Empire of Dreams: The Story of the 'Star Wars' Trilogy (Video 2004) Poster

Robert Clotworthy: Narrator


  • Narrator : For the part of Chewbacca, Han Solo's towering Wookie co-pilot, Lucas and Kurtz had to look outside normal casting channels. But at 7'3" tall, it was no stretch for Peter Mayhew, who had been working as an orderly at a Yorkshire hospital.

    Peter Mayhew : I sat down on one of the sofas, waiting for George. Door opened, and George walked in with Gary behind him. So, naturally, what did I do? I'm raised in England. Soon as someone comes in through the door, I stand up. George goes "Hmm...", virtually turned to Gary, and said "I think we've found him."

  • Narrator : Fearing that Star Wars would get crushed by other summer movies, like Smokey and The Bandit, Fox moved its release to the Wedseday before Memorial Day, but fewer than 40 theaters agreed to show it. Nobody wanted to book it.

  • Narrator : Just one day into filming, the Sahara was pelted with its first major rainfall in fifty years.

    Robert Watts : We were going out there to shoot. I came out in the morning and the rain was going horizontally down the street this way. I thought, "My God!" I just called a rest day on the crew and told them to go back to bed, because there was no way we were going to shoot on that.

  • Narrator : The final scenes were filmed at breakneck speed, with Lucas frantically bicycling from one soundstage to another.

  • Narrator : Already anxious about meeting his deadline, Lucas was shocked after seeing the first assembly of his edited film that spring. The first cut of Star Wars was an unmitigated disaster.

  • Narrator : With no chance of being ready by Christmas, a new release date was set for summer 1977. Some doubted that the film would ever reach theaters. But as bad as things had been with the editing, the situation at ILM was even worse. The company had been trying to create effects that had never been done before. They knew what they wanted to accomplish, but they had yet to create anything usable for the film.

  • Narrator : When word of the various post production problems reached the Fox board of directors, they decided they'd had enough of George Lucas and "that science movie".

  • Narrator : With pre-production gaining momentum, Lucas next began the process of casting his galactic opus. He shared the audition stage with his friend, Brian De Palma, who was seeking actors for the Stephen King shocker "Carrie".

  • Narrator : In casting the male leads, Luke Starkiller and Han Solo, Lucas looked for individual screen presence as well as chemistry between performers.

  • Narrator : For the pivotal role of Luke, Lucas needed an actor who could project both intelligence and integrity.

    [archive footage of various screen tests] 

    Narrator : Twenty-four year old Mark Hamill was a familiar face on television. A newcomer to films, his wholesome, easygoing manner fit the part perfectly.

  • Narrator : The role of Han Solo needed someone older with a more cynical edge. Harrison Ford had worked with Lucas on "American Graffiti". But because the director initially only wanted new faces, he was not allowed to audition. Instead, he was brought in to feed lines to the other actors.

    Harrison Ford : I was given sides and asked if I would help read the other actors. It became my task to explain to the other actors who were coming along just what it was that this... these sides, uh... uh, were meant to be about.

    Narrator : Lucas may have been relucant to use Ford at first, but the actor won him over by giving Han a mix of mercenary swagger and world-weariness.

  • Narrator : Virtually every young actress in Hollywood tried out for the part of Princess Leia. Although the character was the same age as Luke, as a leader of the Rebellion, Leia needed to project a confidence beyond her years. One actress in particular seemed tailor-made to play a princess. As the daughter of actress Debbie Reynolds and singer Eddie Fisher, Carrie Fisher *was* the product of Hollywood royalty. She had no trouble conveying the self-assurance needed for Leia Organa.

    Carrie Fisher : I met with Brian De Palma and George, and Brian did all the talking, because George didn't talk then. There were incredible actresses that were my age that were being considered for this role, so I didn't think I would get it.

  • Narrator : Lucas' decision to hire unknowns went against the advice of his friend Francis Ford Coppola, who had cast "The Godfather" with stage and screen stars. 20th Century Fox was also concerned about Lucas' choice of actors.

    Alan Ladd Jr. - Former Studio Chief, 20th Century Fox : He came and said "These are the three unknown people I want to go with." I figured we've gone down this far in the road, he knows what he's doing. I'd be lying if I said "Oh, my god. Harrison's perfect, Carrie is perfect, and Mark is fantastic." No, I was very nervous about the cast.

    Narrator : For the important role of aged Jedi Master Obi-Wan Kenobi, Lucas recognized that he needed an established star. Sir Alec Guinness was a veteran of over forty films and had won an Oscar in 1958 for his performance in "The Bridge on the River Kwai". The knighted actor had the pedigree and the persona.

    Gary Kurtz - Producer : The Alec Guinness role required a certain stability and gravitas as a character, which meant we needed a very, very strong character actor to play that part.

    Narrator : Signing Guinness was a major coup. But more casting would be done in London, where "Star Wars" would be principally produced. Unlike Lucas' home base of Northern California, London provided access to the kind of massive soundstages needed for "Star Wars"'s ambitious sets. The location also gave Lucas access to Britain's top production talents.

  • Narrator : The character of Darth Vader demanded someone of commanding physical stature. To fill Vader's boots, Lucas cast champion bodybuilder David Prowse, whose résumé included roles like Frankenstein's creature in Hammer's popular horror movies. As Vader's evil accomplice Governor Tarkin, another Hammer alumnus was cast: 63-year old Peter Cushing. Best known as the methodical Professor Van Helsing in "Dracula", Cushing was the perfect choice to portray the Death Star's icy chief administrator.

  • Narrator : With temperatures topping 100 degrees by midmorning, Tunisia was anything but fun in the sun. Baking for hours in heavy costume, even the film's stunt coordinator, Peter Diamond, found the conditions physically exhausting.

    Himself - Stunt Coordinator : I was the only stunt person on the picture in Tunisia. I became a Tusken Raider, or a Sand Person. I'm not a sun merchant. I don't like the sun. I just burn. So I just died with the heat of it. I couldn't stand it anymore, it was so hot. But there were so many problems. It just was not a good location.

  • Narrator : As the actors and crew began to grumble about the adverse conditions, it was Sir Alec Guinness who served as a role model of professionalism.

    Harrison Ford : It was, for me, fascinating to watch Alec Guinness. He was always prepared, always professional, always very kind to the other actors. He had a very clear head about how to serve the story.

    Mark Hamill : He was the person who sort of brought it some legitimacy. And I asked him why he wanted to do it. And he loved the idea of playing a mentor or a wizard in a morality play where good and evil are so clearly defined.

  • Narrator : Lucas, meanwhile, was up to his neck in malfunctioning props, electronic breakdowns, and other production woes. "Star Wars" was already struggling to stay on schedule. The only silver lining was that after Tunisia, the production would be moving to a more controlled environment: Elstree Studios outside London. The stages at Elstree were among the largest in the world, and the sets, now finished after months of construction, were just as impressive. And for the first time, the entire "Star Wars" cast was together.

    Mark Hamill : That was almost like a whole separate movie. It was like getting a whole, fresh start. And it was all new, really.

    Carrie Fisher : We were all very different ages. I was nineteen, Harrison was thirty-three. And he was sort of the big man on campus. And meeting him, you sort of felt "Well, he'll be a movie star."

  • Narrator : But working at Elstree Studios didn't mean the production was free from problems, or strict British union regulations.

    George Lucas : At 5:30 we had to stop, unless we were in the middle of a shot. Uh, I could ask the crew for an extra fifteen minutes, but they always voted me down.

    Anthony Daniels : I'm not putting down the British crew, but there was an attitude of "What is this?".

    Narrator : It didn't help that most of the crew thought "Star Wars" was just a children's film. At times, even the actors were hard-pressed to take the work seriously.

  • Narrator : Lucas also became frustrated that the costumes, sets, and other production elements weren't living up to his vision for "Star Wars". The compromises required due to the film's budget plagued him on an almost daily basis.

See also

Release Dates | Official Sites | Company Credits | Filming & Production | Technical Specs

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