Cameos have become commonplace in the Star Wars universe. Perhaps most famously, a Stormtrooper was played by Daniel Craig, best known for his portrayal of the British spy James Bond. He’s one in a long list that includes Tom Hardy, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, John Williams, and George Lucas himself. One appearance in the original Star Wars will go unnoticed by even the most dedicated fan. That cameo was made – unknowingly – by John Wayne.
In a galaxy not so far away
Star Wars is no stranger to the Western genre and John Wayne’s films. Harrison Ford’s Han Solo has a particular gunslinging cowboy spirit about him, and so too do the bounty hunters who have appeared in various films from the original trilogy to the newer series such as The Mandalorian and The Book of Boba Fett. All the movies have taken some lessons from Westerns.
There’s a scene in A New Hope when Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) races back to his aunt and uncle’s farm to find it destroyed, with smoke pouring from the burnt-out structures. The bodies of his aunt and uncle strike a resemblance to a scene in the 1956 John Wayne film, The Searchers. Like Luke Skywalker, Wayne (as Ethan Edwards) returns to his family’s homestead on fire, black smoke billowing into the air, and also discovers the body of his loved ones.
But Wayne ultimately did more than influence particular scenes or even the style of the movie. He actually appeared in A New Hope, or at least was heard, kind of.
Garindan the Kubaz spy
In A New Hope, after finding his aunt and uncle dead, Luke decides to join Obi-Wan Kenobi (Alec Guinness), along with his two droids C-3PO (Anthony Daniels) and R2-D2 (Kenny Baker), in seeking out Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher). To do so, they require a ship that turns out to be the Millennium Falcon, piloted by Han Solo and Chewbacca (Peter Mayhew).
Their departure from Tatooine is not as easy as they expected, with Desert Stormtroopers and spies from the Empire searching for Luke’s droids. One of these spies is Garindan.
Garindan stands out when on screen. In addition to wearing all black on a desert planet, he also appears to be some kind of insectoid resembling a cross between a mosquito and a plague doctor’s mask. The sound made by Garindan is a garbled buzzing noise. That was John Wayne.
Ben Burtt, who was the sound engineer behind all of the famous sounds from the Star Wars franchise, only revealed this in 2007. When working on Attack of the Clones, Burtt returned to Garindan for inspiration for Poggle the Lesser, who is also an insectoid.
In his notes, Burtt realized the origin of the sounds made by Garindan. “I discovered it was an electronic buzzing which had come off of my synthesizer that was triggered by a human voice. And I listened to it and realized it was John Wayne. I had found some loop lines in the trash from the studio that had been thrown away. So the buzzing was triggered by some dialog like ‘All right, what are you doin’ in this town’ or something like that.”
Wayne most likely never knew about his part in Star Wars, as he died in 1979. His final film, The Shootist, was released in 1976, a year before A New Hope, so while Wayne was uncredited, Star Wars is technically his final film.