Creating the Star Wars Universe
Despite its current status as a media powerhouse, Star Wars was initially a tough sell for creator George Lucas. Lucas experienced his first major box office success in 1973 as the director of American Graffiti. The film made an impressive $140 million at the box office, despite a lean $777,000 budget.
This substantial financial success led the film studio United Artists to reach out to Lucas to ask if there were any other projects he was interested in making. Lucas pitched the studio his idea for “a space opera that’s a bit like a western, a bit like James Bond,” but United Artists ultimately passed on the project, as did both Disney and Universal. It was 20th Century Fox that green-lit Lucas’ first Star Wars film, launching the massive franchise.
To date, 12 Star Wars films have been released theatrically, including nine that are part of the Skywalker Saga, two standalone spinoff films, and one animated feature. Together, these films have amassed a total of $10.2 billion in box office revenue. In addition to theatrical releases, the franchise has received a number of other spin-offs, including The Mandalorian, which is the most-watched series on the Disney+ streaming service.
Icons That Almost Weren’t
Today, the central characters of the Star Wars franchise are heavily associated with the actors that played them. But there were quite a few castings that nearly went in a different direction, including the iconic voice of Darth Vader. In the films, Darth Vader is famously voiced by James Earl Jones. However, George Lucas originally wanted author and director, Orson Welles to voice Vader. Eventually, Lucas decided that Welles’ voice was too recognizable from his titular role in Citizen Kane, and the search continued until James Earl Jones was tapped for the part.
Luke Skywalker is another role that nearly went to an actor now known for another iconic character. Lucas wanted the protagonist to be relatively unknown to audiences, and a number of Hollywood newcomers were considered for the role. One of the actors who read for the parts of both Luke Skywalker and Han Solo was Robert Englund. While he didn’t snag a part in Star Wars, he was later cast as Freddy Kruger in the horror franchise, A Nightmare on Elm Street.
While Luke Skywalker was meant to be played by a Hollywood newcomer, the casting of Han Solo fell on the opposite end of the spectrum, with several huge stars considered for the part. Actors that Lucas reportedly sent scripts to include James Caan, Jack Nicholson, Robert De Niro, Al Pacino, and Burt Reynolds. And Kurt Russell, Christopher Walken, Sylvester Stallone, John Travolta, Chevy Chase, and James Woods all auditioned for the role before it eventually went to Harrison Ford.
Memorable Star Wars Moments
The Star Wars franchise has become a ubiquitous part of popular culture, and moments from the films are commonly referenced in other movies and television shows. But one of the most popular phrases from the franchise is often actually misquoted. In Star Wars: The Empire Fights Back, after defeating Luke Skywalker, Darth Vader reveals to him that he’s his father. While the line is often quoted as “Luke, I am your father,” the actual dialogue spoken by James Earl Jones is, “No, I am your father.”
Another widely recognizable element of the franchise is “The Imperial March,” the musical theme that accompanies Darth Vader. Surprisingly, “The Imperial March” wasn’t included in the first film, Star Wars: A New Hope. Composer John Williams added it to the score in Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back, with its first appearance accompanying a display of the Empire’s formidable fleet.
John Williams’ son Joseph Williams also contributed to the musical legacy of Star Wars. Joseph Williams is best known as the lead singer of the rock band Toto, which released the lasting hit song, “Africa.” But he also wrote the song “Ewok Celebration” – known commonly as “Yub Nub” – which is sung by the Ewoks at the end of Star Wars: Return of the Jedi.
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