Star Wars is one of the most well-known franchises in the world. Even if you have never seen the films or are just a casual fan of the series, you have probably heard of characters like Darth Vader and would be able to recognize the film’s iconic score. Despite how important Star Wars is to pop culture and how much of a mark it has made in the lives of its most diehard fans, the original film almost never got off the ground. In producing and filming the movie in the mid-70s, creator George Lucas ran into Death Star-sized problems that could have derailed the picture.
Lucas’s difficulty in gaining studio support
Although science fiction films are all the rage today, in the 70s, studios balked at the sci-fi genre. Paul Duncan, a film historian, points out that studio executives in the 70s saw science fiction films as incredibly speculative properties that took years to make a profit. The grittiness of films in the era also worked against Star Wars. Lucas championed his film as an optimistic space opera at a time when Hollywood was obsessed with films like Charles Bronson’s Death Wish, which portrayed the world as a harsh, unforgiving place. Given this attitude in Hollywood, no studio wanted to back Star Wars. It was not until Lucas approached 20th Century Fox that the up-and-coming director got his big break. The studio’s chief executive, Alan Ladd Jr., was a huge fan of Lucas’s previous film, American Graffiti, and was eager to work with the young director. Despite Ladd’s enthusiasm, Fox only gave Lucas a budget of $6.9 million out of a requested $8.2 million, forcing Lucas to partially fund the project out of his own pocket.
Troubled shoot in Tunisia and London
Once filming commenced, Lucas found a host of new difficulties when working in Tunisia, which doubled for Luke’s home planet of Tatooine. In addition to problems controlling R2-D2, the weather also turned against Lucas. Sandstorms delayed production and a surprise rainstorm damaged some of the crew’s equipment and even destroyed part of the set. When filming went to Elstree Studios in London, Lucas encountered new trials that put an even greater strain on the director. The English crew refused to work after 5:30 p.m. and Lucas was frequently at odds with cinematographer Gilbert Taylor. The cast also felt that they were suffering from a lack of proper direction, finding Lucas’s style and recommendations to be overly vague.
Casting and script issues
Lucas worked on the script for Star Wars for many years, and some drafts of the film bear little resemblance to the finished product. Although Lucas always centered his ideas on the work of comparative literature professor Joseph Campbell, many of his characters varied wildly in design depending on the stage of Lucas’s script. Luke, for example, was originally envisioned as a far older character and then as a teenage girl. Luke’s home planet was also originally intended to be a jungle planet before turning into a desert wasteland.
Lucas’s ideas for the cast also varied with time, especially for the character of Han Solo. At different times, Lucas considered Al Pacino, Burt Reynolds, and Kurt Russell for the part before settling on Harrison Ford. At first, Ford was not even under consideration for a role in the film. Instead, the young actor began by assisting Lucas in reading lines during auditions for the parts of Luke and Leia. When Lucas saw how much chemistry Ford had with Mark Hamill and Carrie Fisher, he offered him the part.