The Story Behind The Empire Strikes Back

Star Wars nearly killed George Lucas.

The director’s ambitious space saga, which nobody understood nor cared about (not even its cast) looked set to be a disaster of intergalactic proportions. During production in 1976, the special effects department was struggling with its groundbreaking technologies, while unbearable heat in Tunisia had tempers rising…

“People were looking at the first screenplay and saying, ‘What is this? Is this camp – or what is going on here?’ They didn’t get it and it’s not their fault,” star Mark Hamill said in an interview with Rona Barrett’s Hollywood Super Special: Winter 1978.

It came to a head when Lucas suffered chest pains during filming of his opus. The director, diagnosed with hyper-tension and exhaustion, was advised by doctors to take things easy. He all-but refused.

And, somewhat fortuitously, the 1977 release of the soon-to-be-retitled Episode IV gave Lucas a new hope. The cold cynicism and disheartening apathy that plagued the film ahead of its cinematic debut changed overnight as Star Wars was welcomed by movie fans of all shapes and sizes.

“Star Wars is one of the best word-of-mouth movies in history,” Hamill noted. And he wasn’t wrong. With the archetype-heavy fantasy updating sci-fi TV serials (like Flash Gordon) for the big screen generation, Star Wars was a hit. As the fans multiplied and the box office sang with receipts, one thing was clear: everybody wanted more…