Sometimes more fun than watching the Star Wars films themselves — of course there’s nothing better than the movies, we’re just trying to set the mood here — is discovering a fascinating anecdote or informative morsel about the series’ production, enriching our experience even further. But the best obscure factoids are the weird ones, the kind that tend to get edited out of Blu-ray special features and saved for books or sporadically seed the Internet. On that note, what’s the common denominator between E.T. and Return of the Jedi? Or how did Stanley Kubrick almost ruin The Empire Strikes Back? (For the record it wasn’t his fault.) Read on for these answers and more with six bizarre behind-the-scenes Star Wars facts!
1. Yoda the Vampire Slayer?
Not quite, but we’re confident Yoda could hold his own against legions of undead blood-suckers. Anyway, Lucas’ original vision of The Empire Strikes Back presented a Yoda somewhat removed from the Grover-voiced Jedi Master we’ve come to know and impersonate (poorly): millennia old and known to his friends as… “Buffy.” Just imagine if it had stuck. “Weird” Al Yankovic would’ve ripped his curls out trying to find a sensical rhyme for Buffy, never would the name have been associated with vampire-slaying cheerleaders, or — well, you get the idea. Fortunately, as told in J.W. Rinzlers’s book The Making of The Empire Strikes Back, the name was changed to “Minch Yoda” in screenwriter Leigh Brackett’s first draft, later shortened to Yoda… whose swampy home bubbles like a giant carbonated soda.
2. Boushh Phone Home
Ever watch the scene with Boushh from Return of the Jedi and think, “man, where have I heard that croaky little voice before?” Your chain-smoking grandma? (You be nice, her heavenly voice puts the Angels of Iego to shame!) E.T.? Bingo — here, have a Reese’s Piece. Both characters were voiced by Pat Welsh, discovered by Star Wars and Indiana Jones sound designer Ben Burtt in a camera shop of all places (funny how fate works). On an episode of the ‘80s documentary series Screen, Stage and Television, Burtt said that her naturally raspy tone had the otherworldly quality he sought when designing sound effects for E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial. George Lucas hired Welsh soon after to voice the mysterious, but far less cuddly, bounty hunter Boushh.
3. George Lucas & Ralph Bakshi: Best Friends Forever!
What Walt Disney was to mainstream pop culture, animator Ralph Bakshi was to underground cinema during the ‘70s and ‘80s, masterfully capturing the landscape of an America coming down from its Love Generation high. In 1975, Bakshi deviated from his usual creative route of urban settings and youths seeking existential fulfillment when he pitched Wizards to 20th Century Fox: an allegorical tale set on post-apocalyptic Earth, inhabited by elves, fairies, and other magic folk. Little did he know that, nearby, another fantasy epic was in the works — Star Wars!
The concurrent production of Lucas’ grand space opera actually affected Wizard’s development. According to the Wizards‘ 35th Anniversary Edition Digibook, Mark Hamill was referred to Bakshi by the studio, lending his voice to the innocent — and ill-fated — fairy Sean (one of his earliest animation roles). And when then-Fox president Alan Ladd, Jr. refused to provide additional funding for Star Wars and Wizards, Lucas convinced Bakshi to amend the back-end terms of his agreement to reconcile out-of-pocket expenses. The gambit paid off as both films were box office hits, though Star Wars’ unprecedented popularity inadvertently led to Wizards’ removal from theaters to open up more showtimes.
4. “Use the Shining, Luke!”
What do The Empire Strikes Back and The Shining — two disparate films that historically dominated the 1980 summer movie season — possibly have in common? Both were produced right next door to each other at London’s Elstree Studios. Though if Lucas knew then what he does today, maybe he would’ve thought twice about working so close to director Stanley Kubrick. A fire on Stage 3, where The Shining was being filmed, caused considerable damage to the set. As a frustrating result, Lucasfilm had to relinquish some of its own space to allow Kubrick to finish filming, nearly putting The Empire Strikes Back’s own production in jeopardy. An eerie story given the context, but prior to this incident during the Norway shoot, a freak blizzard nearly confined Lucas and his crew to their hotel. All work and no play makes George a dull boy…
5. Galactic Monkey Business
In another Yoda-centric tidbit from J.W. Rinzler’s The Making of The Empire Strikes Back, the author revealed that the character was to be portrayed by a monkey in a costume — trained to move around with Yoda’s walking stick. The idea, however, never got off the ground when a crew member who’d been involved in 2001: A Space Odyssey, specifically the famous opening scene with the apes, remarked that a monkey would essentially be more trouble than its worth. Not that his two cents were needed since the hassles of dressing up an elephant in a bantha suit for the first film were likely still fresh in everybody’s minds.
6. The Sick Truth Behind Chewbacca’s Voice
Lucas knew where his priorities lay when filming Star Wars — and topping the list of alien voices sound designer Ben Burtt worked on was Chewbacca’s. The challenge, said Burtt in a small video interview, was creating a speech pattern that was animalistic yet intelligent, utilizing bear vocalizations at Lucas’ suggestion. He recorded and incorporated more noises soon after, including walruses, badgers, and… by his own admission… sick animals. That’s right, the anguished howls, bellows, and yips of ailing creatures form the basis of Chewbacca’s unique language, ghostly echoes haunting our eardrums.
Steven Romano is a writer, a geek culture enthusiast, and, above all, a longtime fan of the galaxy far, far away. Landspeeder, don’t bantha, over to his blog and Twitter at @Steven_Romano.