Anne Skinner, script editor on the original Star Wars, is currently sharing a collection of Polaroids and on-set annotated script pages as part of an exhibition at the BFI Southbank. The show, running until January 4, showcases some little known facts, highlighting the seismic impact that seemingly arbitrary decisions had on Star Wars lore.
You almost certainly already knew that The Star Wars was the original title, but you can only earn maximum Force points if you also knew the rest of these...
1 it was nearly 'an incredible adventure'
‘A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away, an incredible adventure took place…’
That’s how the opening few seconds of Star Wars would have played out, were it not for a late-in-the-day change of heart. The extra five words were still present in Skinner’s filming scripts, suggesting that the final decision to strip down the introductory line was finally made in post-production.
While it’s a minor change, it’s one that does alter the tone of the sentence. Ending on ‘away’ leaves a sense of mystery, preparing the audience to be blasted away with the orchestral beauty of John Williams’ score. Adding the coda that ‘an incredible adventure took place’ sounds more like the establishing line of a throwaway B-movie (or Stephen Fry-narrated video game). The subtle differences continued in the on-set version of the crawl, as well…
2 The Original Crawl was less punchy
“It is a period of civil wars in the galaxy. A brave alliance of underground freedom fighters has challenged the tyranny and oppression of the awesome GALACTIC EMPIRE.
Striking from a fortress hidden among the billion stars of the galaxy, rebel spaceships have won their first victory in a battle with the powerful Imperial Starfleet. The EMPIRE fears that another defeat could bring a thousand more solar systems into the rebellion, and Imperial control would be lost forever.
To crush the rebellion once and for all, the EMPIRE is constructing a sinister new battle station. Powerful enough to destroy an entire planet, its completion spells certain doom for the champions of freedom.”
Again, it seems that Lucas didn’t decide on a final version of this text until the post-production stage, as Skinner’s on-set version differs greatly from the finished article of 1977. Notably, it’s more poetic, with the Rebels referred to as ‘freedom fighters’ and ‘champions of freedom’ based among the ‘billion stars of the galaxy.’ In the cinematic version, they are simply ‘Rebel spies’ with a ‘hidden base.’
Interestingly, it would seem that Lucas was initially keen to give a little more away in his establishing scroll with the line ‘The EMPIRE fear another defeat could bring thousands more solar systems into the rebellion, and Imperial control would be lost forever’ hinting very overtly at things to come.
Instead, Lucas decided on ‘Princess Leia races home aboard her starship, custodian of the stolen plans that can save her people and restore freedom to the galaxy,’ which, while still revealing upcoming plot points, tells it from a Rebel point of view.
Contrastingly, Skinner’s version of the scroll is vaguer than the final text, with no mention of Leia or the Death Star’s names. Clearly, a lot of thought went into deciding which elements to give away and which to retain, with the final version being an undeniable masterstroke of balancing world-building with intriguing mystery.
3 Leia Was going to be 16
Skinner’s establishing script notes tell us the familiar facts that Leia puts information into R2-D2, is a member of the Alderaan senate and that her father once ruled Alderaan. More surprisingly, they also mention that Leia was intended to be a sixteen-year-old.
Carrie Fisher, during filming of Star Wars, was 19, a slightly more respectable age for a sex symbol in the making. It’s unclear how old this note is, but someone clearly changed their mind during the casting process. More interestingly, this suggests more of a teen-adventure spirit at earlier in production.
4 Darth Vader Was to be 'Grotesque'
The character notes for Darth Vader describe him with a ‘grotesque face mask.’
Of course, Vader is a hugely frightening screen presence. In the end, though, his mask wasn’t entirely dissimilar to the helmets worn by stormtroopers. It’s unknown when exactly Lucas decided to opt for a sleek and shiny look, but the concept of grotesquely-faced villains did return with the likes of Darth Maul and General Grievous in the prequels.
As it stands, Vader became one of the most iconic villains in cinematic history, with the more grotesque material saved for his helmet-removal scene in Return Of The Jedi. Whether the franchise would have succeeded with a different villainous visage, nobody can say.
5 The opening sequence was more violent
‘The evil Darth Vader stands among the broken and twisted bodies of his foes’
Darth Vader’s introduction went down in sci-fi legend as one of the most intimidating villainous debuts of all time. The moment where he crushes the unhelpful Rebel’s throat – with sickening sound-effects – remains the darkest moment of the film.
However, while Vader does walk through a corridor of lifeless rebels, Skinner’s ‘broken and twisted bodies’ were thankfully omitted. A wise decision, particularly for the sake of keeping younger audiences on-side.
6 it veered closer to American Graffiti On Tatooine
A neglected sequence appears in Skinner’s notes, including The Fixer (a rugged mechanic), Camie (a ‘sexy dishevelled girl’) and Deak and Windy (two boys of Luke’s age) as well as an earlier appearance from Biggs Darklighter.
Much has been made of this deleted scene, which took place in the Tosche power station in Anchorhead. It would have linked with another scene where Luke witnessed the saga’s opening space battle from ground level.
He would have then rushed to Anchorhead to tell his friends. At this point, Luke would be surprised to bump into his old friend Biggs Darklighter, who has returned briefly from his work for the Rebellion (and who shows up briefly on Yavin IV in the current, extended edits).
The eventually-cut characters hung out, took naps and played computer games, while Biggs mocked them for being ‘unfortunate landlocked simpletons.’ Pacing was the main reason for cutting these scenes, tied into the fact that Lucas realised the droids – picking up the plans and fleeing to Tattooine – were a stronger opening focus.
7 Lightsabers Were More Commonplace
Of lightsabers, Obi-Wan tells Luke that ‘at one point they were widely used… I believe they still are in some parts of the galaxy’ in a scribbled-out section.
Interestingly, this seems to point towards non-Jedi use of the lightsaber, unless Lucas had some drastically different plans up his sleeve for the direction of his Star Wars universe. Either way, this scrubbed-out sentence suggests that the iconic weapon of the galaxy far, far away was originally intended to be less specialised than it ultimately became.
Since the days of Lucas’ first three films, wider lightsaber use has been explored on-screen with both General Grievous and The Inquisitor (of Star Wars Rebels fame) both wielded lightsabers without being trained in the use of the Force. Was Lucas was planning to include such characters in the original trilogy? Or, more likely, was it a throwaway comment trimmed for the sake of brevity.
8 Obi-Wan And Anakin might not have been friends
‘He was a good friend,’ said by Obi-Wan about pre-Vader Anakin, was added into proceedings as a late-in-the-day, hand-written note.
The possibilities behind this are endless, with many exhibition-visitors racing to contemplate whether Obi-Wan and Anakin might not have got on so well in Lucas’ original plans for the prequel trilogy. Truth be told, the most-likely explanation is that Lucas wanted to be more explicit in connecting Luke’s surrogate father, Obi-Wan, with his actual one. Lucas maintains that he had a detailed prequel plan long before production began on Star Wars, and if we believe that then this may have been conscious foreshadowing. After all, without a pre-existing relationship, the twist in The Empire Strikes Back would have felt a little far-fetched.
Ann Skinner’s Star Wars exhibition lasts until January 4th 2015 at the BFI Southbank. More info can be found here.