15 Shocking Stories From The Development Of Star Wars

Palpatine and Vader in Star Wars Return of the Jedi.

Few movies invite as much scrutiny and discussion as the Star Wars series. Through it all, creator George Lucas has maintained that he had the idea for a massive saga in mind; a prewritten, preconceived tale about the Skywalker family's influence on a galaxy long ago and far away. Fans have long considered this assertion dubious at best, and continue to debate various plot points as inconsistencies in the story.

It’s important to remember that changes come as part of the writing process. George Lucas changing his mind to combine characters, drop storylines, or change plot focus comes with the territory. Lucas also may have good reasons for embellishing the detail of his story, even if his exaggerations continue to aggravate fans. Writer and Star Wars fan Michael Kaminski has penned an exhaustive look at the writing and production of Star Wars. Called The Secret History of Star Wars, Kaminski covers Star Wars history from its inception to its sale to Disney and uncovers a wild and fascinating development process inexorably tied to the life of its creator.

Kaminski has published the thoroughly researched and meticulously sourced The Secret History of Star Wars for free online and in audiobook form on YouTube.

Check out 15 Shocking Stories From The Development Of Star Wars!

15 Darth Vader was not intended to be Anakin Skywalker

Darth Vader in Star Wars

The crux of the entire Star Wars series rests on a single line: “I am your father.” The revelation of Darth Vader as a resurrected, cybernetic Anakin Skywalker shocked audiences in 1980 who had never seen the twist coming… and with good reason. George Lucas had not always planned Anakin Skywalker and Darth Vader to be the same person.

The original Star Wars film had plenty of backstory, and plenty of elements Lucas had to cut for time and budget issues. Most of those elements—underwater cities, dwarf characters, clone troopers—would eventually appear in future Star Wars movies. The original movie, however, was intended as a one-off film. Lucas had reserved the rights to sequels more as a formality than with any specific intention in mind. During the writing process of The Empire Strikes Back, Lucas had the idea to combine the characters of Anakin and Vader as a plot twist. The first draft by writer Leigh Brackett actually has Luke journey to Dagobah to commune with the spirit of his father—a ghost Jedi. Lucas dropped this point in his second and third drafts, introducing the character of Yoda and adding the famed “I am your father” plot point. Little did he realize the ramifications that revelation would have on the future of the series.

14 Luke & Leia were not originally brother and sister

Luke Leia droids look at the galaxy in ESB

Cynics have proposed that George Lucas never had a real story in mind for future Star Wars movies—sequels or prequels—and that he simply made them up as he went along. While Lucas did, out of necessity, improvise and alter plot elements, he did at least have a vague notion of where the plot would go. Throughout early drafts of the Empire script, numerous references appeared to Luke’s twin sister. One draft referred to her as Nelleth Skywalker, whom had been hidden in another part of the galaxy for her protection, much like Luke had on Tatooine. Nelleth would have appeared in later sequels.

So how did Luke and Leia end up brother and sister? The Star Wars trilogy had, quite simply, destroyed the personal life of George Lucas. Once a devoted husband, the success of Star Wars pulled him away from home to supervise and direct other productions, and forestalled his starting a family with his then-wife, Marcia. By the time Return of the Jedi rolled around, Lucas wanted to end the saga for good. He then merged the character with Nelleth, tying up loose plot threads like the Han-Leia-Luke love triangle.

13 Luke’s sister would have been the subject of Episode 7

Daisy Ridley as Rey in Star Wars Episode VIII

After Star Wars proved an unprecedented success, George Lucas began to revisit his concepts from his script notes to map out the rest of the series. He had first envisioned a six film saga, though during the writing process of Empire, had expanded his ideas to a nine episode outline. After hinting at Luke’s sibling in the film, Lucas envisioned that the so-called sequel trilogy would follow Luke taking on the mentor role of Yoda/Obi-Wan and seeking out his lost sister. The two would join forces as Luke trained her in the Jedi arts, and the series would culminate in an epic battle between the two Jedi and the Sith lord Palpatine.

Revising the plot of Return of the Jedi to combine Leia with Luke’s twin sister nullified most of the sequel plot lines, as did the introduction and elimination of the Emperor. The choice to make Jedi a more concrete end would further focus the series on the story of Anakin/Vader, and ultimately Lucas would again intend the series as a six-film saga.

12 The Emperor is based on Nixon

Ian McDiarmid as Emperor Palpatine in Star Wars

The political overtones of the original trilogy often go overlooked by even the most serious of Star Wars fans. Remember, Lucas studied and worked as part of the New Hollywood cabal prior to his success with Star Wars. The New Hollywood—which included Lucas’ friends Francis Ford Coppola, Steven Spielberg, John Milius, Robert Altman and Hal Ashby—had grown out of the baby boomer generation, and expressed a new level of sexuality and cynicism in their work. Much of the cynicism grew out of the tragedies of the Vietnam War, and of the rise and fall of Richard Nixon.

Lucas conceived Star Wars as very much a comment on the times: following the decimation of the clandestinely-engineered Clone Wars (Vietnam), the corrupt Emperor (Nixon) rises to power and turns a democracy into an evil Empire. A civil war erupts (the culture war), led by charismatic youth (the Baby Boomers) who feel betrayed by their elders. The revelation of Darth Vader as a corrupted Anakin Skywalker also resonated with this theme; just as the Baby Boomers vowed not to trust anyone over 30, neither could Luke trust the word of his elders…even his father!

11 The making of Empire was a disaster

Mark Hamill as Luke Skywalker in Star Wars The Empire Strikes Back

Star Wars die-hards tend to hold The Empire Strikes Back up as the example of Star Wars at its absolute best. That may or may not be true, though one thing is for certain: making the movie was a monumental disaster.

George Lucas opted to retain his sequel rights to Star Wars. Having made a fortune off of the first film and its merchandising, Lucas had finally achieved independence from Hollywood. A Star Wars sequel became a foregone conclusion, and Lucas wanted to take a hands-off approach to production. Rather, he intended to start a family with his wife, Marcia and leave the film in the hands of producer Gary Kurtz and director Irvin Kershner.

Lucas self-funded the $18.5 million production. After approving the final script by Lawrence Kasdan, Lucas had hoped to leave the production in the hands of Kurtz. Then things got way out of control. Kershner, accustomed to directing smaller films, fell far behind schedule, and couldn’t keep the effects, schedule, or budget under control. Then several fires on sets caused the production budget to swell. Facing total financial ruin, Lucas had to step in and take over portions of the film.  A rough cut of the movie proved a disaster and Lucas reedited the film himself, but still felt unsatisfied with the finished product. Extensive reshoots pushed the budget to a whopping $33 million.

The movie proved a smash in theatres, and Lucas made his money back, though his personal life came under major strain.

10 Lucas’ ex wife Marcia was one of the major inspirations behind the series

Carrie Fisher Princess Leia Star Wars

In all the Star Wars saga, one name goes almost totally unmentioned. It’s unfair—she played a vital and inspirational role in the series. Her name is Marcia Lucas.

Marcia Griffin had met George Lucas at the University of Southern California film school. The two began dating, and though Marcia found George quirky and frustratingly quiet, the two married in 1969. Known for her headstrong, outspoken personality, Marcia became one of the most respected editors in Hollywood, often collaborating with Martin Scorsese. She would later take home the Academy Award for Best Editing on Star Wars.

Marcia’s spunk counterbalanced George’s introversion, and Lucas would later base the character of Princess Leia on Marcia. Much as Marcia proved a cunning and talented filmmaker in her own right, Leia would become the tough leader of the Rebellion, the best shot in the entire series, and the woman who saves the men on the Death Star (see also: the prison escape). Marcia Lucas would continue to be a driving force on the Original Trilogy, that is, until…

9 Star Wars ruined Lucas’ marriage

George Lucas Directing Star Wars

Fans often scratch their head at the resentment and frustration George Lucas sometimes expresses with the success of the Star Wars films. Lucas himself rarely addresses the subject, though a wealth of evidence points to a very large reason. The success of Star Wars ruined his marriage to Marcia. Following her divorce from George in 1983, Marcia Lucas turned her back on Hollywood in search of greener pastures. She became an almost total recluse, doing only a handful of interviews since.

When she has spoken, Marcia Lucas has discussed in candid detail the effect of Star Wars on her and George’s life. The two had made so much money—too much. The funds from Star Wars demanded that Lucas become the head of a massive corporation and drift away from directing smaller films. Lucas also had to turn his attention toward producing sequels. While he did, Marcia oversaw construction of Skywalker Ranch.

The disaster of The Empire Strikes Back put another enormous strain on George’s health and on the Lucas marriage. Ultimately, both Lucases would have to step in to help finish the movie. Both George and Marcia also desperately wanted to start a family, and had trouble conceiving. Their constant separation didn’t help, and though the couple adopted daughter Amanda in 1981, production woes on Return of the Jedi would again demand George’s attention. The stress proved to much: Marcia filed for divorce in 1983, around the time of release of Return of the Jedi. George, for his part, seldom discusses Marcia in interviews.

8 Lucas created Jar Jar during the original trilogy

Jar Jar Binks Ahmed Best in Star Wars

Yes, seriously.

Jar Jar Binks may have become the most hated character in all Star Wars canon, and likely damned the Prequel Trilogy to one of the most negative fan backlashes in cinema history. Cynics would allege that Lucas created the character as a racist caricature of a Jamaican man in an attempt to be hip and timely. Documented evidence suggests otherwise.

Lucas’ notes on the Prequel Trilogy did mention a character called Binks as far back as the 1970s. They would also outline a character based on the bubmbling servents from Akira Kurosawa’s film The Hidden Fortress, who had also inspired the characters of R2-D2 and C3P0. Lucas had sketched out a rough outline for the film that would become The Phantom Menace to resemble both The Hidden Fortress and the first Star Wars film. Lucas saw the movie as an ensemble piece, with a young woman, an older warrior, a young farm boy, and their goofy servant crossing paths with an evil swordsman. Early notes and script drafts to The Phantom Menace  also do not depict Jar Jar with his dialect—that would develop from performer Ahmed Best. Whether or not Lucas remains confident in his creative choices for the character is another question entirely.

7 Lucas almost died during the making of the original movie

Star Wars George Lucas Mark Hamill Tunisia

Fans have a hard time understanding the veiled resentment George Lucas has always had for the Star Wars series. He created it, it made him rich and powerful. Why would he try to distance himself?

As if the effects on his personal life didn’t cause him enough pain, there was one other: he’d almost died during the production of Star Wars. Lucas had intended the film as an homage to the Flash Gordon serials and comic books he’d read as a kid; a sanitized, family friendly, “Disney movie”. Filming in England had taken its toll on Lucas. The British crew treated him with disdain, considering the material dumb and juvenile. Friends had turned on him too: longtime buds Francis Coppola and Brian DePalma both scoffed at Star Wars, thinking it below Lucas. Even more disastrous, the special effects requirements for the movie proved more daunting than anticipated. On-set lightsaber effects didn’t work. Alien creatures looked cheap and fake. ILM, Lucas’ startup company to handle the effects, spent a huge amount of the budget over the course of a year without any completed effects to show for it.

Lucas suffered from hypertension and diabetes, exacerbated by the stress of Star Wars. Friend Gloria Katz recalls Lucas contemplating suicide on a regular basis, and struggling to get out of bed each day. Marcia Lucas feared for George’s life, especially after he started having chest pains on a regular basis.

6 Star Wars was not intended to be a series

Yoda in Star Wars The Empire Strikes Back

With Lucas’ health in jeopardy and the director totally exhausted by production on Star Wars, he prepared to leave the story behind. Lucas had developed an elaborate backstory for the film, imagining clans of warriors, the alluded-to Clone Wars, hidden Jedi apprentices, and more. He’d battled Fox for the rights to sequels and won, though he did not have any concrete idea of where the series might go after Star Wars hit screens.

During production of the first movie, Lucas had commissioned friend and famed sci-fi author Alan Dean Foster to write a possible sequel to the movie. The story became Splinter of the Mind’s Eye, a notorious book among fans today. Foster relied on Lucas’ notes and various script drafts to Star Wars for inspiration and concocted a story about Luke and Leia’s burgeoning romance, Luke’s further Jedi training, and a confrontation with Darth Vader. As Harrison Ford had not agreed to any sequels, the character of Han Solo does not appear.

Splinter of the Mind’s Eye provides a fascinating look into the world of pre-sequel Star Wars, and operates under many of the same pretences as the original movie did. Hence, Luke and Leia are not brother and sister, nor is Vader actually Anakin Skywalker. The financial success of Star Wars dictated that a big-budget sequel follow the original movie, at which point Lucas began developing the concept of a saga of films.

5 Yoda and Obi Wan originally fought the Emperor and Vader in Jedi

Star Wars Rey Vision Obi-wan Yoda Emperor

The concepts for the Force and the nature of the Jedi order continued to evolve during the writing of Return of the Jedi. Early drafts featured a radically different third act. Originally, the Rebellion had to fight two Death Stars, with Leia and Han leading the charge in the space battle. Luke, for his part, journeyed to the castle of Darth Vader, conceived as an iron fortress full of lava. The Emperor, by that time developed as a Sith lord, would also appear in a final bid to goad Luke into turning to the Dark Side. He too would join in battle, and Obi-Wan Kenobi would return from the netherworld of the Force to aid Luke in battle.

These early drafts place more emphasis on the idea that Vader could not be redeemed in life. Indeed, much as Star Wars and Empire placed much emphasis on Luke killing Vader, so did the early drafts of Jedi. Luke and Obi-Wan, with help from Yoda, who also lives through the end of the film, manage to defeat the Emperor as Vader dies. Yoda, however, contacts Vader’s spirit through the Force, and redeems him in death. The film would have ended with the similar image of Anakin, Yoda, and Obi-Wan appearing as visions in the Force as Luke looked on.

4 The original film was not always meant as Episode 4

Star Wars: General Dodonna, Princess Leia, and C-3PO monitor the attack on the Death Star in A New Hope

The revision and development of the Star Wars sequels had radical effects on the story going forward of course, much as they did on the backstory Lucas had concocted while writing the original film. When he finally resigned himself to Star Wars as a series, Lucas first thought that the original movie would become Episode I in a series of six to nine films. The revision that combined Anakin and Vader into a single character, however, made Lucas rethink his approach. Originally, Lucas had said that the movies would only loosely interconnect—some would focus on new characters, some on familiar characters at different points in history, and others on alien races throughout the galaxy. At this point, Lucas revised his outline to encompass twelve movies, rather than six.

Introducing Vader as Anakin made Lucas reconsider. Not until the fifth draft of Empire does the denotation of Episode V appear. Prior to that, the script had born the subtitle of Episode II. The choice to make Vader Luke’s father made Lucas see a new potential in the story. Star Wars would become Episode IV, and the earlier chapters would focus on a young Obi-Wan training Anakin Skywalker, and the latter’s fall from grace.

3 Vader was not always intended to be a major character

Star Wars: Darth Vader chokes Raymus Antilles in A New Hope

Darth Vader became a cultural icon after the success of Star Wars, somewhat to the shock of George Lucas. Lucas had always intended the character to have mystique, though not quite to the level Vader would have in subsequent movies. Lucas also had a different backstory for Vader in mind.

Originally Darth Vader was more hired help than an officer of the Empire. Lucas imagined that the Emperor (again, operating under the more Nixonian incarnation) had manipulated his way into power and become corrupted by wealth. The original idea pitted the Sith and Jedi against one another as warring warrior tribes. Palpatine had hired Vader to destroy the Jedi out of political convenience, not malice. With the Empire able to conquer the galaxy in the absence of Jedi knights, Vader would stick around as hired muscle, hence his squabbling with Tarkin and the other Imperial figureheads in the original movie.

The popularity of Vader following the release of Star Wars prompted Lucas to place more emphasis on him in the sequels. That same factor also made Lucas reimagine the Emperor. Instead of a corrupt politician, Palpatine became a Sith Lord, a direct master to Vader and a symbol of the evil riddling the Empire.

2 Attack of the Clones underwent major plot revisions in reshoots

Clone trooper army in Star Wars Attack of the Clones

The prequel trilogy remains controversial among Star Wars and cinema fans alike. Well-produced and remarkably imaginative, they also suffered from unfunny humor and special effects overkill. George Lucas also faced a great deal of criticism for his handling of the love story at the heart of Attack of the Clones. Some of the uneven nature of the subplot likely resulted from Lucas trying to rewrite the film in post-production.

The shooting script for Attack of the Clones originally placed more emphasis on the characters of Count Dooku and Obi-Wan. While Anakin and Padme still had their love scenes, the early edit of the film placed them among Padme’s family rather than alien worlds.

Obi-Wan would have uncovered more of Dooku’s backstory, and would have had a better-drawn subplot of his own. In the scripting stage, the mystery of the clones becomes the heart of the film. Obi-Wan tracks Jango Fett across the galaxy to Kamino, where he discovers the clone army, and the presence of Darth Sideous.

Lucas heavily altered the storyline in post production, excising much of Obi-Wan’s detective plot and adding additional love scenes between Anakin and Padme. The obviousness of master Sideous ordering construction of the clone army as opposed to master Sifo-Dias would create a greater mystery for the audience, albeit one explored in Clone Wars rather than on film. The plot restructuring would also create some abrupt plot shifts in the final act—like Yoda spontaneously arriving with the clones.

1 Revenge of the Sith also went major changes in post production

Hayden Christensen and Ewan McGregor in Star Wars Episode 3 Revenge of the Sith

As Revenge of the Sith went into preproduction in late 2003, George Lucas realized he had a massive story to tell—and a massive problem to solve. Knowing that the hero Anakin Skywalker falls from grace and becomes Darth Vader is one thing; writing a movie that would cover the turn would prove another.

The plan was that midway through the film, Anakin would kill Dooku to become Palpatine’s new apprentice. Early drafts of the script had Palpatine revealing that he had used the Force to conceive Anakin. Palpatine would also refer to himself as Anakin’s father. The final act of the film would remain the same from page to screen.

The director then took a new approach: Anakin would kill Dooku in the early scenes of the film, hinting at the terror to come. Obi-Wan would engage General Grevious, as Anakin further turned to evil. Padme, meanwhile, would help form the Rebel Alliance. Though she loved Anakin, Padme would recognize his turn to the Dark Side, and try to kill Anakin herself.

Lucas filmed the bulk of Revenge of the Sith under these pretenses. In post-production, however, he again second guessed himself; the movie ran far too long. Lucas trimmed down some action scenes and Padme’s Rebellion scenes. The increased focus on Anakin made Lucas realize that Revenge of the Sith would be his story and that Anakin’s turn lacked a focused reason. In reshoots, Lucas added several scenes of Anakin fearing for Padme’s life and emphasized his inner conflict. Finally, Lucas cut a powerful moment from the climax of the film: Padme stabbing Anakin in the back—literally—on Mustafar. Considering it too violent for the film, the director relied instead on an intense conversation between the two.


Know a story we didn't mention? Want to discuss these shocking revelations? Tell us in the comments!

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story opens in theaters on December 16, 2016, followed by Star Wars: Episode VIII on December 15, 2017, the Han Solo Star Wars Anthology film on May 25, 2018, Star Wars: Episode IX in 2019, followed by the third Star Wars Anthology film in 2020.

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