Close Encounters of the Jedi Kind

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In 1999, George Lucas disappointed Star Wars fans around the world with The Phantom Menace, a forgettable first prequel to the initial Star Wars trilogy. From Jar Jar Binks to midichlorians, there are not a lot of positives to take away from the movie. (Okay, the Darth Maul lightsaber duel is pretty cool.) But there’s at least one pretty fun easter egg, highlighted above. During a meeting of the Republic of the Senate, you see a variety of different races and species voicing their displeasure at the current galactic leadership. (Watch the scene here.) One of those species are the Asogians, but you probably know them better E.T.’s siblings and cousins.

E.T., though, isn’t a creation of George Lucas — he’s from a Steven Spielberg movie of the same name. And yet, this isn’t the only Lucas’Spielberg crossover reference. In the Indiana Jones franchise — Spielberg movies — you’ll see two more. The more prominent one, seen below, comes from the Temple of Doom — that’s Club Obi Wan, a reference to the Jedi, of course. The much, much more subtle one appears in Raiders of the Lost Ark; as Mental Floss details (with pictures), R2-D2 and C-3P0 appear as hieroglyphics in the room with the Ark.

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And then there’s R2-D2 again, this time hanging, upside-down, from the hull of the mothership in Spielberg’s Close Encounters of the Third Kind, seen here. (He’s not very clear there, but the model used for that shot is in the Smithsonian’s collection, and R2 is plainly present.) It’s fair to say that Lucas and Spielberg, then, share a friendship. But as it turns out, they share a lot more than that — they also share a ton of money.

Close Encounters of the Third Kind and Star Wars both came out in 1977. Having just come off the success of Jaws, Spielberg had a lot of leverage and flexibility to make another film, and Close Encounters was therefore given Columbia Pictures’ full support. But, as recounted in a previous Now I Know, Star Wars wasn’t expected to do very well — Lucas’ studio, 20th Century Fox, only secured 40 theaters for its opening weekend.

The relative success of the two films became a point of contention between the two filmmakers — but not in the way you think. As io9 reported, one day, “Lucas was visiting Spielberg on the set of Close Encounters of the Third Kind in 1977, before Star Wars: A New Hope came out. Suddenly, the two of them were arguing which movie would do better — but they were arguing for each other’s films. Lucas said Close Encounters would make more money, while Spielberg insisted on Star Wars.”

So, they made a bet. Spielberg recounted the terms in an interview with Turner Classic Movies, which UPI later recapped:

“He said, ‘Oh my God, your movie is going to be so much more successful than Star Wars! This is gonna be the biggest hit of all time. I can’t believe this set. I can’t believe what you’re getting, and oh my goodness,'” Spielberg said of Lucas. “He said, ‘All right, I’ll tell you what. I’ll trade some points with you. You want to trade some points? I’ll give you 2.5 percent of Star Wars if you give me 2.5 percent of Close Encounters. So I said, ‘Sure, I’ll gamble with that. Great.’”

Close Encounters made more than $300 million at the box office — a success by any measure — but of course, Star Wars grew to become a cultural touchstone for multiple generations. In total, Spielberg made more than $40 million on the point trade. (Lucas probably doesn’t mind — Star Wars made him a billionaire.)

Bonus fact: Star Wars also beat Close Encounters in the Academy Awards — Close Encounters had 8 nominations and won two categories; Star Wars had 10 nominations and six wins. Composer John Williams was nominated for Best Original Score for his work in Close Encounters but lost — to himself. His score for Star Wars earned him his 3rd of five career Oscars.

From the Archives: The Life and Lies of Darth Vader: Why the cast of Empire Strikes Back thought (maybe) that Obi-Wan was Luke’s father.

Related: Quite simply, the best Darth Vader toy ever made.