Star Wars has been a staple of pop culture ever since its initial commercial and critical success, over forty years ago. The franchise has a whole arsenal of movies—with more on the way—several TV shows, countless books, and a holiday special fans would probably rather not think about. It introduced some of the most recognizable figures in entertainment, including Luke Skywalker, Leia Organa, Han Solo, and Darth Vader.
However, like most creative projects, Star Wars was almost a very different movie, going through multiple incarnations and some last-minute changes to become the space opera we know and love today. From name changes to deleted scenes to cutting out entire characters, the franchise has truly gone through a lot of twists and turns behind the scenes. Audience might be thankful for many of the decisions, but other choices have led to some of the biggest and most controversial debates around the franchise.
The list below primarily revolves around the original trilogy since there are more behind-the-scenes secrets available. That said, there are entries that involve the prequel and sequel trilogies, including The Last Jedi, so if you’re not all caught up, beware of spoilers! The article also takes into account both the initial cinematic releases and the various subsequent re-releases. Also, yes, Jar Jar Binks is in the list, so if you’d prefer not to think about him too much, look away now.
Without further ado, here’s Star Wars: 8 Last-minute Changes That Hurt The Movies (And 12 That Saved Them).
20 Saved: Han Shoots First
Whether or not Han shot first has got to be one of the biggest controversies surrounding the Special Edition released in 1997. The original version had Han shooting first, but the Special Edition had Greedo initiating the conflict. However, apparently George Lucas had always intended for Greedo to shoot first.
Speaking about the change in the Special Edition, Lucas explains that Greedo shooting first better fits his true vision, as Han was never meant to be a cold-blooded criminal.
Regardless of Lucas’s intention, the original cut from 1977 shows Han shooting first, and it’s a good decision.
It establishes Han as something of a rogue and anti-hero, allowing him to have a complete arc as he changes his mind about his role in the Rebellion thanks to his relationship with Luke and Leia.
19 Hurt: Finn And Poe's Deleted Scene
The dynamic between Finn and Poe has captivated audiences ever since that fateful day on the Finalizer, when they escaped from the First Order together. Some fans have even begun to root for them to become a couple, especially after the reunion scene on D’qar.
However, if fans were looking forward to more Finn and Poe scenes in The Last Jedi, they’d have better luck watching the Blu-ray release. Poe catches Finn up to speed and returns the jacket to him, which Poe had patched up in a hurry. Although the duo does share scenes with Rose in the final cut, the deleted scene would’ve been an opportunity to further build their rapport and explore their relationship, whether romantic or platonic.
18 Saved: Cutting Jar Jar Binks's Sidekick
Jar Jar Binks is notorious for being one of the most disliked characters in the Star Wars franchise. You really don’t have to be a hard-core fan in order to recognize the figure. He’s there to be the comedic sidekick to relieve some of the tension that comes with preventing the galaxy from descending into chaos.
As it turns out, Jar Jar almost had a sidekick of his own. Terryl Whitlatch, the principal creature designer for The Phantom Menace, had created concept art for a Blarth.
It looks like some sort of amphibious dog, and apparently would get Jar Jar into all sorts of trouble.
Considering how much trouble Jar Jar already gets into, it’s a good thing the Blart got cut.
17 Hurt: Leia And Luke's Swing Smooch
Luke and Leia’s kiss in Empire Strikes Back is probably the most cited example of their very unfortunate relationship. Countless memes zoom in on C-3PO’s large, staring eyes as brother and sister smooch in the foreground. But the quick peck in A New Hope is what really sets the groundwork for this uncomfortable dynamic.
Lucas originally wanted to cut the kiss, but his then-wife Marcia—the skilled film editor who’d later win an Oscar—insisted on keeping it. Without this kiss, we may never have had to live through their kiss in Empire Strikes Back.
16 Saved: Darth Vader Becomes A Big Baddie
Darth Vader is hands-down one of the most iconic movie villains of our time, but he wasn’t always destined for pop culture greatness. Lucas started planning for a hypothetical sequel before he learned of A New Hope’s box office success. Fans everywhere might’ve been terrified of Vader’s presence, but according to Lucas, the Sith lord wasn’t a strong enough villain to be the main antagonist.
Lucas preferred Grand Moff Tarkin, who he describes as slimy and ugly.
Lucas had a problem with Vader’s relative inactivity, since he only ever chokes a rebel in Episode IV. Thankfully, Vader was kept on as the big baddie and he eventually showed the galaxy what he’s really made of.
15 Hurt: Jar Jar Binks In CGI
One of the main criticisms brought up about the prequel trilogy is its use of CGI, which borders on tacky. Sure, Jar Jar might look more convincing than other CG elements, thanks to the use of real-life human Ahmed Best, but maybe he would’ve been less grating if done in prosthetics.
Apparently, Michael Jackson had wanted to play the part, using prosthetics and makeup similar to his music video for “Thriller”. Perhaps incorporating more practical effects for the Gungan would have endeared him to audiences a little more. That said, the movies did pioneer fully CG characters, paving the way for CGI as we know it today, and kudos are in order for the creative team.
14 Saved: Cutting Luke and Leia's cheesy dialogue
As Harrison Ford told Lucas regarding his dialogue, “You can type this... but you sure as hell can’t say it.” Despite keeping that unfortunate peck between Luke and Leia, Lucas did thankfully cut part of the line the followed it.
In the original cut, Leia simply kisses Luke and the cheek, telling him it’s for luck. Behind-the-scenes footage reveals that the full lik=ne was “For luck. We’re gonna need it.” The duo is being chased by Stormtroopers and shot at. Cutting the line ramps up the urgency and keeps the momentum going. In a franchise chock-full of memorable one-liners, that last quip would’ve been superfluous. If only the prequels had also cut down on some unnecessary passages.
13 Hurt: Kylo Ren's Millennium Falcon Deleted Scene
Not much is known about Kylo Ren’s past in The Force Awakens. Sure, tie-in materials like the Last Jedi novelization and Aftermath: Empire’s End give a more in-depth look at his early life as Ben Solo, making his betrayal of Han even more gut-wrenching. However, The Force Awakens could’ve amped up the emotional effect of Han’s passing if it hadn’t deleted a scene in which Kylo leads a search on the Millennium Falcon.
Even though he’s covered up head to toe, Adam Driver’s performance suggests that Kylo has been on the Falcon before.
He is perhaps reliving childhood memories aboard the iconic ship. Including the scene would’ve amped up the tension for the audience as father and son stand on the bridge.
12 Saved: Casting Ahmed Best Instead Of Michael Jackson
While it’s a pity that Lucas opted to use CGI over prosthetics, it’s a good thing that Ahmed Best was cast over Michael Jackson. There are plenty of big names in the prequel trilogies: Liam Neeson, Natalie Portman, and Samuel L. Jackson, just to name a few, with Anthony Daniels reprising his role as C-3PO. But Best has a point when he says Jackson might’ve overshadowed the movie.
Jackson had cultivated a very specific image as a pop star, with legions of screaming fans all over the world. He was also celebrated primarily as a musician, and perhaps speculation and debate over his acting skills would have eclipsed the movie, even if he would’ve been covered in prosthetics and makeup.
11 Hurt: Luke's Facial Injury
Another rumor floating around the Interwebs about Empire Strikes Back is that the Wampa scene was written specifically to account for Mark Hamill’s real-life injuries from a car accident. However, the claim is probably false. Still, Luke does get pretty beaten up in the movie. A Wampa pops up and hits Luke on the head, and Luke sustains a facial injury when he hits the ground.
It’s hard to imagine Luke’s face becoming such a mess just from his head hitting some snow.
The Rebels end up tossing him in a bacta tank to speed up his recovery. However, Lucas had planned a sequence where Luke’s face gets damaged, presumably in a different way that would’ve made more sense, and his face gets patched up by a droid.
10 Saved: Obi-Wan Picking Up Anakin's Lightsaber
Who could forget the first time Luke ever holds a lightsaber? Ben Kenobi hands it to Luke (with alarmingly few instructions) and recalls the story of Luke’s father. Then there’s the breathtaking moment when Finn ignites the lightsaber in the trailer of The Force Awakens; the first look at the weapon since the original trilogy concluded.
Anakin’s blue lightsaber has become a central piece of all three trilogies, symbolizing the former Jedi’s legacy. However, Obi-Wan almost forgot to pick up the iconic blue lightsaber after the duel on Mustafar in Revenge of the Sith. In early cuts, Obi-Wan just walks away and leaves both Anakin and the lightsaber behind. Lucas added a shot of Obi-Wan picking it up, rescuing the franchise from a major continuity error.
9 Hurt: Cutesy Ewoks
The response to Ewoks has been mixed, at best, with some loving their cute appearance and others criticizing their creation as a marketing ploy to sell more toys. Apparently, everyone involved with the production of Return of the Jedi hated the teddy bear-esque creatures, except for Lucas himself.
The Making of Star Wars: The Return of the Jedi reveals that Ewoks were supposed to be more feral.
Concept artist Ralph McQuarrie even refused to design them when he found out about Lucas’s vision. The Ewoks’ cute and cuddly appearance undercut some of the gravity of some of the heavier moments of the movie. Given how popular Chewie is despite his ferocity, surely Lucas needn’t have worried about Ewoks looking too feral.
8 Saved: Luke and Kylo's contradicting flashbacks
Love it or hate it, The Last Jedi has shaken things up in the Star Wars franchise by introducing whole new elements and storylines. Regardless of your opinion on the content of the flashbacks, let’s be real: the Rashomon-style shots were an incredible way to reveal Luke and Kylo’s backstory, particularly their differing interpretations of the pivotal moment between uncle and nephew.
As it turns out, the reference to Akira Kurosawa’s cinematic masterpiece was a last-minute addition, according to The Art of Star Wars: The Last Jedi. By introducing the complexity of subjective points of view, Rian Johnson successfully opens up a new avenue of storytelling for the franchise, giving it another level of nuance and ambiguity.
7 Saved: Replacing Buffy with Yoda
The vampire slayer might be the first character to come to mind when someone mentions the name “Buffy,” but Jedi Grand Master Yoda almost shared the same name. In earlier outlines for Empire Strikes Back, on which the late Leigh Brackett based the first draft of the script, Luke meets a small frog-like being named Bunden Debannen, or Buffy for short.
Buffy’s three or four thousand years old, and is some sort of guardian with a sword containing a kyber crystal.
Luke later becomes the chosen one, the human equivalent of Buffy. Although there’s no confirmation of Yoda’s species, he does retain some frog-like characteristics as well as his role as Luke’s mentor. We’re pretty happy with the way Yoda turned out.
6 Hurt: Luke And Biggs' Deleted Scenes
Luke comes off as kind of a loner when he’s first introduced on Tatooine in A New Hope. Later on, Lucas would add a scene featuring Luke’s friend Biggs Darklighter as the two catch up in the Rebel hangar. However, the addition doesn’t hold as much weight without introducing Biggs earlier on.
In addition to establishing Luke and Biggs’s friendship more effectively, the deleted scenes would’ve also shown how much of a fish out of water Luke is. He looks up to the sky as a battle wages, and runs to get his friends to watch with him. Unfortunately, by the time they get outside, the battle has stopped, and Luke is left alone.
5 Saved: Cutting Luke's Floating Boulders
The creative team was already preparing for The Last Jedi before The Force Awakens came out in 2015, and luckily, they changed an element of the latter’s ending that would’ve impacted The Last Jedi.
The floating boulders were cut from The Force Awakens, rescuing the sequel trilogy from continuity problems.
When Rey walks up to Luke on Ahch-To at the end of The Force Awakens, the Jedi Master was meant to be surrounded by floating rocks, signalling that he is still strong with the Force in spite of his self-imposed exile. However, as revealed in The Last Jedi, Luke has cut himself off from the Force due to his guilt and trauma surrounding Kylo Ren’s betrayal.
4 Hurt: Jar Jar Binks' Character Design
Jar Jar’s personality is one of the biggest reasons for the backlash against him. He’s loud, he’s brash, and he never seems to know what’s going on, yet ends up becoming a General with a whole lot of responsibilities. That said, his character design hasn’t warmed audiences to him either.
The Gungan was originally designed with short ears, but Lucas suggested giving him long, floppy ears that would enhance the slapstick elements of the character, opening the floodgates as a result. Design director Doug Chiang says Lucas thought it would be funny for Jar Jar’s ears to flop around when he turned his head. That change led to more decisions that exaggerated Jar Jar’s goofiness.
3 Saved: Cutting Dreis's Line
Although the reunion between Luke and Biggs in the Rebel hangar was cut from the original version of A New Hope, Lucas added to the Special Edition. Thankfully, the scene was edited to prevent continuity errors.
The Special Edition, the scene features Commander Garven Dreis, who walks up to the pair and questions Luke’s X-wing skills. Biggs reassures the senior pilot that Luke can handle himself, and Dreis trusts Biggs’s judgment. However, in the original version, Dreis mentions that he had met Luke’s father when Dreis was a little boy, telling Luke that his father was a great pilot. Since the identity of Luke’s father was framed as a giant mystery, it would’ve been odd for Dreis to so casually comment on the two Skywalkers’ connection.
2 Saved: "I Know."
There’s a widespread misconception that Harrison Ford improvised his famous “I know” reply in Empire Strikes Back. Although it was a last-minute change on his part, it wasn’t improvised on the spot. Carrie Fisher was furious at being left out of the conversation, which is more than fair.
The changed lines are definitely more effective than the original lines.
Leia was meant to say “I love you. I couldn’t tell you before, but it’s true,” to which Han replies “Just remember that, ‘cause I’ll be back.” That’s pretty damn wordy. The iconic “I love you,” “I know” exchange conveys the same dynamic between the two, while being much more concise and appropriate for the scenario.
1 Saved: The Ending Of Return Of The Jedi
Empire Strikes Back has received praise for its darker storyline compared to A New Hope, and Return of the Jedi almost took a similarly, if not more ominous turn.
Lucas told co-writer Lawrence Kasdan that after Luke takes of Vader’s mask, he puts on the helmet himself, becoming Vader 2.0. Fortunately, Lucas opted against his original idea, since Star Wars was ultimately a kids’ franchise. Not only would it have been too abrupt a change for Luke’s character arc, but it would’ve come off as a gimmicky plot twist. Plus, part of the appeal of Star Wars is that good will triumph, no matter the obstacles along the way, and it’s a hopeful message that still resonates today.
Do you know any other last-minute Star Wars changes? Share them in the comments below!