Abandoned ‘Star Wars’ Plot Points Episode IV: A Family that Slays Together Strays Apart
Planet of the Wookiees, expendable heroes, familiar clones, depressing endings, unknown siblings, and more twins than you can shake a saber at: is this the Star Wars saga you remember?
As reported in "Abandoned Star Wars Plot Points, Episode I: The Ties That Surround Us, Bind Us and Penetrate Us" a lot of crazy concepts almost made it into the Star Wars saga, like Obi-Wan as the brother of Uncle Owen and Boba Fett as the brother of Darth Vader. In the sequel, "Abandoned Star Wars Plot Points, Episode II: The Force Behind the Scenes", we talked about the confusing plethora of various scripts that George Lucas had brewing in the background throughout the saga's history. In the next episode, "Abandoned Star Wars Plot Points, Episode III: Evolution of Light and Dark", the changing faces of the characters we thought we knew so well were explored in weird detail.
By now, anyone who gives a womp rat's ass about the Saga “Uncle George” built has seen the Star Wars: Episode VII -- The Force Awakens trailers, and have contemplated the answers and the questions they both bring forth. So far, we've seen the now aging Luke, Chewbacca and Han still being themselves in the future years after that final Ewok-hosted party on Endor (which was the fans' biggest gripe point about the series until the coming of Jar Jar Binks). The rest of the gang is largely comprised of characters we don't know so well; so far we have little idea how they fit together. Then again, even the Star Wars relationships we take for granted were not always carved in stone.
If you can believe it, Aunt Beru was once intended to be related to Emperor Palpatine, Luke had six siblings, Leia was Luke's cousin, and Han Solo was, at one point, Luke's brother (in a completely different draft, so that he was never one of the "seven brothers" and never had to musically seek out “seven brides”). If you think that's insane, check out these exposés of what almost went into the "Star Wars Family" and see how that floats your sail barge.
1. Luke has a Force-sensitive sister... and it's not Leia!
As I've reported in the first three "episodes" of this PopMatters series, there were a ton of evolving scripts and treatments coming from the pen of George Lucas, before, during, and after the actual production of the movies themselves. Darth Vader and Anakin Skywalker were originally distinct characters. Yoda was never envisioned until necessity created him. Obi Wan was once a cyborg. Boba Fett was a cop. The Emperor was originally named "Cos Dashit".
One thing I haven't mentioned, however, is that the Star Wars saga has always been simply lousy with twins. We've seen this on the big screen with Luke and Leia and in the expanded universe with Jaina and Jacen Solo. Going back to the second draft of Lucas' Star Wars script, the Skywalker family had a set of twins in Luke's younger brothers Biggs and Windy. Yep, Luke was not one of the twins, and the character of Leia was, in fact, the biological daughter of Uncle Owen and Aunt Beru. Tellingly, a number of planets in the Star Wars saga also have "twin suns".
In the early drafts of The Empire Strikes Back, the Ghost of Anakin (making him Darth Vader pretty hard to pull off) reveals to Luke that he does, indeed, have a twin sister. Hell, we all know that... it's Leia, right?
See, just as in the final versions we got, the Skywalker twins were separated at birth, with Luke sent to live with Uncle Owen and Aunt Beru. However, unlike the final story, that second twin was not to become a princess senator like Leia did. While Luke is making due with old desert hermits and tiny Mister Spocks, Luke's sister is training to be a Jedi on the other side of the galaxy. The ghost of Anakin, in fact, will not reveal the location of this sister for fear that Darth Vader might sense who (and where) she is through the Force. The plan (which, unlike what we saw in Revenge of the Sith, did include Anakin) was to keep the twins separated so that if one should die, the galaxy and the "good guys" would still have a champion.
Remember Obi Wan's exchange with Yoda in The Empire Strikes Back, in which Yoda argues that Luke is not their last hope, but instead that "there is another?" That makes a whole lot more sense now, doesn't it? Leia was, at the time, certainly not to become a Jedi candidate. Further, good old Lucas himself has indicated that such a plot point was important for audience suspense. With that point intact, the fans could believe that Luke was never the sole hero and he could actually have been killed off in any given moment because the saga would continue with "another". How's that for suspense? Everyone is expendable in the Star Wars galaxy.
There is much debate over who the hell this "Other" might be. Aside from Luke's twin, speculation has led to a future apprentice or a separate hidden Jedi. But if the twin sister is not Leia, does that ruin things, or could it have made things a bit more awesome?
Well, first off, there's that now-incestuous kiss in The Empire Strikes Back that remains a major nausea-inducer throughout all these years. Yeah, it's cool as hell that Leia ended up with Han, but can you imagine if, looking back, Luke really had been something of a threat to Han's seduction of the princess?
Better yet, Yoda's "There is another" line would clearly have been about this secret non-Leia sister, meaning Yoda knew about this all along, he and Luke were not the last of the Jedi and, well, Obi-Wan might have had no idea.
It has been implied by Lucasfilm insiders that Luke and this mysterious twin might have eventually fought side-by-side as Jedi Knights in a future sequel.
Imagine when things got their darkest in the series: Luke has had his hand lopped off by Daddy; Palpatine is about to destroy any planet he wants with his new, big-ass Death Star; Leia almost had to add “The Hutt” to her nom de guerre; Han barely avoided his fate as a Swanson’s TV Dinner; and everybody is surrounded by furry Ewoks. What if, as this happened, a small craft parted the heavens and out flips a hot new Jedi, chopping off Stormtrooper heads and making cracks about her big brother not being able to cut the proverbial mustard?
Does this, in fact, fit with Lucas' other early visions? According to Mark Hamill in a 1980 interview with Starlog, early concept work had Luke "hiding behind" the female lead. "Originally, she was the lead character… then they reversed the roles." In point of fact, before Star Wars: A New Hope (1977) became the instant success it was (allowing The Empire Strikes Back to be made), one of the low-budget sequels planned was to have Luke search for a mysterious character far away called "The Princess of Ondos". Connected or not, there is a precedent.
So yes, this could have been pretty amazing if Lucas ran with it. Why did it never happen? Who is "the Other", as originally intended?
Let's take a look back at our second episode, "The Force Behind the Scenes". Lucas changed his mind many times about how to encapsulate Star Wars. At one point it was to be an open-ended saga with lots of movies and various directors. At another, it was to be a saga of four trilogies (for 12 episodes). But most commonly, Lucas hinted at a trilogy of trilogies, starting with Episodes IV -- VI, flashing back with Episodes I -- III to fill the backstory and concluding with Episodes VII -- IX, which Hamill quoted Lucas as predicting for a 2011 release.
At the time, Lucas had planned to feature one major hero per trilogy, and that character would hand off the series to the next generation in the first episode of said trilogy. The Prequel Trilogy was (then) planned to be the story of Obi-Wan Kenobi (with plenty of Anakin and Vader peppered in, same character or not). Kenobi would then pass the legacy on to Luke Skywalker, as he actually did in Star Wars: A New Hope before Luke's own tenure as a central character would end in Return of the Jedi (1983). In the Sequel Trilogy, Lucas planned to answer the question of who the "Other" actually was as Luke would pass on the central role to that character be it a new apprentice, a descendant or even his actual sister.
During the filming of The Empire Strikes Back, Lucas maintained his intent for three trilogies, 20 years apart. After The Empire Strikes Back, however, Lucas faced a major burnout. He had adopted a daughter with his wife Marcia, and wanted to spend more time with the child. His marriage was subsequently failing, and he was disenchanted with the entire filmmaking process. Thus, the proposed "Sequel Trilogy" was cancelled (and often denied). For a long time, it seemed that Lucas would not even make the Prequel Trilogy. "The next trilogy will be all someone else's vision", Lucas said.
In fact, Lucas did return to write and direct the prequels, which started production just about 20 years after the original Star Wars was released. However, if by "the next trilogy" he meant the sequels, that prediction has come true, with his selling of Lucasfilm to Disney and the making of Episode VII with J.J. Abrams in the director's chair.
Further, Lucas had his "eureka!" moment surrounding Vader's secret identity of Anakin Skywalker during the later writing process of The Empire Strikes Back, though the reference to "The Other" remained. From there, Lucas started finding familial relations between almost everybody in the Galaxy except between Luke and the Aunt and Uncle who raised him. Thus, as Return of the Jedi was being crafted, Lucas shoved Leia into that role, and with a few hints of Force sensitivity toward the end of The Empire Strikes Back (the only two characters Luke can mentally communicate with long distance are Leia and Vader), things seemed to fit. The mysterious "Other" was never on the other side of the galaxy after all, and was right in Luke's face (and once, disturbingly and literally so) the entire time.
Who knows, though? With all of these "Special Edition Revisions" Lucas keeps doing, we might get new versions in another six years or so that could CGI that whole subplot back in, starting with Padme's delivery of the triplets. "Luke... Leia... Ella!" Then the latter will show up at the end of Return of the Jedi (making her the Jedi who "Returned") and take on her own new name... "Ella Vader".
An insider's look at Ella Vader
That's gold, my friends.
2. Luke walks off into the sunset for a sad, lonely ending.
What's your favorite way to watch the Star Wars films? Lucas states that they should be watched in numerical, not chronological order. Many fans argue that the films should be watched in chronological order of creation to preserve the big surprises. Some suggest that one should watch Episode IV and Episode V first, then skip Episode I and watch Episode II and Episode III as a flashback on the newly talkative Vader's part, then flash forward to Episode VI. Sound complicated? Well, the sequel trilogy may complicate all of that even more.
My favorite way? Watch the Original Trilogy (Episodes IV – VI) and then pretend that Mark Hamill's 1978 flick Corvette Summer is actually set in the same universe. If you really want to have fun, suffer through Laserblast (1978), which, like Corvette Summer, also features Kim Milford, this time as the sweaty teen who blows up the Star Wars sign on the side of the road. (It helps if you watch the Mystery Science Theater 3000 version of that one.) After watching them all, imagine how they all got together in the same movie. You may have to drink an awful lot to do this, but trust me, you'll have fun.
Of course, it might help if Lucas had stuck with his originally planned ending to Return of the Jedi. While Lucas had intended to include Luke Skywalker actor Mark Hamill in the "Sequel Trilogy" (that is, when he wasn't denying its existence), he had planned for Luke to go out in a very different way than we saw in the final version of Return of the Jedi. In fact, Jedi's ending was once going to be almost as bleak as that of Empire.
Walking off into the setting metaphor…
As previously reported, Lucas's original hope was to make a Flash Gordon adaptation for Universal Studios; when that fell through, he set about creating Star Wars (his "new hope"), which had a decidedly Japanese influence. However, after American Graffiti, Lucas described his next project as "cowboys in space" and "a Western movie set in outer space".
Westerns were huge influences on Lucas and the swashbuckling adventure he was creating. This is, of course, not much of a stretch as many of the samurai movies that influenced Star Wars were also remade as Westerns. The Seven Samurai (1954) was remade as The Magnificent Seven (1960). Yojimbo (1961) was remade as A Fistful of Dollars (1964). Needless to say, in none of these films (not to mention the direct influence on Star Wars, 1958's The Hidden Fortress) did the hero celebrate at the end by dancing with a bunch of extremely hairy little people in tree houses.
Nor did this happen in the planned ending to the first Star Wars trilogy. According to Lucas' producing partner Gary Kurtz, the original Return of the Jedi found the heroes rescuing the kidnapped Han Solo early on, but things would get dark soon after that point. The question of who got the girl would be easily answered with "not Luke".
Happy trails to Luke Skywalker
Leia was set to become the queen of what was left of her people and struggled with her new responsibilities. Luke, the last of the Jedi, doesn't have some uplifting ending in which he sees that his dear old dad finally made it to Force Heaven and, in fact, doesn't even get his Ewok Luau. Instead, Luke walks away into the sunset, completely alone with his future left up to the viewer's imagination, "like Clint Eastwood in the spaghetti westerns", as Kurtz would later describe it. Further, Leia was not intended to be Luke's sister, which makes their separate isolation especially cold for fans who would have loved to see them together.
Again, though, Lucas had hit a major burnout during and after The Empire Strikes Back, which he had funded himself, and which had stressed him out considerably. With his stress-level putting him at his wit's end, his new daughter needing him, his marriage dissolving, and his friends even walking away from the saga, Lucas was both ready to move on with his life (outside of Star Wars) and to have as much of a happy (and definitive) ending as possible. These changes caused Gary Kurtz to balk and walk, jumping ship to make The Dark Crystal (1982) with Jim Henson instead.
Thus, Leia was made into Luke's sister (and the "Other") and Luke hangs around to celebrate with his sister, Lando, Han, Chewie, R2-D2, Wedge, the ghosts of Yoda, Obi-Wan and Anakin, a whole bunch of Ewoks and their golden god, C-3PO. One can almost picture a post-credits Jedi hangover scene, possibly with Luke sleeping it off in his souped up Corvette.
But what about Han in that original ending? With Luke's relation to Leia questionable, does he get the girl? Well, actually…
3. Han Dies in the End
For years there has been a rumor that Lando Calrissian originally died at the end of Return of the Jedi (1983), failing to escape the exploding Death Star on time and sacrificing himself to save the Galaxy. Although reported in the press, this is actually total "Bantha Fodder" -- that’s Star Wars lingo for “bullshit”, kids.
Han Solo, on the other hand... he was supposed to be as dead as an Ewok under a Chicken Walker. Actor Harrison Ford, producer Gary Kurtz, and co-writer Lawrence Kasdan thought Han's heroic death would be one solid, kick-ass idea, especially if it happened early on, thus throwing the fans for a Force-spinning loop. Lucas, though resisting the idea on the whole, was more comfortable with the concept of Han buying the proverbial moisture farm during the Battle of Endor, which served as the finale of the film.
Why would this have been awesome? Remember Han's sorrowful look at the Millennium Falcon as he says, "I have a funny feeling like I'll never see her again." How compelling would it have been if he was right?
Now, wait a moment before you click away from this screen. For those of you readers who have based your entire lives on either Han Solo or William Shatner, don't worry: nobody wants to see Han dead.
Picture the danger of even your favorite heroes proving to be expendable and at risk. Even Obi-Wan and Yoda died. How far could this go? Luke could die under a smoking red blade, Leia might be fed to Jabba’s rancor monster, Ackbar could get a job delivering pizzas in a bad part of town, Han might never be unfrozen, R2-D2 might be mistaken for a Cuisinart and shorted out in a mist of mushy peas.
If no survivors are guaranteed, even your favorite heroes, the suspense could be cut with a light saber. Just imagine how much more thrilling the film would have been with a super Han Solo death scene equal parts Willem Dafoe in Platoon and David Carradine in Kill Bill Vol. 2.
Han would run through the trees blasting out lasers in every which way, as if wielding a tennis racket before finally falling after the 300th hit to the torso. Yeah, he's that tough.
Just, you know, still totally laid back and cool.
The Stormtroopers would then all gather 'round him reverently and salute "We killed him, but god... damn do we respect him!" I grew extra knuckle hair just typing that.
As much as we would hate to see Han go, there is a way this could have been incredible, a means of giving Leia, Luke, Lando, and especially Chewie a reason to rage and revenge and basically bounce trooper helmets around, empty or full, with wild justification. So, why did it never happen?
The bottom line: merchandising.
How exactly did Lucas fund such massive films as Empire and Jedi? Well, in part this was because of a deal he had made with distributor 20th Century Fox way back before the first Star Wars was even released. In lieu of negotiating a higher salary after American Graffiti became a hit, Lucas negotiated the licensing and merchandising rights for the film. Fox took no issue with this, because even such deals for larger films often were useless and Star Wars was never going to be a big marketable hit, right?
Well, as much as Star Wars was an immediate and unprecedented success, never before had a toy line taken off like Kenner's Star Wars action figures. Lucas was making money hand over fist without having to share it with Fox. With his marriage falling apart, Lucas stood to lose tens of millions of dollars. Thus, Lucas wanted a more upbeat ending, both because his real life was rather "downbeat" by this point, and also for the purpose of sell more toys. Happy kids want to run to the toy store immediately after the closing credits. Sad, disappointed kids go home and cry.This was to be the very end, folks.
So the end got a bit happier. Luke no longer walked off into the sunset alone and exhausted, Han no longer went out in a blaze of "big, Corellian" glory and everybody instead got to party hearty with a bunch of 3PO worshiping teddy bears. These changes resulted in an overall different theme that altered the entire tone of the planned film, enough for Gary Kurtz to actually jump ship and leave the series forever while Return of the Jedi was still in pre-production.
Yeah, sure, seeing Han with more holes in him than the plot of The Phantom Menace would have put a big, ugly scar on our childhoods -- way worse than seeing Optimus Prime bite it -- but think about how much more badass Han's legend would be after all this time. "When I die, baby... I'm goin' out like Han Solo!"
Instead, the "Expanded Universe" gave us a whole different way to go out, namely Han becomes house-husband to Leia's aspiring Jedi while helping raise a Falcon-load of kids that can mind-talk behind his back. Basically, the Expanded Universe Han is Mister Mom with a cool Wookiee companion.
"Drop the kids off at school? Make me!"
Hey, it sold books and toys, but imagine the laser-ridden, testosterone-fueled alternative. We're holding out for you in Episode VII, Captain Solo.