James Earl Jones Star Wars Decision Cost Him ‘Tens Of Millions Of Dollars’


Highlights

  • James Earl Jones missed out on a fortune from Star Wars because he refused points in the film’s future profits.
  • David Prowse, the actor behind Darth Vader’s physical portrayal, claims he has never received any profits from Return of the Jedi.
  • George Lucas, despite creating Star Wars, didn’t have confidence in its success and ended up giving away 2.5% of the film’s profits to Steven Spielberg.


Looking back at cinematic history, there is no doubt that Star Wars is one of the most successful franchises of all time. Incredibly influential, fans love the franchise so much that they want to know the truth about stars like Harrison Ford and Billy Dee Williams’ relationship.

However, the truth is that some Star Wars cast members didn’t have the best experience. One possible example of that is Natalie Portman who struggled to get hired after Star Wars. While James Earl Jones has landed a slew of roles, the fact that he missed out on a fortune in Star Wars money could have made him bitter.


How Did James Earl Jones Cost Himself A Fortune?

When Star Wars was released in 1977, the film became a mammoth hit that went on to spawn a gigantic franchise that has brought in billions. As a result, it can be easy for people to forget that nobody knew what the movie was going to become.

James Earl Jones bowing
Via: Instar

In fact, there is no doubt that many of the people involved thought Star Wars was going to flop. Unfortunately for James Early Jones, his lack of belief in Star Wars cost the legendary actor a truly staggering amount of money.

When Star Wars was filmed, it seemed like the actor who embodied Darth Vader would also provide the character’s voice. However, George Lucas ultimately decided that David Prowse didn’t have the right voice for Darth Vader.

After Lucas originally wanted to have Orson Welles voice the character, James Earl Jones got the role. During a 2010 appearance on Live! with Regis and Kelly, Jones described how he got hired to work on Star Wars.

Related: The Sad Reason Daisy Ridley Related To Star Wars’s Rey And The Character In Her 2023 Indie Film, Sometimes I Think About Dying

According to Jones, it wasn’t a big deal when he was hired to voice Darth Vader. Instead, Jones’s agent got a call from the studio that the actor described as being very casual. “Hey, does Jimmy want a day’s work?”

Since Star Wars was produced on a low budget, Lucas and the studio couldn’t offer actors big paydays to star in the film. In fact, they wanted to save money on salaries where they could. According to Celebrity Net Worth, that resulted in Jones being offered a different kind of deal.

“When Jones was first approached about providing his voice work, production was spiraling over its modest budget. In order to save costs, George Lucas offered to give Jones points instead of salary for his role. Points are like equity in a company‚Ķ basically shares in the movie’s future profits, assuming it ever makes a profit.”

James Earl Jones beside Darth Vader
Via: Instar

Jones refused that offer and insisted that he had to get paid upfront instead. As a result of that decision, Jones was only paid $7,000 to provide Darth Vader’s voice in Star Wars.

How Much Money Did Star Wars Make:

1977

Production Budget: $11,000,000

Domestic Box Office: $460,998,007

Worldwide Box Office: $775,398,007

According to Celebrity Net Worth, Jones spoke to Regis Philbin and Kelly Ripa about how costly that decision was for him. As the Star Wars actor spoke on Live! with Regis and Kelly, he talked about losing “tens of millions of dollars”.

While it is very likely that Jones lost that kind of money based on what is known about his deal, that could also be wrong. The reason for that is another Star Wars actor’s contract negotiation has become a Hollywood cautionary tale.

Was Darth Vader Actor David Prowse Tricked Out Of Millions?

Even though James Earl Jones is the actor that fans most associate with Darth Vader, David Prowse embodied the character. The person who was behind the mask during the filming of the original trilogy, Prowse has gone down in Hollywood history.

Related: George Lucas Refused To Speak To Original Darth Vader Actor David Prowse, Here’s What Really Caused Their Bitter Feud

Unfortunately for Prowse, however, he claims that he has never cashed in from Return of the Jedi. As the story goes, Prowse made a deal to get profit sharing in return for his work embodying Darth Vader in Return of the Jedi.

How Much Money Did Return Of The Jedi Make?

1983

Production Budget: $32,500,000

Domestic Box Office: $316,465,003

Worldwide Box Office: $482,365,284

Amazingly enough, however, Prowse has long insisted that he has never been paid any profits from Return of the Jedi. The reason for that is Prowse says that the studio has insisted for decades that Return of the Jedi didn’t make a profit. During an interview with Equity Magazine that Slash Film quoted, Prowse described how he still got letters claiming Return of the Jedi isn’t profitable.

What Really Happened Between George Lucas And David Prowse That Turned Their Relationship So Sour
Via: TheThings

“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. Now here we’re talking about one of the biggest releases of all time. I don’t want to look like I’m bitching about it, but on the other hand, if there’s a pot of gold somewhere that I ought to be having a share of, I would like to see it.”

How Did George Lucas Miss Out On Making Millions More From Star Wars?

When fans learn that James Earl Jones wasn’t confident in Star Wars’ success, that seems wild. However, what is even more amazing is that George Lucas also didn’t have confidence in the movie he made.

Related: Did Natalie Portman And Keira Knightley Truly Get Along While Playing The Same Character In Star Wars: The Phantom Menace?

Around the same time, Lucas was working on Star Wars, his friend Steven Spielberg was busy making a classic movie too. Eventually, Spielberg invited Lucas to visit him on the set of his movie, Close Encounters of the Third Kind.

During that fateful visit, both men were worried about the movies they were making. Simultaneously, Lucas believed Close Encounters of the Third Kind was going to be a hit and Spielberg had confidence in Star Wars.

Since both men lacked self-confidence but believed in each other, they came up with a plan.

George Lucas and Steven Spielberg's friendship
Via: Instar

As a part of their deals, George Lucas and Steven Spielberg had partial ownership over the movies they were making at that time.

While Lucas was visiting Spielberg, they decided to swap part of their stakes in their films. What that means is, Lucas owns 2.5% of Close Encounters of the Third Kind and Spielberg owns 2.5% of the first Star Wars movie.

How Successful Is Close Encounters of the Third Kind:

1977

Production Budget: $20,000,000

Domestic Box Office: $169,100,479

Worldwide Box Offfice: $340,800,479

While Close Encounters of the Third Kind was a huge hit, Star Wars has been a lot more profitable. As a result, Lucas lost a lot more money from giving up 2.5% of Star Wars than he gained from getting 2.5% of Close Encounters of the Third Kind.



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