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While Sir Alec Guinness had a long and varied film career, for an entire generation of movie fans he’ll only ever be known as Obi-Wan Kenobi. The accomplished actor took on the role in what would become the biggest film franchise in movie history in 1977, and received an Academy Award nomination for the role. While Guinness may have appreciated the part later on, it turns out that while filming the original Star Wars: A New Hope, he wasn’t sure exactly what he’d gotten himself into.
Letters Live is an event currently going on in London in which numerous celebrities are appearing and reading letters that have been written by other famous people. According to Entertainment Weekly, Star Wars: The Force Awakens star Oscar Isaac made a surprise appearance on Sunday and read a letter that the previous Star Wars actor, Alec Guinness, had written to a friend, Anne Kauffman, in 1976 while filming the original Star Wars movie. The Shakespearean actor apparently used the letter to vent to his friend, as he was apparently not having the best time on set.
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 keep going until next April even if ‘Yahoo’ collapses in a week.
Looking back on this with a modern eye, we can’t help but laugh, and feel a little bad for Sir Alec Guinness. Star Wars was essentially the first big science fiction blockbuster of its day. While dialogue that makes no sense out of context is pretty much par for the course these days, it would have been a new experience for the actor. It’s also been made clear, from things that other actors have said, that George Lucas was pretty much making up Star Wars as he went along, which is likely what lead to the new script pages coming so often. At least the money (or "bread") was good. It’s not like Sir Alec was the first actor to take a job for the paycheck. For the record, Yahoo was a play that Guinness was set to do in London at the time.
The letter gets even more humorous, however. Sir Alec signs off with his friend because he has to get to the studio and get back to filming. His description of what he has to go do (and with whom) is one of the greatest descriptions of the Star Wars cast ever put to paper.
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.
The asterisk in the quote leads to a postscript where Alec Guinness finally gets his co-star’s name right and asks "Harrison Ford - ever heard of him?" This is quite possibly the last time anybody on planet Earth was ever asked if they had heard of Harrison Ford. Shortly following the release of Star Wars the answer was a given.
We’re so sorry that Sir Alec Guinness had such a rough time on the set of Star Wars. We love him all the more for putting up with it all in order to bring us one of our favorite movie characters of all time.