Star Wars. It's part of our culture. A crucial feature of our lives, like an energy field that binds all living things together. You may think you know everything about this rich universe — but there's always more to learn.
The history of Star Wars, both in the universe and behind the scenes, is such a rich tapestry that there's a nearly endless supply of weird facts. With that in mind, here are ten things that you probably didn't know about Star Wars.
10) George Lucas killed Chewbacca. The most famous Wookiee died off in a novel called Vector Prime by R.A. Salvatore. Nobody particularly wanted to kill off Chewbacca, but the authors and editors of the Expanded Universe novels wanted to kill off one of the well-known characters, because they felt as though nobody was taking the books seriously any more. So the book editors wrote to George Lucas with a list of characters they'd like to be able to kill off, with Luke Skywalker on the top of the list. Lucas wrote back with a list of characters it was not okay to kill off — and poor Chewy wasn't on that list. This was one lottery it was not a good idea to let the Wookiee win.
9) Ewoks speak Tibetan. At least, sound designer Ben Burtt used Tibetan phrases in the Ewok language. Burtt was inspired by a BBC documentary about the Tibetan, Nepali and Kalmyk languages, and later interviewed several native Tibetan speakers. So the Ewoks are speaking Tibetan, Nepalese and a few other bits and pieces. Also, Lando Calrissian's pilot Nien Nunb spoke Haya, a Tanzanian dialect. (His dialogue was recorded by a Tanzanian exchange student.) And the Jawas in the original film spoke Zulu — except that it was altered somewhat, and then sped up.
8) Jabba's dancing girl reveals more skin than you might realize. Many VHS tapes of Return of the Jedi died to bring you this information. The Twilek dancing girl, Oola, has a wardrobe malfunction during her dance sequence to the song "Lapti Nek" — read more about that fantastic piece of music here. And during the VHS age, there was much rewinding and freeze-framing to confirm this fact. What's surprising is that reportedly, the Special Editions still preserve this Twilek nipple slip, even though George Lucas spent hundreds of person-hours changing every other aspect of that scene, to create a new Max Rebo Band performance around the song "Jedi Rocks." In any case, if you want to see screengrabs of the thrilling Jedi nudity, they're here.
7) The director of Captain America created Boba Fett. Sure, uber-Star Wars designer Ralph McQuarrie had some input into the designs for the Mandalorian bounty hunter — but effects whiz Joe Johnston is widely credited with creating the look of Boba Fett's armor. And there are tons of detailed drawings to prove it. Plus a video screen test, which you can view here. And since then, Johnston has gone on to become a successful director in his own right, most recently bringing the adventures of Steve Rogers to the screen. Originally, George Lucas planned for Darth Vader to be an intergalactic bounty hunter, but when Darth Vader became a fallen Jedi instead, Lucas recycled the "bounty hunter" concept for Boba Fett. Bonus fact: George Lucas considered revealing that Darth Vader and Boba Fett were brothers in the prequels, but decided that was "too hokey."
6) You can see Boba Fett's face without the helmet in Empire Strikes Back. Jeremy Bulloch, who plays Boba Fett, also plays another role in ESB: Imperial Lieutenant Sheckil, who captures Princess Leia during her attempted escape on Bespin. Bulloch is standing in for the original actor, who was unavailable at the last minute. But Bulloch's brief role as Sheckil was popular enough that he's gained a bigger role in the Expanded Universe — including being the Imperial Officer who shows Darth Vader the disassembled C-3PO, causing the former Anakin Skywalker to experience a flood of nostalgia. Bulloch also played another character, Alderaanian pilot Jeremoch Colton, in Revenge of the Sith. (And he played a couple of roles on classic Doctor Who.)
5) Wedge Antilles is Obi-Wan Kenobi's Uncle. Or at least, actor Denis Lawson, who played Wedge, is Ewan McGregor's uncle. Wedge is also the only background character to survive all three major battles in the original trilogy — Yavin, Hoth and Endor.
4) Greedo was a woman. At least in some scenes. The costume for Greedo, the alien bounty hunter who gets shot by Han Solo, was worn by two different actors — depending on the country where the filming was done. In the U.K. scenes, Greedo is Paul Blake. In the U.S. scenes, Greedo is Canadian actor Maria de Aragon. In an interview, Blake describes Greedo: "The most inept assassin in the Universe, the Steve Buscemi of assassins with Steve Martin overtones." Blake also says he owns a "Han Shot First" T-shirt.
Bonus fact: Light saber injuries don't always cauterize wounds. Just ask the Wampa. Or the patrons in the Cantina.
3) The cheapest set in Empire Strikes Back? The interior of the Space Slug. Otherwise known as the Exogorth, the slug is ridiculously simple on the inside. The entire set consists of black Visqueen plastic laid down on the floor of the studio, black curtains behind the Millennium Falcon, and a dry ice fog machine. Source: Celebrating the Worlds of Star Wars 365 Days by John Knoll, p. 67.
2) If George Lucas had directed Apocalypse Now, he might have skipped Star Wars. You might have known that Lucas was originally in line to direct Apocalypse Now, which wound up being directed by his friend and mentor Francis Ford Coppola — but in 1981, Lucas hinted to Starlog Magazine that he might never have done Star Wars if he'd gotten to do the Vietnam movie. Said Lucas:
My second project was Apocalypse Now which John Milius and I had been working on in school, and we got a deal with Francis to develop the project. So I said, ‘This is great. I love John Milius; he's a great writer. I was going to get a great screenplay and I wasn't going to have to write it.
Lucas might have gotten his "war" movie jones out of his system without ever venturing into space. Source: Starlog, August 1981. (Poster photoshopped by Keith Veronese.)
Oh, and speaking of Francis Ford Coppola... you probably already knew that director Sofia Coppola plays one of Padme's maids in Phantom Menace (named Saché), along with a young Keira Knightley. Right?
1) Han Solo was originally a green-skinned alien with gills. He would have been an undercover operative, instead of a smuggler and all-around rogue. And apparently, this version of Han went beyond early drafts where he only had a minor role — because at least at one point, Lucas was considered making green-skinned, gilly Han into Luke and Leia's friend for much of the film. Says Lucas:
[Han Solo] did start out as a monster or a strange alien character, but I finally settled on him being human so that there'd be more relationship between [Luke, Leia and Han]. That's where Chewbacca came in as the kind of alien sidekick.
And Chewbacca was originally inspired by Lucas' dog, an Alaskan Malamute, although the word "Wookiee" actually appears in Lucas' first film THX-1138 — in the ad-libbed line, "I think I just ran over a Wookiee." And that line of dialogue, in turn, was inspired by a real person, a guy named Ralph Wookie who lived in Texas. Source: DVD featurettes, Binary Bonsai.
Additional reporting by Mandy Curtis and Keith Veronese.
More reading: 10 Things You Didn't Know About The Empire Strikes Back