I felt a great disturbance in the Force, as if millions of voices suddenly cried out in terror and were suddenly silenced.
Despite a long and celebrated career on stage and screen, this famous line from the original Star Wars will likely be the scene that most people remember in association with the name of Sir Alec Guinness.
As the Jedi Obi-Wan Kenobi, Guinness is suddenly overcome when the entire population of the distant planet Alderaan is instantaneously killed when the Empire’s “Death Star” destroys the planet. He feels this through ‘the Force’, a mystical power that gives him and other Jedi paranormal-like physical and mental abilities.
Interestingly, Sir Alec once had a real-life ‘paranormal experience’ of his own. In a talk on science fiction’s use of parapsychological themes, researcher Dean Radin pointed out that in a 1977 TV interview with Michael Parkinson (post Star Wars release, in which he also discussed the film and how his 2.25% cut of the takings came about), Sir Alec told of a “very very odd, spooky experience” he had upon meeting James Dean, shortly before the iconic star’s death in a car accident.
And when told by Sir Alec himself (see video below) – in the voice we all now know as Obi-Wan Kenobi – it certainly sounds like a manifestation of ‘the Force’.
In September 1955, fresh off a plane and spending his first night ever in Hollywood, Guinness was out looking for a meal when James Dean approached him, asking the celebrated thespian to join him for dinner at the Villa Capri, a small Italian restaurant frequented by stars. But on the way into the restaurant, Dean first took them into the car-park, saying…
“Before we go in, I must you show something. I’ve just got a new car.” And there in the courtyard of this little restaurant was a – I don’t know what the car was, some little silver, very smart thing…all done up in cellophane with a bunch of roses tied to its bonnet. And I said, “How fast can you drive it”. And he said “Oh I can do 150 in it”. And I said “Have you driven it?” He said “No, I’ve never been in it at all.”
And some strange thing came over me, almost a different voice, and I said “Look I won’t join your table unless you want me to, but I must say something: please, do not get into that car. Because if you do,” and I looked at my watch, and I said “if you get into that car at all, it’s now Thursday”…whatever the day it was…”10 o’clock at night, and by 10 o’clock at night next Thursday you’ll be dead if you get into that car.”
[mimics James Dean’s response with a wave of the hand] “Nonsense”.
So we had dinner, a charming dinner, and he was dead the following Thursday afternoon, in that car. It was rather a very very odd, spooky experience.
Guinness does make the mistake in the interview of saying it was Thursday, when in fact James Dean died on Friday 30th September. Though in writing of the incident he has correctly said the dinner was on Friday the 23rd of September (and in the interview he also off-handedly notes “whatever the day it was”), with Dean dying within the week.
Also, when Michael Parkinson asks him if anything like that had ever happened to him before, Sir Alec replies “No, I’m glad to say”. But this wasn’t absolutely true: while serving in the Royal Navy Volunteer Reserve during World War II, he was tasked with taking his craft to the island of Vis to evacuate 400 women and children ahead of an anticipated German invasion. The day before the mission – New Year’s Eve, 1943 – he was resting on his bunk when he heard a voice suddenly say “Tomorrow”. He wrote in his diary that he took this as a premonition of his own death during the evacuation mission – and while he obviously survived, his ship was hit by a storm and had to be abandoned after being pushed onto rocks.
It seems that, just like in the Star Wars universe, in real life Obi-Wan Kenobi had mystical powers, and yet never actually seemed to stop anything awful from happening…