Star Wars may have represented a kick-start for Alec Guinness’ career as well as a wholly unexpected windfall when his share of the gross turned out to be far more lucrative than he had any right to expect. But on the whole, Guinness seemed annoyed by the whole idea of George Lucas’ space opera.
Also, he was kind of terrible at remembering people’s names.
In Alec Guinness: The Authorised Biography, Piers Paul Read gives readers a glimpse at some correspondence and diaries written by Guinness while Star Wars—later christened Star Wars: A New Hope—was being filmed.
In a letter dated December 22, 1975, Guinness wrote a friend, noting the likelihood of his next movie being “fairy-tale rubbish”:
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 it 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.
A few months later, on March 18, 1976, he’s working on Star Wars but not having a very good time. He also has inordinate difficulty remembering Harrison Ford’s name.
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. … 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?
Yahoo was a West End production in which Guinness played Jonathan Swift—as it happens, my parents saw that play; my mother always said it was one of the most powerful pieces of acting she had ever seen.
Then there’s this diary entry from April 16, 1976:
Apart from the money, which should get me comfortably through the year, I regret having embarked on the film. I like them all well enough, but it’s not an acting job, the dialogue, which is lamentable, keeps being changed and only slightly improved, and I find myself old and out of touch with the young.
In his memoir A Positively Final Appearance, Guinness tells the following story:
A refurbished Star Wars is on somewhere or everywhere. I have no intention of revisiting any galaxy. I shrivel inside each time it is mentioned. Twenty years ago, when the film was first shown, it had a freshness, also a sense of moral good and fun. Then I began to be uneasy at the influence it might be having. The bad penny first dropped in San Francisco when a sweet-faced boy of twelve told me proudly that he had seen Star Wars over a hundred times. His elegant mother nodded with approval. Looking into the boy’s eyes I thought I detected little star-shells of madness beginning to form and I guessed that one day they would explode.
“I would love you to do something for me,” I said.
“Anything! Anything!” the boy said rapturously.
“You won’t like what I’m going to ask you to do,” I said.
“Anything, sir, anything!”
“Well,” I said, “do you think you could promise never to see Star Wars again?”
He burst into tears. His mother drew himself up to an immense height. “What a dreadful thing to say to a child!” she barked, and dragged the poor kid away. Maybe she was right but I just hope the lad, now in his thirties, is not living in a fantasy world of secondhand, childish banalities.
Clearly, Guinness was kind of being a dick here, but I’m pretty much on board with him doing this. I read somewhere that the young boy in question was grateful for Guinness’ “intervention,” but I wasn’t able to verify that.
Allegedly, Guinness was also eager to have the Obi-Wan character killed off to limit his involvement in future Star Wars movies.
Interestingly, Lucas has said nothing but complimentary things about Guinness’ involvement in the project, and, according to the Piers Paul Read biography, Lucas even pushed for the actor to receive 2.25% of the back end rather than the agreed-upon two points. I’m far from Lucas’ biggest fan, but that was a pretty cool thing to do.