Very rarely does a movie completely nail its story on the first draft, and that's especially true when you're bringing a whole new world to the big screen. In 1974, George Lucas finished a rough draft for what would eventually become Star Wars, with multiple other drafts to follow, including one titled Adventures of the Starkiller, Episode I: The Star Wars.
Though fans like to think of Star Wars as a sprawling saga that was meticulously thought out from day one, it turns out Lucas made numerous changes to his core story, not only before the 1977 release of A New Hope, but all the way through the final film. Here are eight notable changes from those early drafts.
1. HAN SOLO HAD GILLS // STAR WARS: A NEW HOPE
Han Solo, everybody's favorite suave smuggler, originally wasn't going to be played by a young, handsome Harrison Ford. In fact, he wasn't going to be very human at all. In an early script for Star Wars, Solo was described as a tall, reptilian creature with green skin, no nose, and a hefty set of gills. As the drafts evolved, Star Wars slowly transformed from niche sci-fi/fantasy to a more relatable brand of space western; inevitably Han Solo turned into the space cowboy everyone knows today.
2. THE STORY OF MACE WINDU // A NEW HOPE
Despite what you've been led to believe, the Star Wars saga didn't just appear to Lucas in a fever dream one strange night—in fact, the first couple drafts of A New Hope are basically unrecognizable from what we know today. One of the biggest omissions in those first few attempts is Luke Skywalker himself. Instead, the movie originally involved a character named Mace Windu, with the script beginning with the impenetrable intro "The Story of Mace Windu: a revered Jedi-Bendu of Ophuchi who was related to Usby CJ Thape, Padawaan learner to the famed Jedi …"
The problem was that no one understood a word of it, and rightfully so. As the drafts evolved, Mace Windu was replaced by Kane Starkiller, who was eventually turned into the far more relatable Luke Skywalker. The character of Mace Windu did live on in the prequel trilogy, though all that "Jedi-Bendu of Ophuchi" nonsense was left on the cutting room floor.
3. FAMILIAR NAMES, NEW FACES // A NEW HOPE
Luke filled the typical Joseph Campbell hero mold in the first Star Wars trilogy, but the character was originally much different from the farm boy who left home to take on the Empire. In those early drafts, Luke Skywalker was a battle-worn war hero and one of the last surviving Jedi (called the Jedi-Bendu at first).
Vader was there, too, but without the trademark mask, cape, and intergalactic asthma—he was even known as General Vader at one point. In the beginning, he was conceived as an evil henchman for Prince Valorum, a masked Sith Knight tasked with hunting down the remaining Jedi-Bendu. Eventually Vader became an amalgamation of several characters throughout different drafts, with his signature mask coming from artist Ralph McQuarrie, who thought it necessary since Vader would literally be traveling from ship to ship in the vacuum of space.
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4. NELLITH SKYWALKER// THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK
The Skywalker family tree has more branches than a Colorado spruce, but the original draft for 1980's The Empire Strikes Back would have rattled the clan's genealogy even further. Written by Leigh Brackett, the first go-around at the movie's story did introduce the idea of Luke having a sister, but it wasn't Leia. Instead, the Princess remained a born-and-bred Organa, while Luke's twin was revealed to be a woman named Nellith.
At the same time Luke was training under Yoda, Nellith would also be learning the ways of the Force on the road to becoming a Jedi Knight. How this all was going to pan out is unknown, as it was supposed to be resolved in a third movie. But when this draft was rejected, so too was the story of Nellith.
5. ENDOR: HOME OF THE WOOKIEES // RETURN OF THE JEDI
It wasn't until 2005's Revenge of the Sith that fans finally got a glimpse of a full-fledged Wookiee army going into battle, but the original idea for 1983's Return of the Jedi had it happening nearly 20 years earlier. Instead of a battalion of teddy bears taking on the Empire for the final installment in the trilogy, Lucas wanted Endor to be the home of the Wookiees, culminating in a climactic battle between the two factions.
However, Lucas eventually felt that the Wookiees would be too technologically advanced for his vision of the story. He wanted to showcase a primitive species besting the evil Empire (a veiled metaphor for Vietnam), and apparently the Wookiees were a bit too tech-savvy for that to work.
6. THE (ORIGINAL) DEATH OF HAN SOLO // RETURN OF THE JEDI
At this point, pretty much everyone knows that 2015's Star Wars: The Force Awakens doesn't go according to plan for Han Solo. But before he was gutted by Kylo Ren, Harrison Ford and screenwriter Lawrence Kasdan wanted Solo to sacrifice his life for the Rebel squad early in Return of the Jedi. Ford hoped that this would add some depth and gravitas to a movie that featured an elephant playing the keyboard. Plus, the actor has gone on the record to claim that Solo was never that interesting to him.
However, Ford said, "George didn't think there was any future in dead Han toys," so Solo was left amongst the living (for the time being).
7. HAD ABBADON, ABANDONED // RETURN OF THE JEDI
The first two installments in the Star Wars trilogy showed the Empire's mammoth space stations and star cruisers littered throughout the galaxy, but Return of the Jedi was going to one-up that visual with an up-close look at the Empire's homeworld of Had Abbadon. This proposed city-planet was going to be the location of much of the film's action, including a lightsaber battle between Luke and Vader in the Emperor's fiery throne room.
So what happened? Logistically, putting a city-planet on film just wasn't feasible in the '80s. The massive sets, models, and matte paintings would be too cost-prohibitive, and even with a small fortune at his disposal, the technological advancements simply weren't in place to get the idea off the ground. The idea was revised in the Prequel Trilogy, though, with the introduction of the global metropolis of Coruscant.
8. TWIN DEATH STARS // RETURN OF THE JEDI
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As interesting as the planet surface of Had Abbadon sounds, what's even more intriguing is what was set to orbit the Imperial capital: two massive Death Stars. Instead of the lone moon-sized space station from the final film, there were going to be twin destructive globes under construction around the planet.
Concept artist Ralph McQuarrie even produced some paintings of what the Death Stars were going to look like. While they never actually saw the light of day, elements of them seem to have inspired the look of the Starkiller Base from The Force Awakens.