29 Fun Facts About My Cousin Vinny

20th Century Fox
20th Century Fox

Familiarize yourself with legal procedure, and these facts about My Cousin Vinny—the classic 1992 comedy in which a very green, fish-out-of-water lawyer defends two “yutes” mistakenly charged with murder in his first court case. (Warning: There's profanity in the clips below!)


My Cousin Vinny was one of the earliest ideas screenwriter Dale Launer ever had. “In the very early '70s, I met a guy who ... was waiting the bar exam results,” he told ABA Journal in 2012. Launer asked what would happen if he didn't pass, and the guy said he could just take it again, and if he didn't pass that time, he'd just take it again. And again. Until he passed. “So I said, 'What’s the most times somebody has taken and failed and finally passed?'” Launer recalled. “He said, 'Thirteen times.' ... I always thought that guy who took 13 times to pass the bar, or girl, is probably out there practicing law in some capacity. Now, how would you feel if suddenly you learned that guy is your lawyer? ... What if you have been accused of a crime and clearly, you have what appears to be the worst lawyer in the country?”


According to the bio on his website, Launer set off on a road trip across the South for script research. He rented a car in New Orleans, then drove through Mississippi and Alabama and down the Gulf Coast. The trip provided plenty of inspiration for scenes that would eventually make it into the script: Launer’s car got stuck in the mud, every restaurant had grits on the menu, and he experienced the unearthly call of the screech owl. He even stopped to talk to the district attorney in Butler, who reminded him of Lane Smith; the actor was eventually cast in the role of Vinny’s DA.

Also a big inspiration: the attitude of the people he met along the way. Everyone “was very friendly and helpful,” according to the bio, “but when he told them he was making a movie that took place in the south—they'd get very concerned—afraid that Hollywood movies always made them look like bumpkins. That too [was] weaved into the story.”


Grant Lamos IV/Getty Images for the 2015 Tribeca Film Festival

After the script was written, a casting meeting was called and Launer met with Fox’s president, vice president, and CEO. When Launer suggested Robert De Niro for the part of Vincent LaGuardia Gambini, “the prez looked uncomfortable, embarrassed that I would suggest such an actor,” Launer told Writer Unboxed. “‘De Niro, uh … well … he’s not funny. And … his movies don’t make money.’ … Now ... the only movies De Niro acts in that make money? Comedies! So, I feel vindicated. But I wish I could’ve been given a big fat check when I [ended up] being proved right.”


“I was very eager to have Ralph Macchio in the movie,” Lynn said in the movie’s DVD commentary. “I must confess, I had never actually seen The Karate Kid. I watched him in a couple of videos that his agent sent and I thought he was just perfect for the part. … He’s very good in the movie.”


“There’s a lot of people around like that in smaller neighborhoods, so I put a few of them together and [came] up with Vinny,” Pesci, who grew up in New Jersey, told The Movie Show in 1992.


In 2007, Launer told Writer Unboxed that the studio had wanted to get rid of Vinny’s Chinese-food-loving, unemployed hairdresser/car expert girlfriend. To keep the character, Launer reluctantly added a scene, requested by the studio president, to the second draft: “He wanted Vinny’s girlfriend to complain that he’s not giving her enough attention,” Launer said. “You often see movies where some guy is hell bent on accomplishing something, and you’re on the ride with him—and his wife/girlfriend/mother is feeling neglected. And she complains. And I HATE this! ... Watching those scenes is simply boring. You want to fast forward it. Awful.”

Eventually, he said he “figured out a way where they’d HAVE to keep her and embellished her character ... she does complain, but at least apologizes for bringing it up, and you don’t hate her for bringing it up largely because it’s funny. ... Now, I thought if she brought this up at this point where he is simply going through hell—he should be pissed off. And he is. So he kinda tears into her.” Mona Lisa’s “biological clock” rant (above) became one of his favorite scenes in the script.


Mitchell Whitfield had just moved to Los Angeles from New York when he got word about the My Cousin Vinny auditions—which were taking place in New York. So he flew back to do the screen test. “Believe it or not, Will Smith was also up for the role,” Whitfield told Abnormal Use. “So, clearly, they didn’t know exactly which way they were going to go with the part. ... I think it could have been funny either way.” Whitfield ended up having to lose 25 pounds to play Stan.


Tomei didn’t have a lot of film experience when she landed the part of Mona Lisa Vito. “I’d seen her [on the set of Oscar] working with John Landis and [had] gone with [him] to the cutting room to look at her performance,” Lynn said in DVD commentary.” She was playing a 1920s blonde flapper, very different, but I could see how funny and talented she was. And we got her in to read. She read wonderfully and we persuaded the studio to let me go with this unknown actress in the role. It was the best decision I ever made.” Lynn said he knew they’d gotten the right actress for the part when he saw the dailies from the first scene they shot with her—Mona Lisa and Vinny’s arrival in Alabama, when she tells him, “Oh, yeah, you blend.”


Tomei grew up in the Flatbush section of Brooklyn, so “I really knew the neighborhood,” she told The New York Times in 1992. But that doesn’t mean she sounded just like Mona Lisa. “I don’t think that extreme, but I could be wrong,” she told NPR’s Fresh Air in 2010. “My mom was an English teacher, and she was on my butt about that kind of thing and correcting my speech from a young age.”


Lynn has a law degree from Cambridge University, and, he said in DVD commentary, “I get terribly irritated when I see films in which the legal procedure is obviously wrong.” In addition to Launer’s research, Lynn made adjustments to make sure the legal proceedings were correct. “I’m very pleased with the fact that, although this is heightened for comedic purposes, everything you see legally in this film could happen and is approximately correct,” he said. “Which, by the way, makes it the more frightening.” Lynn even sat in on a murder trial in the Monticello, Ga. courtroom that served as the inspiration for the Vinny courtroom set. “Some of the lines in the [Vinny trial] came directly from that trial,” he said, including Lane Smith’s pronunciation of heinous (“high-a-nus”) and his line about “our little old ancestors” in the opening remarks.



In the original script, when Vinny is asked why it took him six times to pass the bar, he says, “I’m a little dyslexic.” Viewers would have experienced it themselves while watching Vinny attempt to read the huge book of Alabama Criminal Court procedure; Launer envisioned that the camera would show a close shot of a word jumbled up, gradually becoming less so until Vinny could read it—and the pattern would repeat itself as Vinny moved to the next word.

Ultimately, the idea got cut because Lynn “said he did not know how to portray dyslexia,” Launer told Abnormal Use. The screenwriter was very unhappy about the omission because it made Vinny seem “not so bright. You don’t know why it took him so long to get through the bar. And then suddenly he starts acting smart. What you have to do is make assumptions that he is actually a smart guy, and the law is just complicated and boring. And for some reason, he didn’t pay attention. ... I don’t know if there is any other conclusion than that.” In the final film, there’s no reason given for why it took Vinny six times to pass the bar.


The book featured real moments from actual courtrooms. Launer lifted the memorable voir dire scene of a potential juror for Vinny. The lawyers “ask them their opinion on capital punishment, and they said something like, ‘I think it should be left up to the victims' families,’” Launer told Abnormal Use. “Then they then described exactly what the murderer did, and then that the juror actually said, ‘Fry them.’ So I put that right in the movie.”


The cast and crew shot for several days in a state prison in Gainesville, Georgia, in the wing where prisoners are kept in solitary confinement. “It does have a death row, right beside the wing where we were shooting, and I looked all around death row,” Lynn said in DVD commentary. “It was a very frightening building, and we were all pretty scared when we were there, even though we had guards with us at all times.”

It took up to 40 minutes to get from the outside of the building to where they were shooting inside. Whitfield told Abnormal Use that “When Ralph and I were walking through the prison the first time like holding our blankets and walking to our cell and you hear the prisoners screaming at us. Those are real prisoners, and they really were yelling at us. ... They had to tone it down with what they put in the movie because they were saying some horrible stuff. Ralph and I were petrified.”


The guards in the movie were real prison guards. The production used real prisoners as extras twice: once in the background when Stan and Bill are being brought into the prison, and during a short scene where the duo plays basketball during exercise time. “The prisoners were all extremely cooperative and did exactly what we asked,” Lynn said in DVD commentary. “I don’t know what incentives or threats were made in order to achieve that.”


The scene had appeared in the script Lynn initially read, but had been cut from the shooting script. Everyone agreed that it had to go back in, and it garnered some of the biggest laughs from audiences. The scene, of course, could never have really happened; any interaction between the accused and their lawyers would have to take place in an interview room—an issue the filmmakers discussed at length. Making it factually accurate, Lynn said, “would have meant losing that extremely funny scene, and we decided to bet that nobody noticed that it should have taken place in an interview room—and, in fact, nobody ever did.”


In the scene where Vinny is convincing Bill to let him represent him, Vinny does a card trick. “It was important to me that the card trick wasn’t faked,” Lynn said in DVD commentary. “Of course you can fake anything by cutting and showing another shot, but I talked about this to Joe before we started shooting, and he learned how to do this card trick. So the scene in which he does it does not have any cuts in it. He actually fools the audience before their very eyes. He did it beautifully. I thought Vinny’s argument would be much less powerful if the audience could say oh well that was just faked by the way the scene was cut.”


In prep, someone at the studio pointed out what they thought was a big problem: What kind of Italian mother doesn’t come down to support her son when he’s on trial? “Well, that was a tough question, because the answer is, Mother ought to have been there,” Lynn said in DVD commentary. “But she would just have been a damn nuisance. The script was already long enough ... and we didn’t want to introduce another character who had no other plot function.” To compromise, the filmmakers added some scenes where, after Vinny comes down to Alabama, Bill’s mother has a heart attack. “We had Bill trying to keep in touch with mother in hospital and getting messages and there were a couple of scenes to do with mother’s heart attack; we never saw her,” Lynn said. “When we started putting the film together in the cutting room, it was just obvious that these scenes were going to be in the way of the momentum of the film. And we said, ‘Why don’t we just try leaving them out and see if anyone notices that mother never shows up?’ Nobody ever noticed. So we took those scenes out and saved between 5 and 10 minutes of stuff we really didn’t need.”


One of the film’s running gags is the fact that Vinny is always awakened by something—a steam whistle, noisy pigs, and, finally, a screech owl. Lynn and his team used an actual owl for the scene, “which was probably a ridiculous chance to take,” he said in DVD commentary. “People … think it’s a Muppet because its behavior was so perfect. It screeched, it looked back at Vinny, and then it looked back at the camera and screeched again. We got amazingly lucky with that screech owl.”

The owl’s screeches were added later. To get the bird to open his mouth at the right time, they used a trick: “We discovered that if you put a little bit of meat into its beak, it half swallows [it] and then, approximately three seconds later, opens its beak as the meat goes down,” Lynn said. “So we fed it a little bit of beef just before the camera starting turning so that for its first screech, which is added afterwards, his beak opened at the right moment. Everything else he did in that scene was pure luck, and we couldn’t believe our eyes when he reacted so perfectly, and of course we never shot it again.” The owl was basically a wild animal, Lynn said, though it had been trained a little bit: “He had heard a lot of gunfire in the previous weeks so that he wouldn’t get frightened by it.”


Director Jonathan Lynn cast his friend, Austin Pendleton—who, Lynn said, has a stutter in real life—in the role of the tongue-tied public defender. “I knew he would be really funny in that part,” Lynn told Abnormal Use. “But I really didn’t quite imagine just how funny. And I had to literally hide behind the camera. I normally sit by the camera. But I had to hide because I was laughing so hard. I had to somehow stop myself from making a sound, and I couldn’t let Austin be put off by seeing me … That’s the funniest moment I’ve had on any film I’ve ever made.” Whitfield agreed, telling Abnormal Use, “if you watch the movie and you see us at the table when he’s stuttering, and my shoulders are going up and down like I’m crying, I was laughing. I couldn’t help it.”


The conversation between Vinny and Judge Chamberlain Haller about “two yutes” became “perhaps the most quoted piece of dialogue from the film,” Lynn said in DVD commentary. It was inspired by a conversation that Lynn and Pesci had when they were prepping the film at the Mayflower Hotel in New York City. “He said something about ‘these two yutes’ who were on trial and I said ‘what?’ and he said ‘what?’ and I said ‘what’s a yute?’” Lynn recalled. “I realized as we were having that conversation that that was something that ought to happen between Vinny and the judge, so I simply wrote it in the way it happened naturally.”


The night before they shot the scene where Vinny sleeps like a baby during a prison riot after being held in contempt of court, Pesci had won the Oscar for Goodfellas. “He flew in from Los Angeles, and on the first take, when we panned to him, he was clutching the Oscar in his arms,” Lynn said in DVD commentary, laughing. “We sent that to the studio as the dailies.”


Though the film is set in Alabama, the production actually shot in three separate small towns in Georgia. “Apart from the courtroom,” which was a set, “virtually everything was shot on location,” director Jonathan Lynn said in Vinny’s DVD commentary. “It wasn’t a very expensive movie, and that was the cheaper way to go. It also had more authenticity.” Which means you can visit a number of the film’s locations—including the newly reopened Sac-O-Suds convenience store, where you can pick up a can of tuna. (Just make sure you pay for it!)


“The movie is close to reality even in its details,” lawyer Maxwell S. Kennerly wrote on his blog, Trial and Litigation. “Part of why the film has such staying power among lawyers is because, unlike, say, A Few Good Men, everything that happens in the movie could happen—and often does happen—at trial.” Professor Alberto Bernabe of The John Marshall Law School, who hands his students a list of law movies organized by category, puts Vinny under “Education,” not just because “it provides so much material you can use in the classroom. For example, you can use the movie to discuss criminal procedure, courtroom decorum, professional responsibility, unethical behavior, the role of the judge in a trial, efficient cross-examination, the role of expert witnesses and effective trial advocacy.” The film has also been praised by a Seventh Circuit Court Judge; referenced by Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia; used to teach young lawyers at legal conferences; and made it into a legal textbook.


Coming in at number three, “The movie packs in cinema’s briefest opening argument ('Everything that guy just said is bulls**t'), its best-ever introduction to the rules of criminal procedure, and a case that hinges on properly introduced expert testimony regarding tire marks left by a 1964 Skylark and the optimal boiling time of grits,” the journal writes. Launer said the honor was “like getting the Oscar. In some ways, better.” Vincent Gambini came in at Number 12 on the association's list of Greatest Fictional Lawyers (Who Aren't Atticus Finch).


Tomei was sleeping on a friend’s couch—a friend who was pregnant and due at any moment—when she found out about her Best Supporting Actress Oscar nomination. Her friends were watching TV, and “there were shouts from the other room, and they awoke me,” she told David Letterman in 1993. “I didn’t know if she was going into labor or what.” Tomei would go on to win the Oscar—and yes, despite the urban legend that 74-year-old presenter Jack Palance announced the wrong name, the actress really did win.


In 2004, Lautner’s bio noted that “Joe wanted to do it, but Marisa didn't. Now she does, and so does Joe, but the studio isn't terribly interested in the remake, feeling too much time has passed since the initial release. Perhaps everyone who liked it has passed on. Or changed their minds. Launer hopes they will see the light.” According to Whitfield, the sequel might have involved Vinny going to Europe.


Before he was an actor, Pesci was a lounge singer; six years after My Cousin Vinny came out, he released an album called Vincent LaGuardia Gambini Sings Just for You. It features the songs “Wise Guy,” “Take Your Love and Shove It,” “Yo Cousin Vinny,” and “I Can’t Give You Anything But Love,” a duet with Tomei as Mona Lisa. It debuted at Number 36 on the Billboard Heatseekers Chart.


Banda yeh bindaas hai ("This Guy is Fearless") was directed by Ravi Chopra and starred Govinda, Lara Dutta, and Sushmita Sen. Chopra reached out to Fox in 2007 for approval to produce the remake, and was given permission to make a film loosely based on the original idea. But in May 2009, Fox sued Banda yeh bindaas hai's production company, B.R. Films, for $1.4 million, saying the remake had not been approved, and that a script review showed the film to be "a 'substantial reproduction' of the U.S. film" with an identical storyline, according to the Australian Broadcasting Corporation. B.R. Films denied the claims, saying their version featured different characters and settings; the company eventually settled with Fox in August 2009, paying the studio $200,000.


“I would not say that I am Mona Lisa Vito of the football world,” Belichik said when asked what he knew about football pressure. When she heard, Tomei texted Pesci. "We thought it was pretty funny," she told The Rich Eisen Show.

This post originally ran in 2015.

The Dark Side: An Oral History of The Star Wars Holiday Special

Larry Heider
Larry Heider

Summer 1978: Over a year after its debut, Star Wars wasn’t through smashing box office records. Ushered back into theaters for a return engagement that July, it made $10 million in just three days. George Lucas had welded mythological structure, pioneering special effects, and a spectacular production design to create a cinematic phenomenon that redefined how studios selected and marketed big-budget spectacles. Movies would never be the same again.

Neither would television. That same month, filming began on The Star Wars Holiday Special, a 97-minute musical-variety show that featured Bea Arthur serenading a giant rat and Chewbacca’s father, Itchy, being seduced by a virtual reality image of Diahann Carroll. Originally, the show was intended to keep the property viable and licensed merchandise moving off shelves until the inevitable sequel. But with Lucas’s focus on The Empire Strikes Back and producers shrinking his galaxy for a television budget, the Holiday Special suffered. So did viewers.

Mental Floss spoke with many of the principal production team members to find out exactly how Lucas’s original intentions—a sentimental look at Chewbacca’s family during a galactic holiday celebration—turned to the Dark Side.


Thomas Searle via YouTube

According to onetime Lucasfilm marketing director Charles Lippincott, CBS approached Star Wars distributor 20th Century Fox in 1978 to propose a television special. Fox had seen a boost in box office returns after several aliens from the Cantina scene appeared on Donny and Marie Osmond’s variety show; CBS figured the success of the film would translate into a ratings win; Lucasfilm and Lippincott though it would be a good vehicle to push toys.

With all parties motivated to move forward, two writers—Leonard “Lenny” Ripps and Pat Proft—were brought on to write a script based on an original story by Lucas.

Leonard Ripps (Co-Writer): Pat and I spent the entire day with Lucas. He took out a legal pad and asked how many minutes were in a TV special. He wrote down numbers from one to 90. He was very methodical about it. He had at least a dozen stories he had already written, so we were just helping to fill in a world he knew everything about. His idea was basically for a Wookiee Rosh Hashanah. A furry Earth Day.

Pat Proft (Co-Writer): Wookiees played a big part of it. Stormtroopers were harassing them. I don't have the script. It sure as [hell] wasn't what it ended up being.

Ripps: Pat and I had written for mimes Shields and Yarnell, which is why we were brought on. We had written lots of non-verbal stuff. The challenge was how to get things across. Wookiees aren’t articulate. Even in silent movies, you had subtitles. Whatever we wrote, it wasn’t tongue-in-cheek.

Thomas Searle via YouTube

Proft and Ripps delivered their script several weeks after the meeting. It focused on a galactic holiday celebrated by all species, with the Wookiee planet of Kashyyyk selected to host the festivities that year. Chewbacca’s family—father Itchy, wife Malla, and son Lumpy—were introduced, with the writers leaving gaps for executive producers Dwight Hemion and Gary Smith to insert celebrity guest stars and musical acts. For the latter, Hemion and Smith turned to producers Ken and Mitzie Welch to arrange original songs and enlist talent.

Elle Puritz (Assistant to the Producer): I was working for the Welches at the time. I remember hearing, “OK, we’re going to do a Star Wars holiday special,” and everyone laughing about it. I thought it was a terrible idea.

Miki Herman (Lucasfilm Consultant): Lippincott requested I be involved with the special. I did a lot of ancillary projects. I knew all the props, all the actors. I hired Stan Winston to create the Wookiee family. [Sound effects artist] Ben Burtt and I were there to basically provide authenticity, to make sure everything was kept in context.

George Lucas (via Empire, 2009): Fox said, "You can promote the film by doing the TV special." So I kind of got talked into doing the special.

Ripps: Lucas told us Han Solo was married to a Wookiee but that we couldn’t mention that because it would be controversial.

Herman: I do remember Gary Smith saying they wanted to have Mikhail Baryshnikov and Ann-Margret involved, high-caliber people that were popular.

Puritz: Ken and Mitzie called Bea Arthur. They wrote a song with her in mind.

Thomas Searle via YouTube

Ripps: It never occurred to us to get Bea Arthur. We spent just that one day with Lucas, then got put in touch with [director] David Acomba. Our notion was Acomba was very much Lucas’s guy, so he spoke for Lucas.

Acomba was a Canadian filmmaker who had coincidentally gone to the University of Southern California around the same time as Lucas, though the two never crossed paths at the time. Lippincott knew him, however, and hired him to direct the special in keeping with Lucas’s spirit of finding talent outside the Hollywood system.

Larry Heider (Camera Operator): David came out of a rock 'n' roll world, a documentary world. Smith and Hemion had three different projects going on at the same time, so I think they felt they wouldn’t have time to direct just this one thing.

Puritz: David wasn’t used to shooting television. Using five cameras, everything shooting at the same time. He was very indignant about his own lack of knowledge, and he did not get along with the Welches.

Ripps: I got the impression it was not what he wanted, and had turned into something he didn’t want to do. I don’t want to say he was overwhelmed, but it would’ve been overwhelming for anyone.


Thomas Searle via YouTube

With a budget of roughly $1 million—the 1977 film cost $11 millionThe Star Wars Holiday Special began filming in Burbank, California in the summer of 1978 with a script that had been heavily revised by variety show veterans Bruce Vilanch, Rod Warren, and Mitzie Welch to reflect the Smith-Hemion style of bombastic musical numbers and kitsch. Chewbacca was now trying to race home in time for “Life Day,” with his family watching interstellar musical interludes and comedic sketches—like a four-armed Julia Child parody—on a video screen. 

Ripps: Lucas wanted a show about the holiday. Vilanch and everyone, they were wonderful writers, but they were Carol Burnett writers. In the litany of George’s work, there was never kitsch. Star Wars was always very sincere about Star Wars.

Herman: Personally, I was not a fan of Harvey Korman, Bea Arthur, or Art Carney. That wasn’t my generation. But they had relationships with Dwight Hemion and the Welches.

Heider: Bea Arthur was known for being a little cold and demanding. When she was asked to do something a second time, she wanted someone to explain what was wrong. When the script wasn’t making sense for her to say something, she had a hard time translating all of that. She was pretty much [her television character] Maude.

Bea Arthur [via The Portland Mercury, 2005]: I didn't know what that was about at all. I was asked to be in it by the composer of that song I sang—"Goodnight, But Not Goodbye." It was a wonderful time, but I had no idea it was even a part of the whole Star Wars thing … I just remember singing to a bunch of people with funny heads.

After shooting the Cantina scene, it became apparent that Acomba was an ill fit for the constraints of a television schedule.

Heider: David was used to a single camera—run and gun, keep it moving, a real rock 'n' roll pace. This show was anything but. There were huge sets, make-up, costumes. It was slow-paced, and it got to him.

Ripps: I didn’t go down for the filming, but Pat went down. He has a story.

Proft: Took my kid for the Cantina scene. All the characters from the bar were there. However, they forgot [to pump] oxygen into the masks. Characters were fainting left and right.

Heider: Characters would walk around onstage with just their shirts on to stay cool. We were shooting in a very warm part of the year in Los Angeles, and it was difficult, especially with the Wookiees. They took a lot more breaks than they had calculated.

Ripps: I knew how frustrated David was. It wasn’t his vision. He phoned me up and said, “I’m not going to be working on this anymore.”

Acomba left after only shooting a handful of scenes. A frantic Smith phoned Steve Binder, a director with extensive experience in television—he had overseen the famous Elvis ’68 Comeback Special—and told him he needed someone to report to the set the following Monday morning.

Steve Binder (Director): I was between projects and got a call from Gary basically saying they had completely shut down in Burbank and there was talk of shutting it down for good. The first thing I realized was, they had built this phenomenal Chewbacca home on a huge film stage, but it was a 360-degree set. There was no fourth wall to remove to bring multiple cameras into the home. I would think it would be impossible for a crew to even get into the set to shoot anything.

Puritz: I think David was part of that plan.

Heider: I remember when that happened. I don’t think it was David’s idea. It was the way it was conceived by producers on how to make this look really cool, but it didn’t work. You have no lighting control. Steve got it. He’s really a pro. There’s no ego.

Binder: They FedExed me the script. The first thing I looked at was, the first 10 minutes was done with basically no dialogue from the actors. It was strictly Chewbacca sounds. The sound effects people would use bear sounds for the voicing. It concerned me, but there was no time to start changing the script.

Ripps: We had concerns about that. But George said, "This is the story I want to tell."

Binder: The Chewbacca family could only be in the costumes for 45 minutes. Then they’d have the heads taken off, and be given oxygen. It slowed everything down. The suits were so physically cumbersome and heavy. The actress playing Lumpy [Patty Maloney], when she came in, I don’t think she was more than 80 or 90 pounds and she a lost tremendous amount of weight while filming.

In addition to guest stars Bea Arthur, Harvey Korman, and Art Carney, Lucasfilm approached most of the principals from the feature for cameo appearances. Feeling indebted to Lucas, they agreed to participate—reluctantly.

Puritz: They had made this big movie, and now they’re doing a TV special. Carrie Fisher did not want to be there.

Herman: They didn’t love doing TV. At that time, movie actors didn’t do TV. There was a stigma against it.

Thomas Searle via YouTube

Heider: Harrison Ford was not happy to be there at all. Carrie Fisher, I think part of her deal was she got to sing a song, and that was her draw to it. Because Lucas was involved, and if another movie is coming out in two years, there’s pressure to keep going. So they showed up, on time. Mostly.

Binder: My recall with the whole cast was that there was a little mumbling going on with a few of the actors who felt they should’ve been compensated more for the movie. I think Lucas did do that after the special, giving them small percentages.

Heider: We were doing a scene where Ford was sitting in the Millennium Falcon and he just wanted to get his lines done and he made that very clear. “Can we just do this? How long is this going to take?”

Harrison Ford (via press tour, 2011): It was in my contract. There was no known way to get out of it.

Heider: Mark Hamill was a good guy. He just had that normal-guy-trying-to-work vibe.

Mark Hamill (via Reddit, 2014): I thought it was a mistake from the beginning. It was just unlike anything else in the Star Wars universe. And I initially said that I didn't want to do it, but George said it would help keep Star Wars in the consciousness and I wanted to be a team player, so I did it. And I also said that I didn't think Luke should sing, so they cut that number.

Herman: I worked with the actors on a lot of the ancillary stuff. Honestly, they were just all so dopey.


TheSWHolidaySpecial via YouTube


Before Acomba departed the production, he and Lucas reached out to a Canadian animation company, Nelvana, to prepare a nine-minute cartoon that would formally introduce one of the characters from The Empire Strikes Back: Boba Fett. The bounty hunter originated from a design for an unused Stormtrooper by production designers Joe Johnston and Ralph McQuarrie; he was intended to make public appearances in the interim between films, initially popping up at the San Anselmo County Fair parade in September of 1978.

Michael Hirsh (Nelvana Co-Founder): David knew me personally. Lucas watched a special of ours, A Cosmic Christmas, that was just coming on air at the time. He asked people on his crew, including David, who we were. David said, "Oh, I know these guys." We were not a well-known company at time.

Clive Smith (Nelvana Co-Founder, Animation Director): Lucas supplied a script that he wrote. I think I probably had about two weeks to storyboard, then start character designs.

Hirsh: Frankly, I think the cartoon was more along the lines of what Lucas wanted to do in the first place—if he did the special, there was a possibility Fox and CBS would fund Star Wars cartoons. The variety show itself wasn’t something he was particularly interested in.

Smith: We ended up shooting slides of each storyboard frame. There must’ve been 300 to 400 frames. I loaded them up, put myself on a plane, and went down to San Francisco and did a presentation with a slide projector. I was in this room of people who were absolutely silent. Things that were funny, not a whimper or murmur. But at the end, George clapped.

Hirsh: CBS wanted him to use one of the L.A. studios, like Hanna-Barbera, who did most of the Saturday morning cartoons. But Lucas, from the beginning of his career, had a thing for independent companies, people who weren’t in L.A. The style of animation was modeled after [French artist] Jean “Moebius” Geraud, at Lucas’s request.

TheSWHolidaySpecial via YouTube

Smith: A lot of the designs and characters were inspired by Moebius, who did a lot of work for Heavy Metal magazine. We thought it was a good direction to point ourselves in. At the time, there was no Star Wars animation to follow.

Hirsh: There was a big deal made about the introduction of Boba Fett.

Smith: We needed to design Boba Fett, and all we had was some black and white footage of a costumed actor who had been photographed in someone’s backyard moving around. We took what was there and turned it into a graphic idea.

Hirsh: I directed the voice sessions. Anthony Daniels (C-3PO) had the most dialogue, and the other actors came in for short sessions. Harrison Ford and the other performers generally came in and nailed lines, whereas Mark Hamill was anxious to try different things. [Hamill would go on to a successful career in voiceover work.]

Herman: Michael got upset when I told him Princess Leia wore a belt. It was part of her costume, and they didn’t have it. Redoing it was going to cost them a lot of money.

Hirsh: That’s possible. Lucas was happy with how it turned out. After the special, we stayed in touch and we were developing a project with Lucasfilm and the Bee Gees. Nothing ever came of it.


Thomas Searle via YouTube

Nelvana had a relatively smooth journey to the finish line compared to the live-action production team. By the time Binder was prepared to shoot the climactic “Life Day” celebration with the entire cast and a group of robed Wookiees, there was virtually no money in the budget left for a large-scale spectacle.

Binder: No one ever mentioned there was no set for the closing. I was told by the art director we had no money for it in the budget. So I said, "No problem, just go out and buy every candle you can find in the store." We filled an empty stage with candles. I had experimented with this on another special, maybe a Victor Borge ice skating show. Candles in a dark environment give off an incredibly creative effect.

Herman: The sad truth is, everyone was so overwhelmed. Ken and Mitzie knew that last scene was a disaster. They came to me saying, "Help us." But George was out of the picture. It was a runaway production.

Ripps: Acomba and Lucas had walked away from it. They weren’t there to fight for anything.

Lucas: It just kept getting reworked and reworked, moving away into this bizarre land. They were trying to make one kind of thing and I was trying to make another, and it ended up being a weird hybrid between the two.

Heider: They were spending a lot of money for stage rental, lighting, a TV truck, and everyone was putting in really long hours. It translated into a big below-line budget problem. 

Herman: Honestly, a set wasn’t going to save that scene. All the Wookiees were wearing [consumer licensee] Don Post masks.

Premiering November 17, 1978, The Star Wars Holiday Special was seen by 13 million viewers, a significant but not overly impressive audience for the three-network television landscape of the era. It came in second to The Love Boat on ABC for its first hour, with a marked drop-off following the conclusion of the cartoon at the halfway point. Gurgling, apron-clad Wookiees, low-budget Imperial threats—they do nothing more sinister than trash Lumpy’s room—and an appearance by Jefferson Starship proved too bizarre for viewers.

Binder: I felt you have to open with a bang, really grab the audience, make it worth their time to sit and watch. The opening scene going on as long as it did was a killer for the TV audience.

Ripps: I had no idea what had happened to it. When it was broadcast, I had a party at my house and ordered catering. After the first commercial, I turned it off and said, "Let’s eat."

Binder: The day I finished shooting, I was on to other projects. It’s the only show I never edited or supervised the editing of. The Welches had the whole weight of the unedited special in their hands, and I questioned how much experience they had at that given they were songwriters.

Heider: Somebody made choices in terms of how long each scene would be on TV, and it's really painful.

Herman: I remember I was moving to Marin County the next day. I was staying at a friend’s house, and their son was a Star Wars fan. I had given him all the toys. Watching him watch it, he was really bored.

Binder: What I realized was, the public was not told this wasn’t going to be Star Wars. It was not the second movie. It was going to be a TV show to sell toys to kids. That was the real purpose of the show. It had nowhere near the budget of a feature film. [Lucasfilm and Kenner produced prototype action figures of Chewbacca’s family; they were never released.]

Heider: I didn’t watch it when it was on, but I do have a copy I bought several years ago on eBay. It’s not a great copy, but it’s enough to show how it was cut together. I haven’t been able to sit through whole thing at one time.

Herman: George hated it, but he knew there was nothing he could do about it.

Thomas Searle via YouTube

Binder: I never met Lucas, never got a phone call, anything. Which was disappointing to me. It was his show, he developed it. To totally walk away from it and critique it negatively was, I felt, not cool.

Ripps: One of the reasons I took the job was I thought it would be an annuity. Every year, I’d get a check for Star Wars.

Hirsh: I did watch it. I was happy with our contribution. It was a phenomenal opportunity for our little company. We got to work on the Droids and Ewoks animated shows later on.

Ripps: I still go out to dinners on the stories. Once, at a dinner party, one of the waiters had Star Wars tattoos up and down both of his arms. When he found out I wrote the special, we got better service than anyone in the restaurant.

Lucas: I’m sort of amused by it, because it is so bizarre. It's definitely avant garde television. It's definitely bad enough to be a classic.

Herman: The interesting thing is, the day after the special aired was the day of the Jonestown Massacre. It was just a bad time for everyone.

Dwight Hemion (via NPR, 2002): It was the worst piece of crap I’ve ever done.

This article originally ran in 2015.

YouTube Is Now Streaming Free Movies—as Long as You'll Sit Through Some Ads


If Netflix doesn’t have that movie you’ve been wanting to watch, try searching YouTube instead. The popular video platform is now streaming feature-length movies for free, but you’ll have to endure ads “at regular intervals,” The Verge reports.

The selection is limited to just 100 films for now, but YouTube plans to expand its offerings at a later date. They’re mostly older action films and rom-coms, but there are some crowd-pleasers on offer, including the first five Rocky movies, The Terminator, a few Pink Panther films, and Legally Blonde.

You can find these gratis selections in YouTube’s “Free to Watch” category, which was quietly rolled out last month. It falls under the Movies & Shows section, which was previously reserved for renting and buying movies.

"We saw this opportunity based on user demand, beyond just offering paid movies,” Rohit Dhawan, YouTube's director of product management, told AdAge. It’s also a good opportunity for advertisers, he added. This could pave the way for companies to start sponsoring movies, resulting in exclusive screenings for YouTube viewers.

According to Gizmodo, YouTube's ability to offer free movies stems from its already-existing partnerships with major Hollywood studios. And YouTube isn’t the only company trying to become a bigger player in the streaming market. Nickelodeon launched its NickSplat channel earlier this year, and Disney plans to release its Disney+ service in 2019.

Meanwhile, Amazon's Prime Video has grown to become a worthy rival of Netflix. As of September, it had the largest movie library of all the major streaming platforms, with more than 10,700 films in its collection.

[h/t Gizmodo]