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Alec Guinness in Star Wars

Sir Alec took a percentage rather than a flat fee for his role in Star Wars and his estate still rakes in stupendous royalties from a movie first released in 1977. The deal has assumed legendary status in Hollywood and has been used as a blueprint by top-earning stars. But it was a gamble at the time, as few predicted that Star Wars would prove such a box-office winner.

Sir Alec's canniness made him one of the highest-paid British actors. But he discounted industry gossip that the re-release in 1997 clinched him the highest fee to have been paid for a single movie. "Some have said that I have already earned £120 million - divide that by 20 and you might be nearer the mark," Sir Alec said. "But the sums keep changing."

He said the re-release of the film would earn him more money. Star Wars was re-released in Britain on March 21 1997. "I still have a contract which says that I earn a percentage cut from the film and, of course, I'm very pleased about it," Sir Alec said. One of Britain's most distinguished actors, he retired in 1995 after 60 years of stage and screen roles.

His agent at the time of Star Wars, Dennis van Thal, is understood to have struck a deal in which Sir Alec would receive two per cent of the gross royalties paid to the director, George Lucas. The director received a fifth of the box-office takings. Star Wars grossed $560 million (£373 million) worldwide. Sir Alec would also have received royalties for the video release and the film's two original sequels, in which his character returned in spiritual form.

His role as Obi-Wan Kenobi in Star Wars, and in the sequels - The Empire Strikes Back, released in 1980, and Return of the Jedi which followed in 1984 - will have earned him more than his combined earnings from his 40 other film roles. These include Bridge on the River Kwai (1957), for which he won an Oscar.

"My cut for The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi was less than one per cent," he said. "But when you're talking about millions and millions of dollars, it gets very lucrative. I haven't got a clue how much I made from it. I haven't bothered to count it all up, but I did very well out of it, and bought a house and a Mercedes."

Many of the technicians who worked on Star Wars at Elstree studios in Hertfordshire were offered percentages but turned them down. It was a decision they would come to regret. When George Lucas made the first film, few people had an inkling of its future success. His script, for which he was paid £15,000, was turned down by two studios before Twentieth Century Fox agreed to finance it.

Fox was delighted to accept Lucas's offer to swap his director's fee of £250,000 for the serialisation and licensing rights. This was to prove to be the basis of his £1.2 billion fortune.

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