It was on a winter’s day in January 1973 when George Lucas, months before experiencing the euphoric success of American Graffiti, sat over a typewriter and punched out the first of many drafts for Star Wars, beginning three years of meticulous refinement and, presumably, the voracious consumption of Pepto-Bismal. This laborious pattern of overhauling plots and design revisions continued throughout the entire series’ production, leaving in its wake enough what-ifs and what-could’ve-beens to keep fans awake at night (besides the usual Star Wars-related thoughts that deprive us of sleep anyway).
While many of these omitted concepts were negligible and exist today as interesting little footnotes, there were some that, if approved, would have changed the Star Wars saga as we know it! Prepare yourself, because we’re about to venture down the roads not taken…
1. Everyone Gets a Lightsaber
Even someone with a passing acquaintance of Star Wars knows just how synonymous lightsabers are with the Jedi Order, but in Lucas’ earliest drafts, these weapons weren’t the exclusive domain of Force-sensitives. In fact, they were about as run-of-the-mill as blasters — no sworn oaths or years of discipline required. It’s almost impossible to picture the Jedi — and even the Sith — being robbed of their most distinguishing quality when anyone, from a degenerate thug to a rank-and-file stormtrooper, can wield a lightsaber, to say nothing of all the gripping, dramatic intensity stripped away from any decisive lightsaber duel. Lucas fortunately realized this quickly and scrapped the idea, since lightsabers, in the end, belong in one place and one place only: at a Jedi or Sith’s side.
2. Han Solo the Extra-Terrestrial
The spotlight, so they say, was on Luke Skywalker in the original trilogy, but let’s be realistic here: Han Solo’s the one who was really at the center of the Star Wars universe. Resourceful, devil-may-care and infinitely quotable — it’s no small wonder why the Corellian cutup is such a standout…though would our feelings be the same if he were an alien? In the Dark Horse Comics adaptation of Lucas’ initial draft for “The Star Wars,” Solo appeared as a member of a green-skinned reptilian race called the Ureallians, resembling Swamp Thing by way of a Ninja Turtle. What this boils down to is did we actually enjoy Han or Harrison Ford who portrayed him? If the latter’s true, then we might have been perfectly fine with Ford lumbering around a sound stage in a monster suit. Wait…no? Yeah, on second thought, probably not.
3. Darth Vader: No Helmet, Big Problem
Sometimes all it takes to conjure up a mental image of Star Wars is one glance at an iconic item from the series, and Darth Vader’s helmet stands as the king of the visual shorthand. Maybe it’s what drew you into the films in the first place, eager to unravel the mystery behind this robotic-looking thing in black. Man? Machine? You’d have to watch the movie to find out, introduced to a villain far more complex than we imagined, and discovering just how vital a role Vader played in the grand scheme. Bearing that in mind, what if Vader went sans helmet?
According to the 2004 Kevin Burns documentary Empire of Dreams: The Story of the Star Wars Trilogy, this was nearly the case in the rough draft. The helmet was integrated only after concept artist Ralph McQuarrie learned that Vader would travel through the airless void of space in order to board the Rebel ship Tantive IV. Today the helmet’s literally part and parcel with the character. Rife with metaphor, the skull-like design emphasizes the death of Anakin Skywalker’s humanity and reminds us that it and the suit are what barely keeps him alive. And to a lesser degree…who else’s face would go on merchandise packaging? (All right, besides Darth Maul.)
4. Flight of the Wookiees
Twenty-two long years after being snubbed from Return of the Jedi in favor of the Ewoks, the Wookiees finally received their overdue break in Revenge of the Sith, satisfying and teasing fans with just how awesome the Battle of Endor could’ve been if Chewbacca’s hairy kinsmen had been involved. But the truth is that Lucas had originally intended to feature the Wookiees as far back as what would become A New Hope, calling the planet Yavin their home (which explains the jungle ecosystem). Once again in The Star Wars comic book, Yavin’s liberation from the Empire foreshadowed the Endor assault, culminating in the Wookiees participating in the Death Star run — as in Wookiees going all Rogue Squadron and restoring peace to the galaxy! If anything, this scene would have made these guys even more popular than they already are.
5. Boba Fett, Nameless Supertrooper
Is there any other Star Wars character around with a cult following as legion as Boba Fett’s? Probably not, so it may be surprising to learn that he, in his early conceptual stages, was to be one of five nameless offshoots of the stormtrooper corps known as “supertroopers.” McQuarrie’s numerous concepts map the evolution of variations on the traditional stormtrooper helmet to Fett’s signature T-visor, all retaining the stark white color palette. Had Star Wars’ producers went this route, it’s likely Fett wouldn’t have left much of an impression, especially without the stoic intensity and career as a bounty hunter that made him so intriguing.
6. Parade of the Ewoks…and Yuzzums
When Wookiees were taken off the table during Return of the Jedi’s development, the film’s conceptual artists worked to concoct a new, Wookiee-ish replacement. In addition to the Ewoks, the idea was tossed around to introduce Yuzzums as a secondary race on Endor. Perhaps to avoid confusion and maintain story focus, the Ewoks alone made the cut. In a dash of irony, The Art of Star Wars: Return of the Jedi mentions that some earlier Yuzzum facial designs were fine-tuned and incorporated into the Ewoks’ finalized look. Years later on TVs everywhere, the Yuzzums eventually got their moment in the Star Wars: Ewoks animated series as villains.
7. R2-D2 Speak Like Man
He communicated entirely in unintelligible chirps, whistles, and beeps, but for us, R2-D2 spoke absolute volumes. It added a unique dual aspect to his character: when he was around Luke, Artoo’s electronic rambling gave him the warm, endearing charm of the family pet. In the presence of C-3PO, their Abbott-and-Costello back-and-forth had that extra comedic kick. But in yet another rough-draft shocker, the little astromech was every bit a vocal fusspot as his gold-plated counterpart. In The Star Wars comic book, Artoo bickers, complains, and chats with anyone with ears or audio receptors. Just think, we were nearly deprived of ever hearing his electronic shrieks of terror! Waaaaaooooooo!
Steven Romano is a writer, a geek culture enthusiast and, above all, a longtime fan of the galaxy far, far away. Landspeeder, don’t bantha, over to his blog and Twitter at @Steven_Romano.