Despite being killed off before the first movie even ended, Alec Guinness had a huge influence on Star Wars both on screen, as Obi-Wan Kenobi, and off screen as an advisor to Star Wars movies‘ creator George Lucas.
Lucas wanted Guinness specifically for the role of the old Jedi master and mentor to Luke Skywalker, and despite some initial hesistations, Guinness would go on to take the role. Working on the science fiction movies, which are regarded as some of the best movies of all time, Guinness helped to make changes to the dialogue – which he thought was lacklustre and nonsensical – and even suggested killing off his Star Wars character in order to give the rest of the new movie more impact.
For all this behind the scenes help, Guinness was handsomely rewarded to the tune of many, many millions. In addition to his salary for Star Wars, the actor was also offered a percentage of the box office results for the flick, which would go on to become the highest grossing movie of all time upon its release in 1977.
Speaking on the chat show Parkinson in the year of Star Wars’ release, Guinness reflected on taking on his role, and the bonus he was given for his hard work. “A script arrived on my dressing table and I heard that it had been delivered by George Lucas. I thought, ‘Well that’s rather impressive because he’s an up and coming, and very respect worthy young director,’ and then when I opened it and saw that it was science fiction I thought, ‘Oh crumbs, this is simply not for me’.”
Guinness continued, “Then I started reading and I thought that the dialogue was pretty ropey, but I had to go on turning the page. That’s an essential in any script. And I went on reading and I thought ‘I like this, if only we can get some of the dialogue altered.’ And then I met him we got on very well, and I found myself doing it.”
Speaking about how Lucas rewarded him for his background contributions to helping fix the movie Guinness said, ‘I had a contract, my agent asked for 2% [of the film’s royalties paid to the director]… and I said ‘Oh fine, all right,’ and the day before the film opened in San Francisco, George Lucas phoned me and said ‘I think the movie’s going to be all right… we’re very grateful for the little alterations you suggested, so we’d like to offer you another half percent, by making it 2.5%,'” recalled the actor.
“I said, ‘That’s marvellous, thank you very much.’ The day I saw the film I said [to the producer], ‘About that extra little something you were offering; I wonder if we can have something in writing so that my agent believes this?’ and he said, ‘Oh about the quarter percent, yes!’, so [I ended up with] 2.25%.”
That number might seem tiny, but Star Wars raked in many hundreds of millions of dollars at the box office. Guinness’ eventual take ins, not accounting for his base salary, soared well into the seven-digits, bringing home millions thanks to his contract and his hefty bonus from George Lucas himself.
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