Here is the latest in a series of examinations into urban legends about movies and whether they are true or false. Click here to view an archive of the Movie urban legends featured so far.
MOVIE URBAN LEGEND: Alec Guinness came up with the idea for Obi-Wan Kenobi to die in Star Wars.
An interesting but often misunderstood part of Star Wars lore is Sir Alec Guinness’ distaste for the Star Wars film franchise. The Academy Award-winning actor was the most famous member of the cast when the film was originally announced. Clearly, though, while he felt that the film would be a financial success, he never imagined that it would become so successful that later in his life he would be better known for playing Obi Wan Kenobi than for doing dozens of acclaimed films and many years of acclaimed Shakespeare productions on the stage (on top of his Academy Award and Golden Globe for Best Actor for playing Colonel Nicholson in The Bridge on the River Kwai, Guinness also won a Tony Award playing Dylan Thomas in the play Dylan). He was certainly critical of the film (especially the dialogue) but he also praised it. When he first saw the film, he wrote in his diary:
It’s a pretty staggering film as spectacle, and technically brilliant. Exciting, very noisy and warm-hearted. The battle scenes at the end go on for five minutes too long, I feel, and some of the dialogue is excruciating and much of it is lost in noise, but it remains a vivid experience. The only really disappointing performance was Tony Daniels as the robot — fidgety and over-elaborately spoken. Not that any of the cast can stand up to the mechanical things around them.
In addition, he was thoroughly grateful to George Lucas for the financial windfall Guinness received from the film’s success. After all, he did return for both sequels. So it was not like he abhorred the films. His true ire seemed to be directed at people who couldn’t seem to see him as anything other than Obi-Wan Kenobi. In 1997, he wrote in his diary, “Was unpleasant to a woman journalist on Telegraph, who wanted to know how much I earned on Star Wars. Oh, I’m sick of that film and all the hype.”
That said, it is true that Guinness had a hard time on the actual filming of the first film. He wrote to a friend of his, Anne Kaufman, about the film:
Can’t say I’m enjoying the film. 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 to keep going until next April . . . 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 90 — and treat me as if I was 106 — Oh, Harrison Ford, ever heard of him?
This has led to the legend that Alec Guinness was so sick of filming the movie that he came up with the idea that George Lucas should kill off Obi-Wan Kenobi.
Guinness himself claimed it to be true in 1999, noting that he convinced Lucas that it would make Obi-Wan a stronger character, adding “What I didn’t tell Lucas was that I just couldn’t go on speaking those bloody awful, banal lines. I’d had enough of the mumbo jumbo.” Actors asking to be killed off is a popular area for possible legends, as we’ve already detailed in past Movie Legends Revealed whether Leonard Nimoy asked to be killed in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan and whether Harrison Ford asked to be killed in Return of the Jedi. So what is the truth here – did Alec Guinness come up with the idea to kill off Obi-Wan Kenobi?
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