6 Ways The Star Wars Movies Were A Total Nightmare To Make
Today, we're surprised when a few months go by without Disney announcing a new Star Wars movie, but things were very different in the '70s and '80s. In fact, it's a miracle the Original Trilogy got made at all, given how much of a white-knuckle nonstop carousel of suffering it was. Behind all the magic and wonder of Luke's adventures lie numerous horror stories. For instance ...
Chewbacca Was In Danger Of Being Shot
When it comes to fan-favorite characters, Chewbacca is one of the fan-favoritest. The walking carpet has been in every Star Wars movie even remotely worth watching (so far). Who'd wish ill on that guy? Well, hunters, for one.
We've talked about the fact that filming in the snow made the Chewie costume smell like a wet dog, but that wasn't the only location that came with unique downsides for actor Peter Mayhew. According to some sources, when shooting Return Of The Jedi in Northern California's redwood forests, Mayhew had to be chaperoned by some guys in bright vests so he wouldn't get shot by a hunter who thought they'd spotted Bigfoot. That sounds like a bullshit urban legend, but Mayhew confirmed the story on that wretched hive of scum and villainy known as "Reddit."
It wasn't a picnic for the people doing Chewie's voice, either. Ben Burtt, the sound designer, recorded a sad walrus stuck in an emptied tank, along with some sick animals, mixed them with other animal sounds, and created Chewbacca's iconic vocalizations. Ben, dude, when you see a walrus stranded at the bottom of a tank, you're supposed to throw down a rope to help it up. That's not only common courtesy, but also maritime law.
In Fact, All Of The Costumes Were Total Freaking Nightmares
Did you know that Anthony Daniels was in constant pain because his C-3PO costume hurt him literally any time he moved? The mask also gave him tunnel vision, which meant he wasn't always sure exactly where he needed to go. Once, on Return Of The Jedi, he started wondering why some crew members were suddenly in the scene, right before he hit a rock and fell over.
Similarly, in the Cantina scene, the actors playing the band were the costume designers wearing their own hellish creations. First of all, look at how huge these things seem to be (some of them are puppets):
It turns out that they'd forgotten to put any way to breathe inside these heavy rubber monstrosities. Producer Gary Kurtz dealt with the issue the way we deal with most problems in life: by poking them with a Swiss Army knife, creating air holes in the necks of the masks.
Then there was Leia's metal bikini. To start with, the ILM employee who was going to do the body-casting for Carrie Fisher got so excited about it that he was swapped out for being too much of a creep. When it came time for her to put it on, Fisher had to sit very straight, because Lucas told her that she couldn't have any waist creases. She also said that the costume was accidentally revealing, and that the actor playing Boba Fett could see "all the way to Florida" (which is impressive, since Star Wars doesn't even take place in the same galaxy). Some of the scenes had to be re-shot because of "wardrobe malfunctions." (No, they aren't on the Blu-rays.)
The Trash Compactor Set Made The Actors Lose Their Freaking Minds
This may come as a surprise to you, but sometimes making movies is hard. If the three leads in Star Wars didn't know that by the time they got to the trash compactor scene, they sure knew it by the time they finished shooting it.
First of all, if you let a body of water stand around for a while, it will start to stink. Again, this was especially unfortunate for the cast member wearing a fur suit that retained smell, but it affected the others as well. Second of all, being cooped up in such a small space seemed to drive the actors (who'd been shooting the movie for three months already by that point) a little loopy. Mark Hamill would repeatedly pick up bits of trash and sing, "Pardon me, George, could this be dianoga poo-poo?" to the tune of "Chattanooga Choo-Choo," which is amusing once, but probably less so for the subsequent 3,000 performances. Harrison Ford, meanwhile, pretended to chew on bits of the trash.
The actors were wearing wetsuits under their costumes, but that could lead to, as Hamill memorably put it, "rashes in places you never thought possible." And then there was an embarrassingly petty argument between Hamill and Ford, which we're reasonably sure wouldn't have escalated the way it did if they hadn't been shooting the scene inside a giant toilet. Originally, it was Hamill who read C-3PO the hatch number, but the line was switched to Ford. Hamill had been planning to swap his phone number for the hatch number and immortalize it on film. Instead, Ford decided to read his own number, which led to Hamill repeatedly pestering him until Ford finally read it for a take, then snapped, "Happy now, you big baby?" Hamill laughed because he knew he'd been called out.
Finally, according to Fisher, Hamill wanted to make his drowning look so realistic that he ended up bursting a blood vessel in his eye, delaying filming on his cockpit scenes. So let this be a lesson: Don't shoot your movie in a giant lake of garbage and stagnant water. Or heck, shoot the whole movie there, and market that shit as Trash Compactor: A Star Wars Story.
The Droids Would Glitch Out And Go Nuts All The Time
You may have already heard about how Sir Alec Guinness hated Obi-Wan, Harrison Ford hated Han Solo, and Carrie Fisher hated sobriety, but it turns out that even the droids were difficult to work with during the Original Trilogy. If you'll think back to the first movie for a second, you'll remember that there are quite a few droids running around Tatooine. Anyway, they all went fuckin' bananas, running into each other and generally being the Keystone Cops of movie robots. The problem was that they were all picking up weird signals from radio stations, which interfered with their handlers' controls.
The remote-controlled version of R2-D2 even ended up accidentally running into a neighboring production, and they had a similar problem with R5-D4, the droid which is originally chosen to go with Luke and C-3PO. You know, this skeevy bastard:
The droid was rigged to explode, but they realized on set that filling its head with explosives meant there was no space for the mechanisms that made it move. Since the Screen Actors Guild might have balked at putting little people or child actors in there with the explosives, they ended up simply pulling R5-D4's backup droid on a rope. They had similar problems when they came back to Tatooine in Return Of The Jedi and R2-D2 would go wherever he wanted, no doubt rebelling against director Richard Marquand because he wasn't his real dad.
That Time Harrison Ford Got Shitfaced On A Snowplow Train
Because alien planets apparently only ever have one type of weather, The Empire Strikes Back features scenes set on the ice planet, Hoth. At one point during production, they needed Harrison Ford to hurry to Norway and shoot some of those scenes, because there was an actual blizzard there and that's always cheaper than paying for a fake one. Unfortunately, the trains were blocked due to no fewer than three avalanches. Ford managed to take a train to a ski resort, and then somehow he found two taxis to take him even closer, but he was only able to get as close as 23 miles away -- well outside the scope of even the most advanced film camera of the time.
So they decided to send a snowplow train (yes, it's exactly what it sounds like) to him, but the only way they could convince the snowplow train guy to go was if they sent a producer and (more importantly) a bottle of vodka to wait for him.
Finally, at about midnight, the snowplow train rolled in, and Ford, the driver, and the producer all rolled off "completely drunk," having finished off the giant bottle of vodka. The next morning, Ford was going to be forced to shoot scenes with no preparation while wearing a costume which had been made for stage conditions in blizzard conditions. No wonder he's not particularly nostalgic about these films.
George Lucas Was A Hilariously Vague Director
George Lucas may have made a bunch of universally beloved movies, but he's not exactly known for being a warm, open guy. And that's coming from his friends. Lucas isn't really, it seems, what you'd call an "actor's director" in the traditional sense -- as in, he wouldn't direct them for shit. Mark Hamill talks about how Lucas would refuse to discuss character motivations with him, instead postponing the discussion until it was too late. One time, Lucas' direction was simply the phrase "Uh ... let's do it again, only this time ... do it better." By his own admission, his directions basically consist of "action," "cut," "faster," and "more intense," which aren't particularly helpful unless you're a car.
Lucas was otherwise pretty quiet. Fisher claimed that he once lost his voice and they didn't realize it for a few days. Here's Ben Burtt saying that he received absolutely no feedback about his iconic lightsaber sound, only later realizing that this meant he'd done a good job. Or we hope so, at least, because it's been 40 years and it's a little late to redub it.
But it's not as if Lucas were cool as a space cucumber while stressing out all of his subordinates. He himself was incredibly frazzled, because he was running an over-budget project which hardly anyone believed in or gave a crap about. It didn't help that a year into production, ILM had barely completed any usable special effects footage -- kind of important for a sci-fi movie. The resulting stress led to a hospital trip for Lucas, where he was diagnosed with hypertension and exhaustion, leading him to swear off directing -- at least, until Jar Jar Binks set his imagination on fire in the '90s.
The stress wasn't even confined to the first Star Wars. The Shining nearly derailed The Empire Strikes Back when the classic horror flick's sets burned down and Kubrick used it as an excuse to "rethink" his movie, hogging sets which Lucasfilm needed for production. Here he is finding Lucas' tears delicious:
Are you a fancy Hollywood agent? Nimby Smith can be reached at Nimby (dot) Writer (at) Gmail (dot) Com.
Why not double down on the nostalgia and play Bop It! on R2D2?
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