Star Wars: Episode IV was a nightmare behind the scenes. In the years since the movie's massive success, there have been plenty of Star Wars production stories that show just what kind of miracle George Lucas, his crew, and the film's actors pulled off to bring audiences the movie of the century in 1977.
If you're curious about why Star Wars almost never happened, look no further than the Empire of Dreams making-of documentary, which details Lucas's quest to make the Original Trilogy. The early days, from writing the first film to actually shooting it, were especially rough, both on the cast and the crew. Even Lucas became ill while filming A New Hope.
The film went over budget, suffered several delays, was a bore in its first cut, and missed its original release date. Somehow, we still have the immense pleasure of enjoying this film today. Discover all of the insane reasons why Star Wars almost never happened, and be even more thankful it did.
It's really no secret that George Lucas's idea to write and direct a space opera was seen as a bizarre choice in the 1970s. As described in the documentary Empire of Dreams, science fiction had gone pretty dark in the '70s, reflecting the uncertain times in the days of the Cold War, the Watergate scandal, and the Vietnam War. Grim and gritty movies like Mad Max, Zardoz, The Poseidon Adventure, and Planet of the Apes were the order of the day.
Meanwhile, Lucas was looking back at a bygone era of optimistic science fiction serials like Flash Gordon and Buck Rogers. Needless to say, when he began pitching Star Wars to the major studios, there weren't many execs willing to bite. It was Alan Ladd Jr., head of 20th Century Fox, who gave Lucas a shot.
As Lucas said in Empire of Dreams, Ladd "invested in me, he did not invest in the movie."
George Lucas was a rising star in the 1970s. His debut film, the sci-fi picture THX 1138, caught the eye of United Artists, and the studio gave Lucas a two-film deal. The first movie Lucas developed under the deal was American Graffiti, his ode to the '60s of his youth, a massive success critically and financially. Following that hit, Lucas set his sights on an adaptation of the Flash Gordon serials he'd enjoyed as a kid.
Before his space opera project became Star Wars, Lucas tried to acquire the movie rights to Flash Gordon, but failed to do so. Friend and fellow director Francis Ford Coppola recalled, "[George] was very depressed because he had just come back and they wouldn't sell him Flash Gordon. And he says, 'Well, I'll just invent my own.'"
George Lucas began work on the story that would become Star Wars in 1973. He eventually came up with a 12-page story treatment titled The Star Wars. While most of the ideas in this original treatment were scrapped by the time the movie actually went before cameras, Dark Horse released an eight-issue comic book series based on the original draft of Star Wars that showed some of Lucas's initial ideas at work.
In The Star Wars, Luke is older and a mentor to Annikin Starkiller, who is training to become a Jedi-Bendu warrior. Han Solo is an alien with reptilian features who loves hunting Wookiees. Meanwhile, Princess Leia's planet of Aquilae is being invaded by the Imperial forces of Alderaan, who want the world's advanced cloning technology.
This plot is a bit hard to follow and, frankly, a little boring. Many studios certainly thought so when they passed on the script.
George Lucas pitched his space opera to 20th Century Fox with a proposed budget of $8 million. The film went way over budget, though; the total cost ended up around $10 million.
Producer Gary Kurtz told IGN, "[Lucas and I] said the whole idea was to make it low-budget, Roger Corman style, and the budget was never going to be more than – well, originally we had proposed about 8 million, it ended up being about 10. Both of those figures are very low budget by Hollywood standards at the time."
At one point, Alan Ladd Jr., under pressure from the board at 20th Century Fox, warned Lucas that he'd have to shut down production of the film due to delays and inflating costs. Lucas and Kurtz were miraculously able to convince Ladd to agree to a final budget of $10 million to finish the film.