As ‘Star Wars: Episode VII’ approaches, set to arrive some 38 years after ‘A New Hope’ made stars of the cast, we got to wondering just how much the likes of Harrison Ford, Mark Hamill and Carrie Fisher were paid for their troubles.
Did they cash in single paycheques, or did they play the smart game and take percentage points, ensuring they’d forever live in solid gold houses and drive rocket cars? Read on to find out…
Harrison Ford - Han Solo
Aside from George Lucas, Ford was arguably the man who profited most from ‘Star Wars’ – just not necessarily in financial terms. After earning $500 a week in Lucas’ 'American Grafitti’, Ford supplemented his carpentry income by reading Han Solo’s lines during 'Star Wars’ auditions; Lucas liked him so much, he got the role for a cool $10,000.
Though he never signed a contract throughout the trilogy, Ford had one hell of a pay rise for ‘The Empire Strikes Back’, earning $100,000, but he quintupled that figure for ‘Return Of The Jedi’. Given how ambivalent he seems towards ‘Star Wars’ these days, one wonders exactly how big a paycheque was written to lure him back for ‘Episode VII’ – and you have to think his broken leg is going to cost Disney.
Mark Hamill - Luke Skywalker
Unlike Ford, Hamill was actually a career actor and had plenty of TV experience before he was cast as Luke Skywalker, the role of a lifetime. Hamill’s salary for ‘A New Hope’ was allegedly $650,000 – not a bad chunk of change back in 1977. However, this fee was in addition to percentage points which many of the principle actors agreed on: they would receive ¼ of a per cent of the movie’s total profit, as well as revenue on re-releases, TV screenings and more.
It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that that tiny percentage point would end up making Mark Hamill way more rich than his up-front payday. He won’t come cheap for ‘Episode VII’ either.
Carrie Fisher - Princess Leia
Though Fisher’s salary for the original ‘Star Wars’ trilogy was never disclosed, she did reveal that she didn’t benefit from some of the merchandising deals that made the movie’s more forward-thinking cast members millionaires. “When I was 19, I was cast as Princess Leia in ‘Star Wars’,” says Fisher. “The mistake was I signed away my likeness for free.”
You can bet she negotiated a smarter deal for ‘Episode VII’, but that doesn’t mean her missed opportunity doesn’t hurt. “I wonder if Natalie Portman is getting more money than the none I’m getting,” she says. “If she’s holding a cheque for Princess Amidala’s likeness in one hand and her Oscar in the other, that would piss me off.” Fisher did, however, receive ¼ of a per cent of ‘Star Wars” profits.
Alec Guinness - Obi-Wan Kenobi
Guinness was not afraid of blasting George Lucas’ dialogue and considered ‘Star Wars’ something of an albatross around his neck, although that didn’t stop him from profiting considerably from the series’ success. Guinness’ agent negotiated the best deal of all the cast members: he received 2 and ¼ percentage points of ‘Star Wars” total profits, which netted Guinness around $3.3 million at the time.
By the turn of the century, it’s alleged the esteemed actor had earned around £56 million in total from ‘Star Wars’, which was more than he made from his next 40 biggest movies combined.
Dave Prowse - Darth Vader
Strongman David Prowse was the body of Darth Vader, if not the voice, and it seems this crucial fact might have screwed him out of the payday of a lifetime. Despite playing Vader across all three movies – even if James Earl Jones provided Darth’s booming tones – Prowse claims he’s never been paid for his work, due to extremely ‘creative’ Hollywood accounting.
“I get these occasional letters from LucasFilm saying that ‘We regret to inform you that as ‘Return Of The Jedi’ has never gone into profit, we’ve got nothing to send you,’” says Prowse. For the record, ‘Return Of The Jedi’ is the 15th most successful movie ever made. Poor Dave.
Peter Mayhew - Chewbacca
The Andy Serkis of his day, if you will, Peter Mayhew brought Chewbacca to life in ‘A New Hope’ and toiled for endless hours inside a fur-lined suit. His recompense for his hard work? $450 a week. Unbelievably, Mayhew had to take 12 weeks off work at London’s Mayday Hospital to take the role, and he returned to the job once shooting had been completed, where he’d clean bedpans and mop the floor for minimum wage – he even had to move back in with his parents at age 33.
It’s thought he fared a little better once ‘Star Wars’ became an international phenomenon and the sequels rolled around – hopefully his ‘Episode VII’ paycheque will buy him his own place.
James Earl Jones - Darth Vader’s Voice
Dave Prowse gave Darth Vader his presence, but James Earl Jones gave the Sith Lord his menace – Vader’s heavy breathing helped make him the most iconic screen villain ever. When it was decided that Dave Prowse’s Bristolian accent wasn’t quite suitably for a terrifying space tyrant, James Earl Jones was drafted in, but he was only paid around £5,000 to voice Vader in ‘A New Hope’.
“My agents didn’t envision it being a success,” said Earl Jones. “They advised me to just take the money and run.” Presumably those agents were fired by the time ‘The Empire Strikes Back’ began production.
Warwick Davis - Wicket the Ewok
Though he didn’t appear in the ‘Star Wars’ trilogy until ‘Return Of The Jedi’, Warwick Davis quickly became a fan favourite for his portrayal of Wicket the Ewok and has been synonymous with ‘Star Wars’ ever since. “I was paid £60 a day for being able to live out my dream,” reminisces Davis, who was 11 when he was cast.
“My mum and dad were my agents and we were dealing with LucasFilm, a very respectable company, so if there was any negotiating to be done, I was looked after properly. Looking back, £60 was an absolute fortune, but it wasn’t as important as the thrill of meeting Luke Skywalker. Money didn’t even enter my head, as I’d have done it without being paid.”
Image credit: 20th Century Fox/Rex/Press Association