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When the original Star Wars film hit theaters on May 25, 1977, it became a giant hit and was well on its way to becoming one of the most successful and influential film series of all time. One of the elements that gave the space opera an air of respectability the involvement of legendary actor Sir Alec Guinness in the role of Obi-Wan Kenobi. Can you even imagine what Star Wars would be like without Guinness?
Long-time fans likely recall that Guinness almost didn’t take the role of Obi-Wan Kenobi in Star Wars. The folks at Business Insider recently highlighted some of the actor’s less-than-enthusiastic remarks about George Lucas’ sci-fi flick, as published in his 2003 biography. In a letter to his friend Anne Kaufman, Guinness dismissed Star Wars as “fairy-tale rubbish.” But like many a professional actor before him, Guinness took the iconic role because 20th Century Fox gave him a lot of money. Here are some more choice words from Alec Guinness: The Official Biography…where he also gets George Lucas’ first name wrong:
I have been offered a movie (20th Cent. Fox) which I may accept, if they come up with proper money. London and N. Africa, starting in mid-March. Science fiction – which gives me pause – but is to be directed by Paul [sic] Lucas who did ‘American Graffiti,’ which makes me feel I should. Big part. Fairy-tale rubbish but could be interesting perhaps.
Even once he accepted the job, Guinness’ demeanor stayed much the same. He continued:
… new rubbish dialogue reaches me every other day on wadges of pink paper – and none of it makes my character clear or even bearable. I just think, thankfully, of the lovely bread, which will help me keep going until next April even if Yahoo collapses in a week … I must off to studio and work with a dwarf (very sweet – and he has to wash in a bidet) and your fellow countrymen Mark Hamill and Tennyson (that can’t be right) Ford. Ellison (? – No!) – well, a rangy, languid young man who is probably intelligent and amusing. But Oh, God, God, they make me feel ninety – and treat me as if I was 106. – Oh, Harrison Ford – ever heard of him?
His role as Kenobi earned Guinness an Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actor, and the film itself was nominated in numerous categories, including Best Picture and Best Director for George Lucas. Guinness of course went on to appear in the next two Star Wars films as well.