In the more than 40 years since Star Wars first entered into the pop culture landscape, there have been a dozen feature films released, plus dozens of television series, novelizations, comic books, trading cards, video games, and theme park attractions—not to mention hundreds of toys and licensed merchandise sold (oh, the merchandise!) and one awesomely terrible holiday special.
In honor of Star Wars Day (May 4th), we’d like to add one more story into the mix. Here are some fascinating facts about the Star Wars universe, any one of which makes a perfect response the next time someone says “May the 4th be with you.”
Though equally inspired by fairy tales, westerns, and 1930s sci-fi serials, George Lucas based the framework of the story for the original Star Wars (1977) around the theories of Joseph Campbell’s book, The Hero with a Thousand Faces. The book tracked common mythological motifs and argued that myths from around the world that have been passed down through generations—like Beowulf or King Arthur—share a basic structure. According to Campbell, “A hero ventures forth from the world of common day into a region of supernatural wonder: fabulous forces are there encountered and a decisive victory is won; the hero comes back from this mysterious adventure with the power to bestow boons on his fellow man.” Lucas simply grafted these ideas onto his story, with Luke as the main hero.
Lucas struggled with just how to tell this massive sci-fi space opera on a personal and relatable scale, and he found the answer in director Akira Kurosawa’s 1958 film The Hidden Fortress. Telling the story of a roguish general protecting a beautiful princess from an evil clan behind enemy lines, “the one thing I was really intrigued by was the fact that the story was told from the two lowest characters,” Lucas explained in an interview for The Criterion Collection’s release of the Kurosawa classic. “I decided that would be a nice way to tell the Star Wars story. Take the two lowliest characters, as Kurosawa did, and tell the story from their point of view. Which, in the Star Wars case is the two droids, and that was the strongest influence. The fact that there was a princess trying to get through enemy lines was more of a coincidence than anything else."
In 2016, Chewbacca actor Peter Mayhew—who passed away on April 30, 2019—tweeted out some fascinating details about the Star Wars movies, including one shocking change: that in the original shooting script, Obi-Wan Kenobi actually survived his lightsaber battle with Darth Vader.
— Peter Mayhew Foundation (@TheWookieeRoars) April 13, 2016
The original concept model of the Millennium Falcon was long and cylindrical—very unlike the flat design we know now. The model makers complained the design was too similar to the spacecraft from the 1970s British TV series Space: 1999, so Lucas told them to create something completely different that looked like a flying hamburger and sailed like a sunfish.
A variation of the Falcon prototype did, however, end up in the movie. It’s the Rebel Blockade Runner seen fleeing the Imperial Star Destroyer in the opening scene.
Less than 40 theaters agreed to book showings of Star Wars after its release date was moved up to before Memorial Day (the studio thought it would bomb in a crowded summer movie slate). Around the same time, 20th Century Fox was going to release an eagerly anticipated adaptation of a bestselling book called The Other Side of Midnight, which theaters were eager to show. Fox then stipulated that any theater showing The Other Side of Midnight must also show Star Wars, which inflated the number of screens for the movie.
Needless to say, Star Wars eventually became the highest-grossing movie ever made up to that time, while The Other Side of Midnight didn’t even break the $25 million mark. And as requiring movie theaters to show one movie in exchange for another movie was actually illegal, 20th Century Fox ended up being fined $25,000—for forcing theaters to show The Other Side of Midnight.
In early drafts of the screenplay Yoda was actually named “Buffy,” which was changed in later drafts to the full name “Minch Yoda,” and then shortened to just Yoda.