle with real emotions and at the same time, it has to end up with goodwill."  Back then.... 

Luke was a girl... or a dwarf...

Leia was Eurasian... Han Solo was black…

or a green-skinned monster with no nose and gills.

The wookies were called Jawas,

R2-D2 and C-3PO were A-2 and C-3.

Preferring story-construction, special effects and editing to dealing hand-on with live actors, George Lucas held his casting sessions simultaneously with Brian De Palma's foray through the same age group for Carrie. They saw about 40 actors a day for two months at the Samuel Goldwyn studios. Some of those who failed to enter space wound up in Stephen King country: William Katt, Sissy Spacek and the future (short-lived) wives of Spielberg and De Palma: Amy Irving and Nancy Allen.

The hot youth of the hour were heavily rumoured for Princess Leia and Luke Starkiller (sic). Han Solo was the problem - and the key to the solution. For Harrison Ford, "it was almost obvious what the relationship should be - or could be - by looking at the other two!"

Also trying out for space, was the future

Freddy Kreuger of Elm Street, Robert Englund.

He later told a pal to  give it a shot.  Mark Hamill.

George finally selected four trios, whittled down to two: Christopher Walken, Will Selzer and Penthouse Pet (and future Berlin group singer) Terri Nunn v Harrison Ford, Mark Hamill and Carrie Fisher.

I think you know who won...

Luke Skywalker   Robby Benson, Peter Firth (the British Equus stage star), William Katt, Charles Martin Smith were on the short list.   Plus Stella Stevens’ son (and future producer) Andrew.  "Mark and I were both up for an ill-fated TV series, The Oregon Trail, as well as a film called Star Wars. [Laugh]. I got The Oregon Trail!"  Of course, the young hero was then called something else. "The name change to Skywalker came late enough in production that we had to re-shoot the scene where I liberated the Princess from her cell," Hamill tweeted in 2018. "We had already shot it using the original line… 'I'm Luke Starkiller, I'm here to rescue you!'"

Han Solo .  Strangest claim of all came from Al Pacino during a “master class” he staged at an Atlantic City casino in 2015.  He said he’d been offered Solo. ““it was mine for the taking.” So what happened? “I couldn’t  make any sense of the script.” Pause. “Can you see me in Star Wars?”

Actually, Lucas first thought of Paul Le Mat, his podgy alter-ego in American Graffiti. Next up for the role, actually based on Coppola:, were two  Francy  stars: James Caan and Robert De Niro.  Plus Tom Berenger, Bruce Boxleitner, Patrick Duffy, Robert Englund (soon making  hmore sequels than Lucas and faster, too), Perry King  (he became the radio Solo), Jack Nicholson, Nick Nolte.  Kurt  Russell   made sense; Sylvester Stallone and John Travolta did not. Also listed,  inexplicably: Chevy Chase and Steve Martin!  Russell also rejected Flash Gordon three years later.  Stallone had to wait 40 years to be another space pirate,  Stakar Ogord, in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2,  2016,

Oh, did I forget  Burt Reynolds...?   Well, every studio wanted Burt. For any and everything. He was the reigning box-office champ, until Solo & Co pulverised The System.  But he was freparing to direct himself. Twi ce. “I just didn’t want to play that kind of role at the time,” he told Business Insider in 2016.  “Now I regret it. I wish I would have done it.”  (He said the same about 007).

George also had black actors in mind… Glynn Turman, also a rodeo star who later wed Aretha Franklin,  and still handsome  44 yeas  later as  Toledo, the pianist for  Ma Rainey’s’ Black Bottom, 2020…  and Billy Dee Williams, who  became Lando Calrissian in the following chapter while Turman went to Munich to work with Ingmar Bergman in The Serpent’s Egg, 1977. His feeelings on losing Solo could be,  perhaps,  best summed up by one of his 1978 movies: A Hero Ain’t Nothin’ But A Sandwich!

"The one time I met those two guys [Lucas and Spielberg] in a professional capacity," recalled James Woods, "I got to listen to them talk on the phone...!  Now, of course, they'd probably put the phone down and pay some attention." He attended the double-casting session. Briefly. 

“When I went in, Lucas was on the phone.

De Palma was kibbutzing.

I sat down and they said:‘Oh hi! How are you?’

They talked on the phone, laughed at each other

and they said: ‘Thanks for coming in.’

And I left.  That’s all.”

"I'm happy because the last thing I'd wanna do is be Han Solo or have pig blood dropped on me.I mean, I'm a great audience member for those kindathings,but they're ina completely different business from the business I'm in.It's like when you see Brando in Superman... I'd throw those movies out of balance. Can you see Robert De Niro chasing Martians - do you know what I'm saying?I don't even think I'd be very good in hem."

Christopher Walken tested for  Lucas in an Upper West Side apartament in Manhattan - with Jodie Foster as Princes Leia. “I don’t even know if I knew it was called Star Wars.I’m sure I was terrible.” Not so much. He as #2 to Ford,according to Lucas.

Finally, Lucas ran into another Graffiti graduate, building a new entrance to Coppola's officeand asked Harrison Fordto read in tests "just as a favour." Sure, kid!

Princess Leia  Organa  .  And the princess goes to… the 14-year-old Jodie Foster after testing for Lucas opposite Christopher Walken as Han Solo.  “She was very young,” reported Walken. “She was just wonderful. Just brilliant.” But as everyone had forgotten, including Jodie it seemed, she was still under contract to Disney  (of all studios!)  Her agent might have sprung her loose, but her mother felt it best to honour the Mouse House deal after Jodie finished Freaky Friday that year.

Ahunting, George had to go…

First group… Glynis O’Connor, PJ Soles...and Cindy Williams, starring in The First Nudie Musical at the time (a critical and commercial boob). She was also auditioning for TV’s Laverne and Shirley  (she won Shirley’s 48 episodes,1976-1982). Cindy was also George’s first choice for Radioland Murders, due to be his next movie after American Graffiti, 1972 - and then again after Star Wars. She and Steve Martin were announced in 1978 as as Penny and Roger Henderson, the parents of Richard Dreyfuss’ Graffiiti character (according to Lucas). Radioland, was not made until 1994 - helmed by the UK comic Mel Smith.  

Next bunch: Kim Basinger, Bonnie Bedelia, Christine Baranski, Linda Exorcist Blair, Glenn Close, Geena Davis, Farrah Fawcett, Melanie Griffith, Barbara Hershey, Catherine  Hicks, Anjelica Huston, Margot Kidder,  Christine Lahti, Jessica Lange,  Kay Lenz, Terry Lynn,  Pamela Sue Martin, Terri  Nunn, Bernadette Peters, Theresa Russell, Jane Seymour, Cybill Shepherd, Sissy Spacek. Kathleen Turner, Sigourney Weaver, Cindy Williams, Debra Winger… even Meryl Streep!   “I had a farm  in  the galaxy.”

But Jill Clayburgh at 32, Bonnie Bedelia and Dianne Wiest  at 28 , were too aged for the heroine won by Carrie Fisher, at 20.– coached by actor Migel Ferrer (George Clooey’s cousin) for her audition.

Plus Nancy Allen who married Brian De Palma and Amy Irving, the fuure Mrs Steven Spielberg. (PJ Soles was the first of Dennis Quaids three wive).    “I’m glad I didn’t do Star Wars,” said Irving.. “It was a nothing part. I wouldn’t want to get famous because of that movie.”   She wasn’t famous because of any movie!

Lucas wanted someone young.  “When Carrie came in, she was that character. There are not very many people like her. They are one in a billion. For this particular part, it was absolutely perfect.”  He got more than an actress. As a  future  script doctor, Carrie  polished scripts for George’s series, The Young Inbiana Joness Chronicles – plus Episodes  I, II and III.   “I got to be the only girl in an all-boy fantasy,” declaredCarrie, “and it's a great role for women. She's a very proactive character and gets the job done. So if you're going to get typecast as something, that might as well be it for me.”

Carrie Fisher won - and hated the dialogue.

She famously told George: 

“You can type this stuff but you can’t say it!”

Which is where Willard Huyck and his wife Gloria Katz came in. Old friends of George, they were at Lucasfilm from the get-go, writing American Grafitti, Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, Howard the Duck.   Knowing dialogue was not his weak spot, George  called them in for (un-cedited) help. For example, what he composed or Han Solo,  “Traveling through hyperspace is no mean trick. Without very accurate calculations we could pass through a star or near a supernova. And that would end our trip real quick” became… ”Traveling through hyperspace isn't like dusting crops, boy. Without calculations we could pass right through a star or bounce too near a supernova. And that would our trip real quick.”

On her first days as Leia, Lucas checked her costume.“You can't wear a bra under that dress."  “So, I say: Okay, I'll bite. Why? And he says: ‘Because… there's no underwear in space.’ What happens is you go to space and you become weightless. So far so good, right? But then your body expands. But your bra doesn't- - so you get strangled by your own bra. Now I think that this would make for a fantastic obit -- so I tell my younger friends that no matter how I go, I want it reported that I drowned in moonlight, strangled by my own bra.”

Obi-Wan Kenobi .  Just as he turned down assisting 007, Japanese superstar Toshiro Mifune passed, although (or because?) Lucas’s script was influenced by at least two of the actor’s films for Akira Kurosawa: The Hidden Fortress, 1958, and Yojimba, 1961. Like, I’ve done it George.  Twice!

George next thoughts were about Sean Connery, even Orson Welles (already rejected as Darth Vader’s voice) and the Hammer horror regular Peter Cushing, who became The Grand Muff Tarkin (in very uncomfortable boots). Hey, why think of Cushing when Sir Alec Guinness is in town! Really? Is he? Lucas lunched with him and Guinness agreed to add more dignity  - indeed, respectability - to what became the British acting knight's most famous (and lucrative) role. Not that he understood any of it. Now, that’s acting!

“Big part. Fairy-tale rubbish, but could be interesting perhaps."  This is Sir Alec writing to his  old American friend and correspondent, Anne Kaufman. “I may accept, if they come up with proper money. London and North Africa, starting in mid March. Science fiction, which gives me pause, but is to be directed by Paul [sic] Lucas, who did American Graffiti which makes me feel I should.”

And in another letter: "New rubbish dialogue reaches me every other day on wodges of pink paper, and none of it makes my character clear or even bearable. I just think, thankfully, of the lovely bread, which will help me keep going until next April. I must off to studio and work with a dwarf (very sweet, and he has to wash in a bidet) and your fellow countrymen Mark Hamill and Tennyson (that can't be right) Ford. Ellison (? - No!), well, a rangy, languid young man who is probably intelligent and amusing. But oh, God, God, they make me feel 90, and treat me as if I was 106. Oh, (the actor's name is) Harrison Ford. Ever heard of him?"

Darth Vader .   (It means Dark Father – in German).  The Detroit giant, 7ft 2in Richard Kiel passed -  “not another mask!”  And the 007 squad were already talking to him about being Jaws in The Spy Who Loved Me - a role with dialogue!  (And a sequel).  English pro wrestler Big Pat (“Bomber”) Roach, 6ft 5ins,  auditioned  but George told David Prowse: "If you're good enough for Kubrick [in A Clockwork Orange], you're good enough for me." Obviously, Lucas didn’t know that  Roach had made two Kubricks, Orange and Barry Lyndon..    Prowse was taller, 6ft 7ins.  Lucas gave the physical education teacher and sometime actor his pick of Vader or Chewie. Prowse always wanted to play a baddy. Lucas, the producer, did not forget Roach and Pat  later had two memorable fights (as different characters) with Indiana Jones in Raiders of the Lost Ark and The Last Crusade.

"I should have guessed something was up," said  Prowse, "when they didn't ask me to read."

His Bristol accent was risible for such a dire villain.

The crew called him Darth Farmer.

Roach’s accent was no better. And Vader was dubbed by James Earl Jones for $10,000, after Lucas felt Orson's tones were too well-known, and alas, more from US TV commercials than movies. Having narrated Bugs Bunny Superstar, Orson alsonarrated George’s teaser trailer. Although he didn’t speak much English, the Japanese icon Toshiro Mifune had also been suggested but his agent again advised him to steer clear of the project – and  accept Steven Spielberg’s 1941.  Go  figure.

As the film became the super-series, Prowse rankled over the lack of personal publicity. "I was the greatest screen villain of all time and didn't even get a lightsabre out of it!  Mind you, when we did Star Wars, we couldn't get off the set fast enough.  We all thought it was rubbish."

C-3PO .  George never intended to use the very British tones of the actor inside the tin suit. But writing the robot as an "used car salesman" type, George saw cartoon king Mel Blanc (the man of a thousand voices: Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, Porky Pig, Sylvester, Tweety, etc). Plus satirist Stan Freberg- who suggestedhe stick with Anthony Daniels’ fuss-budget-cum-butler delivery.

Chewbacca . Darth Farmer himself, David Prowse, passed the prospect of "three months in a hairy gorilla suit" to a Yorkshire hospital porter called Peter Mayhew... also seen for Darth Vader.  Peter secured Chewie after ten seconds. All he did was… stand up. He was 7ft 3ins.

Grand Moff Tarkin .  Harry Andrews and Christopher Lee, major and authoritative UK character figures, were the favourites before Lee’s  great Hammer Films  co-star, Peter Cushing, became available. 

R2-D2 . The film’s Oscar-winning set decorator (and future director) Roger Christian,  “cobbled together”  the first R2,. He told BBC Radio how Kenny Baker left the film in the planning stage .The 3ft 8in (1.12m) actor had a  of a music and comedy act, the Mini Tones,  with friend Jack Purvis.  They hadc just reached the final of the talent show, Opportunity Knocks - the Britain’s  Got Talent of the day.  "There was minor panic,” Christian recalled, “because there wasn't anybody else… 

“If we didn't have R2-D2, George didn't have a film.

Star Wars wouldn't have been made."  

Impressed by the news that Alec Guinness had joined  the movie - ”he knows more about filming  than I do”  -  Kenny returned to the fold.   As long as  Purvis was  also hired as well. (He became an Ewok).  “ I'll do you a favour. George said, 'You've got to do it, we can't find anyone else. You're small strong enough to be able to move in it,'  They couldn’t use kids.  I could work all hours, so I was a godsend to them. They'd made the robot in rough form..  I got into it and they put the lid on me like a boiled egg!"  

"He took about four steps,” said Christian, “and we knew then we had a film."

And last and  the furthest from least…

C-3PO .  George never  intended to use the very British tones of the actor inside  the tin suit. Having written  the robot as an "used car salesman type,” George saw cartoon king Mel Blanc (the man of a thousand voices: Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, Porky Pig, Sylvester, Tweety, etc). Plus satirist Stan Freberg  - who suggested he stick with Anthony Daniels’ fussbudget-cum-worrywart-cum-butler delivery as he staggered around like Woody Allen’s robot in Sleeper, three years earlier.  

And a star was born…. Becoming the only actor to appear in all nine films.  By 2021, Daneils had amassed 84 screen acting credits - all but 32 of them, were totally hidden inside the golden suit. He has been Threepio  more often than Sylvester Stalone has been Rocky and Rambo combined. vn ined - iin  the nine episodes,  plus all the Lego and other spinoff noffs, video games and guesting in everything from,  Sresame Street and The Muppets to a Donnyh and Marie Osmond show.

Not keen on science fiction, he never wanted the role. “I was so negative about it. Why would I want to be involved with this rubbish?” he told The Guardian’s Ryan Gilbery, in September 2015. Except simethiung struck a chord when Lucas showerd hgm sone of Ralph McQuarrie now famous conceptual artwork.  “The droid had a kind of bleak, forlorn emptiness. I felt as though he were asking me to come and help – to be his companion.” He had no great expectations about  the film or the role.:”I just wanted ty act… The screenplay was very good as far as C-3PO was concerned, but I had no idea what was going on in the rest of it. Still don’t.”

Again, Daniels saw more in the  protocol robot.   “Look at his lines. ‘I’ve got to rest before I fall apart …’ ‘It’s our lot in life …’ And my favourite: ‘We’re doomed!’ He spends the whole time thinking he’s in peril. He’s had enough. He’s been abused. He’s traumatised.”

Then again, he has also said: “I have a greater appreciation for kitchen appliances, having played one.”

As for the voice, he recalled his first day on his first film, inside a golden suit in the heat og Tunisia.  The suit was quickly broken, he was hot and in pain. No wonder he had trouble with his lines.  Don’t worry, said Lucas, we’ll fix all that in post. When Daniels dutifully arrived in LA for the post-production work,  the sound guys casually mentioned  they’d been testing other voices. For months!   

And we have Alec Guinness to thank for him staying put.  “He assured me that films are not normally like this. His professionalism was an inspiration to keep going on a job that I was slightly regretting.”

 

 

“I have a bad feeling about this..." - Leia

STAR WARS: EPISODE VTHE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK

 Irvin Kershner . 1979

First, because George Lucas thougfht  a sequel called The Return of a Man Called Horse, 1975, was better than the original, he promptly chose tthe director, Irvin Kershner,  to repeat such magic.  He did not.

Emperor Palpatine .   A change of casting after the film has been shot, edited, released and re-released is extremely rare. Such was the case with the extremely plummy New Zealander Cliover Revill as the Emperor. His scenes here with James Earl  Jones voicing Darth Vader were re-recorded for the 2004 DVD by JEJ and Ian McDiarmid  - who would still be playing him in 2018...  despite  beging killed off at one point  by Luke's Pa. 

Lando Calrissian . Lucas asked Yaphet Koptto   to play Lando. He passed him to Billy Dee Williams with the alleged (lame) excuse that it would be difficult to find work afterwards, if Lando was killed off. D’oh!

Yoda was first offered to Muppeteer-in-chief (and lifelong science fiction fan) Jim Henson  - far too busy with  The Great Muppet Caper.  He suggested his co-Muppets pal,  Frank Oz.  Born a star is.  Lucas loved his work and spent a small fortune  on trying to win him an Oscar nomination.

C-3PO . Anthony Daniels – the golden guy – is the only Star Wars star to appear in the complete box set of nine chapters.  Which is how he and his wife have homes in both Britain and France. 

“I wanted to act but I didn’t want to play Hamlet.”  (R2 or D2 that is the question.) His  first screen job was  episodes of he kiddies’ Jackanory Playhouse, one year before Threepio took over his existance.  His other work included voicing Legolas in the 1977 animated Lord of the Rings, and all the telly staples for a jobbing Brit actor:  The Bill,  Doctors, Holby City,  Prime Suspect (with Helen Mirren) plus a priest in a 1989  film actually called I Bought a Vampire Motorcycle. “With Star Wars, my life jolted sideways. I look at other actors now - they’re all terribly good - and I think: How do you know how to do that? How?’ Because I seem to have forgotten.”

Back in  ’76, it required a good two hours to fix the suit on him - same  again  for getting it off. Just removing the famous head took half-an-hour back in the day - maybe eight seconds in the last films. In 2015, he  was asked by The Guardian’s Ryan  Gilbey what was the best thing about being the world’s most famous robot. “Accepting praise on his behalf,” he said..  “Being his closest friend.”

 

 

“R2, I have a  bad feeling about this” - C-3PO

“I have a really bad feeling about this” - Han Solo

STAR WARS: EPISODE VI - RETURN OF THE JEDI

 Richard Marquand . 1982

 

One  year after Episode V - The Empire Strikes Back - five years before The Mandalorian TV series. And the most vital VI  “casting” concerned… the director!

George Lucas first asked his closest buddy but  Steven Spielberg, who ached to helm an episode but felt duty-bound to refuse as he was a member of the Directors’ Guild  - which Lucas had quit over V disagreements. Spielberg then reccommended Paul Verhoeven  because of his 1976 war movie, Solider of Orange – and changed his mind after the Dutchman’s far  more erotic Spetters, 1979, tut-tut!  

Next? David Cronenberg...  and David Lynch

who summed it up for both of them:

“It’s Lucas’ thing.”

It was never reported if either David greeted the offers with:  Preposterous!  Cronenberg made his Videodrome and The Dead Zone, instead, while Lynch was booked for Dune - the Frank Herbert book from among the major influences for the Lucas saga.

Finally, the producer signed the then non-union UK film-maker Richard Marquand,  , on the strength of his so-so UK spy thrillers, Eye of the Needle,  1981. His  work was lacklustre. Lucas didn’t get on with him, took over much direction, himself - because of the handsome Welshman’s “relative inexperience” with SFX and/or for supposedly favouring Harrison over Mark and Carrie (according to Mark and Carrie!. Said Marquand: "It’s rather like trying to direct King Lear with Shakespeare in the next room!" Lucas also occasionally operated Camera B; he wanted mutiple  cameras, in fact,  to gain extra footage. Marquand did not agree. He managed three more A features before his death in 1987 from a stroke 18 days before his  50th birthday.  Hehad made one lasting contribution  to the series - choosing Ian McDiarmid for…

The Emperor . Veteran Alan Webb was selected  to succeed V’s Clive Revill but had to leave due to worsening health. In fact, he died, at age 75, during the first weeks of shooting. Also considered for the Emperor-cum-Senator-cum-Supreme Chancellor Palpatine-cum-Darth Sidius were such other UK character stalwarts as Harry Andrews,  Frank Finlay, Sir John Gielgud, Ben Kinsley, Clive Reid – even high exaltedness, Sir Laurence Olivier… or. since 1970, Baron Olivier, of Brighton in the County of Sussex!

Plus Linsday Anderson, award-winning director of such UK films as This Sporting Life and If….Making stars,  respectively, of Richard Harris and Malcolm McDowell. Anderson mentioned the offer to  his friend, Henry Dibling   -  “a Prince of Evil” role!  However, Anderson was far too occupied with the last of his McDowell-as-MickTravis trilogy, Britannia Hospital, featurirg a (free) cameo from a certain…  Mark Hamill

Palpatine tries to turn Luke to the Dark Side  to rule with him, while Darth Vader (who has finally revealed he is Luke’s father) likewise attempts to turn his son  and heir to rule with him! Luke remains a true Jedi, angering the Emperor so much that he tries to kill him with Force lightning and Darth Vader saves his son by throwing the emperor into the heart of the second Death Star. Palpatine returned, however, from the grave, or the reactor,  in  Episode IX - The Rise of Skywalker, 2018., only to be killed a second time by his grand-daughter,  Daisy Ridley’s Rey.

Darth Vader .  There came the top secret de-masking of Vader to reveal…  well, depends which version you saw. In the original release print,  Vader’s ghost was played by Sebastian Shaw - he had no idea what he had been booked for, “something to do with science fiction.”  Leonard Magiuire had also been suggested by casting director Mary Selway. But for the 2004 DVD release, Lucas decided that the Force ghost should be of the young Annakin Skywalker, before he joined the Dark Side - and substituted new footage of Hayden Christensen (as Annakin the younger in  Episodse II, and III. “I had no idea what George was doing,” said Christensen, “or I would have played it differently.”  Oh, really!

Moff Jerjerrod  . Alan Rickman auditioned for what became  Michael Pennington’s Moss -  ex-Grand Moff Jerjerrod. “I assure you, Lord Vader. My men are working as fast as they can.”

Moth Mothma . British Kate Harper lost Moth to the extremnely busy TV actress Caroline Blakiston - but joined Tim Burton’s 1988 Batman cast.

Incidentally, I am reliably informed (by IMDb, of course)  that Jabba Desilijic Tiure aka Jabba the heavy Hutt’s demise at the hands of Princess Leia is George’s tribute to the strangling of  Lenny Montana’s Luca Brasi in Francis Coppola’s The Godfather. Lucas was an assistant editor on that classic. He had also homaged  his pal Francey with the baptism scene in  III.

In fact, the first  VI sub title was Revenge of the Jedi. Then, George decided  that,  unlike the Sith, Jedi Knights would never stoop so low to anything as common as  revenge.  (But they would Return).  Fox had already printed and released Revenge posters (by Drew Struza), which are  now much sought after and expensive items. There was one in the Adam’s bedroom in The Goldbergs sitcom, 2013-2021.  In one episode,  the kid (actor Sean Giambrone) tore up his poster and was soon yelling about its value.  He had a new one on his wall for the following seasons. TV stars can afford anything!  

Footnote on General Madine. And his beard…  To underline the importance of casting, costuming, character creation and facial hair of our heroes, let us examine the case of Dermot Crowler as Madine.  In the script: he had no beard.  In the Kenner toys, he did.  Quick, hurry, rush (and hush) but  get a facial merkin for Crowler immediately.  Never  mess with the merchandising.

 

INTERVAL... ii

Reviews by… directors

Talking to Mike Fleming Jr @ Deadline Hollywood, December 18, 2015

 

Ron Howard: On the set of American Graffiti one night, George told me he hoped his next film would be a sci-fi movie combining Buck Rogers with 2001. About all I knew of the movie beyond that was that I’d heard the script had enormously challenging elements, and that I had not been invited to audition! Cheryl and I stood in line for close to two hours and shared with that audience the most amazing experience….watching that world and story unfold. I felt such a surge of emotion during the final scene and credits that as we walked out I looked at Cheryl and simply asked, “Wanna see it again?” She didn’t even blink. “Yes,” and without breaking stride we got into another two-hour line and though it seems impossible, were floored even more by the second viewing. Our best day at the movies ever. 

Peter Jackson: I first saw Star Wars at the Cinerama Theatre in Courtney Place, Wellington. It was summer 1977, and I was 16 years old - possibly the perfect age. The theatre was packed and bubbling with anticipation. I have a vivid memory that at the moment the Death Star blew up, the entire audience leapt to their feet cheering, including me. That type of emotive behaviour never happens with New Zealand audiences - it was my first (and last) experience of mass hysteria in a cinema.  As a filmmaker however, my gratitude and respect for George Lucas is without limit.. He opened the door for me to make the films that I have, in a way I could have barely dreamt of doing before Star Wars. I can’t help feeling that George Lucas has never been fully appreciated by the industry for his remarkable innovations. He is the Thomas Edison of the modern film industry.

 

 

"I got a bad feeling about this"  - Han Solo

STAR WARS: EPISODE VII -  THE FORCE AWAKENS

JJ Abrams . 2014

"I always said I wasn't going to do any more and that's true…

 but that doesn't mean I'm unwilling to turn it over to Kathy to do more.”

- George Lucas, February 20, 2016

 

Kathleen Kennedy, for many years Steven Spielbgerg’s producer, was now the new head of Lucasfilm.  The stars and the wars, on and off the screen, were under new mangement. 

As Carrie Fisher said:

I'm now a Disney Princess!

And so, into the final (?) trilogy…  What George Lucas, back in ’76, had envisioned as a one-off, maybe a threebie serial - he actually hoped for a dozen, settled for e six – was now headed to nine.  Because Disney had bought Lucasfilm for $4.05bn (£2.5bn in real money) and wanted something more substantial than just a Baby Yoda for their money. The sale was  a surprise to me. I’d always thought Lucas would buy Disney! Or, Spielberg.

Mel Brooks knew better… As IMDb recalled, during his 1987 Star Wars spoof, Spaceballs, Brooks  saw it coming. And showed it…  When lost in a desert, Mel’s Lone Starr, Princess Vespa, Barf and Dot Matrix, are rescued by the Dinks (based on the  even dwarfs) and Lone Starr says:  "When did we get to Disneyland?"

Mark Hamill, it seems, was the first to know about Episode VII.  As early as 1983…  During a UK TV interview, all part of the VI promo, Lucas had told him he was thinking of bringing Luke back as an Obi-wan Kenobi figure, passing the torch, the lightsabre, the whole franchise on to the next generation in, he estimated, 2011.

Now again, George took him to lunch and, as casually as asking for  the salt, he mentioned the Disney deal and the extra trilogy… 

Did Mark Hamill want to be part of it?

If not, Luke would be written out.

Say what?  Of course, he was in. Carrie Fisher, too - “within five seconds.” And she asked if there was a spot for her daughter, Billie Lourd. (There was, Leia bangs and all). Harrison Ford, Anthony Daniels (the sole star of all nine movies), John Williams (into his 50th Oscar nomination), they all signed on.  Except Kenny Baker, no longer able to get inside his old tin can; he was credited as R2-D2 Consultant as Jimmy Vee suited up. Kenny died, at 81, nine months after the December 2015 premiere.

Hamill admitted to be4 somewhat scared of returning to Luke. "I thought, why mess with it?” he told the New York Times.  “The idea of catching lightning in a bottle twice was ridiculously remote." But, he thought Harrison would save him. "He’s too old and too rich and too cranky… He’s not going to do this." However, Ford agreed (for a reputed $25m). Mark had to swallow his fears and come back as well.  "Can you imagine if I was the only one to say no? I’d be the most hated man in nerd-dom."

is Meanwhile, the creator was reduced to a mere creative consultant.  Lucas produced his treatments for h last three tales - to be read, he stipulated, solely, by the top three Disney suits: Bob Iger, Alan Horn, Alan Bergman. (What do they know about Star Wars?)  (To borrow a Yoda-ism:  "Page turners, they are not.")  They politely thanked him and, just as politely put, them aside, so he left them to it. "They  said: We want to make something for the fans,'" Lucas told CBS.  “So they decided they didn't want to use those stories, they decided they were going to do their own thing."

“People don't actually realise it's actually a soap opera.

It's all about family problems - it's not about spaceships.

From 14  credited producers to a budget of $245m, the highest of the series, Everything was bigger - including £25m of UK taxpayers’ money because the production helped boost the British film industry. That is Whitehall-speak for: providing employment. 

In typical C-3PO mould, Lucas still did not think any new trilogy  - that was not his new trilogy - was a good idea.  The story had been told. On the other hand, he did see it as a way “to pass Star Wars on to a new generation of filmmakers."

Sure. But which ones?  

Brad Bird, who made everything from Ratatouille to a Mission: Impossible, was much happier prepping the Tomorrowland at Disney (more original, less successful)...  Jon Favreaui, future father of Baby Yoda, in The Mandolorian on Disney TV… or the   British Matthew Vaughn, future father of Kingsman, who had really made Daniel Craig into James Bond due to their Layer Cake hit. Vaughn took meetings and even quit X-Men: Days of Future Past to be available but crashed headlong into Disney differences" over violence and his preference for Chloe Grace Moretz as the female lead, then known as Kira.  

Other directors on the horizon included Ben Affleck (!), Guillermo del Toro, David Fincher (ah!), Peter Jackson, Christopher Nolan (aha!), Joss Whedon, even the way too busy  (and pricey) James Cameron and Steven Spielberg. Plus Maryland’s Rian Johnson.. who instead won a super deal to writer-direct the next one, Episode VIII… and the next trilogy. (Oh yeah!)  But a non-Skywalker saga!

Speaking on 60 Minutes on CBV, Steven Spielberg reccommended one good friend to another.  “Kathy,” he said, “there’s only one director that really should undertake this daunting, epic task, and that’s, JJ Abrams.”

Habemus papam…!!

And so, the annointed one was duly announced in Januarty 2013. He seemed perfect having successfully re-energised the battle-fatigued Mission: Impossible and Star Trek franchises.  He recalled Iger telling him this was a $4bn movie. “What I think I was trying to say to you,” said Iger, “was two things:

Listen kid, this isn’t just any movie.

It’s a big responsibility.

“That’s sort of the father in me, maybe, I was also trying to telegraph to you… that because of the size of the acquisition and what this first film represented in terms of importance and value creation, that you can expect that it’s not going to be treated like any old film by Disney.”

The first screenplay took eight months - it was written by Michael Arndt. In 2005, he  quit his job as Matthew Broderick’s assistant to write Little Miss Sunshine, followed by Toy Story 3 and The Hunger Games: Catching Fire. This time, nothing caught fire. He had Luke arriving midway and promptylyt taking the shine off all the new folk

JJ next took a swing at the scenario. He chose  the easy way out by fundamentally reworking Episode IV, or what he termed returning to the “emotion over explanation” roots of the franchise - and clearly avoiding too many new characters, places or indeed, as George complained, anything new at all.

Working towards a seamless transition, JJ collaborated with the next two booked directors, Rian Johnson and Colin Trevorrow (who split for Jursassic World).

"Everybody,” said JJ, “has got a say

in how we move forward with this.”

Daisy Ridley later revealed that JJ drafted Episodes VII, VIII and IX. Together with V and VI scenarist Lawrence Kasdan.  JJ put Luke on ice - on County Kerry’s Skellig Michael in Ireland - until the big finish.  Luke MacGuffin!  Hamill was delighted. "When they talk about you that much in a movie before you even show up, that's fabulous."

Naturally, putting JJ in charge, meant jobs for his mates: Greg Grunberg and Simon Pegg. Gregg and JJ go back to their infant school days at age four, making home movies togeher at ten, since when Greg has been in  every JJ enterprise, on or off-screen. He now became the X-wing pilot Temmin “Snap” Wexley and Pegg, a funny British actor-writer-producer, from both JJ’s M:I and Star Trek,  joined the Lucasverse as the alien, Unkar Plutt,  a futuristic Drew Pritchard,  buying  scavenged parts from Rey.

There was also nods to others from JJ’s past. Oscar-winner Lupita Nyong'o’s Maz Kanata was based on his (and production designer Rick Carter’s)  English teacher, Rose Gilbert - and her large glasses.  Oscar Isaac’s Poe Dameron is named after JJ’s ex-assistant and now auteur Morgan Dameron, and her daughter’s cuddly toy, Poe.  Morgan is also on-screen as Commodore Meta.

There were still some echoes

of the Lucasian past…

Rey is dressed very much from the  1976 designs  of Star Wars concept artist Ralph McQuarrie for Luke, when he was going to be a she.  John Boyega’s name of Finn had long been a part of the Lucas lexicon, for varied personages, of either sex,  in  the movies or comics. Stand up and take a bow, if you recall Finn Ertay, Finn Shallo, Finn Tegotash....  Even the new villain, Kylo Ren, seemed to be a typo (and I know about typos!) of the pirate, Kybo Ren, in TV’s Star Wars: Droids, 1985-1986.  Plus Lando Calrissian's co-pilot, Nien Nunb, was back as a Resistance fighter, along with his puppeteer, Mike Quinn. Buit no Lando.  (Not yet).,

There were suggestions that Hayden Christensen would/should return as the dead Anakin Skywalke (or Darth Vader to hIs retinue). He did not. He voiced Amnakin in IX and played Vader in the Disney TV series, Obi-Wan Kenobi, headlined by Ewan McGregor.

And so…  welcome to 38 years after the events of Episode IV, which explains why the lightsabres are updated. Luke and Leia are 53 years old in the story, Carrie Fisher was 58 and a grizzled Mark Hamill 62 , same age as Alec Guinness when he added such  respectability to the start of it all.

Kathleen Kennedy said 37,000 actors were seen in open auditions in the UK and US during November 2013 - mainly for  the roles of Rachel and Thomas, who became  Kira and Sam  and, eventually, Rey and  Finn but were always, really, Leia and Luke.  (Just as Poe was Solo).

The  new guys were  younger… when shooting started in Abu Dhabi on May 16, 2014 – rather older when they clocked out on November 3.  As for the old-timers, Carrie said: “We   all look a little melted.  It’s good to have us all in a room because it's unique. I mean, I don't suppose they have reunions for the Gone With The Wind gang.”  Not any more. 

 She also let it be known, that Princess Leia had been pressured in losing at least 35lbs. “They don’t want to hire all of me - only about three-quarters. So I have to get rid of the fourth somehow. [Pause]. The fourth can't be with me. [Pause]. I made a joke!.” But it was tough for her to get  "down to a weight that's acceptable to some 35-year-old studio executive whose deepest fantasy and worst nightmare somehow both involve me in a gold bikini.”

Rey is 19, born  eleven years after the Battle of Endor, it says here. On the casting sheet she was “beautiful, street-smart athletic; quite young when she lost her parents, has no other family; always a survivor, never a victim, she is takes care of herself using humour and guts to get by.”

Saoirse Ronan auditioned - "so has everyone."  Shailene Woodley (Amy in TV’s Secret Life of the American Teenager, 2008-2013) was a distinct favourite while Elizabeth Olsen had to pass. She’d been booked by the other camp as Scarlet Witch in the Marvelverse epic, Avengers: Age of Ultron.  Anyway, JJ Abrams felt he should copy the ‘76 Lucas approach and go for unknowns.  He saw Jessica Henwick Taylor and Billie Lourd (and made them Jess Testor, another X-wing pilot, and resistance Lieutenant Kaydel Ko Connix respectively) while Felicity Jones went on to be Jyn Erso in the far better Rogue One, first of a Disney-promised bundle of Star Wars Stories… a promise unfulfilled after the imploding Solo in 2018.

Enter: the splendid Londoner, Daisy Jazz Isobel Ridley, voice of Peter Rabbit’s Cotton-Tail, and niece of the veteran Arnold  Ridley, best known, indeed  loved as Private Godfrey,. in the eternally repeated 1968-1977 BBC series, Dad’s Army.  A left-handed vegan, youngest of five sisters, she was working as a barmaid while awaiting a second film after the Scrawl frightener in 2014. So happy being Rey, she was always singing on the set  and lost a bet with Lucas that she couldn’t last a day without singing! (She is a great jazz chanteuse).  

Daisy had heard about the role and emailed her agent: I have this really weird feeling: I need to audition. “Months went by and the same people were reading for it. But I still really had this feeling of needing to read for it. So I emailed my agent again for an audition. I had four or five…over seven months, and it was a very emotional time. My first few auditions really didn't feel good, but my last audition suddenly felt like something clicked.”

JJ agreed.  He signed her in February 2014   Her next song was sad. She has never forgotten her first day.  She thought it would one her nd that JJ would be calling up Felicity Jones to take her place. "I was petrified. I thought I was gonna have a panic attack." AnJJ ("he probably  doesn't remember this") said her performance was wooden. "This was my first day! And I honestly wanted to die. I thought I was gonna cry, I couldn't breathe."

Finn  . Or plain ole Sam at the time.   (Sam? Did JJ think he was doing another Star Trek?)   “Handsome, smart, athletic," said the resume.  "Grew up without a father's influence, doesn't have the strongest sense of himself -  but smart, capable, courageous; he understands you can't take life too seriously."

Again looking for little-knowns, JJ checked Ray Fisher (he became Muhammad Ali on-stage and Cyborg in the DCverse), the Nigeria-born David Okeniyi (he chose Terminator Genisys), Jack Reynor  (from Transformers: Age of Extinction), Chichester’s Ed Speleers (Jimmy Kent in Downton Abbey) and Matthew James Thomas from such UK series as Britannia High and  Midsomer Murders. The better known Jesse Plemons - Breaking Bad’s Todd - was also listed.

One look at the small UK film, Attack the Block (with the future Doctor Who Jodie Whitaker) and  you see how  John Boyega swept  rivals away. He performed like a true hero. Tarantino loved it..  When working with Spike Lee on an unmade series in LAQ, John ran into Tom Cruise and JJ, who yelled:  ‘Boyega right? You’re good in Attack The Block, I love that movie, we’re going to get you in something.’” Boyega thought that was just routine Hollywood patter. “Thanks, mate, and sure.” Seven months later, he quit the Race  biopic of  the 1936 Olympics sprinter Jesse Owens, to enterthe galaxy.    

Because of his skin colour, wiseacres immediately suggested Finn was the son of Billy Dee Williams’s Lando Calrissian (in V). Not. Quite. Finn was first wriittern as white, while Poe was black. So much for rumours. Certain racists on (anti)social media (is there anyone else there?) complained about a black stormtrooper. John shut them up. Fast. “To whom it may concern… Get used to it.”

Boyega  to Dad:  I just been cast in Star War,

Dad to Boyega: That’s fantasticWhat is Star Wars?

The New York Times asked  if his parents realised the importance of the film.  "They're from a Nigerian culture that has no interest in spaceships and all that nonsense.  My dad wants to see real-life stuff. He's a big  Bruce Willis fan. But he's caught the Star Wars bug. Mum hasn't. She's just like: Where do you come in?

Kylo Ren .  Eddie Redmayne messed up his audition; anyway he was way  too nice for the Sith villain, much better suited to Michael Fassbender or Hugo (Matrix) Weaving. Also in the frame: Lee Pace, who won another trilogy as Thrandall in The Hobbit). In fact, it took longer to design Ren than to find him - in Adam Driver, born in the year of Episode VI  - garbed again as per McQuarrie’s old artwork for  Darth Vader, himself.

Poe Dameron . Chiwetel Ejiofor, James McAvoy and Sullivan Stapleton were seen. However,  the role seemed hewn precisely for  the Guatemala-born Oscar Isaac, at the forefront of Hollywood’s new stars since the Coen brothers’ Inside Llewyn Davis, in 2012. (The film also featured Adam Driver).  Poe happened to be was born on the fourth moon of Yavin, the location of the Rebel Base in the 1976 Star Wars.  Isaac suggested adding this info as the Yavin scenes were filmed in the Tikai National Park in… Guatemala.

Chewbacca . Lupita Nyong’o first let it slip. She told Ellen DeGeneres  that Joonas Suotamop was in the Chewie suit for their scenes, not Peter Mayhew who at 71, was suffering from bad back and knee problems. Suotamo (sounds like a real Star Wars moniker) was oifficially credited as: Chewbacca Double.  The Finnish basketball player was 209 cm tall.  A good four inches less than dear old Peter.

“We had a camp-like session together at Pinewood…. We watched footage of the original movies and talked about Chewbacca's mannerisms, his nature, his attributes, his physical movements. The cocking of the head in a certain way, and also the proud chest of Chewbacca and the way the arms flail all over when he gets angry or excited…. I think it was a tender situation for Peter because he'd been Chewbacca all his life, and to pass the baton - not easy. But I always told him, he's the original Chewbacca, and everything I would do was to pay homage to how he set up the character. He took it so well.”

He never itemised which scenes he played and which were Peter’s.  “That,” said  Suotamo, “would be disrespectful."

Captain Phasma .  Benedict Cumberbatch, from JJ’s Star Trek Into The Darkness, 2012, was set but there way too few women in the movie, so  Phasma became Gwendoline Christie - one of eigjt draftees from the  Game of Thrones hiatus period. Christie loved i that a clearly female character (although we never see her face)  was unapologetically evil and cold-hearted. Christie is 6 ft 3 in (1.91 m., just three inches shorter than David Prowse’s Darth Vader. "My parents treated my height as a wonderful thing to be celebrated, but also normal,” she told The Indepenxent in 2008. “I love being tall as you literally look at life from a different perspective: it's easier to breeze through life's turmoils; there's more room to breathe!" 

Lor San Tekka .   For the second time, Gary Oldman was offered a Star Wars role - he was asked to  voice General Grievous in Episode III.  Being g Gary Oldman, he was unvailable (both times) and Sweden’s great Max von Sydow took over as the retired adventurer on Jakku, aiding the Resistance in finding Skywalker.

Ewan McGregor’s uncle, Dennis Lawson, who was Wedge Antilles in ‘76 (when Ewan was five) was invited back but said it would be boring. (He said much the same about going one season too far of the BBC series, New Tricks). Daniel Craig was among the stormtroopers and Harriet Walter, who played Chewie’s Dr Kalonia, is a niece of the late Sir Christopher Lee, who was Count Dooku in Episodes II and II and The Clone Wars.

As Daisy put it: “The thing about Star Wars is that every single person is important. Even though Rey is a big role, everyone influences everyone. If that wasn't so, why would so many people remember Admiral Ackbar?”

Daisty cried at the trailer.  Harrison cried at the film – the third, but fastest, ever to reach $2bn at the global box-office, after James Cameron’s double-whammy of Titanic and Avatar  And that’s all that Disney was concerned about.  The money.

Most reviews were rapturous –

basically just glad to see the guys back.

Spielberg loved it, saw it four times.  But Lucas couldn't even hide his disappointment, recalled the Disney chairman, Bob Iger.  Lucas told him there was  nothing new and not enough visual or technical leaps forward.  (He much preferred Rian Johnson’s sequel, VIII, and the Star Wars story Rogue One, 2016).  (Didn’t we all?).

During the shooting, Anthony Daniels told The Guardian, the secrecy was “beyond ludicrous.   For heaven’s sake, it’s a movie! When I got the script, it was typed in black on paper of the deepest red so you couldn’t photocopy it. I got a hangover just reading it.” And in ‘76?  “There was none of this paranoia because it was a daft little film and no one cared.”

In an interview with Charlie Rose  on December 24, 2015, Lucas called the Disney sale a divorce, his six productions  were his children -  he would  later add that seeing VII was like attending an ex-wife’s wedding. "I worked very hard to make [my films] completely different, with different planets, with different spaceships - you know, to make it new."

Lucas also mentioned how he loved the movies. “I created them, I’m very intimately involved in them, and I sold them to the white slavers that take these things and …”

 Whoops!

He then quickly changed his tune. Again.

Money talks!

 

RIP>>>>>

Threepio may have called him a "near-sighted scrap pile…an overweight glob of grease," but the reason  that R2-D2 was globally loved  was because ofg the little guy inside the dustbin.   Kenny Baker… who died on August 13, 2016, eleven days before his 82nd birthday

"Kenny Baker was a real gentleman as well as an incredible trooper who always worked hard under difficult circumstances.” - George Lucas.

"Goodbye Kenny Baker.  A lifelong loyal friend - I loved his optimism and  determination He was the droid I was looking for!" - Mark Hamill.

“Sad to say goodbye to a small man with a huge heart and personality. He paved the way for short actors of a generation." - Warwick Davis, aka Willow, and various Skywalker films among his 88 screen roles.

At 3ft 8in (1.12m), Kenny ws the only guy small enough to  be inside the droid. The film’s Oscar-winning  set decorator (and future director) Roger Christian,  who created the first R2, said  Kenny was always complaining because the “suit” was difficult.   “I found a fighter pilot's harness and we fitted that inside so Kenny could wear R2-D2 like a rucksack." And he actually stumbled forward about three steps and crashed over - we could hear him inside saying: Let me out!   But that was it. He would endure it for hours and hours, he was a good sport… he would make jokes all the time."

Sound genius Ben Burtt supplied R2’s language  - all beeps, toots and whistles. Kenny  added the rest,  shuffling himself forward and rocking from side to side,  to produce the R2 personality. “It’s moving the robot and making it look as though it’s knowing what it’s doing. That’s all. You’ve got to try and make it make sense, you know.”

There were tabloid tales of discord with Threepio’s  Anthony Daniels. Said Kenny: "I didn’t have a relationship with him. He was an actor and I was an actor."

 

"I have a bad feeling about this" - BB-8 (in binary) 

STAR WARS: EPISODE VIII - THE LAST JEDI

Rian Johnson . 2016

Everyone was back for the next, swift chapter. Solo, Leia, Luke. And the new gang, Rey, Finn, Kylo Ren,  Poe Dameron, Snoke, Maz Kanata… They weren’t all happy about il, however. Daisy Ridley had to pass on Lara Croft in Tomb Raider to do it.  Ewan McGregor was upset that his Obi-Wan Kenobi  was not around.  John  Boyega was plain disappointed.   "The Force Awakens was the beginning of something quite solid,” he was to say in 2019. “The Last Jedi, if I'm being honest I'd say that was feeling a bit iffy for me. I didn't necessarily agree with a lot of the choices in that and that's something that I spoke to Mark a lot about."

Hamill told auteur Rian Johnson flat out that he  disagreed with every choice he’d  made for Luke. "It’s just a Luke that I didn’t really understand….  Luke was so optimistic and so hopeful and cheerful. Here he’s is in a very, very dark place.  Now, having said that…my job is to take what you've created and do my best to realise your vision.” 

Johnson  took it well. “This process happens on every single movie. It’s always a dialogue with the director and the actor, and that’s a healthy thing. You always butt heads."   As he told Joe Utichi at  Deadline Hollywood, December 15, 2017, "I didn’t come into it saying: All right. Let’s shake this up.  I came into it wanting to make a great Star Wars movie. Because it’s me telling it, it’s going to feel a certain way. I was also going back to what inspired me about what Lucas did…   tapping back into when I was a kid watching Star Wars, and what I responded to."

I had so much fun writing grumpy Luke.

Also nerve-wracking because it’s a long way

from the Luke that we know.

“Honestly, that came out of what I felt was a necessity, because it came from where he was at the end of Episode VII.  The fact that he had exiled himself to this island when his friends were still fighting the good fight, that just led me down a certain path with him. I couldn’t really see any other alternative.”

Mark realised he was just an assistant to the chef.  “He comes up with the recipe, we have to cook it and hope the audience finds it the most delicious thing they’ve ever tasted… I’m sorry I lowered my guard and expressed my misgivings about it because that belongs in the process. That doesn’t belong to the public. And I made that statement before I saw the finished film… and I just think it’s a stunning film. It’s surprising, it’s challenging, it has humor, it’s probably the most complex Star Wars film since  Empire.

A Star Wars surehand, Lawrence Kasdan  had been working on the VIII script when called away to help JJ Abrams rescue VII.  When Johnson, who had was short-listed for VII, was given the VIII hot-seat, he asked permission to toss it all out and start afresh and  write his own input. “The most fun I've ever had writing,” he told Terry Gilliam. “It's just joyous. But also for me personally, I grew up not just watching those movies but playing with those toys, so as a little kid, the first movies I was making in my head were set in this world. A big part of it is that direct connection, almost like an automatic jacking back into childhood in a weird way. 

The scenario would win Johnson a deal

to create the next Star Wars saga.  

He sure wrote a lot…  inspired by a handful of films from 1949-1964: The  Bridge on the River Kwai (starring the original Obi-Wan Kenobi, Alec Guinness), Gunga Din, Russia’s Letter Never Sent, Sahara, Japan’s relentless Three Outlaw Samurai and Gregory Peck'as exceptional Twelve O’Clock High. His first cut ran beyond three hours. That’s a lot of space. (He was lready thinking trilogy?)

He invented General Hux for some lightness.  " I saw a lot of humor potential in him, and I knew that Kylo was going to be front and centre as kind of the heavy… We didn't need another heavy between Kylo and Snoke. And so the notion of Hux [Domhnall Gleason] kinda  being this foil that could add a slightly different flavor to everything, I thought could be more useful."

Rian fully acknowledged help from Carrie Fisher – a revered book and film writer, script doctor on many movies  - until producers took her wise  ideas, gave them to their own  writers and didn’t pay her.  Why not - she’s rich, she’s Star Wars!    Lucas, however,  always paid her correctly for polishing his prequels  I, II and III.

Shooting began on February 15. Mark Hamill’s kids, Chelsea, Griffin and Nathan had walk-ons  as Resistance fighters. How cool is that! (Their Dad actually played two roles, Luke and and an alien gambler called Dobbu Scay-  an anagram of Johnson’s usual editor,  Bob Ducsay). And guesting among  the Stormtroopers were the British Queen’s grandsons, Princes William and Harry. (See what you can get for your money when you shoot in the UK!).  

Oscar Isaac was, in fact, making two films  at the same time.  He was back as Poe Dameron, of course, but also starring in  Alex Garlad’s Annihilation next door.. He had the same trailer for both gigs and could often be performing in both films on the same day - hopefully remembering to change clothes.  His other co-star ws none other than Natalie Portman, aka Queen Amidala, aka Senator Padmé in Episodes I, II and III

Rose Tico .  Olivia Cooke, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Tatiana Maslany and Gina Rodriguez were in the mix for the maintenance wiz who believed: “We're going to win this war not by fighting what we hate, but saving what we love!”

Luke was finally a girl...!   Mark Hamill may not agree, of course, but Johnson retained the spirit (and appeal) of the young Luke in his creation  of the kick-ass Rose Tico – terrifically played played by Kelly Marie Tran. “We saw hundreds and hundreds of girls,” said Rian’s production partner Ram Bergman. “He said: I really like this girl.  He stuck with it through every stage.. It always came back to Kelly. It paid off in a big way. It was great to see so much love for her and to see the movie with the audience, how people responded and how they were invested with her. That was the best feeling in the world.”    Just like for Mark Hamill in 1977.  

DJ .  Joaquin Phoenix who has been  eyeryone from Johnny Cash to The Joker, not forgettinbg Woody Allen’s Irrational Man, passed on the underworld codebreaker.   Good news for Benicio Del Toro. 

Alien Voice . The one on the Canto Bight yacht comes from Rian Johnson. “I also played one of Luke’hands.”  

Episode VII was all Harrison, VIII was all Luke, so Carrie said:

I'd better be at the forefront of Episode IX!

 And that was the plan.

Except, suddenly, sadly, Carrie Fisher was gone. She died in hospital on December 26, 2016, after being taken ill five days earlier,  unable to breathe 15 minutes before her London flight  landed at LAX.  (Her mother, Debbie Reynolds, died, basically from the shock, the next day -  "I want to be with Carrie"). 

 

RIP>>>

This, then, is Carrie’s final film. Obviously, it is dedicated to her.  And she has the last line, answering Rey's query about rebuilding the Rebellion with…  “We have everything we need." (Leia reappears  in Episode IX but via unused footage from from VI and VII).

In her 2016 autobiography, The Princess Diarist, she said a lot more, owning up to the long time rumours  that she and Harrison Ford, then 19 and 34,  had a three month affair during the UK shoot of the 1976 original. “It was so intense. It was Han and Leia during the week, and Carrie and Harrison during the weekend."

After her shock death, Ford said: "Carrie was one-of-a-kind… brilliant, original. Funny and emotionally fearless. She lived her life, bravely."

George Lucas said: “Carrie and I have been friends most of our adult lives. She was extremely smart; a talented actress, writer and comedienne with a very colourful personality that everyone loved. In Star Warss he was our great and powerful princess - feisty, wise and full of hope in a role that was more difficult that most people might think.  She really is a modern woman. She was a princess. She was a senator. She was having to hold her own against these two big lugs. [Luke and Solo)]  There aren’t very many people like her. They’re one in a billion. She could hold her own through anything. She wore a dress through the whole thing, but she was the toughest one in the group. She was the boss. It was her war… She’ll always be the princess who took command and never backed down, never was in jeopardy. We’ll all love her forever and ever.”

Mark Hamill agreed. Inevitably.

“It’s never easy to lose such a vital, irreplaceable member of the family, but this is downright heartbreaking. Carrie was one-of-a-kind who belonged to us all – whether she liked it or not. She was our Princess, damn it, and the actress who played her blurred into one gorgeous, fiercely independent and ferociously funny, take-charge woman who took our collective breath away. Determined and tough, but with a vulnerability that made you root for her and want her to succeed and  be happy. She played such a crucial role in my professional and personal life and both would have been far emptier without her. I am grateful for the laughter, the wisdom, the kindness and even the bratty, self-indulgent crap my beloved space-Episodes VIIand VIII twin gave me through the years. Thanks Carrie. I love you.”

New guy John Boyega was similarly smitten.  “Great woman. She represented to me what I needed to see at the time – somebody who was just unapologetically herself, somebody who does not fit into any category. She was quirky, smart and intelligent. If you got her jokes, you felt intelligent because there was always wordplay – you’d really laugh because you’re thinking, ‘I got that!’”.

Ah yes, her jokes… 

When Lucas was given the 2005 American Film Institute Lifetime Achevement Award, Carrie Fisher stole the evening…. saying that thanks to him, she and her co-stars had suffered decades of people asking if they knew the 1976 film would be such a hit. "The only one who didn't know was George. We kept it from him because we wanted to see what his face looked like when it changed expression.”  

Said Carrie to Lucas: “I hope I slept with you to get the job.

Because if not, who the hell was that guy?"

 

 

INTERVAL... iii

Reviews by… directors

Ridley Scott  told Hollywood  Reporter David Weiner, May 24, 2019,  how he first caught the film in LA at midnight…  “And I thought: Why on earth am I even thinking about doing Tristan & Isolde when this guy is doing this kind of movie? And it literally stopped me in my tracks. I was depressed for three months -  that’s my highest form of accolade - to get very depressed first, then get very competitive.  And suddenly, out of the blue, came this script called Alien.  And I'm still, to this day, baffled about how someone who is at Cannes seeing The Duellists had put two and two together and said: ‘He may be the right one for Alien.’ That’s how it happened.”   Aka  a “Jaws in Space”  story 

PS from the new boss... “I remember coming out and having just an incredible feeling inside that something had changed. It was a breakthrough, in my opinion.”  - Bob Iger, the Disney chief who bought Lucasfilm Ltd in 2012 for $4bn - Variety, November 2016.

 

"I have a bad feeling about this" - Lando Calrissian 

STAR WARS: EPISODE I- THE RISE OF SKYWALKER 

JJ Abrams . 2018

Lucasfilm had the main role planned for General Leia Organa.  In fact  the boss, Kathleen Kennedy, recalled Carrie Fisher grabbing her arm and saying: 'I'd better be at the forefront of IX!  Because Harrison was front and centre on VII, and Mark is front and centre on VIII...   She thought IX would be her movie. And it would have been."

After Carrie’s death, her chldren - Todd Fisher and Billie Lourd - gave permission  to give her top-billing  in the grand finale  by using her likeness in unused footage from the previous films. The only digital work being to change her clothes, add some grey to her hair and alter the settng, the background, of the utilised scenes.

As or the flashback of the young Leia and Luke, Billie played Leia (in her mother’s costume - and famous hairstyle - from 1976. Episode V))  Luke was Lukaz Leong,  a young stuntman from the Rogue One and Episode VIII ranks

Before the tragedy of Carrie’s death (and that of her mother the day after) Simon Kinberg (X-Men, Star Wars Rebels)  wrote the IX story. Then, Colin Trevorrow was booked in August, 2015, as writer-director of  the end of the Skywalker Saga.  Two months later, he “chose to leave:” Creative differences. What else?  

Well, Colin’s Episode IX: Duel of the Fates, named after John Williams  song in IV, was too dark for  Disney. A lightsabre-guilltone execution, Chancellor Hux suicides (a lightsabre again), C-3PO being unplugged, R2-D2 close to death (“But I’d never kill R2,” Colin tweeted. ”He just took a bad hit.”).   Kylo Ren is still a bastard (in a Mandalorian helmet smelted to his face) but he dies as Ben Solo, sacrficing his life to savel Rey’s. The dead Emperor Palpatine is back, but Rey is no longer his grand-daughter,  the Force ghosts and dead voices (Luke, Yoda, Qui-GonJinn, Anakin Skywalker, Luminara Unduli, Alec Guinness and Sam Jackson) are everywhere as “the iron grip of the First Order has spread to the farthest reaches of the galaxy,” while our rebel heroes  fight back under General Leia Organa… and Rey is blinded.

Tough stuff considering JJ Abrams didn't have the nerve to kill off a single main character in VII - and way too bleak for comfy Disney.

There  were  lighter moments   - Leia bending down again, a la ’76,  to send a new message, a la ’76, but  via BB-8 this time, not R2. And there was some guy called Commander Selleck.

Penned by Treverrow, Derek Connolly and Jack Thorne, the script  was delivered to Lucasfilm a week before Carrie died. So it would need changing - a good moment, therefore, for Colin to take  a one-way ticket to Jurassic Park  to writer-direct  the next two new chapters.  Dinosaurs  are so much easier to handle  than Disney. 

As happens all the time, Colin's  hot scenario was leaked on line and in Robert Meyer Burnett’s Robservations podcast, together with  much of the episode’s conceptual artwork.   And…?  Well,  Rey seemed to fall for Poe, but goes off to join Finn in  training  tomorrow’s (or Trevorrow’s) Jedi, because as Obi-Wan Kenobi’s ghost tells  and names her:  “You are a Jedi, Rey Solana, but you will not be the last.“ (Of  course not. Disney has ordered a whole new new sagag begnning with a trilopgy, from Mr VIII, himself   Rian Johnson).

That was then.

This is now.

Rose Tico has more to do. Lando Calrissian is back.  So is Palpatine.  And she calls herself, Rey Skywalker.  Well, yes,  JJ…  that’s a start!

Because like it or not, he was back in charge from December 2017 -  the first director  to make two Star Wars since George, himself. (He made four in all). JJ co-re-wrote IX wIth Chris Terrio (Argo, Batman v Superman, Justice League).  They also respectively voice D-O and Colonel Afab Ackbar, the admiral’s  son. (JJ has 15 acting credits, by the way,  the second was while  producing his script of  Regarding  Henry  in  1990. He played a food delivery guy and his customer was… Harrison Ford). 

About thirty years before, JJ had met Richard E Grant and told him: “I’ll work wioh you one day.” 

The day came soon after the busy Brit received a special delivery package. Inside was a script of three scenes - including an interrogation – from some old British WWII movie. He had to video-tapoe himself  on an IPad (not included). Two months later, a car picked him up for a   meet with.  with JJ.  “Which was odd, because I still had no idea what he was going to direct me as.” He was taken to an office at Pinewood Studios where Daisy Ridley was waiting and JJ  Abrams was talking “at bullet speed, like a Scorsse character and he’s asking me if I’m going to do it or not.  I said I haven't read a script and he said: Nobody gets a script.  Then, he tells me: You're going to play this guy – but as such speed it was surreal… He described the part – an evil general - and I think he told me what my names was, at which point the room went upside down!”   Soon enough he was enacting Allegiant General Pryde. “Walking down a spaceship corridor with Troopers and these doors opening and closing, I felt like a kid again.”

It took longer - an astonishing 36 years  - for Billy Dee Williams to return to the galaxy on-screen  as Calrissian – a general, now.  (What did he do that pissed off Lucas in ’76?). Johnson wanted him in VIII, but there was simply no room for him.   Also back, Wedge Antilles, played by  Dennis Lawson, Ewan McGregor’s uncle, who, as you may recall,  passed on the last one because it would bore him.   (He later changed that to being tied up on  another gig at the time). 

Ewan also comes back – in voice only.  One of the many Force Ghost voices encouraging Rey. “Every Jedi who ever lived, lives in you.” Ewan supplied  Annakinb and Kenobi. Well, the Kenobi voice is 99% Ewan and 1% Sir Alec Guinness - just one word, “Rey,” sliced out of “afraid”  as found in the ‘76 sound archives. .

Johnson wanted McGregor  in the action but couldn’t find a spot for him. Then again:  Sssh Mac, doncha know you’re getting a series in 2021.

The other big return was the resurection of of Scotland’s only Sith…   Ian McDiarmid had misgivings  about reurnung  to the galaxy, especially since he (and the rest of the world) thought the Evil Emperor was dead at the end of Jedi.  “It was never Lucas's intention to resurrect Palpatine,” he told Digital Spy.  “I thought he was dead. Because when we did  Return of the Jedi, and I was thrown down that chute to Galactic Hell, he was dead! And I said: Oh, does he come back?' And [George] said, 'No, he's dead.' So I just accepted that. But then, of course, I didn't know I was going to be doing the prequels, so in a sense he wasn't dead, because we went back to revisit him when he was a young man. But I was totally surprised by this."

 

Palpatine: I am all the Sith! 

Rey: And I... am all the Jedi.

 

Now they have  all gone.

Han Solo died in VII, Luke in VIII and now Leia in IX. And John Williams (who cameos as the bartender in thj Kijimi cantina (where the music id by the Hamilton superstar, Lin-Manuel Miranda, no less!) announced his was his ninth and final Star Wars score. Idem for…

 And so, The Skywalker Saga is done.

About time, said Jeffrey Wells at his excellent Hollywood Elsewhere site. He was bang on the button when  reviewing simply the trailer… 

“This may sound like some kind of needlessly harsh, extreme prejudice dismissal, but it’s not intended to be that. I’m just honestly confessing that my primary reaction as I watched this Rise of Skywalker trailer this morning was: “Again?” How many more fierce light-sabre duels am I going to have to watch? How many more scenes of evil Kylo, intense Rey, grumpy Luke, dutiful Finn, heroic Poe Dameron, demonic Palpatine, chubby Rose Tico, gender-fluid Lando Calrissian, etc.? I’ve had it with this whole thing. I just don’t feel it anymore, and I was feeling it somewhat with The Force Awakens and to a slightly greater extent with The Last Jedi. But I’m all tapped out, man. My heart is spent. The legend has run out of gas.”

He wasn’t wrong.

Everything now depends on how much gas Rian Johnson has in the  pump…

  

RIP>>>>

The stars were passing. Not  on roles.  On life. 

First, Kenny Baker and Carrie Fisher,  and now , Peter Mayhewe , at 74, on April 30, 2019 in Boyd,  Texas. …  40  months after this final outing as Chewie, the 200 year-old Wookiee.  Finnish basketball player Joonas Suotamo, his double during VII, took over the rôle in  VIII, Solo and Episode IX.  "Peter was always a very kind, very likeable person who didn’t make a big deal about himself,” said Suotamo. “He was quiet but very wise in his words…  And he was honest.“"

“Peter Mayhew was a kind and gentle man, possessed of great dignity and noble character. These aspects of his own personality, plus his wit and grace, he brought to Chewbacca. We were partners in film and friends in life for over 30 years and I loved him. He invested his soul in the character and brought great pleasure to the Star Wars audience. Chewbacca was an important part of the success of the films we made together… I and millions of others will never forget Peter and what he gave us all.”  - Harrison Ford.

"He was the gentlest of giants. A big man with an even bigger heart who never failed to make me smile and a loyal friend who I loved dearly. I'm grateful for the memories we shared and  I'm a better man for just having known him. Thanks Pete.”  - Mark Hamill

"To create a beloved character with warmth and humor is a testament to any actor’s spirit. To do it under a half ton of yak hair takes a true legend. ” Rian Johnson.

"Peter was a wonderful man. He was the closest any human being could be to a Wookiee: big heart, gentle nature… and I learned to always let him win. He was a good friend and I’m saddened by his passing.”  - George Lucas.

And  then…

 

The other big guy, David Prowse, the first Darth Vader, died at 85, on November 28, 2020. He was also the man who trained Christopher Reeve for Superman.

“So sad to hear…  He was a kind man and  much more than Darth Vader. Actor-Husband-Father-Member of the Order of the British Empire3three time British Weightlifting Champion and Safety Icon: the Green Cross Code Man. He loved his fans as much as they loved him.” - Mark Hamill.

"As a kid, Dave Prowse couldn't be more famous to me; stalking along corridors as evil incarnate in the part of Darth Vader and  stopping a whole generation of kiddies from being mown down in street as the Green Cross Code man. Rest in Peace, Bristol’s finest." - director Edgar Wright.

“David brought a physicality to Darth Vader that was essential for the character. He made Vader leap off the page  and on to the big screen, with an imposing stature and movement performance to match the intensity and undercurrent of Vader’s presence. David was up for anything and contributed to the success of what would become a memorable, tragic figure.” - George Lucas.  

They fell out, Lucas and Mayhew – men behaving like kids or vice-ve  over some alleged spoiler leakings or whatever it was - and he was banned from official Star Wars conventions., 

 In 2015, Peter starred in a pair of  documentaries about his Vader days: the oddly titled The Force’s Mouth, in which “Darth Farmer”  finally got to deliver Vader’s lines with full sound effects...   and fan-boy Marcos Cabota’s  I Am Your Father (what else?).   “You know the movies, you know the villain, now meet the man.” Despite the Lucasfilm ban and its subsequent disclaimer about involvecment with the project, the Spanish film features testimony from Star Wars co-producers Gary Kurtz and Robert Watts… and where we hear Petrer Mayhew sum up the big split, when he reveals…

I didn't know that I was Luke Skywalker's father

until I went to the cinema and saw it in the movie.

 

AND THE NEXT SAGA

Too early to say, of course.   However,  Rian Johnson  told Deadline Hollywood’s  Joe Utichi this much on December 15, 2017… “Basically, we were all just looking at each other and saying, “How do we keep working together?” I basically said to Kathy [Kennedy), 'You know, the most interesting thing for me would be this: a new trilogy, go new places, meet new people, whole new blank slate.' That was the entirety of the pitch, and she was really excited about it. It’s crazy.

"Mostly what’s exciting to me right now is… the notion of a blank canvas of that scale to work on in this world, aiming for something that’s going to be a story that makes me feel the way I did watching the original Star Wars as a kid. That’s the target to aim for. If it does that by telling a completely different story, that’s really exciting.

 

STAR WARS STORIES

 

"I have a bad feeling about th..." - K-2S0 

ROGUE ONE: A Star Wars Story 

Gareth Edwards . 2015

 

For the first time we hear how George Lucas wrote it in 1976: "May the Force of others be with you."  

Disney had bought Lucasfilm, jump-started  the franchise with Episode VII: The Force Awakens.   But hey, the company had not shelled out billions… for a Star Wars every two years. Bob Iger wanted more for the cash.  Much, much more.  If he had bought The Wizard of Oz, he’d be ordering a  Toto franchise and stand-aloners like The Lion King Man and The Scarecrow and Tin Man in The Odd Couple. Therefore, some Some Star Wars stories were demanded!

This is the first - and the best (of just the two due to the disaster called Solo, aka Pure Greed). It’s a midquel or a deja-vu-quel  as The Guardian phrased it.The action occurs some time between Episode III - Revenge of the Sith and Episode IV: A New Hope - which explains why Peter Cushing is still Moffing around 21 years after his death and Carrie Fishler’s Leia looks younger than Springtime.

For his third film, UK director Gareth (Godzilla) Edwards managed to retain  the 1976 look despite the necessity of introducing so many new toys - er, characters. The most popular new guys were Alan Tudyk’s robot K-2SO  and Donnie Yen’s Chirrut Îmwe.

It was Donnie Yen, who finally spoke the line

as first penned by George Lucas in 1976:   

"May the Force of others be with you.

 

Jyn Erso .   The  British Felicity Jones from The Amazing Spider-Man 2… the Mara sisters, Kate and Rooney… and Tatiana Maslany, she of the multiple human cloned roles in Canada’s Orphan Black, 2012-2017,…  were the finalists in the hunt for the new herione of the galaxy far, far away.  Jones won. She was born in 1983 - the year of Star Wars: Episode VI - Return of the Jed - and  discovered on radio, in the world’s longest running radio soap, The Archers, on BBC Radio 4 non-stop since  1951. (I  liostened to her as Emma Grundy for all of her ten years). Too beautiful for radio, she became the sole cast member to wind up with an Oscar nomination (for The Theory of Everything, 2014). She reprised her courageous, fugitive rebel Jyn in the first Lucasfilm TV toon series for 14 years: Star Wars: Forces of Destiny, 2017 (idem for John Boyega, Anthony Daniels, Mark Hamill, Daisy Ridley, Lupia Nyiong’o, etc).  

Jyn also happened to be the daughter of the Imperial scientist Galen Erso, designer of the Empire’s Death Star. (Oh no!) (Oh yes!).  Jyn, not just a pretty face,  steals his schematics for the Rebel Alliance.

Playing her father made Swedish Mads Mikkelsen the first major actor to make films in the Star Wars, James Bond and Marvel universes.  

Cassian Andor .  Mexican star Diego Luna  won from Hunger Games’ Sam Claflin, Breaking Bad’s Aaron Paul and Edgar Ramirez, the Venuzuelan terrorist Carlos (The Jackal) in the Franco-German mini-seriesAmong those rumoured for the guy were Gerard Butler, Joel Edgerton, Charlie Hunnam, Joel Kinnaman, Taylor Kitsch, Mark Strong, Dominic West and Sam Worthington.

Chirrut  Îmwe .  Chinese superstars Donnie Yen versus Jet Li.   Or, more like  - Donnie’s s $4m fee compared to Jet’s $10m. Donnie  was hesitant. About being five months away from his family.  He had forgotten his young son’s love of the franchise and its comics. Junior told Dad who to play. And Dad decided that Chifrrut should be blind… in the great tradition of  Japan’s blind swordsman Zatôichi.

Baze Malbus . Gareth Edwards also offered Baze to Donnie Yen - to test his interest in joining the movie. Wen Jiang was  given the role, a  second teaming wih Donnie after Guan yun chang (The Lost Bladesman), 2010.   Up to  2019, Donnie has won 76 screen roles to Wen’s 35.

K-2SO .  Alan Tudyk had to pass on the Imperial droid reprogrammed by the Rebellion  when the shooting collided with his Con Men comedy series. By chance, the Rogue schedule was pushed back a month allowing the Texan to make both gigs. The Lucasfilm being among his best experiences, he said.  ”It allowed me to wear a motion-capture suit on-set along and  walk on 13-inch stilts!” Tudyk went on to become the b performed alien called Harry, hell bent on destroying  humankind  in the series based on Peter Hogan and Steve Parkhouse’s Dark Horse comic, Resident Alien.  Resident because Harry takes on the human form of a dead medico in a  small Colorado township where only ne person - a kid -   sees him as what he is.

C-3PO’s Anthony Daniels  - they king of the robots!- made a huge joke out of being annoyed  that  Tudyk played  Kaytwo in a motion-capture suit, while Daniels  had to suffer over 39  years in his  totallty uncomfortable Tin Man suit. ”Fuck you!” he  said to  Tudyk at the premiere.  “That,” said the actor, “was one of the highest compliments I’ve ever received.”of the 

 

The big row was about Cushing and Fisher

- “digital indignity,” said The Guardian.

 

Cushing was played on-set by Guy Henry (who had based his 1982 Sherlock Holmes  on Cushing’s 1964 version). Henry a camera on his head, fiming his facial mannerisms.  His face was then replaced  with a digital mask of 1976  footage, further aided by the suprise find of a Cushing face cast made for Top Secret, 1983.  Same process for Fisher, after Ingvild Deila performed  Princess Leia on-set.

The Washington Times's Eric Althoff rejected this  use of CGI. "Alas, what we get is, basically, not a simulation, but an approximation of a simulation - a dead character portrayed by a living actor inhabiting not the character, but imitating the dead actor."

Cushing’s Grand Moff Tarkin worked rather better than poor Carrie Fisher’s extreme botox look - sheer plastic!  - which ruined the climax of the otherwise well nigh perfect movie.  All our new heroes have been wiped but after Jyn sent the stolen schematics of her father’s Death Star direct to… now whodaghellizzat?  Leia, it seems, but as if suffering from extreme botox - resulting a virtual death mask, and causing questions in us when we should have been moved by her message of hope for the Rebellion.

Obviously both cases of  CGI were accomplished with permission granted by the Cushing Estate and by Carrie, herself, who reportedly squealed with delight  by seeing her young self. Sadly, she died at age 60 on December 27, 2016… a week after  the film opened in the US.  She “lived” on (with vastly improved  ILM CGI io her older self) in the final three chapters VII , VII and IX: The Force Awakens,   The Last Jedi and The Rise  of Skywalker

Reviews went both ways -  more undecided than the film was about its intentions… simply to – at last - tell something new in  the old galaxy. It never tried to be anything else but a Star Wars story.

Rolling Stone’s critic Peter Travers praised it for conserving “the same primitive, lived-in, emotional, loopy, let's-put-on-a-show spirit that made us fall in love with the original trilogy." Peter Bradshaw noted in The Guardian, that part of its charm resided “in the eerie, almost dreamlike effect of continually producing familiar elements, reshuffled and reconfigured, a reaching back to the past and hinting at a preordained future. There are some truly spectacular cameos from much-loved personae, involving next-level digital effects—almost creepily exact, so that watching feels at various stages like going into a time machine, back to the 80s and 70s.”

However, The New Yorker’s Richard Brody gave it both barrels: not " a feature-length promotional film for itself; it's a movie that is still waiting to be made.” (What rubbish),

For Gareth Edwards the most important critic was one of his cinematic mentors, George Lucas (“he's kind of like God.”0 And George let it be known that he  enjoyed Rogue One  more than the franchise’s enormous comeback under the Disney flag: The Force Awakens. Said Edwards: "I can die happy now.”

 

 

"I have a really good feeling about this!"  Han Solo  (Oh really)

SOLO: A Star Wars Story 

Ron Howard . 2017

 

Or, as it worked out,  A Star Wars Cock-Up

After Hollywood’s longest and most secret casting campaign since hunting Fifty Shades of Grey’s Christian, Alden Ehrenreich was finally crowned Han Solo  - despite everyone presuming it was a shoo-in for Chris Pratt. Between Guardians of this and Jurassic of that, he was uppermost among the 26 contenders. 

However, Ehrenreich (although unproven after a fistful of TV shots, some shorts and a couple of features) was the new guy to go to since being found by Steven Spielberg in a bar mitzvah video.  (Honest !).. Warren Beatty, the Coen brothers and Francis Coppola (twice), they all signed him. Spielberg only did as late as 2019 for his Amblin TV’s take on Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World in 2019… another flop!   

Also hoping to go Solo were the known: Charlie Cox, Scott Eastwood, Ansel Divergent Elgort, Tom (Draco Malfoy) Felton, Dave Franco, Logan Lerman, Jack O’Connell, Hunter Parrish, Jack Reynor, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Miles Teller, Max Theriot, Ed Westwick. And the unknown: Emery Cohen, Colton Haynes, Leo Howard, actor-singer Blake Jenner, Landon Liboiron, Tony Oller, Chandler Riggs, Nick Robinson, Joshua Sasse. 

Plus Elton John and Freddie Mercury! Or their biopic stars: the Golden Globe-winning Taron Egerton for Rocket Man, 2018, and  Oscfar-winning Rami  Malek, for Bohemian Rhapsody, 2017.

 

But a film devoted to Han Solo is a flop?

How could Disney allow that to  happen? 

 

By being too greedy, thinking the lumpy title would lead to printing money… wasting Phoebe Waller-Briosge (as the L3-37 droid!)…  and firing the original directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller. They’d quit The Flash film to go Solo, but they had  annoyed producer Kathleen Kennedy and co-scenarist Lawrence Kasdan by  encouraging  improv and, well, instead of treating the piece like The  Bible, they were making creating  something close to -  heaven  forfend -  fun! As if that hadn’t been the reason  Luscasfilm had  signed the  “merry comic anarchists,” as the LA Times called Lord and Miller

With three weeks left before shooting (yes, a little late to sack anyone),  Kennedy then hired Ron Howard (who created something dire) instead of  Kasdan, who was far more at home in the Lucasverse, having penned Star Wars V, VI and Vll and indeed, writing  Solo wih his son, Jonathan.  

Qi’ra . Game of Throne’s Jessica Henwick was favourite for Qi’ra; she had, after all been X-wing pilot Jess Testor in VII . (Three years later, she  joined the Marvelverse as Iron Fist’s Colleen Wing, TV, 2017).  Other contenders for the awful mess were Kiersey Clemons (she fled, no sped into Ezra Miller’s Flash movie, 2019), Zoë Kravitz (Lenny’s daughter from Mad Max; Fury Road, 2012), Naomi Scott (Pink Ranger Kimberly in Power Rangers, 2016) and Tessa Thompson (Valkyrie in Thor: Ragnarok, 2017). 

However, the other GoT find won - and poor Emilia Clarke proved she was nothing without her dragons.   Good for Jurassic 19, perhaps.

Dryden Vos .  Michael K. Williams could not return for a full overhaul of his villainous character. So the role was recast with Paul Bettany, a favourite of the rescue mission director, Ron Howard. They  previously made A Beautiful Mind, 2001 (which won Howard his Oscar) and The Da Vinci Code, 2005  (which did not). .

Lando Clarissian . Actor-producer Yahya Abdul-Mateen, O’Shea Jackson Jr and Adande ‘Swoozie’ Thorne auditioned to prequelise the 1979  Billy Dee Williams role from  V .  But as ‘Swoozie’ put it: “Donald Glover takes all my roles.”

Beckett .  Woody Harrelson beat Christian Bale  for the usual Liam Neeson rôle of the hero’s mentor. Or if you preefer Larry Flynt beat Bruce Wayne to Oskar Schlinder’s mentoring..

“I think tney did overstep the mark and got over enthusiastic,” said Anthony Daniels, aka C3PO, and the only actor in all nine Star Wars features. “People became satiated. Star Wars went full tilt and overfed the auience.”  Or as he said in the first line of dialohgue in the first (later, the fourth) film: “This is madness. We’re all doomed.”

And so Ron Howard failed. (And turned to documentaries and TV series before a couple of -  maybe - movies were announced for the 2020s). Surely such a respected director was high enough on The A List food chain to have told Disney the truth.  “Guys, if you really wanna make zillions with this thing, chuck it away and start all over” 

He didn’t. Or they didn’t listen. Maybe the new Lucasfilm chief, Kathleen  Kennedy, did. Not her boss, Bob Iger, then the king of Disney, buying up studios the way we  buy ice-cream to top  off Sunday brunch. He became  the King of Hollywood… now better known as  Disneywood!  Iger did not listen and rushed out the faulty project on to a grossy disappointed public. Hehas since admitted  that Disney "put a little bit too much in the marketplace too fast."

Yeah, well, remember Gordon Gekko?  “The point is, ladies and gentleman, that greed, for lack of a better word, is good. Greed is right, greed works. Greed clarifies, cuts through, and captures the essence of the evolutionary spirit. Greed, in all of its forms; greed for life, for money, for love, knowledge has marked the upward surge of mankind. "

Result: Disney lost a bundle (a la Tron - both of them - and John Carter) and learned a lesson. Perhaps. 

Disney may own it but it ain’t Marvel! 

 

 

 





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