Star Wars has become a legend unto itself. Between the films, the TV series, the theme park rides, and the endless supply of tie-in merchandise, it’s almost impossible to avoid. But for all the crazy discussions of sequels, prequels, spin-offs and the ilk, the saga of a galaxy far, far away holds to some specific “truths…” which are utter bunk.
George Lucas has claimed over time that he designed Star Wars as a multiple film saga focusing on the Skywalker family, and that every plot twist, every event, each reveal had been predetermined during the writing process in the 1970s. Like many of the truths of Star Wars, however, the accuracy of that statement depends on a certain point of view. Don’t assume this piece will devolve into a hit job on Mr. Lucas or his associates either. On the contrary, many of Lucas’s statements and actions speak to his creativity as a filmmaker and a businessman. When the PR is peeled away, however, a very different picture of cinema’s greatest saga begins to come into focus.
Myth 10: Star Wars was always meant to have sequels
George Lucas concocted Star Wars as a motion picture only after he failed to procure the rights to his own favorite space opera, the Flash Gordon series. Lucas had hoped to remake Flash Gordon on the big screen but couldn’t procure the rights. Instead, he decided to make his own film–“cowboys in space” as he called it. Borrowing from Flash Gordon, as well as Buck Rogers comics, classic films like The Searchers and The Hidden Fortress, the John Carter novels of Edgar Rice Burroughs and the tone of classic Disney family films, he conceived Star Wars as an homage to classic sci-fi serials. In refining the script, he edited out several ideas for possible future use, should he have the opportunity to do a sequel. That said, the original film was meant as a stand-alone adventure piece primarily aimed at kids.
Myth 9: The saga would span six episodes
After the runaway success of the original movie, the world demanded Star Wars sequels. Ironically, two people wanted nothing to do with them: George Lucas, and his then-wife Marcia.
Lucas had suffered tremendous stress and health issues during production of the original film, with only Marcia and his close friendships with the cast offering him relief. 20th Century Fox had shown little interest in the film, the British crew tormented Lucas as a neophyte, and Lucas actually had to found his own visual effects company to complete the film. He wanted little to do with any sequels, but began development on The Empire Strikes Back nonetheless. When that film proved a disastrous production, Lucas opted to end the series as a trilogy.
In interviews, Lucas professed that he had several sequels planned, though the number ranged anywhere from six to nine to twelve to three. He also wanted a diminished role in building the sequels.
Vowing to never direct again after the strain of the original film, and wanting to end the series with Return of the Jedi to try to save his crumbling marriage, Lucas professed that more films would follow the original trilogy. In reality, however, he had little desire to do any new films beyond the three originals.
Myth 8: Darth Vader was always planned to be Luke’s father
The most pivotal revelation in the entire Star Wars saga turned the series on end, and with good reason: Anakin Skywalker and Darth Vader were not planned to be the same person. In fact, the original draft of The Empire Strikes Back had Anakin’s ghost playing the role of Jedi master, later occupied by Yoda.
In the second draft of the script, Lucas retooled the story to end with the jaw-dropping revelation that Vader was actually Anakin reborn as a Sith. If audiences in 1980 gasped at the plot twist, the rest of the series continues to reverberate with this unforeseen plot point to this day. Suddenly Obi-Wan, the gentle, retired warrior, became a failed teacher and deceiver of his young ward, Luke. Anakin, by contrast, became a fallen hero, and the true crux of the series.
Myth 7: Luke and Leia were always twins
Fans often criticize Return of the Jedi‘s plot for making Luke and Leia brother and sister, thus ending the Luke-Leia-Han love triangle with a neat packaging. The plot twist came about for two reasons.
For starters, Lucas wanted to end Star Wars with the third film–his marriage was crumbling under the stress of the productions constantly demanding his attention. He’d become a prisoner of his own success, with ILM and Skywalker Ranch tearing him away from his family obligations. For that reason, Lucas decided to make Luke and Leia twins to close out the story. He also had another motive–Luke was meant to have a twin.
Early drafts of The Empire Strikes Back refer to Luke’s sister as Nelleth Skywalker, who had been hidden from Vader in another part of the galaxy. The final film mysteriously refers to “another.” Lucas’s intent had been to structure the sequel trilogy around this mysterious character (whether she would have remained Luke’s sister is anyone’s guess). Making Luke and Leia brother and sister, if slightly incestuous, solved multiple problems by tying together several dangling plot threads.
Myth 6: George Lucas fired producer Gary Kurtz for not being a “yes” man
Gary Kurtz towers as an influential figure in the development of the Star Wars saga, working with Lucas to write the mythology of the galaxy and see the series through to fruition. Kurtz’s dismissal prior to Return of the Jedi remains controversial among fans, many of whom assume that Kurtz lost his job because he and Lucas disagreed over the maturity of the series’ content. Kurtz, for his part, has always intimated that Lucas wanted to make the series focus more on merchandising and cater it to a younger demographic. The truth is more complicated.
Often heralded as the best of the entire saga, The Empire Strikes Back had caused Lucas endless anxiety during its inception and production. Budgeted at a then-robust $15 million, the budget skyrocketed to a staggering $40 million or more. Lucas also found the film a bit too dark; he’d wanted a more action driven, whimsical film akin to the original. When a rough cut proved, by all accounts, a disaster, Lucas had to shovel even more money at the film to reshoot and reedit it into a releasable product.
It’s important to remember that Lucas self-funded every Star Wars film after the original, and up to the Disney buyout. Though massive productions, the films were actually independent of any studio, and totally bankrolled out of Lucas’s own pockets. Had The Empire Strikes Back flopped, not only would Lucas’s career have been over, he would have been destitute, likely living with horrible debt for the rest of his life. Kurtz’s failure to keep the production on schedule or budget doomed him to leave the Lucasfilm family.
Myth 5: Emperor Palpatine was always a Sith
Not so. Lucas’s original concept for the Emperor during the making of A New Hope envisioned him as a galactic Richard Nixon, a man who manipulated his way to power and became slave to his own advisers. Remember, Lucas wrote A New Hope in part as a stateside Vietnam analogy: the youth rebel against their imperialist parents who have become corrupted and obsessed with power and wealth.
Much like the issue of Luke’s father’s identity, the role of the Emperor underwent a shift during the making of The Empire Strikes Back. When Lucas elevated Vader’s role from muscled enforcer to supervillain, he also needed to reconceive the Emperor as an even more sinister figure. Hence, he would become Vader’s Sith seducer, the one who corrupted the heroic Anakin into a twisted and evil cyborg.
Myth 4: George Lucas did not have much in the way of a prequel backstory
This one gets complicated. The early concepts of the prequel trilogy focused on the heroic adventures of Obi-Wan Kenobi. Making Darth Vader and Anakin Skywalker the same person, however, required drastic changes. Since the original trilogy morphed from a “space western” into a story of family redemption, the Tragedy of Vader storyline moved front and center. Ergo, Anakin would become the prequel trilogy lead.
This did, however, pose a problem: Lucas understandably wanted to underline the point that good people can make bad choices and become evil. For that reason, he decided to focus on Anakin as an innocent child. But there was another motive in setting the The Phantom Menace so early in the timeline: Lucas needed to show the rise of the Emperor. The political intimations of the Prequel Trilogy are among the most complex and intriguing in the whole series (whether or not they are told in an entertaining way is another debate). Palpatine goes from being a minor Senator to absolute ruler of the galaxy thanks to this behind-the-scenes manipulation. His rise mirrors the fall of Anakin, whom he puppets into destroying the Jedi.
The revised focus on the Emperor corrupting Anakin and the Republic necessitated changes in story to Obi-Wan’s story arc–instead of a heroic warrior, he became a somewhat arrogant failed Jedi master. Likewise, Padme Amidala’s storyline became problematic, as did Anakin’s. Padme now had to fall in love with a crazed man and bare his children, while Anakin had to fall from being a likable character into the villain audiences love to hate. Lucas had wanted the prequels to tell an ensemble story, but instead, the narrative demanded a new, obstacle-ridden focus on Anakin at the expense of other characters.
Myth 3: Lucas waited to make the prequels so Ian McDermid could keep playing Palpatine
Actually, McDermid, who’s career prior to 1999 consisted mostly of stage work, got lucky: he’d been in his 30s during the making of Return of the Jedi and when production on The Phantom Menace ramped up, the actor happened to be just the right age to keep playing the Emperor. That’s also lucky for the audience–McDermid’s performance is the highlight of the Prequels, and one of the best in the series.
Why then, did Lucas wait so long to make the Prequel Trilogy? In large part, he wanted nothing to do with Star Wars ever again. Only after the groundbreaking computer effects of Jurassic Park did he see a future for himself in directing, and the opportunity to create fantastic new visuals in the Star Wars universe proved all too seductive to pass up.
Myth 2: The Jedi were meant to be pacifistic monks until the Prequel Trilogy gave Yoda a lightsaber
One of the biggest criticisms of the Prequel Trilogy accused Lucas of character assassination, or at least of straying from his own vision of the Jedi as peaceful monks policing the galaxy. Viewers who think as much should rewatch the Original Trilogy! Far from being portrayed as intergalactic Buddhists, the Jedi are samurai-like warriors. Obi-Wan did, after all, maim Anakin and leave him for dead as Lucas specified in contemporary interviews. Furthermore, it’s clear throughout the series that Yoda and Obi-Wan mean for Luke to kill Vader, not redeem him as he does in the Original Trilogy finale. Luke doesn’t kill him, but that’s not because it’s against the Jedi way. Rather, his rivalry with Vader is a trap set by the Emperor to turn Luke to the Dark Side.
Fans bristled in the prequels seeing Yoda and the Emperor locked in lightsaber combat, and cynics proposed that Lucas did as much for merchandising reasons. In reality, both the early drafts of The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi depict Yoda and the Emperor as skilled in saber combat. Having Yoda use a lightsaber proved impossible with 1980 puppet technology. Originally, the Emperor would have dueled a resurrected Obi-Wan Kenobi alongside Luke, though this plot point was dropped in rewrites.
Myth 1: Star Wars was always meant to be the saga of the Skywalker clan
The Original Trilogy, as first envisioned, would have always focused on Luke becoming a Jedi. Lucas’s concepts for the prequel trilogy would have centered on Obi-Wan, while the sequel trilogy would have focused on another Jedi disciple, possibly Luke’s sister. Two factors interrupted this vision: Lucas’s personal life, and the plot change to make Vader and Anakin the same person.
With Lucas’s marriage in shambles, he decided he needed a break from filmmaking. The dismissal of Gary Kurtz, however, demanded that Lucas take over executive producer duties on Return of the Jedi, which only added to his stress. In an attempt to save his marriage, Lucas decided that Jedi would end the series, and that he would take a hiatus from work. Despite his renewed attention to his personal life, his marriage to Marcia Lucas dissolved. Both Marcia and George were thankful for the success of Star Wars, but have both admitted that the pressures it brought destroyed their relationship. Naturally, following one of the biggest divorce settlements in history, Lucas lacked both the funds and the will to keep the series going.
The hiatus from Star Wars, coupled with the reveal of Anakin as Vader also hampered Lucas’s plans for multiple trilogies. As previously detailed, the plot change dictated that the Prequel Trilogy would focus on the fall of Anakin as a central character, rather than Obi-Wan. As such, a Sequel Trilogy without Vader suddenly became superfluous to the over-arcing tale of Anakin’s fall and redemption. Lucas’s hiatus from the series also meant the cast would age, which complicated plans for a trilogy about their offspring. When he finally did return to Star Wars with The Phantom Menace, Lucas would decide that the fall and rise of Vader would make for enough of a saga, and that further sequels would not be needed. Lucas would again change his mind in the early 2010s, though upon Disney’s purchase of Lucasfilm, Lucas’s stories about new teenage characters in the Star Wars universe would get replaced with the story that would become The Force Awakens.